The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai Review
Anyone who can keep up with the slew of Pink movies coming out of Japan every year surely deserves a pat on the back. Most simply go under the radar outside of their homeland, while there doesn’t often seem to be a need to subtitle domestic DVD releases. The last couple of years has seen Europe and the United States open up to this sub-genre and those with a keen investment have been treated to some very special films; not only that but new generations have been given a chance to ride the wave of Japanese cult exploitation. The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai has recently become an unintentional success story.
Originally making the Pink Cinema circuit rounds in 2003 under the guise of Horny Home Tutor: Teacher's Love Juice, the film ran for just sixty minutes and primarily consisted of simulated sex scenes amidst a loose tale of a not-very-bright woman, turned genius overnight. However it was successful enough to ensure that director Mitsuko Meike would be given the chance to go back and create a director’s cut. From simple, soft-core sex flick to politically driven satire, the extended and re-titled The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai would go onto to tour internationally, becoming the official selection in 2005 and 2006 for most major film festivals. This may well ensure that the feature be picked up for international DVD distribution, not least of all for its unexpected political stance and a rather unsavoury stab at the Deus ex machina that is George W. Bush.
Sachiko Hanai (Emi Kuroda) lives a simple life; working as a prostitute, taking on the guise of a horny home tutor for any young man who is all too willing to learn a little something new – provided he has cash of course. One evening, after her shift ends, she stops off at a local coffee shop; her timing couldn’t be any worse when she interrupts a shady business deal between two men. When the deal goes sour Sachiko is caught up in the middle of a shooting where a stray bullet hits her in the forehead. Suddenly she awakens, oblivious to the fact that she’s just been shot. In her dizzy state she leaves and heads on home, only to eventually find a hole that really shouldn’t be there. Curiosity gets the better of her as she inserts an eye-liner pencil deeper into her skull, ultimately pushing the bullet further inward. This triggers a synaptic metamorphosis, enabling Sachiko to now quote philosophical literature, predict the future and actually tutor for real! Things get far more complicated when she discovers a silver canister which resembles a large lipstick holder that houses a replica of the United States President’s index finger. Now Sachiko is on the run from North-Korean spies as she tries to prevent a nuclear catastrophe under the ever watching eye of George W. Bush.
Penned by Takao Nakano, famed for directing the ExorSister film series and the silly Sumo Vixens starring cult icon Kei Mizutani (Weather Woman), The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai is far from your run-of-the-mil sex romp. While many have contained underlying psychological and social fixations they are primarly designed to titilate. The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai may have once been no different but Nakano’s newly worked script travels into territories on the other side of the world that haven’t been quite so effectively touched upon since the heyday of Pinky Violence and its post war sentiments concerning America. The timing, then, couldn’t be any more perfect in an era that has seen the recent Bush administration go from bad to worse. It would almost seem ill-fitting to fuel a skin flick on the back of images containing footage of a war-ridden Iraq on a rooftop TV, while the president gives the finger (literally) to an unsuspecting Sachiko, who writhes around as he spouts how great his “Bush Technique” is. Of course it’s not really Bush - just a guy in a mask - and yet there’s something profound in hearing such a man speak in a perverted tongue, a president who treats his power as if it’s a toy to play with. As sexually charged metaphors go it’s surprisingly on point, with an ensuing dub that acts as means to discover the real truth behind the man; what we hear in Japanese - Bush’s finger determining the destiny of the world as peace as democracy lies in danger - is exactly how he’s positioned himself in office amongst a self-created ideal of the war on terror, only here it’s a lot less sugar coated.
But obviously this isn’t enough for Meike; he’s killing two birds with one stone when introducing the other nuclear arms powerhouse, North Korea, whose other goal is maintaining fascism. Although divides are blatant between the two countries the fact of the matter is they possess one thing in common and that’s the very thing that Japan has been fighting against for the past sixty years. In this respect it’s questionable whether or not Meike sees himself as a voice for modern Japan. He’s certainly one amongst many but despite his approach he doesn’t get heavy handed, nor pretentious, rather he’s tackling the very idea of pretentiousness, glorifying its absurdness within the world. Just listen to many broadcasts these days, whether they’re from film makers, singers, journalists or politicians and you won’t be too hard pressed to pick out those who have delusions of grandeur and find themselves worthier than the earth itself. Meike’s ultimate message is easily apparent, to quote Sachiko herself: “Nonsense is the law of the world. We shouldn’t try to change it.” The question becomes just how much should we endeavor to change?
But should the film be taken solely as a politically fuelled piece of propaganda, thus securing it some kind of cult, arthouse status? It’s entirely possible that this will be the case but when it’s stripped of its sex scenes, which occur nearly every ten minutes, the reality strikes home that this was and perhaps still is for all intents a soft-core porn movie. After all, all we really have is twenty minutes of actual story, which makes one wonder if Meike would have been better off focusing on this aspect as a separate entity and presenting it as a twenty or thirty minute short film. While the sex scenes are brief they do occasionally slow down the momentum; with a little trimming here and there things would altogether have a tighter feel. Some scenes are entirely complimentary as the plot unfolds, while others are purely designed for exploitation purposes: a rape scene involving Seiki’s submissive wife; a police officer finding Sachiko after she’s shot but takes her home for sex in her dazed state rather than to a hospital; or Sachiko rewarding a boy student with a blowjob because he provided a correct answer. Although to be fair Sachiko’s former profession still has an effect on her new life, and no matter how smart she might be, she can’t shake old habits. There’s still enthusiasm aplenty when playing out these scenes, and at least Meike takes them in a direction that’s unpredictable if nothing else, whilst still being able to offer a little eroticism. Such eroticism usually comes from Sachiko’s masturbation scenes that are oddly comical and metaphorical. Meike balances these remarkably well, especially when placing them within the context of literature. Others rely on gags that are crude enough to offend the less tolerant, such as messy facials and deliberately long semen shots, though it must be pointed out that these are simulated, with no organs in sight. Aside from a little frontal nudity from Emi Kuroda this is all very much simple and far from extravagant.
The absurd seems to be a large, underlying factor when sex is pitted against world literature. In a quest to expand her knowledge of everything, Sachiko sets out to read every book she can get her hands on. This ultimately heightens her sex drive, making it impossible for her not to get horny whenever names such as philosopher Noam Chomsky are mentioned, or whenever the theory of relativity takes over her thoughts. By now though it seems as if no one understands her, which is where Professor Seiki is amusingly introduced. After a quickie in his office he winds up taking her home, informing his wife that Sachiko’s house was blown away by a tornado, which of course introduces her under a guise lifted directly from The Wizard of Oz, which we’re to assume his wife knows nothing about. This is where the commonality between likeminded individuals takes over proceedings for the middle part of its run, particularly when Seiki mentions how his wife has no interest in his passion for literature. But even more politically incorrect is that fact that under Seiki’s Christian household both he and his son are having sex with Sachiko, under his unknowing wife’s very nose.
With all of that covered it still leaves the main driving force of Emi Kuroda, in what will undoubtedly be her most remembered role, should she continue to march on in her profession. In the first All Japan National AV Actress Contest in 2003, Kuroda insisted her main motivation in entering the Pink industry was to have as much sex as she possibly could. She didn’t win but her outgoing attitude, honesty and confidence clearly caught the attention of director Meike. As Sachiko, Kuroda has quite a difficult task in believably pulling off a dual role. To start with Sachiko is one ditzy gal, made even more absurd by the fact that, as a hooker, she role-plays as a teacher. Once that bullet becomes lodged in her skull, however, her brain takes on new challenges and she becomes a super thinker, speed reader and psychic, with an unusual flaw of having delayed senses in terms of taste. Now far be it from any Pink production to go all out with recruiting solid actors when flesh is the name of the game but Meike has done a very respectable job in getting the most out of Kuroda. Suddenly, without much warning, she’s spouting lines of dialogue as if it was second nature, which is entirely the point but it’s her sheer verve that carries them beyond expectations. Kuroda’s bodily gestures work perfectly fine in a sexual manner, while her mindset and effortless delivery are certainly astute, which makes her all the more gleeful to watch. By no means is she anywhere near award status but her pleasantly understated performance manages to be effective in equal measures, whether she’s getting frisky, philosophical or being clumsy by nature. Add to that a prosthetic bullet hole with regularly changing band aids that say things such as “follow me” and “Sin”, she more than gets away with looking a little silly.
Mitsuko Meike’s first major feature doesn’t heavily rely on fancy camera work; let’s not forget its roots here. Much is made up of static shots, including those that involve sexual encounters, made better by some tight editing in areas, while outside the director makes use of simple, handheld techniques. Capturing the various moods of the film are coloured tints, comprising primarily of green and blue hues which play out for most of the night time exterior shots. Where he does excel is by filling the frame with all kinds of surreal touches, from psychedelic montages and flailing Action Men to bright red fingers that float with the aid of visible strings. In accompaniment the film’s score manages to maintain a spaced-out tone with its percussion and repetitive drum beats. But perhaps most bizarre of all is a woefully cutesy Japanese rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” during the end credits, which takes place prior to a finale that Takeshi Miike would be proud of.
The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai has been made available in Japan through Inter Film, under their “Nippon Erotics” section. This single disc release comprises of a few worthy extras to boot.
Unfortunately The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai hasn’t been given the kindest of transfers. While the film certainly looks older than just three years, with specks of dirt here and there it’s not too bad to watch. Contrast and brightness appear a little high, but inherent to how it was filmed, while grain also appears naturally. Flesh tones fare well and there’s a solid amount of detail. What lets things down is the overall presentation. The film appears in a non-anamorphic ratio of 1.85:1, inhibited by plenty of aliasing and, disappointedly, interlacing. I had hoped for more from a Japanese distributor, but we’ll just have to make do. The film is entirely watchable and shouldn’t pose too many problems on a regular set up, but those with high end equipment have been warned.
A Dolby Digital 2.0 track accompanies the release, and like the transfer it’s underwhelming. Sex scenes are lively enough, and you’ll find you might need to turn things down a bit, while dialogue requires the volume levels to be raised. So it’s a bit of an awkward mix, with the control being used more than it needs to be. The dialogue never gets drowned out by anything and is most certainly serviceable; bearing in mind this is a low budget production it’s not entirely surprising, and I doubt the actual DVD is to entirely blame for this. There’s rarely a need for surrounds here and the DVD doesn’t exploit any aspects of the production. It does the job once you reach a level you’re happy with.
Optional English subtitles are included for the main feature only and these are well done, appearing in a pleasing white font. I found no grammatical errors or timing faults.
As stated, there are no optional English subtitles for the bonus features.
An usual two minute promo feature kicks off the disc, with director Meike discussing his film via telephone and wanting comments. Next up in a more substantial “Making of” ( 19.04) from 2003, which begins with general discussion prior to shooting. The film is discussed over script meetings, calls are made and the crew sit around for most of its run time. Unfortunately we don’t see anything from the cast or the actual shooting process.
Following on from this is a totally bizarre piece starring Emi Kuroda giving tutor lessons to some poor chap, whilst providing a spot of Ventriloquism with a groping George W. Bush puppet who soon chases her to a rooftop after stripping her down to a nice little American number. After having his advances turned down Bush orders one of his cronies to tackle her in a spot of rooftop wrestling. It’s just about as mental as anything else in the actual film (7.24).
The most accessible extra here is a Q&A session from 2005’s New York Video Festival which runs for almost fourteen minutes. Mitsuko Meike answers several questions through a translator from the relatively small audience in attendance. These range from wanting to know how he approached the script, talking about implementing ideas and asking how well the film fared in Japan, to talking about the use of western philosophers and the types of people who usually attend Pink cinema showings. This is actually a wasted opportunity; not one member takes advantage of the situation to probe him on his use of political themes and so forth. Meike is all too happy to answer the questions, but he gives very brief answers and there’s not a whole lot to gain from this.
The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai might well stand as a political commentary, examining how the world is currently being run, though with that said it doesn’t really tell us anything we don’t already know, it just presents things in a typically bizarre Japanese fashion. It’s certainly odd that for a porn film Meike chose to hinge his work on topics such as this but then in hindsight it might just have been a momentary flash of genius that’s helped him to rise above what would have otherwise been just another overlooked skin flick. In this respect he has likely made his only masterpiece, which I’d wager is more than he ever expected. Thankfully freedom of speech for the time being is still a legal practice. I suspect that Mr. Bush has his copy in the mail.