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  Underwater Love Turtle DiaryBuy this film here.
Year: 2011
Director: Shinji Imaoka
Stars: Sawa Masaki, Yoshirô Umezawa, Ai Narita, Mutsuo Yoshioka, Fumio Moriya, Emi Nishimura, Hiroshi Satô, Yutaka Ônishi
Genre: Musical, Comedy, Sex, Weirdo, Fantasy
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: The kappa is a water spirit which dwells in rivers and lakes, resembles a half man-half turtle beast, and needs to have water poured onto his bald pate at regular intervals to keep him going. Another thing which sustains him are cucumbers, his favourite food, but this particular kappa has a tragic backstory. He used to be a high school student but was drowned, and now around twenty years later he has returned in spirit form to look up the girl he had a crush on, apparently not realising that time has moved on and the girl, now a grown woman Asuka (Sawa Masaki), is about to settle down with her boss at the fish factory...

Not only that but her colleagues call her "old woman" because of her positively ancient age: she's thirty-five. To rub it in, they even perform a song and dance about this, because Underwater Love was a musical as well as a fantasy flick, and as if that wasn't enough it was one of those Japanese Pink Films as well. That was their equivalent of softcore porn, meaning plenty of sex scenes but nothing more explicit than boobs and bums to be seen, although director Shinji Imaoka got around the censors by showing us the kappa's erect member by having the actor (actually a non-actor, Yoshirô Umezawa) sport a rubbery green appendage - notably shot by the much respected cinematographer Christopher Doyle.

As if that were not odd enough, Imaoka wasn't simply out to titillate the audience, he was here to pay tribute to a deceased friend of his who had committed suicide a while before, leaving the director bereft of his pal, so he began to wonder if the dead man could return as a spirit, thus the kappa here was intended to represent his late friend. Some might have thought that was a downright disrespectful method to adopt, but there was a strain of deeply sincere sentimentality running through the film, making it quite unlike anything you would get in the West, especially with its aims to cheer you up with the tunes, turn you on with the sex, and move you with the sense of losing a loved one.

Even more bizarre was that Imaoka did achieve these goals with some skill, although the sauciness was more humorous and, well, weird than actually erotic, not always at the same time. Asuka is happy to see the kappa when she recognises who he is, having encountered him at the dock when she was saving a fish she rescued from the food processing factory where she works. He then begins hanging around her, obviously infatuated thanks to his memories of what she was like as a teenager, and goes to the extent of getting a job at the factory disguising his beak and bald dome, though his shell still shows through the tear at the back of his shirt. Somehow it's not Asuka he ends up with, but her curvy co-worker Reiko (Ai Narita) who takes him to his old house and seduces him.

Yet the plot doesn't end there, as Asuka's fiancé finds out the turtle man is living with her, and flies into a rage, then the kappa reveals he knows something alarming about the woman: she will die at sundown tomorrow. Like a fairytale but definitely for adults only, Underwater Love may be dealing with serious issues, but its goofy and kooky presentation marked it out as intriguing and finally quite endearing; those songs by German group Stereo Total were very catchy if a little samey, and the way the cast danced to them without much evidence of any talent in that area was highly amusing. There were other indications of a rather slapdash attitude though probably not by design: when the kappa takes Asuka to his elders to save her, the lyrics to their big number are about killing him because he's a liar (!), apparently because the songs were finished well before the shooting was started, so changes had been made in the storyline. With a climax which was sexual as well as wrapping it up, this was ridiculous, but very sweet.

Aka: Onna no Kappa
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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