Watching Sion Sono’s unruly telepathic sex comedy “The Virgin Psychics” is a bit like having a dog hump your leg for the better part of two hours; it’s filthy and monotonous and fairly interminable, but after a while you’ve been so thoroughly numbed that you have to admit it’s kind of sweet. At the very least, one has to admire the Japanese auteur’s stamina: Following “Love & Peace,” “Shinjuku Swan,” “Tag” and “The Whispering Star,” this cheerfully gutter-minded supernatural farce is Sono’s fifth feature to emerge this year, and it more than compensates for whatever the earlier movies may have lacked in Japanese schoolgirl fetishism, perspiring cleavage, levitating sex toys and slap-you-in-the-face erection gags. For all that, it’s almost a shame that no 3D release seems to be in the works, but insofar as it revels in the sort of madcap excesses beloved by the director’s hardcore fans, “The Virgin Psychics” could still go down as one of his more commercial 2015 efforts.
Released Sept. 4 in Japan, this occasionally endearing, often supremely irritating movie represents a feature-length adaptation of Sono’s 12-part TV series, which in turn was drawn from a manga by Kiminori Wakasugi. Whatever narrative compressions have taken place, what’s onscreen often feels padded and gratuitous, starting with a long, babelicious montage in which our nerdy young hero, Yoshiro (Shota Sometani) cycles through the many hot women in his life in search of just the right fantasy fodder, with a box of tissues at the ready. This may be an evening ritual for countless teenagers in the town of Higashi Mikawa, but on this night it happens to coincide with a rare cosmic phenomenon, leaving Yoshiro and a handful of other frustrated virgins with a most curious form of ESP — one that enables them to either detect the unspoken desires of others, or to perform their own psychically enhanced sex acts.
And so Yoshiro finds himself magically attuned to every lusty thought and impulse in his midst — a gift that also seems to have been bestowed on two girls he’s been eyeing of late, friendly Sae (Erina Mano) and sullen Miyuki (Elaiza Ikeda). The other ESP beneficiaries include Yosuke (Motoki Fukami), a dumb jock who has the power to teleport nude all over the place (his first stop, natch, is the girls’ locker room), and Terumitsu (Makita Sports), a fortysomething schlub who’s embarrassed that his gifts have exposed him as a virgin; then again, a guy who has no qualms about showing off his new mental masturbation talents in public doesn’t have much in the way of shame to begin with.
On hand to explain this bizarre psychosexual phenomenon are two investigators, Takahiro (Ken Yasuda) and Takako (Megumi Kagurazaka), who has her own “Medium”-style talent which enables her to see the future of anyone who establishes eye contact with her breasts. (Needless to say, she sees the future a lot.) Before long, Yoshiro and his fellow paranormal pervs must band together, like the Avengers by way of John Waters, to stop a team of “evil psychics” from wiping out everyone on the planet using the human libido as their ultimate weapon: Think “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” or “The Stepford Wives,” with life-sized sex dolls.
Frequently interrupting its own proceedings to toss off some numbskull off-color remark or peer up a girl’s skirt, “The Virgin Psychics” has an unapologetically dirty mind, except on those occasions when it seems to have no mind at all. It’s never particularly clear what the villains (or the heroes, for that matter) are trying to accomplish, and whether their objective is to turn the world into an orgiastic cesspool or a puritan’s paradise. Those who care to do so might have fun parsing the movie’s gender politics, which can be summed up by the many, many scenes of women walking and writhing in their bras, panties and French-maid-style negligees. Other viewers may well question why the one girl introduced as a “budding lesbian” turns out to have such dastardly motives — unless, of course, they’re too busy shaking their heads at lines like “It’s tiring having a nonstop hard-on.”
As Yoshiro, Sometani turns in an exceptionally (perhaps deliberately) off-putting performance, all high-pitched squeals and adolescent loser pronouncements; in general, the actors seem to have been directed to act in as manic a register as possible, all the better to compete with d.p. Hajime Kanda’s loud, garish visuals and Tomohide Harada’s relentlessly overactive score. The movie’s weirdest and most charming element involves Yoshiro’s determination to track down the dream girl he once had a conversation with before they were even born, back when they were still in their mothers’ neighboring wombs (a device that leads art director Takashi Matsuzuka into David Lynchian realms of red-room production design).
The idea of finding your one true love at the prenatal stage lends “The Virgin Psychics” a romantic, even conservative streak that increasingly reveals itself as Sono’s secret weapon. The talk may be dirty, but actual onscreen sex acts, let alone nudity, are few and far between, and the movie’s prurience begins to feel, remarkably, like a kind of innocence. One suspects even the psychics onscreen didn’t see that one coming.