A trio of tales delineating Sex and the Japanese city, “Tokyo Noir” provides more emotional colors than just black and white. Pic marks a collaboration between writer-helmers Naoto Kumazawa and Masato Ishioka that’s less diverse than in “Female,” another recent erotic Nipponese collection, but is still emotionally rewarding, thanks to solid performances and considered pacing. Sexual slant could open up fest slots beyond Asia. Pic was a modest earner locally on release last September.
First installment, “Birthday,” tells the story of Mari (Takami Yoshimoto), a 34-year-old plain Jane whose ongoing singledom is complicated by fresh disasters every birthday. As her 35th approaches, Mari is beset by dizziness, and a doctor suggests that her sexless life may be harming her health.
After a late night at the office, Mari enters a mysterious shop front adorned with Venetian carnival masks. Inside, she’s greeted by a stylish but unidentified man (Go Riju) who describes the therapeutic value of temporarily assuming other identities. The hairdresser/pimp also gives Mari a makeover and a one-off gig as a hooker. The money and sex improve her confidence, and she decides once is not enough.
Sensitively helmed by Kumazawa, yarn unfolds gently, resembling a sexy variation on “Sayonara Midori” or the South Korean “This Charming Girl.” A mannered, but ultimately touching, perf by Yoshimoto lifts the seg far beyond apparent limitations.
Second episode, “Girl’s Life,” features the less sympathetic Miyuki (Aimi Nakamura), a university student whose prodigious sexual appetite and misanthropy is somewhat satiated by her sideline job in a massage parlor. While “Birthday” suggests prostitution as an option for self-discovery, in “Girl’s Life,” it helps Mari keep emotional pain at bay.
Matter-of-fact portrayal of a sex worker’s life, plus a solid perf by Nakamura, makes this an intriguing entry, despite a glib conclusion.
In the final seg, “Night Lovers,” Nao (Kimika Yoshino) is an office worker whose b.f. goes AWOL after being suspected of trading company secrets. To cope with her grief, she begins picking up men but always backs off before consummation.
One guy arranges a meeting with an internet hooker (Aya Keki) who’s also called Nao, so the wide-eyed girl can see the real thing. Gradually, both the viewer and Nao get embroiled in details of the hooker’s life and her professional dissatisfactions. Episode — helmed by both Kumazawa and Ishioka — manages to be both witty and tender.