t'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
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.