- Original title
- Erotikku na Kankei
- Japanese title
- Running time
- 95 minutes
- 5 June 2001
by Jasper Sharp
During the first few years of the 90s, 18-year old Rie Miyazawa was taking the Japanese media by storm. The half-Dutch/half-Japanese 'talento' (a catch all term that essentially equates to an all-singing, all-dancing "entertainer") had debuted in a series of TV commercials when she was 11, her early career as a child model paralleling such wholesome girl-next-door types as Brooke Shields and Patsy Kensit.
Pushed on by her ambitious mother/manager Mitsuko Miyazawa who'd divorced her Dutch husband during pregnancy, Rie's face was soon on every poster, magazine advert, telephone card and TV station throughout Japan. By the late 80s she had made the natural progression to TV-acting in the drama Tears of a Swan and released the Dream Rush pop album in 1990. Meanwhile, her mother seemed quite content to put Rie through absolutely anything to put her daughter's name on the nation's lips, and so, in 1992, came the shocking release of a glossy nude photo book entitled Santa Fe. Rie Miyazawa was hot news indeed.
Santa Fe's release coincided with Rie's film debut with two films released in the same year. Perhaps what is most curious about Miyazawa's initial two-pronged assault on the Japanese cinema screen is how it could have yielded such radically different results. By all accounts she acquitted herself well in the title role of Hiroshi 'Woman in the Dunes' Teshigahara's lavish historical adventure, Princess Go (Go Hime). Her appearance in Koji Wakamatsu's Erotic Liaisons, however, piques the curiosity as to what sort of public image she was exactly trying to cultivate at the time.
Opinions on the film from Western critics vary wildly, with Thomas Weisser proclaiming it "a near perfect film" in his Essential Guide to Japanese Cinema, and Mark Schilling's offhand dismissal of it as "dreck ... made by dirty old men for dirty old men" in his Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture. I wouldn't say it's either, really. Whereas the very title would seem to pitch it towards the erotic thriller end of the market, it is ponderously paced and decidedly unexciting, and its erotic content pretty sparse.
Set in Paris, the plot (despite the title, not even dangerously close to Laclos as has been suggested elsewhere) concerns a low-key private detective agency run by Rie and her buffoonish partner Kishin (ex-rockstar Uchida), two expats who tick along between cases by giving guided tours of the city to busloads of Japanese tourists. After the wealthy Okuyama (Kitano) hires them to trail his French mistress Loren (Galin) whom he believes to be having an affair, the feeble-willed Kishin finds himself seduced by this femme fatale and way out of his depth in a seamy underworld of rich Japanese businessmen, S&M games and huge piles of money. Meanwhile Rie is being wined and dined by Okuyama who seems to have a hidden agenda all of his own.
Grandfather of the Japanese sex film Koji Wakamatsu pioneered the pinku genre with films like Skeleton in the Closet (Kabe no naka no Himegoto, 1965) and Violated Angels (Okasareta Hakui, 1967), his work becoming increasingly sadistic with the spirit of the times with the likes of Torture Chronicles: 100 Years (Gomon Hyaku-nen, 1975). More recently his Ready to Shoot (Ware ni Utsu Yoi Ari, 1990) and Endless Waltz (1995) have made more of a concession to the mainstream, and the glossy Erotic Liaisons is no exception.
It closely mirrors the marketing technique being exploited by Hollywood at the time, for example with the Madonna vehicle Body of Evidence in 1993. The idea is that if you get major stars involved in a film which bills itself as being erotic without it actually being so, you'll tap into a whole new demographic of people prepared to curb their natural embarrassment in order to see a major public figure's tits. (The parallel is curiously apt, as only a year previously, in a similarly out-of-the-blue piece of self-publicity to Santa Fe, Madonna had also bared all in Sex, a soft-focus book of art photographs with a number of prominent super models of the time.) Of course it's nothing but a tease, because Rie keeps her blouse buttoned up to her chin throughout. The only erotic liaisons which occur outside of the film's title are between Uchida and temptress Galin, and these barely stretch to a couple of brief flashes of the French girl's breasts.
Which would be no bad thing if the other aspects of Erotic Liaisons maintained any degree of interest, but the film seems merely content to fall back on its Parisian locale as a succession of picture postcard backdrops to peddle a perfunctory plot that makes little attempt to engage its audience. We see Kishin driving around the Place de la Concorde in a clapped out Renault, strolling past La Défense on his way to confront Kitano, and moping outside Notre Dame cathedral by night; the two detectives go dancing in a nightclub by the Moulin Rouge in the evening, and Rie attends a fashion show after being wooed by Kitano at a sumptuous restaurant - all so very quaintly French you can almost smell the garlic, but perhaps a little too over the top.
Still, on the plus side the performances do have a certain degree of charm. Kitano crops up to perform his usual yakuza schtick, arguably the film's highpoint, and Uchida is amusing in his role as the moping dog-in-heat lost in a foreign city and at the mercy of its incomprehensible natives. But it is Miyazawa herself that provides the most memorable hook as the perky heroine who helps get her partner back on track.
In this film at least it looked like she did have what it took to make the transition to a serious film actress, but unfortunately her off-screen fortunes took a decided turn for the worse the following year when she was publicly jilted by the sumo wrestling star Takenohana. After a failed suicide attempt and a battle with anorexia she made a partially successful come back in a number of television roles, eventually leading to big screen gigs in Yoji Yamada's Twilight Samurai (Tasogare Seibei, 2002) and Jun Ichikawa's Tony Takitani (2004), both quite widely seen abroad.