You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Tokyo Film Review: ‘The Lowlife’

Casting no moral judgment on its protagonists, Takahisa Zeze's incisive drama centers on three women involved in the Japanese porn industry.

Takahisa Zeze
Ayano Moriguchi, Kokone Sasaki, Aina Yamada, Saki Takaoka, Makiko Watanabe, Ryu Morioka, Yoichiro Saito, Noriko Eguchi, Toshie Negishi, Shugo Oshinari

2 hours

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6563012/

A convincing and well acted adaptation of the 2016 novel by Japanese AV star Mana Sakura, “The Lowlife” examines the daily lives of three women involved in the adult film business. Anchored firmly in the emotional struggles and family relationships of its fascinating characters, this gritty slice of documentary-like drama neither condemns nor condones the porn industry. Skillfully directed and co-written by Takahisa Zeze, a respected veteran of both Pinku (softcore) and mainstream movies, “The Lowlife” has the heart and honesty to become a commercial success. Its world premiere in competition at Tokyo should be just the first of many festival engagements.

By refusing to paint the porn biz in a negative light, the film — which bows locally on Nov. 25 — leaves itself open to criticism in some quarters. But as these stories unfold, it becomes clear that the film is not concerned with the rights and wrongs of pornography per se. Rather, it opts to focus on the humanity of the women who’ve chosen an unconventional line of work and are dealing with the good and bad that come with it.

Turning the four self-contained stories in Sakura’s book into a lengthy but never lead-footed screenplay, Zeze and co-writer Tomoko Ogawa present characters at different stages of involvement in the flesh-film business. Long retired from the industry is Takako (Saki Takaoka), a disillusioned and directionless single mother whose teenage daughter, Ayako (Aina Yamada), is a brilliant painter. Actively involved in pornography is Ayano (Kokone Sasaki), a hard-working professional — “I have a vagina of steel,” she boasts — who’s perfectly content with the life she leads and has just met nice guy Itaru (Ryu Morioka).

The most richly detailed character is Miho (Ayano Moriguchi), a 34-year-old childless housewife who’s stuck in a passionless rut with hubby Kenta (Yoichiro Saito) and knows deep in her heart they’re never going to start the family she so desperately wants. The next time viewers see Miho is at a nude photo audition for a porn production company. Her face and body language say it all both here and when she appears in her first film a few days later. Miho can scarcely believe what she’s doing but at the same time is absolutely certain it’s a step she wants to take at this moment in her life.

Inevitably, all three women face moments of truth when family members discover their secret. For Ayano, this means a screaming confrontation with her horrified mother, Izumi (Makiko Watanabe).

The ticking time bomb of Takako’s porn past detonates on daughter Ayako via social media postings during a school day. Showing that she truly has the soul of an artist, Ayako reacts with an inspiring mix of courage, sensitivity and pragmatism, which in turn allows Takako herself to grow emotionally. The truth also helps Miho come to a much better understanding of herself: In a riveting sequence of events, Miho deals first with the death of her father before deciding to confess all to Kenta.

Without ever suggesting that acting in the porn industry is the answer to anyone’s problems, “The Lowlife” says that women who choose this path are mothers, sisters, wives and daughters, and do not deserve the scorn that’s frequently heaped upon them. It’s a message that’s very well delivered by Zeze’s sensitive direction and uniformly fine performances from a clearly committed cast. Moriguchi is particularly impressive in her first feature film appearance since 2008. Yasuyuki Sasaki’s unobtrusive handheld camera, as well as moody piano pieces by composer Yo Irie, are part of a deliberately unfussy and highly effective technical package.

Tokyo Film Review: ‘The Lowlife’

Reviewed at Tokyo Film Festival (competing), Oct. 28, 2017. Running time: 120 MIN. (Original title: “Saitei”)

Production: (Japan) A Kadokawa Pictures release of a Lowlife Film Partners presentation of a Travis Prod., Kadokawa Pictures production. (International sales: Kadokawa, Tokyo.) Producers: Mikiya Kurihashi, Tsuyoshi Kobayashi, Ken Takeuchi, Kazunari Hashiguchi. Executive producer: Daiji Horiuchi. Director: Takahisa Zeze. Screenplay: Zeze, Tomoko Ogawa, based on the novel “Saitei” by Mana Sakura. Camera (color): Yasuyuki Sasaki. Editor: Tashihiro Imai. Music: Yo Irie.

With: Ayano Moriguchi, Kokone Sasaki, Aina Yamada, Saki Takaoka, Makiko Watanabe, Ryu Morioka, Yoichiro Saito, Noriko Eguchi, Toshie Negishi, Shugo Oshinari

More Film


    Korea Box Office: 'Rhapsody' Reclaims Top Spot, Beats ‘Spider-Verse’

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” reclaimed top place at the South Korean box office, overtaking “Default,” after spending two weekends in second place. The Fox release earned $4.38 million from 554,000 admissions for a total of $61.0 million from 7.94 million admissions. In its seventh weekend of release “Rhapsody” accounted for 27% of the weekend box office. CJ [...]

  • China Box Office: ‘Totoro’ Triumphant as

    China Box Office: ‘Totoro’ Triumphant as ‘Aquaman’ Defies Newcomers

    “Aquaman” comfortably dominated the Chinese box office for the second weekend. It dropped 47% in its second week, but again accounted for the majority of all cinema business nationwide. The watery superhero movie earned $53.9 million, according to data from exhibition and distribution consultancy Artisan Gateway. It played on some 25,000 screens, or nearly half [...]

  • Aquaman 2018

    'Aquaman' Crosses $250 Million at Foreign Box Office

    Things are going swimmingly at the box office for “Aquaman” as the Warner Bros.’ superhero flick hits another major milestone overseas. James Wan’s take on the ruler of the seven seas just passed $250 million internationally, and a weekend haul of $126.4 million from 43 territories brings its foreign tally to $261.3 million. “Aquaman” — [...]

  • Mortal Engines

    'Mortal Engines' to Lose More Than $100 Million at Box Office

    “Mortal Engines,” a steampunk fantasy adventure, is also an epic flop. With a budget of just over $100 million and tens of millions in global marketing costs, executives at rival studios estimate that the movie will lose upwards of $100 million. Some even project that number could float to more than $125 million. “Mortal Engines” [...]

  • Thierry Frémaux, José Luis Rebordinos Honored

    Thierry Frémaux, José Luis Rebordinos Named Honorary Argentine Academy Members

    BUENOS AIRES — In a ceremony just before Friday’s prize announcements at Ventana Sur, Cannes chief Thierry Frémaux and José Luis Rebordinos, director of the San Sebastian Festival, were named honorary members of Argentina’s Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in a new move for the Academy, out through by its new president, Bernardo [...]

  • Nona

    Film Review: 'Nona'

    Twenty years and 12 features down the line, it’s still hard to peg the directorial sensibility of Michael Polish, with or without the presence of brother Mark as frequent co-writer and actor. His output has been all over the place, from early Lynchian quirkfests to the very middle-of-the-road inspirational dramedy “The Astronaut Farmer,” not to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content