Haruhiko Arai is a four-decade veteran screenwriter and director specializing in erotic films, cutting his teeth with the legendary pink film auteur Koji Wakamatsu, and going on to become a key screenwriter of Nikkatsu’s roman porno genre. In more recent years, Arai scripted some great films for fellow pink film associate Ryuichi Hiroki (Vibrator, It’s Only Talk, Kabukicho Love Hotel). It Feels So Good, Arai’s third and latest film as a director, alas, falls significantly short of his previous screenwriting work. Based on Kazufumi Shiraishi’s novel, the film could be considered an unofficial entry in the roman porno revival of recent years, adhering closely to its formula of interpolating frequent sex scenes within the narrative.
The plot here is fairly minimal. Kenji (Tasuku Emoto) gets a call from his dad that his former girlfriend Naoko (Kumi Takiuchi) is about to get married, and what’s more, he’s been invited to the wedding. Kenji shows up a few days before the wedding day to meet up with Naoko, whose fiancé, a high-ranking military officer, is away on a job. With precious little hesitation on either of their parts, they end up sleeping together. Naoko envisions this as just a last-time fling, but Kenji, his dormant desire for Naoko now enflamed, decides he wants more, and acts on that impulse in a scene that’s disturbingly close to rape. The two then negotiate a five-day mini-affair, with earnest conversation and reminiscence alternating with intense sex sessions. The specter of Japan’s 2011 natural disasters lingers in the film, which was shot in the region affected by the disasters, and the ostensible dramatic progression is informed by an apocalyptic resonance that emerges late in the narrative.
But It Feels So Good also struggles to overcome a few severe miscalculations. There is an almost total absence of dramatic tension as the central couple, the film’s only two characters, slide with absurd ease into their affair, with almost no qualms about Naoko’s almost-married status, effectively lowering the stakes to an unrecoverable level. Equally disruptive is the woeful lack of chemistry between the leads, as well as the substantial gap between in their performative appeal, with Takiuchi making an overwhelmingly greater impression and reinforcing the struggle to connect with the pair. (Ryuichi Hiroki’s far superior, similarly sex-heavy Side Job makes far better use of Takiuchi’s talents.) It also doesn’t help that the sex scenes are so unimaginatively staged, damning the film’s rhythm to one of dull repetition, especially when stretched to nearly two hours. It’s a shame that the film’s title so grievously misrepresents the viewing experience.
Published as part of Japan Cuts 2020 | Dispatch 2.