Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In short: Moon & Cherry (2004)

College freshman Tadokoro (Tasuku Nagaoka), soft-spoken and shy virgin, joins his new school's club for writers of erotic literature. We are very obviously in Japan.

Learning of the shy guy's virginity, Mayama (Noriko Eguchi), the club's only female member, decides to use him as the real-life-inspiration for her new novel. Seducing our hero isn't too difficult, and keeping his interest isn't either, but Mayama's increasingly strange wishes when it comes to Tadokoro's sexual education begin to make him uncomfortable. It doesn't help his case that Mayama's only interest in him seems to lie in using him where he expects sweet, sweet romance.

After a while, even someone as mild-mannered and inexperienced as Tadokoro starts to feel uncomfortable about the relationship (such as it is), but ending it is quite difficult, for he has fallen in love.

During part-time work, Tadokoro meets perky Akane (Misako Hirata). It seems that Akane and he could have a somewhat more healthy relationship than whatever the thing between him and Mayama is, but Akane's incessant perkiness, niceness and superficiality and the fact that the young man isn't actually in love with her, soon lead nowhere.

Leave it to the Japanese to make a watchable sex comedy. Moon & Cherry isn't "only" a sex comedy, though, it's also a romantic comedy about difficult people without much of an ability to express their emotions to each other without the need of voyeurism and prostitutes.

Although I don't think the film is as good as some of the reviews I read make it out to be, it has a lot of things going for it.

Firstly, there's the film's confident matter-of-factness, the way it seems to look its viewer in the eye and shrug laconically whenever something bizarre happens. This doesn't only amplify the comical effect, but also helps Moon & Cherry avoid the drift-off into the plague zone of erotic comedy, the realm of zaniness.

Most of the film's humour is very dry, and director Yuki Tanada is never trying too hard to be funny. The film also lacks the meanness that makes other specimens of the sex comedy so unpleasant to watch. Sure, Tadokoro's inexperience is the basis for a lot of jokes, but this isn't the sort of film that's pointing and laughing at its characters from a position of supposed superiority. Tanada shows a lot of sympathy for the characters' feelings and their plights.

The only character getting short thrift in this respect is Akane, and she's not so much mocked as viewed with puzzlement. This comes as a bit of a surprise when you keep the love of Japanese pop culture (and fetish culture) for exactly her type of (supposedly endearing) shallowness in mind, yet I believe she's mostly there to demonstrate the film's emotional politics. The emotional point is that complicated people with emotional problems (aka the weird ones) are the ones worth to spend one's life/time with, while the people going through life with easiness just aren't all that interesting once you get to know them. And of course, the good old "follow your heart". Cliché as that might be, I'd wager this is actually a rather good idea when it comes to love.


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