Ending first: I destroyed this film after watching it.
Beginning: I like art house films. I teach Film Studies. Constantly I am plumbing the depths of foreign cinemas – African cinema, Asian, European. And as such I often use lists and guides to help me find things.
A friend told me about “patrician” films – snootiness that implies others are plebs. But when checking out these lists I realized, despite my Criterion and art house credentials, that I’d seen very few. So I took one of the lists he sent me, and began investigating. Here is that list:
Now, over the past year or so, many of these films I’ve now seen have been genuinely intriguing. Some I’d seen before: ‘Black Orpheus’, ‘The Lost Weekend’. ‘I Am Cuba’ and ‘Mother and Son’ were new – and had great cinematography. ‘The Steel Helmet’ had not aged well, but it sticks with you. Others were just the other side of cult: ‘Putney Swope’ and ‘Pink Flamingoes’. However, as I delved further into the list, one title I could find very little about: ‘Nanami: Inferno of First Love’.
So I looked on eBay. I found someone selling a copy, bought it, and watched it.
Let’s start off the bat with our protagonist, named Shun, whom I will dub Captain Sadsack. Sadsack meets a young girl in a cheap hotel who quickly undresses. So far so normal – I’m thinking of ‘Belle Du Jour’ and ‘Cleo from 5 to 7’. Prostitution has always been a fascination of the New Wave, and this film, being Japanese New Wave, starts off no different.
Of course he’s a virgin. Of course she’s a nude model. And of course he doesn’t get anywhere because he’s too shy. All standard coming-of-age plot stuff. Sadsack tells us his backstory, and now the film begins to pile on: he was an orphan, and is a journeyman goldsmith apprenticed to his foster-ish parents, and his “father” has molested him since childhood. He also takes laughing lessons.
We aren’t at the five-minute mark, yet. Already I’m thinking, “Why did I spend money on this?”
Then we find out, of course!, that his only friend is a five-year old girl. He is hoping the prostitute he’s telling all this to will be his second friend.
Why is a five-year old his friend? Because his only form of enjoyment is feeding pigeons in the park, where he sometimes sees her. I remind you that this boy is in his late-teens, not a cute old granddad. If he’d been a cute granddad perhaps I’d have been cheering him on.
Also he may have been drawn to pigeons because those were his only friends as a child. It’s unclear. What is clear is that this movie is crap. We are now only ten minutes in.
Anyway. So Captain Sadsack is hanging out in a graveyard with the five year old because subtlety is for suckers, when the little girl needs to pee. He takes her behind a grave and is spotted, and, not surprisingly, is presumed to be a child predator. Thankfully the deranged director doesn’t show us the girl urinating, but by this point I thought I was prepared for anything.
A Freudian hypnotist (which clearly is what this train wreck was missing) gets him to be more explicit about his molestation-infested childhood. Meanwhile our prostitute with a heart of tarnished brass is doing more exotic photo-shoots of the S&M sort.
Up to this point the film is just bad. It’s schlocky and pretentious, over-the-top and ‘artistic’ in all the wrong ways. Up to this point, it isn’t worth writing up. But – fair warning – it now gets really, legitimately beyond pretentious levels of bad.
Sadsack is back home, and other things probably happened but I can’t claim to care enough to recall. Then he begins to masturbate, but his visions of his prostitute friend fade out and we get still images of young children running around in masks. In various stages of undress.
I paused the film. I went online. I looked up this film, and various synopses. Only a couple, here or there, mentioned this scene. (“One weird scene in particular involves naked children walking around in a cemetery wearing tengu masks. God knows what that's about.”) Which leads me to wonder: what the fuck?
It has a 7.9 on IMDB. Who gives a 7.9 to this garbage?! Who gives it a 4.2/5 on Rotten Tomatoes? The fact that it’s “art” doesn’t really excuse exploitation, at least not for me.
Once I’d read the synopses and was sure there weren’t going to be any more surprises I finished the film. Unfortunately the ending is supposed to be a shocking twist, which, by checking to make sure there weren’t going to be more naked kids, was essentially ruined. Long story short: The Captain decides to leave his awful foster situation, falls truly in love with the prostitute who loves him in return, and right before he meets her at the hotel to consummate what he’d been unable to previously, he gets hit by a car and dies because OF COURSE HE DOES. The end.
Up to the creepy kids I’d already come to the conclusion I was going to take the DVD and sell it to one of the used DVD stores in town, which, this being Berkeley, there are many. But, frankly, I don’t want people to see this film, and, worryingly, I wonder if the market for it doesn’t include real creeps.
So instead I destroyed it.
Maybe it is art. Maybe I’m an uncultured heathen and my reaction shows just how petty and bourgeois, what an unsophisticated “plebeian” I am. I just feel more comfortable knowing that it’s not out there. And I hope this review may be found by others and serve as a warning that this film is of no real cinematic value. Should every existing copy be destroyed? No, probably not. But mine is, and I can’t help but feel the world is better off for it.