A weird chestnut-bearing spirit of sexual awakening visits three troubled couples in Kota Yoshida’s odyssey of food-themed eroticism, Sexual Drive (性的衝動, Seitekishodo). As the title perhaps implies, Yoshida’s loose thesis seems to be that each of the spouses he counsels is living a dull and unfulfilling life because they’re repressing their authentic selves either unrecognising or rejecting the true nature of their sexual desires. Yet who or what is Kurita (Tateto Serizawa) and what is he really up to? Aside from all that, is he even “real”?
When we first meet Kurita, he’s bearing a box of Chinese chestnuts (“chestnut” being the first character of his name but also a slang term for clitoris) and walking with a pronounced limp. This lends credence to his story of having suffered a stroke three years previously though as we will later discover the cause is likely very different if at least suggesting a healthy corporality. The visit is all the more unusual as it seems he doesn’t know the man he’s come to see, Enatsu (Ryo Ikeda). Just as we’re wondering if this is some kind of hookup while his wife (Manami Hashimoto) works an extra shift at the hospital, we realise that the reverse may be true as Kurita claims to have been having a three-year affair with Enatsu’s spouse having fixated on her after she fitted a catheter for him following an operation. This is a discussion between men, but Kurita soon becomes excitable making lewd gestures with a mostly empty natto carton apparently likening its distinctive taste and odour to the nether regions of Enatsu’s wife. Goading him that their marriage has been sexless for the last five years, what Kurita seems to do is ironically restore Enatsu’s sexual potency through his vicarious enjoyment of his wife’s taste for this famously love it or hate dish of fermented soy beans.
Kurita’s second victim, meanwhile, has apparently committed the crime of making inauthentic mapo tofu, its heat turned down to suit the Japanese palate. This time Kurita claims to have been an elementary school classmate of the nervous Akane (Honami Sato) who has frequent panic attacks and has finally got up the courage to go for her first solo drive. He insists that Akane is a sadist who brokered his own masochistic awakening through her merciless bullying and that the reason she’s so on edge is because she’s living a neutered life with only inauthentic mapo tofu when she should really be making her own loaded with enough spice to burn the roof of her husband’s mouth clean off.
His third case, however, sees him steal a device from Snake of June in communicating with an adulterous husband, Ikeyama (Shogen), claiming that he’s kidnapped his mistress, Momoka (Rina Takeda), and will soon expose his extra-marital affair if he refuses to follow the instructions he gives him. These are mostly surprisingly wholesome and a little bit sad as what Kurita is hoping to teach Ikeyama is what a cad he’s being and how his insensitive treatment of Momoka must make her feel. Accordingly, he sends him to a greasy ramen bar mostly frequented by middle-aged men where talking is very much not allowed in order for him to consume a satisfyingly fatty dish the transgressive energy of which both inflamed Momoka’s desire and forced her into a contemplation of her role as the mistress of a married man. Ikeyama’s awakening is less to sex than to love in being forced to accept Momoka’s personhood in empathising with the loneliness his indifference causes her to feel.
Yet, if it weren’t for the chestnuts, we might wonder if Kurita were real or merely a manifestation of each of his victims’ subconscious fears and desires. Even as it stands, we can’t be sure that anything he says is actually true, nor do we know what motive he has for guiding these frustrated souls towards their sexual release like some strange sex fairy sent from on high. Nevertheless, in satisfying appetites of all kinds he paints the fulfilment of authentic sexuality as a basic human need even as food becomes a kind of displacement activity standing in for the satisfaction of human desire. Strangely absurd in Kurita’s rather creepy demeanour coupled with his victims’ crumbling wholesomeness, Sexual Drive even if ironically presents a refreshingly positive message of embracing kink while remaining mindful of its effects on others.
Original trailer (English subtitles)