by Justin Stewart Film

Aroused by Gymnopedies | Isao Yukisada

July 19, 2017

Nikkatsu is in the process of rolling out a new crop of “romantic pornography” (or Roman Porno) films—a throwback to their heyday in the 1970s and ‘80s, when the studio went “pink” in an effort to compete with television. As then, the only real guiding precept is that there’s a ton of sex (four or so acts per hour was the old minimum); otherwise, filmmakers are free to play, and to explore their own ideas. Aroused by Gymnopedies is Isao Yukisada’s contribution to the Roman redux and there’s lots of sex, but it’s all of the messy, inappropriate, and anguished variety.

Itsuji Itao plays softcore director Shinji, who proceeds from one furtive sex act to the next with a hangdog expression and the joylessness of an addict. Each encounter is preceded by Erik Satie’s title song piping into the soundtrack, a theme that grows funny with repetition. “The budget is low but the film is high-minded,” Shinji tells an actress, a line indicative of Yukisada’s keen self-awareness, marking this as something like his 8 ½ (or to move a little nearer to the gutter, the horny trick-films of France’s impish Jean-Claude Brisseau). Apart from the sex, there are funny skewerings of film world grievances like inane post-screening Q&As and aggro, fact-spewing fanboys. Though about the specific agonies of a Japanese porn director, Aroused smuggles in truths applicable to anyone.

Published as part of New York Asian Film Festival 2017 | Dispatch 3.