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PostPosted: Sat Aug 05, 2023 7:39 pm 
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DAIGO MATSUI: HAND 手 (2023) - JAPAN CUTS NYC JULY 26-AUGUST 6, 2023

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AKARI FUKUNAGA AND DAICHI KANEKO IN HAND

Are you attracted to older men?

Pinku or Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno films are a Japanese softcore series unlike anything we have, which continues, revived, and done by good directors. This is the first in a new series, according to Richard Gray in The ReelBit. It's rather crazy to watch a film that can be taken pretty seriously but that has an operating rule that it has a softcore sex scene every ten minutes (the run-time is traditionally kept to 80 mins. or so and the whole film shot in under a week, but these rules clearly were not followed). There is also voiceover narration/commentary. That always adds class to a movie, doesn't it? It's a feature of the nifty new (here) neo-noir ramble about romance and urban decay from Na Jiazuo, Streetwise, whose pensive languor reminded me of Wong Kar-wai. Hand is adapted from an Akutagawa Prize-nominated story of the same name by Nao-Cola Yamazaki.

I don't know how much Hand follows the rules of earlier Pinku films, but once I adjusted to its high titillation level, I swung with it, even though it contains a mixture it's hard to assimilate. The focus is on the slightly bucktoothed but elegant and cute Sawako (Akari Fukunaga), who is twenty-five, and has a fixation on older men, partly caused by a fascination with her own father. His is the first hand referenced. She has put together several scrapbooks of "happy old men" and other such. But for all the eroticizing or obsessing, Sasako is being eyed by a young guy at the office where she works, Mori (Daichi Kaneko), who gets another job, and takes this occasion to reveal that he's had his eye on Sawako. He moves in quickly, and they start having sex.

Sawako says she's glad Mori is experienced. But maybe he just has a good mix of natural skill, confidence and motivation, because it turns out later he may not have tried many positions. The regular sex of this erotic affair gives a lot of pleasure to Sawako too, and builds her self-confidence. It turns out that Mori is engaged though, so either he plans for Sawako to be a permanent mistress, or, since this is Japan, not 1950's France, it's a last fling. (Kaneko and Fukunaga, in any case, have great chemistry throughout: doing simulated sex scenes may be a good way for actors to get relaxed with each other.) However, when it turns out Mori has decided it's their last time, it's sad, painful, resentful. The "hand" this time is Mori's, and Sawako holds it and declares it "a liar's hand."

Another switcheroo comes too. Sawako has a meeting with an older man. But after Nori, the nature of her interest now seems fetishism. Beside that, the man is too old, or too uncomfortable, to make passes. And now, Mori reappears, wanting one more time. So the film gives us one more time, and then another farewell, more complicated and ambiguous than the first. Mori weeps and says "I really love you." But what kind of love is it, really, if he's marrying somebody else? He's just a guy. But even when they get excited and do it in the shower, he runs out and grabs a condom, as practical as he is eager. Even if only a sex partner, he's an ideal one. Sawako regrets that she will not live to see Mori turn into an old man, and vice versa. We feel the same.

What will happen to Sawako? Her younger sister knows she's having an active sex life and asks for advice - for herself and her equally inexperienced fiancee, whom we watch doing it the first time in a tackily grand little hotel bedroom. But in conservative, male-dominated Japan, what are Sawako's chances of future happiness now? That we actually ask that, and are able to ponder the authenticity of Mori's motivations and feelings, shows how adroitly director Matsui has adapted a softcore sex format into a believable framework even Éric Rohmer might have used to advantage. A great film for Paris on a rainy afternoon - or for New York's Japan Cuts.

HAnd 手, 99 mins., released in Japan Sept. 16, 2022; also shown in Taiwan, and in 2023 at festivals in Rotterdam and Beijing. Screened for this review as part of Japan Cuts (Jul. 26-Aug./ 6, 2023), shown at the Japan Society July 29, 2023.

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DAICHI KANEKO AND AKARI FUKUNAGA IN HAND

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