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“Underwater Love” has been one of the most talked about films amongst cult cinema fans of the last year. It’s not hard to see why, given it’s whacked out premise, being a musical take on the Japanese Pink genre (basically softcore pornography) that revolves around the relationship between a woman and a Kappa (a mythical water dwelling creature), with effects by “Tokyo Gore Police” makeup maestro Yoshihiro Nishimura.
Adding to the intrigue is the presence of acclaimed cinematographer Christopher Doyle, known for his work on many of Wong Kar Wai’s films and the likes of “Hero”, “House of Flying Daggers” and others – perhaps not a craftsman immediately associated with films about women having energetic sex with a weird looking turtle/human hybrid. The genuinely eccentric film, whose soundtrack was composed and performed by German electronic band Stereo Total, went down well with audiences at a variety of genre festivals, and is now available on region 2 DVD via Third Window, coming with interviews and behind the scenes footage.
Directed by Pink veteran Shinji Imaoka (famed for classics of the form such as “Lunch Box” and “Frog Song”), the film features Sawa Masaki as Asuka, a 35 year old woman working in a fish factory and all set to marry her boss. One day by the lake she comes across a Kappa (Yoshirô Umezawa), who claims to be Aoki, a boy from her old high school who turned into the creature after drowning in a swamp some 17 years ago. While Asuka tries to keep his presence a secret from her fiancé, the two rekindle their relationship, threatened when a God of Death turns up with dark tidings.
“Underwater Love” really is a unique viewing experience, and an absolute joy from start to finish. Pretty much everything about the film is utterly good humoured, and there’s a sense of exuberance throughout, even the later appearance of the God of Death being treated lightly and without unnecessary drama. Partly this is due to Shinji Imaoka’s down to earth approach, which is utterly devoid of pretensions and simply lets its lightweight tale unfold in pleasingly laidback fashion, its many offbeat elements cheerfully being accepted as part of its surreal world. The electronica soundtrack and short bursts of song are a perfect match for the material, and despite often having very little to do with what’s happening on screen, all are catchy numbers that bring a smile to the face. Christopher Doyle similarly proves to be an inspired choice, and although clearly a low budget affair, the film is beautifully shot, with some marvellously organic colours and use of light, resulting in an intimate, lo-fi atmosphere.
Whilst this does lift the “Underwater Love” up from the level of most Pink cinema, aside from a slightly longer running time than normal (clocking in at nearly an hour and a half, whereas most Pink films run around an hour) the film is still for the most part very faithful to the conventions of the form, with a great deal of sex and nudity on show. Oddly, most of its couplings come across as almost deliberately unerotic and are quick, near awkward fumblings, though this sits comfortably with the rest of the film, far more than if they had been sweat drenched athletic sessions. More importantly, the sex seems to be something genuinely enjoyed by the cast, adding further to the overall air of liveliness, and Shinji Imaoka’s straightforward approach and Christopher Doyle’s gently gorgeous visuals add a certain sense of innocence – despite the fact that the film features such wonders as the sight of a woman enthusiastically performing fellatio on a bizarre looking plastic Kappa penis.
It’s this kind of weirdness, combined with its infectious sense of fun that makes “Underwater Love” far more than a mere curiosity piece. Well made and extremely likeable, as with the recent “Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy”, it’s a film which definitely deserves cross over success and will hopefully result in more productions of similar crazed creativity.
Shinji Imaoka (director) / Shinji Imaoka, Fumio Moriya (screenplay)
CAST: Sawa Masaki … Asuka Kawaguchi
Yoshirô Umezawa … Tetsuya Aoki
Ai Narita … Reiko Shima
Mutsuo Yoshioka … Hajime Taki