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Moonlight Whispers

An original new talent is introduced with "Moonlight Whispers," an offbeat study of the adult games that men and women play filtered through the actions of two seemingly innocent Japanese school kids. First feature by Kyoto-born d.p. Akihiko Shiota, 38, split general critical opinion at its Locarno festival screenings, but for those attuned to the niceties of modern Japanese cinema, Shiota is undoubtedly a talent announced. His second project, the similarly themed "Don't Look Back," unspooled in a Locarno sidebar (reviewed on p. XX).

An original new talent is introduced with “Moonlight Whispers,” an offbeat study of the adult games that men and women play filtered through the actions of two seemingly innocent Japanese school kids. First feature by Kyoto-born d.p. Akihiko Shiota, 38, split general critical opinion at its Locarno festival screenings, but for those attuned to the niceties of modern Japanese cinema, Shiota is undoubtedly a talent announced. His second project, the similarly themed “Don’t Look Back,” unspooled in a Locarno sidebar (reviewed on p. XX).

Satsuki and Takuya are two 17-year-old school friends, first seen practicing kendo together. The first signs that everything is not quite normal arrive when Takuya clandestinely opens Satsuki’s locker and sniffs her clothing; but despite that, after a regular teen romance, they finally relieve each other of their virginity.

Takuya’s fetishistic habit of following her around, filming her in the john and photographing her legs slowly gets to Satsuki, who refuses to let him make love to her again. Instead, she starts playing her own games: locking him in her bedroom armoire and making him listen to her having sex, and letting him “clean her up” after getting intimate with another guy. Gradually, Satsuki’s games escalate, with her seemingly in control; but the two teenagers turn out to be inextricably bound to each other by a mutual need.

Shiota tells this weird little S&M story, adapted from a comic strip, in an offhand way, in which little seems to happen for long stretches of time. But the cumulative effect, especially as acted by the young leads, is even more disturbing for its visual restraint and surface normality. Precise lensing by Shohei Imamura’s recent d.p., Shigeru Komatsubara, and simple music by Shinsuke Honda add to the perverse, discreetly erotic feel.

Moonlight Whispers

(DRAMA -- JAPANESE)

Production: A Nikkatsu Corp. production. (International sales: Bitters End, Tokyo.) Executive producer, Masaya Nakamura. Directed by Akihiko Shiota. Screenplay, Shiota, Yoichi Nishiyama, based on the comic strip by Masahiko Kikuni.

Crew: Camera (color), Shigeru Komatsubara; editor, Yoshio Sugano; music, Shinsuke Honda; sound, Kenji Sakagami. Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (competing), Aug. 4, 1999. (Also in Toronto Film Festival --- Discovery.) Running time: 102 MIN.

With: With: Kenji Mizuhashi, Tsugumi, Kota Kusano, Kota Inoue, Harumi Inoue.

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