Modern womanhood and sexuality — Japanese style — is sampled and celebrated in bountiful bento box “Female,” a five-part meal of consistently satisfying flavors. Names of cult directors Shinya Tsukamoto and Ryuichi Hiroki will act as come-ons to those tantalized by the promise of erotic fare, though film’s lack of visual explicitness will limit its international chances. Still, fests should definitely take a peek.
Pic begins with a rap-flavored dance number which, accentuating the fine forms of its female hoofers, looks like it was choreographed by Bob Fosse. This initial sequence — first of three dance interludes shot by Tadashi Aoki and choreographed by Mayumi Nobotsu — acts as an elaborate frontispiece, culminating with pic’s English title as a tattoo on the primary dancer’s shoulder.
Though all of the stories are directed by men, each seg is based on a short story by one of Japan’s most popular distaff writers. All are very different, some are better than others, but each will have its supporters.
“Peaches” stars Kyoko Hasegawa as a young woman who becomes reacquainted with a married peach farmer who lusted after her at high school. Drawing heavily on Hasegawa’s winsome charms and the sexual symbolism of the titular fruit, this opener provides pensive counterpoint to the erotic atmosphere of the dance preface.
Hiroki capitalizes on the popularity of his road movie “Vibrator” with “Drive Until You See the Sun,” the most indie-flavored of the set. Yarn throws together a punkish bar girl, a straight-laced female cabby and an aging but still flamboyant hostess in a knife-point car-jacking. With action mostly confined to the inside of a taxi heading for the beach, the three women bond together as literal and metaphorical fellow travelers.
Third episode, “Licking Nights,” by Matsuo Suzuki, is the most stylized, the story of a lovelorn woman who burns incense that causes vividly erotic dreams. Each location in the story is differentiated by its color scheme: Blue for her dull job, purple for sex, and B&W for a South Seas holiday.
The most blatantly erotic of the quintet, “Licking Nights” is also, occasionally, the funniest, its stylish conceit eventually paying off.
In contrast, “Heels of the Muse” is the most sentimental, and most universal — the tale of a 10-year-old boy obsessed by a friend’s alluring mother. A gentle contemplation of innocent lust, seg manages to push all the right buttons and is blessed with the film’s most unaffected perfs.
Final episode, “Jewel Beetle,” is most uncharacteristic of its quirky director, Tsukamoto (“Tetsuo,” “Snake in June”). It’s a gentle triangular romance, about a mistress who finds her mysterious old lover intends to bequeath her to a much younger colleague. The mistress’ status as a possession is symbolized by the titular beetle, but the story allows her more scope than that. Seg is not exactly a feminist treatise, but has an emotional tenderness rare in Tsukamoto’s movies.
Part of an ongoing Jam Films project which has been circulating at Asian fests for a couple of years, “Female” offers minimal nudity but plenty of dramatically satisfying erotica. Helming, lensing and performances are consistently well above the Japanese indie average.