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It’s really up to you on how much of “Platonic Sex” you want to believe as truth and which parts you want to pass off as either exaggerations for the sake of artistic license or just downright self-serving lies. Based on her own best-selling memories, “Platonic Sex” follows the turbulent young life of Ai Iijima (played by Saki Kagama) as she goes from one terrible ordeal to another. And through it all, the urge to end her existence via suicide hangs over young Ai’s head like smog clouds over Los Angeles.
As “Platonic Sex” opens, Ai is on the verge of suicide when fate intervenes by way of her cellphone. She gets a text message from a young man name Toshi (Joh Odagiri), who is sending a birthday message to his dead sister, whose cellphone number Ai happens to presently own. Saved by Toshi’s heartfelt message and gratitude toward her for “being born”, Ai steps off the ledge, feeling some semblance of hope.
In quick order, we learn what has happened to Ai in her very short life (she just turned 17). After being gang raped by classmates, she is blamed for the crime, beaten by her father, and kicked out of the house. On the street and penniless, Ai goes to work at a bar frequented by old salarymen, where she is befriended by the bar’s popular hostess, Akemi (Maho Nonami). But life has a lot more in installed for Ai than just playing up to the fantasies of old, drunken men. Kanei (Taishu Kase), the man who introduced Ai to the world of bar hosting, convinces her that the only way to pay off her debts (she’s a shopaholic) is to go into porn.
No sooner does Ai go into porn does she finally meet Toshi, who she has been text messaging back and forth over the past year. Having much in common, such as their isolation from the rest of the world, the two enters into a passionate love affair. But as Ai would tell Toshi later in the movie, she feels more alone when she’s with him than when she didn’t have him. This is because Toshi is emotionally unavailable, and is still haunted by his sister’s suicide. How can two people love each other when they aren’t even able to confide in each other about their grief? Obviously, they can’t.
“Platonic Sex” is not the happiest movie in the world. It’s a sometimes too bleak (but very honest) look at Japanese society, at the life of an average Japanese youth, and at whatever limited possibilities that exists in the world for people like Ai, who has no direction whatsoever. Ai’s life revolves around endless shopping and clinging to her precious cellphone. The phone is her lifeline, the one thing that convinces her she’s not alone, that a friend is always within reach, even if that proves not to be the case. The illusion of possibilities is what’s important, and for someone who has no real hope for herself, illusions matter.
Which isn’t to say “Platonic Sex” is an eternally depressing movie. There are a number of bright spots, one being the presence of Hiroshi Abe, who plays Ishikawa, a flamboyant millionaire who thinks nothing about spending away his fortunes in a given night. We don’t know much about Ishikawa — where he comes from, who he is, or even where he gets his seemingly endless supply of money — but Hiroshi Abe is a terrific welcome to what might have otherwise been nothing more than an exercise in nihilism.
Co-star Maho Nonami, as a hostess turned single mother, also provides good counterbalance to the misery of Ai and Toshi’s life. The movie does a very wise thing by balancing out the depression with the sunshine, or at least the possibilities of sunshine as embodied by the tough Akemi and the carefree Ishikawa. The two characters remind us, as well as the two leads, that life isn’t all about death, debts, shopping, cellphones, and depression; that there are other things out there to be found if only they would look instead of remaining steadfastly muddled in the quicksand that is their self-inflicted grief and pain.
“Platonic Sex” actually has a lot in common with the teen drama “Pump Up the Volume”, which also speaks volumes (no pun intended) about the isolation teens feels in a world that no longer understands them, or cares to try. As in “Volume”, the characters in “Sex” are not doomed to this type of life; it’s about choices, and all they have to do is make a choice to turn away the darkness, or at least an attempt toward that end.
Ai and Toshi are at the crossroads of their life, and mistakes are plenty and unavoidable. The trick, the film seems to be saying, is to realize that life isn’t perfect, but it is worth living, and accepting that notion is a good enough start.
FYI: Despite its title and subject matter, “Platonic Sex” is not about sex. The movie is relatively low on nudity, although we do see lead Saki Kagama in various stages of undress. And despite Ai’s journey through the porn industry, there are no graphic porn scenes to turn off viewers. The film is about acceptance and self-realization, not skin.
Masako Matsuura (director) / Ai Iijima (screenplay)
CAST: Joh Odagiri …. Toshi
Hiroshi Abe …. Ishikawa
Saki Kagama … Aoi/Ai
Kenjiro Ishimaru …. Yoshio
Taishu Kase …. Kanei
Toshie Negishi …. Yukiko
Maho Nonami …. Akemi