Review: Underwater Love (15) / Directed by: Shinji Imaoka / Written by: Shinji Imaoka, Fumio Moriya / Starring: Sawa Masaki, Yoshiro Umezawa, Ai Narita, Mutsuo Yoshioka / Released: Out Now
Japanese Pinku cinema or ‘Pink’ cinema has long been a staple of the country's filmic output. Since the 1960s these soft core porn films have dominated a large proportion of the market. With the emergence of home video and a veer towards the more graphic side of things, the market declined somewhat though films in the genre are still being produced. A ‘Kappa’ is a Japanese mythical creature, also known as a Kawataro (river-boy) or Kawako (river-child) and they are a water sprite found in Japanese folklore. Kappas are depicted as reptiles in a humanoid form often causing mischief. So where am I going with this? Well some mad director called Shinji Amaoka decided to combine these two elements into a fantasy ‘pink musical’ called Underwater Love.
Underwater Love begins in a small village with Asuka (Sawa Masaki) working at a fish processing plant where the staff spontaneously erupt into a song and dance number. Asuka is engaged to the manager of the plant and one day when she goes outside she sees a Kappa (Tetsuya Aoki) in the river eating a fish. Nobody believes her about her sighting of the creature and she returns to the water hoping to catch another glimpse. Then one day the Kappa introduces itself in the middle of the road and reveals that it is actually the reincarnation of a former high school friend. From here the Kappa stays with her a while but starts getting in the way of Asuka’s relationship with her fiancé. The Kappa moves out to an abandoned house and gets a job working at the fish plant. The Kappa clearly never got over his high school crush on Asuka and spends his days hanging out with a hippy who may or may not be the god of death. The hippy tells the Kappa that Asuka will die soon unless he can get some kind of mythical anal bead from the Kappas who live in the forest and shove it up Asuka’s butt (yes seriously). Based on this the Kappa has to convince Asuka that he is the one, and take her into the forest. In between all this madness are a series of song and dance numbers occurring at random intervals, oh and there is some sex but it's about as arousing as supermarket sweep.
Before you think I have lost my mind and have started reviewing porn, you should know that this DVD is available in HMV and although it’s pretty far from mainstream it has played film festivals to some acclaim. It’s also shot by renowned cinematographer Christopher Doyle who worked on such great looking films as 2046 and Hero. The problem with this film and the reason that it's not really an out an out success is that it doesn’t go far enough in any direction to become a bona (tee-hee) fide cult classic that it so wants to be. The songs are catchy and well scored by Stereo Total and they stick in your head for days. The manner in which they are performed is less musical number and more an afterthought. The lip synching to the songs is way out of whack and the actors flounce around with some basic dance moves as seen performed by your dad at the family Christmas party. There is a sense of joy in much of the music and story that at first puts a smile on your face. You can’t help but wish though that more emphasis on outrageous musical set pieces would have gone a long way to improving the film overall.
Due to the fact that this is basically a low budget dirty musical, there isn’t much of a budget for the special effects. The Kappa is basically an actor wearing a fake beak, rubber gloves and a turtle shell strapped to his back. Somehow this works in the film's favour though and adds to the goofy handmade charm of the piece. Much of the budget has obviously been spent on a huge prosthetic scaly penis, visible in the films most explicit scenes. Sadly also due to being a low budget movie none of the cast is particularly impressive to look at, which if you’re making an erotic movie is probably what you should be aiming for. The actor playing the Kappa is wooden as a board as well, even though he is subtitled it seems like someone with no previous experience they just plucked off the street
After the initial scenes that set the story up, the film meanders a bit until the climax. However for a film shot by such an acclaimed cinematographer it sure is dull to look at. Only during the scenes where they wander into the forest or near the water does the texture of the film really stand out. Once it gets into the bugnuts story it does kind of make you smile, although they are limited by the budget there is a sense of unbridled joy to the whole thing and a simple universal message about going for what you want before it's too late.
Underwater Love is perhaps the strangest film to ever come out of Japan and although it won’t cross over or set the world alight, it may be a good surprise purchase for the film geek who thinks he has seen everything this Christmas.
Extras: Interviews with Christopher Doyle and the director, Behind the scenes footage, Trailer.