“Underwater Love,” (Onna No Kappa) a Japanese film directed by Shinji Imaoka, is the most obscurely sweet and original soft-core porn musical I have ever seen. Actually, come to think of it, this would be my first soft-core porn musical, and for what it was intended to be, I appreciated this film from beginning to end. The story itself merges Japanese fantasy with reality. It centers around Asuka, who is a thirty-something fish factory worker in a small Japanese village outside of Tokyo. She is engaged to her boss Taki, and seems to live a more than ordinary lifestyle with little variance or excitement. One day she sees a Kappa, a mythological water creature that is part human. It is her friend Aoki, who long ago drowned at the age of 17. He has mysteriously come back into her life as a tortoiseshell, beak faced creature. It is amusing to see this Kappa so accepted and integrated into normal human life. We also travel with him and Asuka to the fantastical world he inhabits as a mythological Kappa.

Pinku is a style of filmmaking in Japan similar to what we know as soft-core porn in the west. In Japan, it is considered a form which proves a directors ability to make a film in the shortest amount of time and with a very limited budget. A testament to his skill, the director Shinji Imaoka and crew shot “Underwater Love” in 5 ½ days, one take per shot, comprising a full-length feature. As an estranged musical, there are numerous, odd outbursts of song and dance which do not seem to fit the environment, but add a playful and childlike sentiment to the story. All the music for “Underwater Love” is from the French-German group Stereo Total, a male and female duo whose music can be described as odd, playful dance numbers with simple melodic ideas and happy tones. There is a strong oriental influence in all of the songs in the film, fitting the bill quite naturally.

Shinji Imaoka is considered part of the new wave of Japanese Pinku film directors who call themselves “Seven Luck Gods.” All seven of these men, lead originally by Toshiya Ueno, began as assistant directors, and rose to develop their own individualistic style. Christopher Doyle is the well known cinematographer who collaborated with Shinji to create some powerful, memorable visuals. The film, in Pinku tradition, offers numerous transient sex scenes which still remain well-integrated to the story and do not distract from the oddity of the picture and the forward momentum. There is a wealth of humor layered on the somewhat serious and very relatable plot, exploring such themes as the banality of marriage, the beauty of retaining ones innocence and childlike happiness throughout life, and our eternal desire to keep living regardless of who or what we have become.

 

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