Sex, songs and a supernatural protagonist – what more could you want from a film? From the outset, Underwater Love is absolutely determined to be different.
Asuka (Sawa Masaki) may be in her mid-thirties but at least has prospects in life: she has a job and is also engaged to be married, although admittedly her fiancé is also her boss. One day at work she discovers a live fish inside a crate, so she rushes it to the river and releases it back to the water. At the riverbank she happens to chance upon her first love, Aoki (Yoshiro Umezawa), and befriends him once more. The problem is that her first love passed away before their relationship really got going and that was about 17 years ago. Stranger still, he has returned to the corporeal world as a kappa - a mythical being who lives in the water and likes cucumbers and sumo. Asuka is confused because her reunion with Aoki rekindles their love, much to the chagrin of her fiancé. And both men have decidedly amorous intentions towards her.
Underwater Love is a pink film, which is a Japanese sex film. They are mainly produced by smaller independent companies and designed to play in specific cinemas. Often considered to be the Japanese equivalent of softcore, while pink films do contain copious quantities of sex, they can sometimes contain quite complex plotting and characterisation and the whole approach to the couplings is, well, entirely different to what Western expectations of the genre would be. Underwater Love is distinctly different, even for a film of its genre – and that's all to the good. For this is no ordinary pink film. No, this is a supernatural musical comedy. With sex.
Director Shinji Imaoka made the film in less than a week and applied a 'one-take' methodology to the shooting process. It is very clear from the final product that this approach to the filmmaking is what gives Underwater Love its raw energy, exuberance and joie de vivre. And somehow, amidst the graphic sex, the mythical creatures and bizarre storyline, the film has an honest simplicity about it, which adds to its charms. That the film looks so good is connected to the fact that the cinematographer was the enormously talented Christopher Doyle, who was responsible for the camerawork on Zhang Yimou's Hero (2002) and many, many Wong Kar–Wai films, including the wonderfully dreamy Chungking Express (1994).
Underwater Love is one of the most watchable, enjoyable, engaging and just plain fun examples of cinema that you will see. With great cinematography, a cracking soundtrack by Stereo Total and a bonkers plot it's precisely what entertainment should be – exuberant, approachable and full of sex, fantasy, sex, comedy, sex, singing & dancing, sex, relationships and sex.
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