Film: Underwater Love - A Pink Musical
UK Release date: 21st November 2011
UK Distributor: Third Window Films
Director: Shinji Imaoka
Starring: Matsuo Yoshioka, Sawa Masaki, Fumio Moriya, Hiroshi Sato
Running time: 87 mins
Reviewer: Adam Wing
Just when you thought the Japanese film industry had run out of ideas, along comes Shinji Imaoka’s Underwater Love, a soft porn symphony complete with jaunty tunes, naked flesh and whimsical flights of fancy. If that’s not strange enough, what do you say to a quirky account of love between a woman and a sea creature? Directed by the pink-film veteran behind tasty treats like Lunch Box and Frog Song, shot by famed cinematographer Christopher Doyle (Hero, In the Mood for Love), with original music by German duo Stereo Total, Underwater Love is a musical stampede of the likes you have never seen before. With added fleshy bits.
Asuka (Sawa Masaki) works in a lakeside fish factory and life seems to be going swimmingly. In fact, she’s just about to marry her doting boss (Mutsuo Yoshioka). One day, she encounters a Kappa, a water creature that lives in the nearby lake. In Japanese folklore the Kappa is a mischievous creature known for playful pranks, though they’re not averse to drowning animals, kidnapping children and raping women too. Thankfully though, this isn’t the latest headfuck from Takashi Miike; it’s a light-hearted romance with bouncy show tunes and dance routines. Imaoka’s Kappa is less likely to kill you, and more likely to challenge you to a wrestling match. They also have a deep-rooted love for cucumbers, with many believing that the green cylindrical fruit tastes better than a human child - glad we cleared that up then. Underwater Love swims to UK shores this month courtesy of Third Window Films, and if you get in quick you’ll also receive a copy of the Stereo Total soundtrack CD.
This particular Kappa (Yoshiro Umezawa) claims to be Aoki, the reincarnation of Asuka’s first love. Aoki drowned as a child and has come back as a sea creature with scaly skin and reptilian features. He swims like a fish and dances like Prince. Maybe that should read ‘a tin of Princes tuna’, the dancing is infectious but it’s hardly Riverdance. Asuka takes him home and keeps him in a bathtub, much to the annoyance of fiancé Hajime who delivers an ultimatum, either the Kappa goes or the wedding's off. Events take an unlikely turn - hardly surprising really - when Aoki discovers from a zany friend that Asuka has one day left to live. Aoki sets out to save his first love, pausing momentarily for some casual sex (Kappa’s are quite the catch it would seem) and a toe-tapping cluster of catchy pop tunes. Think Glee with fins - that kind of thing.
It’s hardly surprising that Underwater Love’s biggest selling point is its cinematography. Christopher Doyle has worked with the likes of Zhang Yuan, Stanley Kwan and most notably Wong Kar-wai (Days of Being Wild, 2046). He brings a dreamlike quality to the visuals, spectacularly calming and enchanting at times. It’s a low budget affair as one might expect, but with Doyle’s input Underwater Love is probably the best looking pink film you will ever see. It’s aided by a funky, unforgettable soundtrack by Berlin based duo Stereo Total, who have made an art form out of blending punk rock, disco and electro beats. When combined they make for an irresistible combination, backed up by some of the daftest and most adorable dance routines ever committed to film. It’s wacky, it’s ridiculous and it’s very infectious - a captivating oddity from start to finish.
In her first theatrical feature film performance, Sawa Masaki (Reincarnation) remains a breath of fresh air throughout. Her performance is warming, sympathetic and captivating from start to finish, and her comedy timing is impeccable. No matter how bizarre or how outlandish the premise gets, Asuka remains a believable heroine. It’s not particularly original, unless you include the dance steps, but fans of modern Japanese drama will know what to expect from her offbeat sensibilities. Yoshiro Umezawa is a little less convincing perhaps, but you can blame that on the prosthetic beak and rubber hands, he makes for a totally original love interest none the less. The rest of the cast members are on hand to act insane, dance erratically and get their clothes off. Not necessarily in that order it has to be said. So if the thought of a giant turtle-like creature having sex with a human being doesn’t float your boat, you’ll do well to look away now. If you like interspecies loving but can’t stand toe-tapping dance routines, you might as well join them at the table of conformity.
Underwater Love is unlikely to win over a legion of new fans, but if you’re curious to know what an all singing, all dancing, low budget musical porno looks like, you’ve come to the right place. With lush cinematography, zany performances and wacky musical outbursts aplenty, Shinji Imaoka has delivered a fun-packed, show-stopping break from convention. Upon reflection, the turtle fellatio was a little too much, but at least they didn’t break into song halfway through. That would’ve totally ruined the mood. Underwater Love is quite possibly the best low budget soft porn Japanese musical ever made, and you can quote me on that.