Miyamae Tsumugi (Sora Aoi) is a naughty little schoolgirl. You see, she happens to have seduced her teacher, Katagiri (Takashi Naha), who is expecting his first child with his wife. They question their love for one another, but it seems that Tsumugi is just in it for the game. She also happens to be seducing her classmate Kosuke (Satoshi Kobayashi), which eventually sees her caught up in a love triangle. Matters aren’t helped when Yoko (Chiyoko Sakamachi), a colleague of Katagiri, professes her attraction to him. Can you imagine the drama!?!…and all the sex.
I realise that in the past I’ve often referred to the term “AV” when covering specific genre film, and that I’ve rarely spoken about what it is exactly. For those wondering, it simply refers to “Adult Video”. The AV industry in Japan is one of the largest in the world; it churns out nearly three times the amount of adult entertainment over that of America per year, largely due to the ineffective costs and a certain lack of stringency on the part of government monitoring, which has enabled a string of bizarre sub-genres to crop up all over the place - some titillating, others stomach-churning.
The career for an average AV actress tends to be all too brief, but for some it leads on to endless possibilities. Those lucky enough to survive in the industry for a couple of years may find themselves appearing in TV variety shows and drama, or big time movies. Sora Aoi is one of the lucky ones. She made the transition from bikini model [Gravure] to AV Idol in 2002, and in the space of a year became one of the industry’s most profitable assets. She briefly crossed over to mainstream television and then in 2004 made her theatrical debut with Tsumugi. Witten and directed by Hidekazu Takahara, the film did well to further boost her mainstream fame; not only did the Pink Grand Prix honour it as being one of the best pink films of the year, it also awarded Sora with a ‘Best New Actress’ accolade.
She still does the naughty films by the way.
Sora’s portrayal of a young promiscuous and outward teen lends itself well to Tsumugi’s success, what with her atypical approach. Her gift is that she looks a little younger than her years, allowing her cutesy persona to slide comfortably into character. And she’s believable thanks to a director who knows not to overdo the dialogue. Tsumugi is inquisitive by nature; she ponders what love might mean and is all too eager to take advantage of a tempting situation and inevitably rustle some feathers along the way. For this Sora certainly knows how to use her features well enough to catch her prey, and while her part is not hugely demanding, her wide-eyed curiosity and restlessness is infectious. Of course, given her background as an adult performer and having had previous experience under Takahara’s helm in the AV side of things, her love scenes, though brief, are also fairly racy in leaving little to the imagination, with some full frontal nudity thrown in for good measure.
The premise itself isn’t wholly original in terms of presenting awkward character relationships, but Takahara’s subtle approach to the subject matter is heartening to say the least, and he’s backed by a strong and diverse cast who share his careful considerations. While it naturally treads on taboo ground it’s more inclined toward presenting realistic human emotions as our cast of social misfits - ranging from responsible school teachers to aging punk-rockers - are forced to face up to their responsibilities in life through a series of startling and tragic revelations, which lead up to the film’s unfortunate catharsis.
Pink Eiga has seen fit to release Tsumugi in two versions: standard and special edition. They’ve kindly sent me the special edition to review, of which the differences include a 5.1 surround mix and a host of bonus material.
Given that Tsumugi was shot on film (like many Pink Eiga flicks) and screened theatrically it’s a shame that what we have here isn’t at all representative of Takahara’s original vision. Struck from presumably a beta source, this non-progressive, non-anamorphic 1.85:1 presentation doesn’t get off to the best of starts. However, I will say it’s to be expected. The most questionable flaw can be seen across the entire screen in the form of some sort of vertical combing/banding, which isn’t reflected well in the included shots; I am at a loss as to pin down what it is exactly, presuming it is some sort of tape by-product. Add to that a ridiculous amount of haloing and aliasing and we’re left with a pretty disappointing looking picture. Detail is passable, though edges are quite soft, while the de-saturated colour scheme fares pretty well given some shaky contrast.
The sound options are a bit more interesting. We have Japanese DD2.0 and 5.1 Surround. It’s contestable as to whether or not these kinds of films really warrant such attention, indeed Tsumugi isn’t a grander experience because of it, but I have to say the 5.1 work is pretty smart. Dialogue is clear and is primarily focused on the central channels. The film impresses a little more with its separation of ambient effects; for example during the school scenes we can here kids and other background noise across the rear channels and the same goes for the punk moments when Asu’s band performs and we’re enveloped by screaming fans. Some moments do suffer from a bit too much background noise, as it comes across more like hissing, but overall this is an unusual but solid presentation.
English subtitles are included. Again, rather unfortunately, they’re hard-matted. The translation itself is good, although some portions of dialogue are over-translated for effect: for example one scene sees Tsumugi respond to Katagiri’s cooking by aggressively stating “Mazui!” (awful/tastes bad), which is translated here as “Tastes like shit”.
Without a doubt Pink Eiga’s finest effort to date in providing bonus content, we kick off with Blue Sky, Pink Days: Behind the Scenes with Sora Aoi (19.57). This takes us through the five-day shoot, but it does little more than show Sora acting out particular scenes and messing up/forgetting dialogue. It is fun though; Sora giggles her way through the shoot, proving to be especially playful when simply being herself. Naked Confessions: Interview with Sora Aoi (9.15) sounds a bit more revealing than it actually is, though at least it isn’t made up of the usual half-arsed questions. It amounts to Sora mainly talking about creating her character and detailing similarities between herself and Tsumugi, while later reminiscing about the overall shoot. She does have a little moment when she touches upon trying to keep an emotional distance from some people, but it never quite digs deeply enough. Again she’s engaging though, and I empathised with her constant mispronunciation of her character’s name, especially as I myself kept mistakenly typing it out as “Tsugumi” when writing this review.
One Night with Sora Aoi (11.59) is for the randy sods who simply wish to view Sora’s sex scenes in complete succession.
Music Videos (8.15) serves up two vids from punk band ‘Dread Nought’ - The Hymn Left After the Country Died [Kuni Yaburete Sanka Ari] and Whatcha Gonna Do? [Dou Sunda?] Two thematically similar songs which bemoan left and right wing politics, while touching upon other social issues as they essentially speak of starting life anew and refusing to conform. These are followed with a small biography on Dread Nought, who enjoyed a brief two-year stint touring Japan and only released one live CD.
Sora Aoi Slideshow (1.46) is a mixture of studio and behind the scenes shots, leading to Production Notes, which are very worthwhile. We have Hidekazu Takahara’s notes from the man himself as he writes of his background and rediscovering his roots in Pink Eiga. He explains the genesis of Tsumugi and talks of his intended meaning behind it. We also have his diary, written during the five-day shoot. I love some of the little details, such as when Takahara mentions struggling to find extras on a weekday, and ended up with directors Mitsuru Meike, Toshiya Ueno and Satoshi Kaneda helping out in the background. A nice little read.
Finally we’ve biographies on Sora Aoi, Hedekazu Takahara, Shigeru Nakano and Takashi Naha; two trailers for Tsumugi; a photo gallery (1.32) which is just made up of screen grabs from the DVD, and original poster and cover art shots.