ソーローなんてくだらない (Sôrô nante kudaranai)
Director: Kôta Yoshida
Running time: 102 min.
Reviewed by Marc Saint-Cyr
The setup for Kôta Yoshida’s latest film sounds like it wouldn’t at all be out of place in one of Judd Apatow’s projects: a young slacker named Haruo (Tateto Serizawa) who is stuck in his job as a video store supervisor faces an embarrassing problem that impedes his ability to form proper romantic relationships: premature ejaculation. After Momose, an alluring new employee, arrives at his store, he decides to actively attempt to cure himself. However, this task is not that easy to pull off in his apartment, where his roommate Noriko (Nagisa Umeno), limited living space and thin walls eliminate any privacy he hopes to achieve. When the website he consults instructs him to find a partner to help him, Haruo comes up with a bold proposition: in return for chipping in more money for rent and keeping the place clean, he wants Noriko to assist him in his goal to endure sexual activity for fifteen minutes. After much pleading and sucking up, she agrees to do him this very personal favor.
“Come As You Are” certainly contains the sex comedy ingredients one would expect from that description (not to mention the cheeky English title). Multiple scenes show, through careful camera positions and blocking, Haruo desperately testing his endurance with several masturbation sessions and engaging in intimate encounters that end in awkwardness and failure. At one point, the poor guy can’t even keep himself from cursing and yelling at his own malfunctioning member. But rather than simply fishing for laughs to be had at his characters’ expense, Yoshida ensures that the latter – particularly Haruo and Noriko – are properly developed and given personalities that extend far beyond the comic situations. In doing so, both Yoshida and his talented actors are to be commended. Serizawa’s portrayal of Haruo is especially impressive for how he constantly uses body language and facial expressions to reflect his character’s bound-up insecurities and tormented yearning. The sad attempts at feigning indifference, the all-too-brief flashes of confidence, the brutally frank confessions and humiliations – they all give real weight to Haruo’s plight and make him intensely sympathetic. Opposite him, Umeno’s Noriko acts as the more practical and mature one who keeps herself focused on her own priorities, which include a crucial school exam. Her thrice-daily “help” sessions with Haruo are dutifully carried out with an old sock of his (eventually replaced by gloves) and are aurally portrayed by way of some wonderfully detailed sound effects.
Perhaps predictably, the unique arrangement between Haruo and Noriko eventually reveals the genuine feelings they have for one another. But don’t be fooled – this is not a simple, meet-cute romantic comedy. Instead, the film remains focused on the problems that plague and, in fact, define Haruo’s personal life. Having worked at the video store and lived in the same apartment for eight years, he prefers to tell people he is pursuing acting jobs on the side when in fact he has clearly abandoned that dream. Directionless and lazy, the only real control he seems able to exercise is over the shift schedule at work, which he mostly uses so he can attempt to woo Momose. Yet through Noriko and others, he steadily realizes just how sad and self-destructive his current lifestyle has become. After a certain point, one wonders if his performance problem is in fact the latest warning sign that he needs to make some serious changes for his own good.
Kôta Yoshida is probably best known for his 2010 film “Yuriko’s Aroma,” another refreshingly honest and insightful work about people’s sex lives and the complications within them that can spawn alienation. This is an area he has proven himself to be quite talented in, as he clearly understands that, unlike so many other films that take such matters for granted, human sexuality is a strange and complex thing that everyone experiences differently. Yoshida has openly demonstrated his sympathies for the less confident underdogs of the world, in the process exploring the more sensitive issues that can lie in waiting when affections and simple human urges are involved. His characters not only search for personal acceptance and fulfillment, but also a way they can achieve that ever-elusive thing called happiness without getting trampled upon by the so-called social norms they are so often challenged by. Indeed, Yoshida’s films seem to leave us with an important question: is there such a thing as being “normal?” If Yoshida suggests that the answer is no, then he also makes it clear that that is not such a bad thing.