Annyong Yumika, making its North American premiere at this year’s New York Asian Film Festival, takes its name from legendary Japanese porn starlet Yumika Hayashi, who also had a big career in Korea. But perhaps most intriguing about this odd nonfiction look at the woman who took top honors at the Pink Grand Prix for the softcore Japanese flick Lunchbox—and who met an untimely death in 2005—is that it’s truly not made for Western eyes. Practically experimental in his whimsical collage approach, director Tetsuaki Matsue takes as his jumping off point the discovery of his subject’s previously lost film, Junko: The Tokyo Housewife. That softcore Korean production, which cast Korean actors speaking Japanese, becomes the catalyst for not only retracing Yumika’s life (through old home movie footage and bizarre reenactments at actual locations), but also for exploring, to use the title of one talking head professor’s book, “the Japanese as seen in Korea.”
Segueing between clips from Junko to interviews with everyone from her directors and co-stars to a film critic who’s written a book about her, Annyong Yumika is nothing if not thorough, often amusingly so. “Yumika wasn’t using the regular patch to cover up” a subtitle offers, referring to her tendency to show private parts not allowed to be seen in softcore, followed by the near-existential “But why?” This leads to an erstwhile discussion about explicit Japanese films versus censorious Korean ones. While Matsue is certainly in on the joke (how could he not be when he prompts the director of the starlet’s first porn with “Hardball Penis was told from a first-person voice,” then has him drive him to the same curry restaurant where they ate during that shoot?), his own sincere fandom keeps Annyong Yumika from ever falling into parody.
Indeed, in addition to a distracting overabundance of subtitled explanations (not only in English but also in…Korean?), Matsue’s own obsession with his subject soon becomes a burden for the film. As the running time heads to the two-hour mark, the filmmaker’s personal asides turn cutesy and his quest to gather together the original cast and crew of Junko in order to shoot the missing ending he’s discovered in the script transforms Annyong Yumika into a gushing fan letter highly in need of an objective editor. Or as the actor from Erotic Liaisons in Akasaka says about Yumika’s choice to do Junko: “I don’t want to say she’s just not selective—but she does have a lot of range.”
And on a lighter, pinker note, there’s Pink Power Strikes Back!, a double feature of 2007’s Groper Train: School Uniform Hunter and 2004’s Japanese Wife Next Door, Part 2 (which, alas, is not the sequel to Junko: The Tokyo Housewife). These hour-long softcore flicks (shot entirely analogue!) will be presented as part of Midnights @ IFC, and though I haven’t seen the latter I can wholeheartedly recommend Groper Train for its 60 minutes of sexy fun. The main difference between this Japanese-schoolgirl-as-sex-object video and our own similarly themed adult films is its riot grrrl attitude told from a female empowerment perspective.
Groper Train opens with a scene that cuts deftly between a vamp named Ayaka, who lures guys into touching her so she can charge them exorbitant sums not to report them to the police, and our Ugly Betty-type heroine Yuri helplessly getting felt up as her clueless friend Kenji stands nearby. When Yuri later admonishes him, he scolds that she should have gone to the women-only car—before admitting that he himself would like to grope her! Luckily, the feeling is mutual. (“By the way, does this mean we’re dating?” Kenji wonders as they fumble their way through first time sex that inevitably goes wrong.)
Thus begins a groping odyssey in which Kenji gets sexually harassed in the women-only car while Yuri succumbs to a train pervert, Ayaka attempts to enlist Yuri in her extortion scheme, and Kenji is forced to give oral sex. Eventually, Ayaka receives her comeuppance at the hands of an angry dupe who cries, “Women are just body hoppers!” as he attacks her butt cheeks. When Kenji and Yuri come to her rescue too late, though, it’s Yuri who must unleash some whoop-ass (after cowardly Kenji declares, “I’m a pacifist!”). But by now Yuri, too, has become a proud pervert and happily loses her virginity to an old groper to whom she says, “It doesn’t matter who you are. Penis is penis.” Fortunately for Kenji, though, true love trumps train trysts in the end.
The 2010 New York Asian Film Festival runs from June 25 to July 8.