Beautiful Mystery

Prolific Nippon porn director Genji Nakamura released "Beautiful Mystery" directly to local adult cinemas in 1983. But its sexual activity is hardly graphic by Western standards, and this surprisingly droll sendup of notorious author and extreme nationalist Yukio Mishima ("The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea") functions on more than a purely titillating plane. Despite short running time, gay fests and more adventurous theatrical programmers could have a cult find here.

Prolific Nippon porn director Genji Nakamura released “Beautiful Mystery” directly to local adult cinemas in 1983. But its sexual activity is hardly graphic by Western standards, and this surprisingly droll sendup of notorious author and extreme nationalist Yukio Mishima (“The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea”) functions on more than a purely titillating plane. Despite short running time, gay fests and more adventurous theatrical programmers could have a cult find here.

Opening credit sequence has the famous “Makio Mitani” presiding over several of his young male charges as they huff it out in a gym body-building session. Teenage Shinohara is bewitched; he, too, wants to become “a fully fledged patriotic fighter.” Accepted into their ranks, this protagonist is turned over (following blood-brotherhood initiation) to senior “troop” member Takizawa for further “instruction”– not the kind he’d expected, as it turns into an all-night escapade of drinking and sex.

Turns out that all Mitani’s youths are vigorously boffing one another at every opportunity, and the master himself is an eager participant in what he terms “the etiquette of the body.” Helmer Nakamura gets maximum comic mileage out of the contrast between this would-be army’s daytime boot-camp-style “training” and their equally sweaty nocturnal actions, with soundtracked military marches accompanying both.

Mitani’s sentimental sense of lost Japanese warrior machismo — and his flair for dramatics — lead to a planned governmental coup d’etat. But failure is anticipated; indeed, the clan seems most enthused about the prospect of committing heroic, bloody, face-saving hara-kiri. One hilarious sequence has them all weeping and applauding as Mitani “rehearses” his death, complete with faked snowfall.

Takizawa and Shinohara are thrilled to be part of this fatal plan. But Mitani’s urging that they spend their last night “as true lovers” leads to a heinous blunder — and a terrific punch line, one that ridicules the central cult-of-fascist-narcissism target to a devastating degree.

By contrast, actual close is a cheap shot, offering epilogue skit of hapless lead duo living the “gay life” somewhat later as transvestite prosties.

That too-farcical finish can’t spoil the deadpan wit of preceding progress. Perfs are aptly poker-faced, the pace alert, tech values decent. Sex scenes are eventually rife and suitably over-the-top, though in typical Japanese fashion they stop short of real explicitness. “Beautiful Mystery” would make a great, if corrosive, repertory partner to Paul Schrader’s very serious ’85 biodrama “Mishima.”

Beautiful Mystery

(JAPANESE -- ARCHIVE)

Production: An NEK release of a YU production. Directed by Genji Nakamura. Screenplay, Rokuro Motizuki.

Crew: Camera (color), Hideo Ito; lighting, Akira Yaguchi; editor, Makoto Sawada; music, Pink Box. Reviewed on videocassette, San Francisco, Feb. 21, 1996. (In S.F. Asian American Film Festival.) Running time: 61 MIN.

With: With: Tatuya Nagatomo, Kei Shiyuto, Akira Yamashina, Ren Osugi.

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