A literary and erotic escapade morphs into a parlor game with supernatural overtones in the charmingly comical, quietly oddball "Peeping Tom."

A literary and erotic escapade morphs into a parlor game with supernatural overtones in the charmingly comical, quietly oddball “Peeping Tom.” Second outing for helmer Yoshihiro Fukagawa, who impressed with his low-budget 2005 kidpic “When the Show Tent Came to My Town,” is radically different in content (about a porn-writing pulp writer), but shares its predecessor’s entertaining innocence. Too soft to titillate either Japan’s pink market or general Western auds, this idiosyncratic gem could have festival legs.

After being rejected by his publisher and moving into a down-at-heel Kamakura apartment block, sloppy 40-year-old writer Ben Makiguri (Hidetoshi Nishijima) hopes to unwind at his local bathhouse. En route, he’s picked up by a slightly older woman who offers him a free bath — and is unprepared for the moment when she joins him in the tub.

While the seduction takes place, Ben’s home is burgled. Mysteriously, nothing is stolen, but Ben discovers two small holes on opposite sides of his apartment. Through one, he sees a male neighbor who absent-mindedly watches TV in the Al Bundy position; the other room is empty.

Two magazine reporters are investigating the burglaries; in exchange for withholding his name from the article, they propose giving Ben a monthly job writing erotic stories. New to the porn game, Ben battles “Barton Fink”-like writer’s block on the eve of his first deadline. Inspiration comes via a mysterious medicine he buys from a door-to-door salesman, and the sudden abundance of sexual activity in both adjacent apartments visible through the peepholes.

Nimbly planted sinister and supernatural elements arise, but never completely overtake the narrative. Film retains its sense of teasing fun while becoming more intellectual than mere jokester triviality.

Central thesp Nishijima (“Dolls,” “License to Live”) maintains the right balance of self-importance and foolishness as the proud, geekish writer. Director Fukagawa’s no-nonsense approach allows the comedy and supernatural elements to seep into the movie unheralded.

Set for Ben’s cluttered abode is a convincing reconstruction of an aging Japanese apartment — the sort of quality production design that doesn’t draw undue attention to itself.

Peeping Tom

Japan

Production

A Neo presentation of a Benten Entertainment production. (International sales: Benten, Tokyo.) Produced by Shinichi Takami, Tadashi Iwabuchi, Hironori Marume. Executive producers, Makoto Eguchi, Etsuro Imamura. Directed by Yoshihiro Fukagawa. Screenplay, Fukagawa, Yuichi Onuma, based on the novel "Hole" by Akiko Yamamoto.

Crew

Camera (color), Kenji Takama; editor, Yui Miyatake; music, Mamiko Hirai, Fumiaki Unehara. Reviewed at Tokyo Film Festival (Japanese Eyes), Oct. 24, 2007. Running time: 109 MIN.

With

Hidetoshi Nishijima, Urara Awata, Ayumi Kinoshita, Midoriko Kimura, Go Riju.
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