Directed by Shinji Imaoka, 1999, 62 minutes, starring Mitsuyo Suwa, Takeshi Ito, Atsuko Suzuki, and Mikio Sato.
What is it about pink eiga that gets everyone worked up into a froth? Yes, that sentence was written with a knowing wink, but it's still a valid question. Traditionally the training ground for directors who went on to bigger and greater things, perhaps it's the very basic, low-budget nature of the genre which means any aspiring director has to be quite creative to get anything vaguely artistic, as well as there being the creative freedom to show the darker recesses of human behaviour so long as there's a decent amount of shagging included.
Now it must be said that, as yet, director Shinji Imaoka has yet to breakthrough into mainstream cinema – perhaps his magnum opus is just round the corner – but he's still churning out the porn, which Salvation Films seem very eager to pick up. Yes, perhaps at this stage he's yet to fully show his directorial chops, but to be honest it's not the easiest of things to do given the flimsiness of Despite All That. (As an aside, I'd really like to see some of Sono Sion's early gay pink eiga, if just to see how much of the stunning visual flair witnessed in Suicide Circle was in evidence at that point.)
Art teacher Naoko is unhinged. Clearly the victim of some trauma, her obsessive-compulsive nature drives her to shred cabbage with a HUGE knife hour after hour when not at work, until such point as she feels the need to drive the knife into herself. Usually at this point long-suffering husband Yoshio intervenes, wrestles the knife from her and gives her a long backrub, before she retreats into a low closet and hides there, Kayako-style. Their sex life is virtually non-existent, and Yoshio's virtually impotent in any case. He has but one suggestion anyway: he'd like Naoko to dress up in a schoolgirl's uniform. While Naoko is initially somewhat reluctant to play out this fantasy, it does seem to have the required effect for her husband.
Back at school, Naoko has taken schoolgirl Kimiko under her wing. Living virtually alone in her apartment with only a strange guy called Tokio for company, she explains to Naoko that her parents have left. Naoko, for reasons left unexplained, sketches Kimiko's portrait, only for her pupil to hate it, try to tear it up and attack the teacher. After a subsequent absence from school, Naoko visits Kimiko's apartment and invites her to stay for a while with her and her husband.
Let's put it this way – Kimiko is not a shy girl. She's not above wandering around the house dressed solely in her pants, and forcing Yoshio to sleep on the sofa so she can share the only bed in the house with her teacher. And, of course, whilst in bed she makes advances on Naoko, forcing herself onto her. Such is the way in porn movies, of course.
Over time Kimiko inveigles her way into both Naoko's and Yoshio's lives. She tries to manipulate Naoko, saying Yoshio had made advances on her, but Naoko fundamentally disbelieves her, bearing in mind her husband had promised not to do anything of the sort. That doesn't stop Kimiko from chucking herself at Yoshio, in reality giving him little choice but to sleep with her. The relationship between the two of them rapidly turns into an abusive one, she imprisoning, shackling and daubing her reluctant lover with offensive graffiti that he cannot remove. Leaving him at her apartment, she leaves to see Naoko, to tell her exactly what her husband has done...
Despite All That was clearly made on a very low budget. There's problems with the lighting, the sound's all over the place and, well, let's say the acting talent clearly isn't top notch, even for pink eiga. Even the film stock looks second-hand. The flimsy, cod sexual-politics storyline does no-one any favours, despite the movie's aspiration to be a black comedy with plenty of shagging in it. The characters themselves are so unattractive as to be virtually repellent (maybe that's the point?) and no-one is convincing anyone that in reality the actress who plays Kimiko has seen the inside of a school for at least fifteen years. Part of the problem is also the incredibly static camera, which barely seems to move at all throughout the movie. Despite All That could even perhaps be described as theatrical, surely something every director other than Lars von Trier wants to avoid. There's lots of gazing away into the near-distance, as if there were a better world on the other side of the camera.
That said, there's clearly something Imaoka's saying about power in this movie. Kimiko's a strange character, for sure, a bit like a Siren from ancient Greek mythology, completely alluring to those around her but totally subjugating them also - not just Yoshio and Naoko but also, eventually, her flatmate Tokio, to whom she says, quite clearly, "I'm going to love you so much", as if he actually had no choice in the matter. Likewise, while she does shackle and daub Yoshio with offensive graffiti, at some stage he must have allowed himself to be bound. At the same time, while it could be argued she saves Yoshio and Naoko's marriage, she does it very much on her own terms, inveigling her way into the relationship, whilst destroying it at the same time. Yoshio is pushed into transvestism, ostensibly to cheer Naoko up but clearly as a reaction to Kimiko's interference. Likewise, Naoko is finally pushed into cutting herself really badly; something you feel, if he had been left to his own devices, Yoshio would have been able to handle himself, as he had done for years previously.
To be fair, I haven't seen a huge amount of pink eiga, but I get the feeling that it's quite typical of the genre that you get out of it what you put in (arf!). On the surface, Despite All That is yet another skinflick, albeit a rather untitillating and downbeat one, the cast being profoundly unattractive and the sex scenes mostly shot in low candlelight. Yet Imaoka is saying something about power and, perhaps, it's a morality tale: mess with jailbait and however things end, it won't be pretty. While it won't be on the top of anyone's must-see list, if you've got an hour spare and a taste for a slightly thoughtful pink film, keep Despite All That in mind.
Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment Value: 5/10
Violence to Cabbage: 11/10. Rights for defenceless salad vegetables NOW!
Sex: Frequency 7/10, Quality 3/10
Fake Schoolgirls: 1 wrinkled example. Have you ever seen a 40-year-old in a sailor suit?
Bad drag acts: 1. Needs work on the stubble, mind
Films in a Similar Style: Lunch Box, Raigyo, Angel Guts
*** A standard example of the pink eiga genre ***
This film is released by Salvation Films .
Snowblood Apple Filmographies
http://www.salvation-films.com/ - Salvation Films site
http://unrated.co.uk/reviews/review_170.htm - positive review from Unrated
http://www.cinetrange.com/home.php?film=444 - short review from Cinetrange