Tribeca 2011: UNDERWATER LOVE Review

Ben Umstead, East Coast Editor
With the inclusion of Shinji Imaoka's sex fantasy musical in their line-up, I can't help but feel that Tribeca is trying to steal some of New York Asian Film Festival's thunder. But one "weird" pinku eiga (for the uninitiated that's Japanese soft-core porn) locked and loaded in their chamber isn't really going to do the trick, and thankfully for Tribeca and Underwater Love, the film actually has a chance to stand out as something a wee bit different at this festival, rather than just a middling entry at NYAFF.

Thirty-five year old Asuka has a nice comfy life going for her. She works at a rural fishery and is engaged to the boss, Taki, a dorky and horny fellow who eagerly sits her down with wedding magazines and pamphlets wherein he has pasted pictures of their heads over the models. Finding a fish still alive in one of her chutes, she goes about setting it back in the water, which leads to the film's first musical number, because yes, remember, Underwater Love is a bonafide musical. The snappy pop numbers composed by German-French duo Stereo Total fall somewhere between 80s synth pop and psychedelic vibes of the 60s. Though they don't really vary in style nor choreography (essentially just a person or people dancing merrily, arms and legs akimbo), they are always refreshing and never detract. So with our first musical number and the fish back in the water, it is time for Asuka to meet her love from underwater. That'd be Aoki, a kappa (a turtle-man/demon famous in Japanese folklore), who, as it turns out is her drowned high school friend reincarnated.

From there on out it's kind of a puppy dog scenario, where he follows her home, in that coy, shy cutesy fashion. He eats a kappa's favorite food, cucumbers, and bathes in her tub, because a kappa's scalp has to stay moist.

Of course things get a little complicated when Aoki rather clumsily disguises himself so he can go to work with Asuka. Taki gets jealous, and oh yeah the God of Death shows up and says Asuak's about to expire so Aoki's gotta save her by getting the anal pearl shoved up her bum, which will prolong her life. Yes. An. Anal. Pearl. Which doesn't look like a pearl at all by the way; it's more akin to a monster's testicle, but that is perhaps beside the point and maybe a bit spoilerish? Ooops.

The adventure is all rather laid-back, nonchalant, and quite funny. Emotions are big-eyed and cartoon-ish. Grandpa Kappa joins in the dancing and sumo wrestling is in the cards too. And since this is a pink film there's a healthy helping of tits and ass. Ironically enough the sex scenes are the flattest in the entire film, at times even feeling the most out of place. The one high point of these segments though is, of course, the reveal of Aoki's green monster. Yes, we get kappa genitalia and it's all lensed by Christopher Doyle, famed right hand man of Wong Kar Wai.

Thus confirms Twitch's initial assumption, that yes, this is probably the best looking pink film ever made. Colorful with lush greens and blues, the swamps and mountains of rural Japan are featured prominently with a slightly magical and melancholy tint. Doyle also tries out a few neat strobing effects, which adds a little more to the film's already mystical spunk.    

All in all, Underwater Love is a fun 87 minutes. It feels like it was shot in a week, and the kappa prosthetic certainly leaves something to be desired (sorry Yoshihiro Nishimura) , but this low-budget lopsidedness adds to the film's charms. With it's folktale twist and sunny disposition, Imaoka, Doyle and Stereo Total give what could have been a rather blasé pink film an imaginative snap, crackle and pop.


Screens: April 23, 27, 28
 
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