The director of “The Torture Club” and “Love Disease” is back for another dainty dip into the deep end of Japanese kink with “Sexual Drive,” a droll triptych of food, sex and perverse manipulation.
In “Remembrance of Things Past,” Marcel Proust’s narrator lapses into memories at the mere scent on a madeleine cookie. Kôta Yoshida’s characters, in three stories, connect food to sexual arousal via a provocateur who encourages them to do just that.
It’s something of a dark comedy, a “Tampopo” with little of the savory sensuality and few of the laughs.
The stories are named after foods — Nattō, Mapo Tufu and Ramen with Extra Back Fat. In each, our seemingly omniscient instigator, Kurita (Tateto Serizawa) forces those he confronts to consider the sensuality of the food they’re eating, considering eating or that they watch a loved one eat.
In Nattō, a suspicious husband (Ryô Ikeda) is slowly driven to tears and fury when he meets Kurita, the man who admits to having an affair with his wife. We hear Kurita’s gruesome detail-oriented description of their meeting — she’s a nurse who treated him — and see his obscene fixation of the sticky, smelly soy concoction that she eats for breakfast. And we join the husband in his growing despair and shock, if not in his revulsion that turns towards arousal.
Mapo Tofu puts Kurita in the path of a driver (Honami Satô) with anxiety issues on her way to buy some spicey tofu that’s on sale at a nearby market. Kurita doesn’t approve, as he used to live in the corner of China where this super-hot dish was invented.
“It’s red, like lave, and makes your tongue hurt!” This “family safe” bargain version is a compromise Akane shouldn’t make. As he seems to know much of her life history, perhaps that’s right. As she hit him with her car, and neither we nor she can see how that happened, we can ponder what’s really going on here, and what corner of kinkiness Kurita will claim this time.
And in “Ramen with Extra Back Fat” the “other woman” is stood up for her date with a married man (Shogen) and stops by a greasy spoon noodle shop where “talking isn’t allowed,” and there’s only the sound of men slurping the fatty, garlic-dosed noodles and the scent of sweaty men devouring that fragrant comfort food.
Her lover is led there, by phone, by Kurita, who narrates how the evening went for her in the most salacious terms. She wanted “a bowl of ramen that would satisfy her desires,” as Mr. Married Man was too busy for her this night.
The performances throw a few outsized (culturally appropriate) reactions to these situations at us, even as we’re invited to wonder how we’d respond to such baiting. Serizawa’s Kurita makes a fascinating anchor figure through it all — not much to look at (he’s a self-described “stroke” victim in the first story), but into the pleasures of the flesh, and not in any conventional way either. He’s provoking those he encounters to think of themselves, their diets and the food choices of their lovers in erotic terms.
This three-part picture is more interesting than titillating, a film best appreciated as a semi-sordid slice of interior lives in a culture that worships good manners and may or may not have invented pornography, but certainly perfected it in either case.
Rating: unrated, frank sex talk
Cast: Manami Hashimoto, Ryô Ikeda, Mukau Nakamura, Honami Satô, Tateto Serizawa, Shogen, Rina Takeda
Credits: Scripted and directed and Kôta Yoshida. A Film Movement release.
Running time: 1:11