Mitsuru Meike's surreal soft-core outing sounds fun, and occasionally it is, but it can also be stupid and off-putting.
The Glamorous Life of Sachiko HanaiDirector: Mitsuru Meike
Cast: Yukijiro Hotaru, Takeshi Ito, Tetsuake Matsue, Emi Kuroda, Kyoko Hayami
Distributor: Palm Pictures / Umvd
MPAA rating: Unrated
First date: 2004
US DVD Release Date: 2007-06-05
Alternately repellent and amusing, The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai has the feel of a comic book sketched by a precocious but maladapted high school boy. It’s full of arty pretension, political iconoclasm, and philosopher namedropping. And of course, any acne-faced fever dream wouldn’t be complete without a cartoonishly sexy woman, a role filled by call girl turned world-saving genius, Sachiko Hanai (Emi Kuroda). As it turns out, Sachiko’s mission to prevent a nuclear apocalypse involves quite a lot of sex.
The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai, you see, first began life as a humble piece of soft-core porn. Specifically, as a “pink film”, a Japanese variant that seems to try to make up for its lack of phallic representation with exaggeratedly violent sex. The film went on to attain art-house respectability after being expanded and dropping its original title: Horny Home Tutor: Teacher’s Love Juice. A lot of this positive attention is due to its surrealistic humor. But it is its vision of a demonic, perverted President Bush, seen only as a mask leering from a TV set and as a disembodied pink finger encased in a lipstick tube, that probably won it most of its film festival invites. The scenes with Bush are the sharpest and wittiest in the movie. And in a time when bookstore display tables and video store shelves are nearly collapsing under the weight of Bush criticisms, a truly unique take on Bush-as-Dark Overlord is something to savor.
The film’s plot ensures equal time for coitus and narrative development. It begins with Sachiko servicing a client. Afterwards, Sachiko, whose extraordinary unintelligence makes her unable to walk more than 10 feet without falling over, witnesses a North Korean man shooting a vaguely Middle Eastern-looking man. She tries to capture the event with her cell-phone – “cellular photo function!” she yells – but is shot in the head by the North Korean. The bullet leaves her with a gaping, bloody hole in her forehead, but she lives. And as she stumbles away from the scene, she accidentally takes an object belonging to her shooter: a clone of President Bush’s trigger finger.
The bullet to the brain, as luck would have it, turns Sachiko into both a super genius and a nymphomaniac. Pre-bullet Sachiko made her living role-playing as a “horny home tutor”. Post-bullet, Sachiko becomes something of a genuine horny home tutor, sleeping with most every male character while namedropping nearly the entire Western philosophy pantheon (she’s prone to shouting non sequiturs like, “Paradise Lost lacks the material base of pessimism” during sex). Meanwhile, the uptight, repressed North Korean agent pursues Sachiko, knowing that Bush’s cloned finger is the key to activating a nuclear doomsday device.
It sounds fun, and occasionally it is. But it can also be stupid and off-putting. For instance, the Philosophy 101 one-liners (Noam Chomsky, Kant, and Descartes get the most shout-outs) are completely inane. More problematic is the way in which the film’s surrealistic subversion coexists with misogynistic convention, often within the same scene.
Immediately after being shot, Sachiko wanders into the street, disoriented. A concerned- looking policeman sees her collapse onto the curb, notices her bloody bullet wound, and asks her if she’s alright. The next time we see them, the policeman is raping a barely conscious Sachiko and shouting “I’m not kind” at her over and over. Shot with a stationary camera that takes in both the uniform the policeman is still wearing and Sachiko’s violent wound, the scene lasts an uncomfortably long time. Interestingly, when the time arrives for male-centered pornography’s ritualistic climax, the camera shifts to Sachiko’s point of view. A vague, blurry blue uniform towers over us as effluence hits the camera lens.
The scene raises, and then mocks, our expectation of a benign police force protecting and serving (the scene also acts, more generally, as an extremely vivid anti-authoritarian metaphor). It could also be argued that by emphasizing the, um, nonconsensual nature of the encounter, and by shifting to a shot from Sachiko’s point of view, it works to critique and undermine its own genre. But the scene, and the movie for that matter, doesn’t feel like a critique of misogyny; it feels like the real thing. While director Mitsuru Meike may add deliberately unsettling elements to his sex scenes, they still remain exercises in conventional, male-centered pornographic form; they last only as long as the man takes to orgasm. The camera leaves its voyeuristic medium-shot only for anatomical close-ups of Sachiko. Also, the gaping, bloody hole in Sachiko’s forehead, which is usually only exposed when she is having sex, feels hateful. It reminded me of R. Crumb’s drawings of ravenous men raping headless women.
The Glamorous Life is at its best when it turns its feverish, adolescent wit against President Bush -- or rather, images of a President Bush mask that appear in water buckets and video screens. The movie’s least queasy “sex” occurs when the president’s cloned finger “invades” Sachiko, his leering visage looking on from a TV set. In the middle of this sequence, the film cuts to a hilarious send up of Bush’s triumphalist May 2003 “mission accomplished” speech, when the president announced the “end of major combat operations” in Iraq from an aircraft carrier anchored off the coast of California. Using news footage, the film shows Bush striding up to the microphone as a Navy band plays “Hail to the Chief”. Bush pauses in front of the podium, looks around, smirks, and then adopts a more serious expression as he begins to speak. A Japanese voiceover, standing in for Bush’s Texas drawl, barks: “Shake it up, baby now! He’s fucked up, baby now!” The Japanese voice then grows quieter, more Presidential:
“Boys and girls of the world, did you not see the Hussein statue being knocked down on TV?
Nobody can beat my super weapon, you know?
It eliminates America’s enemies and the enemies of the world, one by one, at pinpoint precision.
Little people, do not be concerned: my intention is to have “Nature Friendly Wars".
It’s a pretty dead-on articulation of the “Bush Doctrine”. And its surrealistic humor shows the promise of The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai. It’s hard, however, to appreciate anti-war humor when it’s sandwiched in between sexual violence. Despite that, the film has both the gross-outs and the boobs to ensure a spot in your local video store’s “Cult” section. Look for it somewhere between Caged Heat and Team America.
The DVD extras include the original Horny Home Tutor, perfect for those who prefer a higher sex to satire ratio. Also included is an essay on the pink film genre and a short film featuring Sachiko being raped by a Bush puppet. Tasteful (not).