Nothing short of confounding, The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai seems to exist in an uneasy limbo between avant-garde brilliance and completely inane abrasiveness. For every tasteless cum shot and shallow philosophical exchange, there is an equalizing moment of jaw-dropping invention and startling subversion. Exhilarating and infuriating, the film at times suggests Eraserhead reborn as a softcore Japanese porno flick, with uneasy orifice imagery and sexual luster to spare. Watching the film is dumbfounding; reviewing it demands a reconfiguration not only of taken-for-granted cinematic perceptions, but one’s own definitions of what exactly qualifies as good and bad. It’s no surprise that a reviewer at Asian Cult Cinema assigns the film a grade of “one or four stars – your decision.” Films like this make one curse the very invention of numerical ratings.
How, exactly, does one go about examining a film in which the titular character is a call girl whose trip to a local café finds her the innocent bystander to a terrorist transaction gone awry and recipient of a bullet to the head as a result of the deadly conflict—an injury that not only does she miraculously survive, but one that endows her with newfound brilliance and unprecedented psychological powers? Oh, and she also finds herself the unwitting possessor of the cloned finger of George W. Bush (capable of initiating a worldwide nuclear attack, not to mention the thankless penetration of her nether regions) that deadly foreign spies are out to retrieve. For real.
Given that some form of carnal fucking takes place on screen approximately once every 10 minutes, it comes as no surprise that The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai began its life as a more streamlined, less plot-heavy “pink film” (the term used for Japanese porno’s) entitled Horny Home Tutor: Teacher’s Love Juice. Ensuing praise allowed director Mitsuru Meike to re-edit the material into his original, feature-length vision, the audacity and boundary-pushing nature of which alone qualifies it for some kind of nonexistent Academy Award. The film is remarkable in no small way through its channeling of otherwise strictly prurient material into something far more dispassionately pointed, its sterile sex scenes ultimately functioning less as tools for sensory pleasure than as gateways to enlightenment. After suffering the aforementioned bullet wound, Sachiko (Emi Kuroda) begins to experience periods of heightened mental capacity compounded by a disconnection from her physical senses; similarly, the film’s numerous sex scenes numb the viewer into a state of physical oppression while revealing a scathing commentary on the viral, penetrative nature of capitalistic values, embodied here by the modern Rome’s devious Commander in Chief.
All of which may sound like distinct praise, yet my respect for such daring qualities is hampered not only by many blatantly glaring flaws (whenever Sachiko goes intellectually berserk, her pontifications sound more like the memorized Cliffs Notes of a philosophy brat than anything genuinely profound), but also by a lingering doubt as to the film’s underlying ideals themselves. Meike’s smorgasbord of sights and sounds is a seemingly progressive form of status quo cage-rattling, but what exactly is he getting at through Sachiko’s penchant for making men climax while reiterating great literature? The film never attempts to bring its characters (or the viewer) closer to God—or anything of comparable significance—through its physical indulgences, and what remains often feels like nothing more than intellectual masturbation with deliberately controversial political button-pushing thrown in for a sense of artistic legitimacy. Is this stuff trailblazing or merely forced sensationalism meant to get our rocks off in a way that we needn’t feel guilty about? That the film itself can’t seem to make up its own mind seems as indicative of its own confliction as anything else.