Director: Banmei Takahashi
Starring: Sawa Suzuki, Reiko Kataoka, Aya Sugimoto, Yoko Nakajima
Taking place in Tokyo’s light filled Shibuya district, New Love in Tokyo follows two young women working in Japan’s sex industry; Rei, a dominatrix at an S&M club and Ayumi, a call girl. Striking up a friendship, the two women go about their lives, giving a glimpse into the somewhat misunderstood world of sex in Tokyo and their own. Outside of their jobs, Rei is an aspiring actress and Ayumi dreams of being a wife. As the two spend time together, the veil is lifted on the type of women employed in such professions and their place in society.
Based upon interviews over 60 young women in the Tokyo sex industry, the film boils down their experiences into these two main characters, offering a realistic, if not biographical account of living such a life. Taking an avant-garde approach, the erotic black and white photography of Nobuyoshi Araki is featured and interspersed as scene breaks throughout the film, serving as interpretive statements on the characters whose layers are slowly peeled back during the course of the film. It’s a very interesting technique that at first seems intentionally controversial with its unabashed nudity and only meant to titillate, but by the end of the film, it has evolved into a brilliant revelation, much like the thematic elements of the film, on the often untrue preconceptions of the business.
Sawa Suzuki sizzles on screen in her performance as Rei. She is a strong female and totally in control of her world. While I am in no way intrigued by the world of S&M, her scenes at ‘work’ show a professional and expert in her field. Her dominatrix persona is at odds with the real her, an aspiring actress who enjoys food, drink, and a bit of nature amongst the asphalt jungle around her. Reiko Kataoka’s Ayumi, a call girl, shows that she has a way of handling men and retains a surprising amount of innocence despite her choice of career. The worlds of both are similar enough that the two are able to make a quick friendship with both of their experiences and similar personalities forging the bond.
A variety of challenges face the two, from Rei’s work to ‘break-in’ a noobie and non-believer to the world of S&M and Ayumi’s very real fears concerning intimacy with complete strangers. It’s a very dangerous job these two perform, but it never feels tragic despite that being the expectation. These women are strong, independent, and for the most part, know what they want out of life. A far cry from the ‘damaged goods’ stigma that women in these positions typically have, Rei and Ayumi show clear control with their manipulation of men and pretty financially secure lives.
Nudity is a big part of the film’s controversial status; it features a great deal of flesh on display. While forthright and realistic in its depiction of ‘work’ it never feels trashy and instead focuses on the methodologies and thoughts of the women during their bare moments. Their bodies are simply tools and attributes that they exploit a bit for their enjoyment or benefit. It doesn’t hurt that both leads are quite pretty, but I found myself more compelled by the final act by their ‘pedestrian’ lives rather than in their provocative jobs.
New Love in Tokyo is a heck of surprise film. A terrifically acted and darkly funny film, it is always great to find such a gem sight unseen. While I’ve spent much time viewing Japanese films over the years, the fact that I can enjoy such an underrated film as this makes me hungry for more. Horndogs need not apply, but wow is this a great little picture.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Electric Button (Moon and Cherry) and Girl$
Special thanks to Animeigo for providing a viewing copy!