牝猫たち 「Mesuneko Tachi」
Running Time: 84 mins.
Director: Kazuya Shiraishi
Writer: Kazuya Shiraishi (Screenplay),
Starring: Juri Ihata, Satsuki Maue, Michie, Takuma Otoo, Tomohiro Kaku, Hideaki Murata,
Dawn of the Felines is another entry in the reboot of the Roman Porno series and it comes from Kazuya Shiraishi who has worked on the rather leaden dramas The Devil’s Path and Twisted Justice. The title is a signal to anyone who knows the Roman Porno movement since it seems to follow on from Night of the Felines, a somewhat light take on the sex lives of people in Tokyo as seen and felt by a group of sex workers in a bathhouse. Dawn of the Felines is the modern update set in the glimmering neon lights and shadowy back streets of Ikebukuro.
We follow three young women who work for Health Express Young Wives Paradise. This is essentially a glammed up name for a prostitution company that sends there workers to customers. The three workers have lives that women facing problems in modern Japan will definitely recognise. Masako (Juri Ihata), a former office worker who has fallen into debt and lives in an internet cafe. Yui (Satsuki Maue) is a single-mother desperate for money but she also mistreats her son Kenta. Then there is Rie (Michie), a woman trapped in a gilded cage of sorts because while her husband earns a good salary she is trapped a marriage where the love has gone. The three are given their assignments by their “manager” Nonaka (Takuma Otoo) who has a book full of clients willing to pay tens of thousands of yen for company.
As per the rules of the Roman Porno world, there must be a sex scene every ten minutes and these characters are shown in the act with a variety of male clients who each have different problems. Masako is the favourite prostitute of a hikikomori called Takada (Tomohiro Kaku), who owns and lives in a high rise he hasn’t left for the outside in over ten years. Yui, the more demanding and rebellious worker, latches onto a rising-star in the comedy world (Hideaki Murata) whilst leaving her son in the care of strangers. Rie has a strange relationship with an elderly client, a recent widower who carries a huge emotional burden that feeds into an obsession he develops with her. Through the interactions of the women and their clients, the personalities are developed and so are their situations. Audiences get glimpses into how easy it is to fall into the life of a prostitute and the social and financial burdens and freedoms that come with such a position.
The stories that develop are alternately downbeat and humorous and do not take ludicrous turns (apart from a trip to a bondage club) with a moment of magical realism to lighten the mood in Kenta’s subplot and wrap up neatly. It is easier to place it in the real world.
Indeed, unlike the other films in the Roman Porno reboot, Dawn of the Felines low-key narrative development gives it a realistic flavour, a feeling reinforced by the cinema verite style shooting on hand held cameras and using natural lighting and real locations that gives it a sense of immediacy.
The sex that’s involved feels of the places and people it comes from and the frank depictions of sex and the many lives that intersect in Tokyo ensure that while the film does not reach for the dramatic and comedic heights of Aroused by Gymnopedies and Wet Woman in the Wind, it does feel real and easy to identify with, as if we could pass by any of these women whilst walking around Ikebukuro brought to life in all its neon glory with its station featuring prominently.
As we watch lives full of funny and tragic moments unfold on screen, one gets the sense that the characters may be stray cats but they will find some crumbs of hope to keep them fed and keep going. Maybe we’ll see them on screen again? It would be interesting to see where they end up. Day of the Felines, perhaps?