ジムノペディに乱れる 「Gymnopedies ni Midareru」
Running Time: 83 mins
Director: Isao Yukisada
Writer: Isao Yukisada, Anne Horizumi (Screenplay),
Starring: Itsuji Itao, Sumire Ashina, Izumi Okamura, Noriko Kijima, Yuko Miyamoto, Masaki Miura, Kenji Iwatani, Mayumi Tajima,
Aroused by Gymnopedies is one of the five films commissioned by Nikkatsu to be part of its reboot of the Roman Porno genre. Isao Yukisada directs and co-writes a self-reflexive story about the craft of filmmaking involving a once-great director who finds himself on skid-row and carrying a sadness that seemingly not even sex with a series of beautiful women can relieve.
The has-been director is fifty-something Shinji Furuya (Itsuji Itao). He was once a rising star in arthouse cinema capable of making great works that won awards at places like the Venice Film Festival but over the course of time his taste for womanising ballooned and something happened to him that made him fall from the heavens of the film industry and into a hellish landscape of melancholy and self-pity. He is now reduced to directing pink films for money, a stony-faced chain-smoking presence on set and a silent solitary man juggling debts in private. His latest production has turned into a disaster because his lead actress Anri (Izumi Okamura) has dropped out and he’s going to lose a desperately-needed paycheck.
Thrown deeper into his mire of depression and with bills to pay he shambles around Tokyo over the course of seven days he alternately looking for money and slumps from one female acquaintance’s bed to another. Alas, he seems to get no joy from the sex he has with beautiful woman and he even rejects their offers of comfort. He soldiers on in being miserable because he carries an emotional burden too great for others to solve and it seems to be connected to a woman who plays the Erik Satie piano piece Gymnopedies in flashbacks he experiences…
The script from Isao Yukisada and Anne Horizumi takes its time to reveal the emotional baggage weighing Furuya down, the meaning behind flashbacks to the woman playing Gymnopedies and the film’s titles but it sprinkles the required amount of sex scenes (one every ten minutes) into the proceedings and they punctuate the personal and professional embarrassments of Furuya’s life which make up the story.
It is not a pretty picture. As we watch Itsuji Itao’s central protag stumble from one day to the next we see acts outside the bedroom so embarrassing that audiences will wonder what anyone sees in him that make them want to take him into the bedroom. He demonstrates selfishness and callousness in his private life that makes him an unpleasant presence from stealing the piggy-bank from his rich student Yuka (Sumire Ashina) after bedding her to taking money from his equally cash-strapped ex-wife Rinko (Mayumi Tajima) after she prostitutes herself for him. Professionally, he is unrecognised by a new generation of actors and he burns his bridges with his producer through his bad behaviour. A supporter arranges a small retrospective of his works but Furuya ruins this by arriving dishevelled and unprepared to talk to a small but appreciative audience who he insults by spouting pretentious nonsense before getting chased out of the event and down the street by Yuka’s furious boyfriend in the film’s sole comic sequence.
In the bedroom, it’s another matter…
Audience sympathy may be in short supply but this being a Roman Porno, there are women who need pleasuring and inside the bedroom (and a variety of other locations) Furuya has the ability to bring women to climax even if he treats them badly. The lead actresses bare a lot of flesh and moan and whimper with much enthusiasm, they have their own problems and ideas, but this film is all about the pain of Furuya and they merely serve to move his story along.
Isao plays his character distant and pained so while he beds a bevy of beautiful women connected to him in the frequent sex scenes he gets no joy and looks detached. Apart from one ugly scene of dominance at the end, it is always the women who initiate things and most of them hold a position of power over him but this doesn’t mean they are empowered in any way and it doesn’t explain Furuya’s sadness. It is all gradually revealed in a climax at a hospital and at Furuya’s home that verges on the ridiculous and overwrought but the film retains its balance and the climax almost manages to redeem the film by giving everything a much needed emotional context and explaining Furuya’s behaviour. Isao gives a good performance of a man with pent up emotions although some may find that frustrating to follow.
The technical aspects are more interesting with Tokyo feeling claustrophobic. Furuya is often hemmed in by the Chuo line and his week-long traipse through Tokyo is on foot so you get to see the twisting streets of the city. There are some great shots such as Furuya and Anri leaning against a wall with floral print wallpaper at a club as they talk about the industry they work in and Furuya’s moonlit escape from Yuka’s apartment.
The director is Isao Yukisada and he has flitted between a variety of film genres such as the psycho-drama Parade (2010), the weepy romance Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World (2004) and the teen action drama Go (2001) and he delivers another heartfelt film, a somewhat self-reflexive look at the vagaries of the pink film industry and a broken man looking for release. Whether audience members (particularly women) will be patient enough to stick around the presence of the miserablist Furuya is another question and it would be easy to imagine people not finding such a selfish and closed-off character engaging and dropping out before the climax of the movie. Those who stick around may find Furuya’s catharsis rewarding but the rewards are limited beyond that and admiring performances and locations. And the sex scenes.
My favourite Itsuji Itao role is still the ruthless teacher in One Missed Call Final (2006) and Izumi Okamura was one half of the powerful double-act in the incredible drama Shady (2013).
2 thoughts on “Aroused by Gymnopedies「ジムノペディに乱れる」 Director: Isao Yukisada (2017)”
RE: “a sadness that seemingly not even sex with a series of beautiful women can relieve.”
(Denny imitating jazz legend Louis Jordan) “Jack, you daayd”
I’m not saying sex can cure everything but by the time he got to the third woman I was like, “Oh come on…” and what did these ladies see in this guy?
I could see the routes of pathos the writers/director were trying to lay out but I wasn’t convinced and thought it was a waste of the female actors. I would be interested in reading the opinions of women from Japan and the West as to what they think of the central protag. Maybe I’m being harsh.