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Having been scripted by Tetsuya Nakashima, the award winning writer director of the excellent “Kamikaze Girls” and “Memories of Matsuko”, it comes as no surprise that “Lala Pipo” is another slice of colourful Japanese pop culture craziness. Marking the directorial debut of Nakashima’s assistant Miyano Masayuki, the film is based upon a short story collection by noted author Okuda Hideo, its odd title being a phonetic Japanese pronunciation of an observation by an American tourist that Tokyo does indeed have a ‘lot of people’. Although it revolves around the Japanese sex industry, the film is brash, bawdy and cheerful rather than sleazy, being very much in Nakashima’s surreal, cartoonish style. The film is being released in the UK via Third Window Films, with a November run in selected cinemas before arriving on DVD.
The plot follows a collection of 6 characters in Tokyo, all of whom end up connected to the sex industry in one way or another, and whose lives gradually overlap. The film is basically driven by porn talent scout Kenji (popular actor Narimiya Hiroki, recently in “Sakuran”), who picks up girls and moves them up through the ranks from hostess girls to sex stars, including innocent seeming innocent department store worker Tomoko (Nakamura Yuri, “Pacchigi! Love & Peace”). Below Kenji lives Hiroshi (Minagawa Sarutoki, “The Climber’s High”), an overweight loner and freelance writer, who bemoans his lack of action whilst masturbating and talking to his penis, which takes the form of a large green puppet. One day, he meets the portly Sayuri (Murakami Tomoko, “Gu Gu the Cat”), who yearns to work as an anime voice artist, but who already has a rather unique career in the adult film industry. Meanwhile, an odd young man called Koichi (Yoshimura Takashi) imagines himself as a superhero fighting against the immoral denizens of the city, and a middle-aged housewife (Hamada Mari, “Memories of Matsuko”) finds escape through a new life in porn.
As expected, “Lala Pipo” is exceedingly bright and colourful, with an upbeat mood and a non-stop pop soundtrack that keeps things bouncing along. Although suitably evocative of the seedier side of Tokyo, filled with neon and flashing lights, it manages somehow to avoid ever being particularly sleazy or unpleasant. This having been said, it does have its fair share of disturbing and harsh moments, though nothing too perverse or gratuitous. The film is packed full of delightfully surreal moments guaranteed to keep the eyes wide open, most notably the bizarre green puppet penis and a wacky power rangers style sex battle.
Miyano Masayuki does a fine job in the director’s seat, and while his approach is inevitably very similar to that of Tetsuya Nakashima, he throws in the wild gags and fun special effects with enough energy for this not to matter. Most of the jokes hit home, and the film is very funny throughout, switching between slapstick, weirdly abstract humour and sitcom parody amongst other things. Despite being set in the porn industry and inevitably featuring lots of sex, the film is adult without ever being too graphic or needlessly hardcore in a way which would have detracted from its winning sense of innocence, and Masayuki never seems to be aiming for cheap titillation.
The characters are a strange bunch, though Nakashima’s script makes a genuine effort to make them sympathetic, if not necessarily likeable in a traditional sense. As a result, the film is strangely grounded and affecting in a frequently quite bittersweet manner, though thankfully without ever being melodramatic. The stories are well paced and cleverly structured, never going on too long or offering conventional conclusions or obvious endings. The device of overlapping tales is a common one in modern cinema, though thankfully here it is not merely used for a narrative gimmick and the characters’ lives do come together in naturalistic and often unexpected fashion, making for engaging and unpredictable viewing. Indeed, the film is a resolutely anecdotal and idiosyncratic affair, though still manages to hold the interest, with Masayuki skilfully weaving the various threads together and at the same time having plenty to say about the human condition, life in modern Japan, relationships, and of course, sexual politics.
As a result, “Lala Pipo” works very well on pretty much every level, and is certain to be enjoyed by all fans of modern Japanese pop cinema. Well made and endearingly wacky, it bodes well for Miyano Masayuki’s future career, though perhaps for his sake it might be wise for him to step a little further from Tetsuya Nakashima territory, as viewers would certainly be forgiven for assuming he had been the director.
Masayuki Miyano (director) / Tetsuya Nakashima (screenplay)
CAST: Saori Hara … Miku