Shrieking in the Rain (雨に叫べば, Eiji Uchida, 2021)

“Let’s change Japanese film” a duplicitous distributor tries to convince a diffident director though his “creators first” stance predictably turns out to be somewhat disingenuous. Inhabiting the same territory as Netflix’s Naked Director, Eiji Uchida’s meta dramedy Shrieking in the Rain (雨に叫べば, Ame ni Sakebeba) finds a young woman struggling to take charge of her artistic vision while plagued by workplace sexism, commercial concerns, and absurd censorship regulations but finally claiming her space and along with it her right to make art even if not quite everyone understands it, 

Set entirely on a Toei lot in the summer of 1988, the film opens with rookie director Hanako (Marika Matsumoto) locking herself inside a car with her hands clamped over her ears, fed up with the chaos that seems to surround her. How Hanako got the job in the first place is anyone’s guess, but it later becomes clear that she is in a sense being exploited by the producer, Tachibana (Kazuya Takahashi), who thinks a pretty young girl directing a softcore porno is a selling point in itself. Meanwhile, he’s teamed up with an US-based production company and its Japanese producer, Inoue (Kiyohiko Shibukawa), who seems fairly exasperated by the Japanese-style shoot and despite his pretty words is all about the business. For him, the main selling points are the actors, one a young idol star intending to boost his profile by getting into films and the other a veteran actress stripping off for the first time in an attempt to revitalise her fading career. 

Surrounded by male industry veterans, Hanako struggles to get her voice heard and feels under confident on set as they encircle her and bark orders she doesn’t quite understand. Her decisions are continually overruled by the male AD, cameraman, and finally Tachibana who always has his mind on the bottom line while Hanako’s inability to express herself to the crew results in endless takes of scenes that others tell her are “pointless” and should be cut despite her protestations that they are essential to the piece. A forthright female makeup artist (Chika Uchida) asks if filmmaking should really be this heartless as she watches Hanako humiliated by the chauvinistic cameraman who forces her to get on her knees and beg for help, while a more sympathetic grip (Gaku Hamada) later tells her that becoming a successful director has little to do with talent and a lot to do with the art of compromise. 

Nevertheless, Hanako tries to hold on to her artistic vision even while some roll their eyes considering the project is a softcore romantic melodrama revolving around a love triangle involving two brothers in love with same woman. Inoue claps back that film is a business, admitting that when he said creators first he just meant the ones that make money. According to him, anyone could direct the film because all anyone’s interested in is the actress’ bared breasts and the teenybopper appeal of top idol Shinji. Or in other words, it doesn’t really need to be good, it’s going to sell anyway. In any case, it seems incongruous to cast a squeaky clean idol in an edgy erotic drama especially considering that if they want to market it to his fans then they need to secure a rating which allows them to see it without adult supervision. Business concerns and censorship eventually collide when the rather befuddled censor puts a red line through some of their kink and explains that the actress’ third hip thrust has just earned them an X rating. 

Unlike Hanako and her similarly troubled junior camerawoman Yoshie (Serena Motola), veteran actress Kaede at least knows how to advocate for herself and get what she wants on set so that she can do her best work. Only in this case doing her best work means she wants to go for real with arrogant idol star Shinji who refuses to wear a modesty sock or trim his pubic hair to fit in with the arcane regulations of the censors board. Shinji is brought to task by aspiring actor Kazuto who is pissed off by his unprofessional behaviour while struggling to get a foothold in a difficult industry and apparently finding one through a romantic relationship with the producer which otherwise seems to be a secret from cast and crew. 

In any case a final confrontation prompts a rebellion against Inoue’s production line metaphor as the crew reaffirm that they are a team working together on an artistic endeavour not mere cogs in his machine. Reemerging in bright red lipstick, Hanako returns to retake what’s hers boldly claiming her artistic vision and taking charge on set before descending into an unexpected musical number. With a retro sensibility, the film neatly echoes late 80s production style with a cutesy background score often heard in movies of the era while posters for top Toei movies from the 70s and 80s such as Yukihiro Sawada’s No Grave for Us line the walls. A meta rebuke against the constraints placed on filmmakers by those who shout “creators first” to bolster their image but never follow through Shrieking in the Rain, is at once a homage to the classic days of low budget Toei erotica and an inspirational tale of an artist finding her voice in a sometimes repressive industry.


Shrieking in the Rain screened as part of this year’s Camera Japan.

Original trailer (no subtitles)

Love and Other Cults (獣道, Eiji Uchida, 2017)

love and other cultsEiji Uchida’s career has been marked by the stories of self defined outsiders trying to decide if they want to move towards or further away from the centre, but in his latest film Love and Other Cults ( 獣道, Kemonomichi), he seems content to let them linger on the margins. The title, neatly suggesting that perhaps love itself is little more than a ritualised set of devotional acts, sets us up for a strange odyssey through teenage identity shifting but where it sends us is a little more obscure as a still young man revisits his youthful romance only to find it as wandering and ill-defined as many a first love story and like many such tales, one ultimately belonging to someone else.

Our lovelorn hero and narrator, Ryota (Kenta Suga), observes the heroine from afar as he tells us her story, which is also his story in a sense. Ai (Sairi Itoh), a neglected child, drifts aimlessly in an uncaring world forever seeking a place to belong but finding no safe space to drop anchor. Ai’s mother, as drifting and aimless as her daughter, attempts to find salvation through religion but her quest for self-fulfilment drags her from one spiritual fad to the next all the while pulling little Ai along with her. The pair finally end up in a cult commune where Ai is a favourite of the leader – a Westerner called Lavi (Matthew Chozick) who preaches free love but only for himself.

Eventually, the cult is raided by the police, Lavi flees, and Ai is “rescued” but the next stage in her odyssey is no less disruptive than the last as she finds herself adrift in the mainstream world. Dropped into a regular high school, Ai tries to play the regular high school girl but can’t shake the cult member inside her. Semi-adopted by an ordinary family, her life gains some normalcy but it is short-lived and before long Ai finds herself in another sort of commune altogether before ending up in teenage prostitution followed by the porn industry.

If girls like Ai end up in AV, boys like Ryota end up in gangs. So it is that Ryota gets mixed up with two equally lost wannabe gangsters in Kenta (Antony) – an outsider by virtue of non-Japanese heritage, and the blond-headed Yuji (Kaito Yoshimura) who’s watched too many movies. Kenta is the de facto head of a little band of petty delinquent kids but he’s getting bored with gangster stuff and yearns for something more real while Yuji trails around after the lollipop sucking local chieftain (Denden). Ryota looks on casually without striking out in either direction, pining for Ai but either unwilling or unable to install himself as a permanent part of her reality.

As Ryota puts it, they’re all just looking for a place to belong. They don’t care where or what that place is, but what they long for is a sense of belonging born of owning their own identities. What may be a typical teenage problem of figuring oneself out takes on a larger dimension given the general instability of the world these youngsters find themselves in. Another in the long line of recent films losing faith with the family, Love and Other Cults finds no room for a familial solution to social woes. Ai has been so definitively let down that her very idea of family is so hopelessly warped as to permanently remove the possibility from her future.

Neglected in favour of her mother’s ongoing and inconclusive search for meaning, Ai’s major attachment is to unclear spirituality but even this becomes horribly misused thanks to her involvement with a shady cult. Having become the favourite of cult leader Lavi, Ai is used to trading herself for affection and security and so when she finds herself semi-adopted by the kindly family of a friend she attempts to use these same familial mechanisms to secure her position only to end up ruining the whole thing. Re-encountering Lavi (now an AV producer) again as an adult, Ai is still unable to see the way that she has been used and misused, quickly resuming her childhood role but without the spiritual pretence.

Ryota and Ai meander aimlessly outside of each other’s orbit, neither finding the place they feel they ought to be. Tellingly, the only real story which obeys narrative rules is that of depressed thug, Kenta, who finds an unlikely soul mate in a chance encounter with a photography loving deep-sea diver, Reika (Hanae Kan). Kenta and Reika are kindred spirits whose place to belong presents itself randomly and without warning yet is found all the same. There is no cult in this love, only mutual salvation. Ai and Ryota, however, are each trapped in their respective quests for fulfilment, disconnected, visible to each other only in brief, fragmented episodes and set to drift eternally yet always in search of a place to call home.


Love and Other Cults was screened as part of the 19th Udine Far East Film Festival.

Original trailer (English subtitles)