‘Pink film’ is a Japanese phenomenon that conveys complex political issues of gender and sexuality through sex and sexual violence. However, Underwater Love (2011) is a mixture of surrealist comedy, musical and softcore pornography and happily forgoes the sexual violence route. Directed by Shinji Imaoka and featuring Christopher Doyle as director of photography, Underwater Love tells the story of Asuka (Sawa Masaki) – a middle-aged woman working in a small fish factory who is engaged to the factory’s owner Hajime (Mutsuo Yoshioka).
After finding a living fish in the catch, she rushes outside to throw it into the bay, only to come face-to-face with Aoki (Yoshirô Umezawa) – an old high school friend of hers who drowned when he was young and has been resurrected as a ‘kappa’ (a mythical Japanese swamp creature personified as a man with a turtle shell, green hands, a beak and a scalp that needs to be regularly watered – naturally).
Disguising the Kappa, she manages to integrate him into her life, with varying results. The best way to sum up the experience of Underwater Love in a single sentence would be to label it a ‘softcore pornographic comedic musical’. If you’re a stranger to the pink film genre, do not be put off by this description.
The film does feature somewhat bizarre sexual content that leave little to the imagination, with two of those scenes featuring a woman with an Aoki. However, Underwater Love has such a wonderful sense of surrealist humour running throughout that anyone who is initially surprised by the existence of a Kappa won’t be surprised for long.
Aoki introduces himself with a nonchalant “Hey”, and every now and then a song will kick in and the characters on screen will drop what they’re doing and start dancing.
Underwater Love is quirky, interesting and surreal effort, very much in a David Lynch-meets-Park Chan-wook mold. Even if you are completely new to pink film, Imaoka’s latest is definitely worth a watch, seamlessly mixing sex, comedy and music into a warm, interesting film with a lot of heart.