Starring: Eiji Okuda, Mayu Ozawa, Akira Shoji, Mari Natsuki Running Time: 2:12 Country: Japan Year: 2001 Web: Official Site
In Shoujyo, Eiji Okuda is Tomokawa, a delinquent police officer, and a pathetic and crude human being who uses his privileged position to appease his base instincts. When Yoko (Mayu Ozawa), a fifteen year-old girl, offers herself to him, not only does he not hesitate but he also falls in love with her.
Shoujyo and morals
For his first time behind the camera, Eiji Okuda, chooses a difficult and embarrassing subject which he treatsand this is the strength of his filmwith reserve and elegance. If the love between a man in his forties and a young girl breaks with the propriety of Japanese society, the sober and delicate approach that Okuda chooses, that of pure "quasi-adolescent" love, finds an echo in his aesthetic direction loaded with refined eroticism. Rather than offering a debauchery of bodies and taking advantage of his young actress, he avoids any inappropriate voyeurism while celebrating the beauty of these bodies but at the same time offering himself as much as her onscreen. This allows him as a filmmaker to distance himself from his character as an actor, and not to make his film the simple toy of an old pervert.
In order to accentuate the gap between Tomokowa and his community, he is introduced to us like a shady cop representing the corruption and the drift of society's moral barriers. However, Okuda avoids judging his character. He films him with a certain affection and paradoxically he becomes a better man as his affair with Yoko blossoms. She catalyses his youth: from her contact, and for a short moment, he regresses to adolescence and recovers his purity. The director does not encourage pedophilia but shows that pure love goes well beyond the age difference. The fact that 15 years earlier Tomokowa was the lover of Yoko's mother introduces the concept of incest and lets doubt hover throughout the film.
There is however an issue with this tale about morals anchored in Japanese society. In reality, such a relationship between an older man and a schoolgirl would be regarded as an infraction of the rules and the couple, instead of freely living out their love, would inevitably be banished (even more so given that Tomokawa is a police officer). While there's no doubt that Eiji Okuda is conscious about this situation, one can attribute his choice to ignore this with the fact that he builds Shoujyo as a fable, taking some freedom in order to make this affair work.
Okuda openly and dangerously flirts with taboos and it's his daring approach that elevates his film to the level of these controversial and significant works. Refusing any easy amalgam, floating between the blurry barriers of good and evil, he prefers to provoke a reflection on the roots of the problem rather than assuming the right to judge and condemn.
The Body and Art
While in Okuda's work eroticism is artistic, it is precisely because he sees the body as an objet of art carved by light and shadows. When Okuda reveals Tomokawa and Yoko, lying or intertwined, his cinematography looking like the still life of a Dutch painterthe fact that the filmmaker is a also painter surely counts for something. The assimilation to art however, goes much further, since the body also officiates like a receptacle for art works: a tattoo of a bird, considered a masterpiece, decorates Tomokawa's back, not only making his body a piece of art but also a "frame" for this painting. Thus Tomokowa, a pathetic figure preceded by a bad reputation, takes on a sudden value once his tattoo, a work of a rare complexity and beauty from a master, is exposed to the eyes of his fellow men and to ours.
Obsession and image
When Yoko approaches Tomokawa to offer herself to him at the beginning of film, it's because she's fallen in love with a photograph belonging to her mother. One can see his profile and his naked back proudly exposing his tattoo from 15 years before when he was a handsome young man. The girl falls in love with several images encased in each other. In this mise-en-abime, she is obsessed by a first image, the tattoo, and the second is that of a man whom she idealizes, and finally by the photograph itself. She is not in love with a real human being but rather with the ideaor the imageshe has of him. In the same way, Okuda presents us the parallel as a Jimmy Hendrix fan, a hallucinated and anachronistic guy who identifies himself with his hero and lives in a "sanctuary" apartment decorated with posters, artifacts and original guitars. Just like Yoko he is in love with the image of somebody whom he has never met and whom he idealizes; a fascination that flirts with fetishism.
Image and Love
In a final attampt, as if to convince herself of the existence of this love binding her to Tomokawa and to reinforce it, Yoko has a bird tattooed on her back, the complementary female version of Tomokawa's. The two lovers are now completely bound by the image, two tattoos that are supposed to act like magnets. But is this illusion strong enough to disregard the rulesor taboosthat this union has broken? This noise which resounds, catching us by surprise as the screen darkens, speaks for Okuda's feelings.