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Dawn of the Felines (2017) (DVD) (English Subtitled) (Hong Kong Version)
Maue Satsuki (Actor) | Ibata Juri (Actor) | Michie (Actor) | murata hideaki (Actor)
Dawn of the Felines (2017) (DVD) (English Subtitled) (Hong Kong Version)
Dawn of the Felines is another in the Roman Porno Reboot Project, five films commissioned by Nikkatsu to celebrate the 45th anniversary of its series of popular pornographic dramas from the 1970s and 1980s. The film was written and directed by Kazuya Shiraishi, known for the likes of Twisted Justice and The Devil's Path, and who has also worked as television director, joining perhaps better known project luminaries Isao Yukisada, Akihiko Shiota, Hideo Nakata and Sion Sono.

The film is an ensemble piece revolving around the experiences of a trio of prostitutes working in Tokyo's seedy Ikebukuro district, a young homeless woman called Masako (voice actress Juri Ihata, in her first major role in front of the cameras), Rie (Michié, Bayside Shakedown 4: The Final) suffering from an unhappy marriage, and single mother Yui (Satsuki Maue, Albino), who balances her work with trying to look after her child. Managed by the opportunistic Nonaka (Takuma Otoo, Shield of Straw), the women encounter various problems, Masako entering into a relationship of sorts with a man called Takada (Tomohiro Kaku, The Case of Hana & Alice), who hasn't left his home for more than ten years, Rie falling in with an elderly client, and Yui spending her time dating a comedian (Hideaki Murata, half of the real life comedy duo Toro Salmon) and ignoring the fact that her son is being abused.

Although it has a similar name to the 1972 Roman Porno Night of the Felines by director Noboru Tanaka, Dawn of the Felines is very different, going for melancholic drama instead of bawdy comedy, and is very much a down to earth, slice of life type tale. While there's nothing new about the basic premise of following around a group of prostitutes and offering insight into their lives, Kazuya Shiraishi's film benefits from an excellent and wholly believable script, which fully fleshes out its characters, warts and all, and which manages to be dramatic, eventful and even moving without ever feeling artificial. Skilfully weaving together its various stories and subplots, the film is engaging and moves along briskly throughout its short running time – perfectionists might like to note that its running time of 84 minutes is actually slightly over the 80 minute maximum usually associated with Roman Porno films.

As expected, the film takes a non-judgemental approach to its characters, including both the leads and the various clients and men in their lives, and while for some viewers the lack of any clear 'message', coupled with its meandering plot, may make the film hard to get a grip on, it's refreshingly frank and realistic. The many different relationships which drive the narrative are all interesting in their ups and downs, and the film avoids the usual cliché of depicting prostitutes as down on their luck women with hearts of gold, waiting to be saved from their wretched lives. Instead, there's a pleasing ordinariness about how they ply their trade, and even though the film does get into some kinky territory, as befitting a Roman Porno genre outing, even this is reasonably believable. There are a great number of sex scenes, and though these do at times interrupt the dramatic flow, Shiraishi does at least put some effort into making them part of the narrative, and the film feels less like an exploitationer than others of its type.

As with all the recent Roman Porno Reboot Project films, and indeed the 1970s and 1980s originals, Dawn of the Felines isn't going to be for all viewers, simply due to its semi-pornographic content and focus on sex. However, looking past the skin, Kazuya Shiraishi has done a great job here of combining this with an interesting plot and characters, and the film has plenty to offer open-minded and adventurous audiences.

by James Mudge -

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