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Aroused by Gymnopedies (2016) (DVD) (English Subtitled) (Hong Kong Version)
Yukisada Isao (Director) | Okamura Izumi | Itao Itsuji | Ashina Sumire
Aroused by Gymnopedies (2016) (DVD) (English Subtitled) (Hong Kong Version)
Named after a series of piano pieces composed by Erik Satie in the 1880s, Aroused by Gymnopedies is one of the five films commissioned by Nikkatsu as part of the Roman Porno Reboot Project, marking the 45th anniversary of the studio’s classic pinku films that were released back in the 1970s and 1980s. The film was directed by Isao Yukisada, best known for his 2004 melodrama Crying out Love, in the Center of the World, who also scripted along with Anne Horiizumi, writer of his 2014 work Five Minutes to Tomorrow.

The film follows Itsuji Itao (also in Sion Sono's Why Don’t You Play in Hell? and Hirokazu Koreeda's Air Doll) as Shinji, a director in his 50s whose past glory as an arthouse filmmaker has faded and who has been reduced to making shabby pornos to try and make some badly needed money. Things go astray when Anri (Izumi Okamura, The Virgin Psychics), the lead actress of his latest opus, quits in the middle of production, leading the film to be cancelled and leaving Shinji broke and lost. Needing to find cash and with nothing better to do, he wanders the streets and has sexual encounters with a string of younger women, including rich student Yuka (Sumire Ashina), his ex-wife Rinko (Mayumi Tajima) and Anri, who he runs into at a random party.

Aroused by Gymnopedies is every bit the Roman Porno tribute, having been shot on a low budget over a short schedule, and having a running time of less than an hour and a half, Isao Yukisada sticking to the rules of the form. Like the very best of the Roman Pornos, the film is a thoughtful and melancholic affair, Shinji's existential crisis playing out in a quiet, though strangely gripping manner, Yukisada and Horiizumi managing to wring tension and drama from the way in which he never seems to take any joy from the women he meets. Although the film could have easily been played for mere titillation, it instead works well as a moving character study and portrait of a complex man struggling with life and art on many different levels. Itsuji Itao is excellent in the lead role, exuding internal conflict and anxiety, often without speaking, and it's a tribute to his performance and the strength of the script that he emerges as a sympathetic and halfway likeable character rather than a sleazy old man or as yet another Hong Sang-soo style pretentious and egotistical filmmaker. While the film is simple in terms of its structure and story, there's a subtle depth to its narrative, and though it's predictable in that it inevitably builds towards providing an explanation for Shinji's behaviour, it’s pleasingly non-judgemental and eschews any kind of clichéd redemptive arc or neat wrap-up.

Of course, there's graphic sex a-plenty, clearly meaning that the film isn't one for the average or unprepared viewer, though the many scenes of copulation are nicely woven into the narrative, and never feel too gratuitous or as if they've been inserted purely for cheap thrills. This being a pinku film, there's unavoidably an exploitation element to the film, in particular during a couple of more fetishistic scenes that feel a touch out of place, though there's in general a believability to the sex, Yukisada avoiding anything too glamourous or overly choreographed. Again, Itsuji Itao's performance is key here, as the almost detached air he brings to his scenes with the women plays an important part in the gradual unveiling of the source of his turmoil.

Aroused by Gymnopedies is both a fitting and loving tribute to the best of the Roman Porno era, and a great film in its own right, offering a searching and convincing portrayal of a man driven to sex by painful circumstance. Isao Yukisada and lead actor Itsuji Itao bring a moving wistfulness to the film, ensuring that despite all its skin and sweat, it’s far more than a tacky exploitationer.

by James Mudge -

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