Color, 1992, 112 mins.

Directed by Ryu Murakami

Starring Miho Nikaido, Mashiko Shimada, Sayoko Amano, Naimi Nozaki / Music by Ryuichi Sakamoto / Cinematography by Tadash Aoki

Format: DVD - Image (MSRP $24.99)


The only film by noted Japanese novelist/filmmaker Ryu Murakami to genuiniely gain international arthouse acceptance, Tokyo Decadence (TopÔzu) gained notoriety for its sexual frankness and the obvious MPAA ratings controversy which ensued. Of course, as with most foreign imports, the erotic hype left a lot of viewers confused by the actual product itself, which focuses on the emotional and spiritual devastation wrought by the intense bureaucratizing of Japan.

More reliant on ambience than plot, the film follows the day to day routine of Ai (Miho Nikaido), a young prostitute specializing in bondage, sadomasochism, and any other sexual bent that might appeal to buttoned-down Japanese businessmen. Though she finds herself emotionally numbed by her work, she feels that she has no real worth or special talents that might allow her to make a decent contribution to society. When not fending off the impending dangers of the Yakuza or the pain-obsessed fetishes of some of her clients, she finds her time empty, capabale of being filled only with the temporary void of her work.

Originally released in Japan at 135 minutes, Tokyo Decadence was trimmed down to a more workable running time (under two hours) for international distribution. This same cut is presented on DVD, in Japanese with English subtitles. Various sources have debated how much substance was actually cut out of the film, as it isn't close to hardcore but is quite explicit even in its current state here. (The Internet Movie Database features an exhaustive list of the purported trims from the Japanese print but incorrectly asserts that these cuts were done to achieve an R rating.) The film easily lives up to its title in a number of scenes, particularly one involving a twist on water sports, but the level of eroticism will depend primarily on the viewer's individual tastes. As with all Japanese titles up to that time, the prohibition of pubic hair allows the filmmakers to channel the explicit thrills to the screen in some wildly unorthodox fashions, usually through the aid of suggestion and bizarre methods of body concealment (usually leather in this case). In one particularly strange and harrowing sequence, Ai is trussed up (in a fashion best not described here) and paraded around on the floor by a married man whose wife joins in on the phone, then in person. Certainly not for all tastes, but along with Just Jaeckin's Story of O and Radley Metzger's The Punishment of Anne, this remains one of the few successful attempts to present undilted S&M designed for mainstream consumption.

The DVD of Tokyo Decadence replicates the same transfer used for the VHS and laserdisc releases but features the added bonus of the alternate English dubbed track in addition to the usual mono Japanese (with yellow, burned-in English subtitles). Compared to the natural Japanese, the English dubbing sounds rather harsh and stilted most of the time, but it's interesting to watch the film this way for a few minutes. The image appears to be mildly cropped from 1.66:1; while no significant information appears to be missing, it's a little on the claustrophobic side at times. Some of the darker blacks in the film have turned blue, a quality not present in the theatrical prints. Turning down the brightness control on the TV monitor corrects most of this problem and actually improves the image significantly, though the aforementioned floor crawling scene (mostly set in shadows) still presents some "glowing blue" flaws with the source material. For anyone interested in Japanese arthouse erotica in the wake of Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses, this film is highly recommended viewing for open-minded viewers willing to overlook some of the flaws. Rough, unsettling, and often moving despite the simplicity of its heroine, Tokyo Decadence is guaranteed to take willing viewers on a wild ride indeed.


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