New Tokyo Decadence - The Slave Review
By day Rina Wakayama (Rinako Hirasawa) does what most normal folk do: sit in an office and shuffle papers. By night she lets go of her inhibitions and ‘entertains’ pervy men as a dominatrix, whilst finding time to satisfy most of her own sexual needs. But when she learns that her employer (Kikujiro Honda) also happens to share an interest in S&M, she all too eagerly agrees to become his personal slave. As their games deepen, so too does Rina’s emotions. Soon she begins to question whether or not she loves her boss, and indeed if love truly does exist.
Otherwise simply known as Dorei [Slave] in Japan, New Tokyo Decadence - The Slave, shouldn’t in any way be looked upon as being a direct sequel to Ryu Murakami’s exquisite Topaz; a film itself which was unfortunate enough to be lumbered with a naff international title and incidentally had an unsuccessful follower in Banmei Takahashi’s Ai No Shinsekai (a.k.a. Tokyo Decadence 2: A New Love in Tokyo, 1994). However, while Slave may be a bit more direct in its labelling, it also shares some familiar traits, presenting itself as a mild character study as it delves into the world of sadomasochism.
Directed by Osamu Sato, Slave is in fact based upon the real-life experiences of porn actress Rinako Hirasawa, who takes centre stage here. Told via an ongoing narration, Rina talks of her experiences in finding a form of solace through masochism (making sure to differentiate it from sadism of course); her first introduction, thanks to her maths teacher, sees her trying to express herself with certain sexual practises, which ends up challenging her ideals of love and promptly leaves her to question her position in life. As such Slave is quite an intimate and personal production, which, like Topaz, does go to some length in its attempts to find meaning beneath a series of mildly titillating sequences: the backdrop itself set against an economic recession as office workers go about their daily duties, unbeknownst to many that one or two happen to have slightly edgier tastes. While Topaz explored detachment and told of hanging onto hope with a central figure who didn’t really want to be in the place she was in, Slave has Rina embracing her lifestyle without shame, but finding her chosen path an uncertain one on account of her own inquisitive nature. Masochism, then, might be way of filling a void in one’s existence; it’s a part of the feature that Rina doesn’t go to any great lengths in explaining away and Osamu Sato is all to keen to keep such curiosities as simply that. Still, it leads us toward several sexual encounters, which throws in a spot of lesbianism and bondage along the way. In terms of aiding the overall narrative in exploring such moments, Sato’s picture remains a tightly edited piece and one of experimental interest as he imbues several scenes with lingering, though memorable imagery, via the use of various mediums as the daily office grind and outdoor excursions are neatly contrasted with that of a sleazier underbelly.
Just how much Slave reflects the real life of Rinako Hirasawa isn’t all that clear then, with surreal imagery which blurs the lines of fantasy and reality, although the actress is quite happy to refer to herself as a pervert at the very least. One thing she most certainly is is a very capable young actress, who’s been afforded some pleasant little roles - not counting all the times in which she’s had lots of sex for video distribution. She made her pink film debut outside of the A/V industry in 2005 with Shinji Imaoka’s Enjo-Kôsai Monogatari: Shitagaru Onna-Tachi, otherwise known as Frog Song, and it proved to be a welcoming tale of a friendship between two women, with just a few absurdist qualities chucked in for good measure. Hirasawa (who picked up ‘Best Actress’ for her performance at the Pink Grand Prix) is a natural on screen, comfortable with what is being expected of her, given that she’s essentially playing herself. There are very few moments when she isn’t in our sight and her strong presence, coupled with a nice chemistry between she and her prolific pink actor co-star Kikujiro Honda, sees the picture deliver a welcome balance of debauchery and poigancy.
So, onto the second release this month from Pink Eiga and this time round we find a generally more pleasing transfer. Unfortunately it’s another non-anamorphic 1.85:1 offering, but with the film being as recent as 2007 it looks pretty much up to scratch. Detail is reasonably fine, despite an overall softness, with close-ups faring very well. Likewise colour balance and contrast is a marked improvement over the previous S&M Hunter, with the night-time interiors especially looking quite vibrant. There is a fair amount of aliasing which drags it down a little and again it’s unfortunate to see hard-matted subs and a spot of ghosting, but this is nonetheless a good effort.
The DD Japanese soundtrack is likewise good. Hitomi Oba’s odd little score in which he tinkers with some classical greats is given strong clarity, while Rina’s ongoing narration and conversations share equal attention to detail, with no distractions to be found. A fairly undemanding track, but one which no doubt sounds as good as it possibly could.
The bonus material is light once more. Aside from a few ‘Coming Attractions’ trailers there are biographies for Osamu Sato and stars Hirasawa and Honda; a very short still image slideshow and finally a look at the original movie poster, the latter of which is needlessly zoomed so that the viewer can’t appreciate the full image with what little time it’s been given.