Tokyo Noir

Original title
Tokyo Nowaru
Japanese title
  • トウキョーノワール
Running time
127 minutes
16 February 2013
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An omnibus of three stories about women who find emotional liberation working within various capacities in the sex industry, as a serious drama Tokyo Noir has to struggle hard to overcome the clichés inherent in its choice of topic.

Kumazawa’s first entry, Birthday, doesn’t quite pull it off. The story of Mari, a dowdy and single Office Lady who, in her mid-30s, finds herself increasingly marginalised within the workplace, comes across as mere Flashdance-esque fantasy. Gloomily fatalistic about her birthdays, which have settled into a characteristically disastrous pattern ever since her father left home never to return on her seventh, as she approaches the age of 35 she is beckoned one evening through a mysterious doorway with a gold mask hung above it marked "Carnival". Here she is pampered, massaged and made-over before being dispatched to a plush hotel to service a variety of male clients. When she notices that her first customer has three moles on his chest, similar to her estranged father, she realises that she may have found her ideal metier after all, and her evenings need never be lonely and empty again.

More promising is Girl's Life, which focuses on Miyuki (Nakamura), a college girl who works evenings dealing out blowjobs and kindly words to lonely businessmen in a fuzoku club. Similar to his first work, Scoutman, director Ishioka dwells on the tedium and banality of everyday life in the sex industry, showing the grimy reality behind its alluring façade. Each of the tiny cubicles where the girls ply their trade comes equipped with an emergency button in case their clients insist too forcefully on the honban, the “real thing”.

The two directors come together for the faintly ridiculous final episode, entitled Night Lovers, in which Nao (Yoshino), a young office worker in her twenties whose boyfriend disappears without a trace early on, ends up trading places with a high-class hooker of the same name (Seki) who drives around Tokyo by night picking up clients who approach her via the internet. The requisite air of cold urban alienation and anxiety is conjured up via periodic newsflashes on the TV and radio, as US and British forces storm Iraq, a fairly common ploy in recent pink films since Takahisa Zeze’s No Man’s Land in 1991, but it can’t make the story any more convincing.

Aside from the Girl's Life segment, it is difficult to take any of this as seriously as the film takes itself. Each of the episodes could do with losing a few minutes, and pitched at the tabloid level of sensationalist tabloid exposé with some minor nudity from its actresses, the film merely documents the milieu without really having much to say about it. At best, Tokyo Noir is a vicarious drawl through the dark gutters of the sex business through the eyes of those that work within it, much in the vein of Ryu Murakami’s Tokyo Decadence.