(Ab)normal Desire

European Premiere | In Competition


Guest star:
KISHI Yoshiyuki, director
NAKAMURA Yuko, producer
OTAGAKI Yuriko, producer
SUGITA Hiromitsu, producer


What is sexual abnormality? A difficult question, since the definition of “abnormal” is in flux. The English title of Kishi Yoshiyuki’s film cleverly expresses the filmmaker’s stance: When it comes to desire your abnormal may be my normal, though both attitudes can exist in the same psychologically conflicted individual.

Based on a novel by Asai Ryo, whose work inspired the acclaimed teen drama The Kirishima Thing, the film tracks the intertwining stories of four people who have been driven to the social margins or even the brink of suicide by their non-standard sexual feelings.

College student Kanbe Yaeko (Higashino Ayaka) is fearful of men from a past trauma, but now finds herself in love with Morohashi Daiya (Sato Kanta), a handsome classmate and talented dancer. In the presence of the dreamy but emotionally distant Daiya, Yaeko becomes a jittery, babbling mess – a situation on its surface familiar from innumerable shojo manga (girls’ comics). But her tortured state of simultaneous repulsion and attraction is not the stuff of girlish daydreams. And Daiya has his own deep, dark secret.

Meanwhile, Kiryu Natsuki (Aragaki Yui) and Sasaki Yoshimichi (Isomura Hayato) are living lonely lives of inner turmoil from a far less common cause. Though both have ordinary- enough jobs – Natsuki works as a clerk in a large store, Yoshimichi as a salaryman for a food company – they share a fetish they can disclose to no one: Spurting water makes them sexually excited, as they mutually discovered as classmates in junior high school from a broken faucet that sent them into ecstasies.

To those familiar with sexual practices once hidden out of fear of disgrace but now proudly paraded on streets, this may sound like the most harmless kink ever – or a metaphor as real as unicorns.

But it actually exists, as Kishi’s own research revealed. Also, in the hands of this veteran director of documentaries and TV dramas, who made his theatrical feature debut with the 2016 Double Life at the age of 52, Natsuki and Yoshimichi’s fetish acquires a life-changing weight and power.

When they reconnect at a class reunion and decide to move in together, their relationship is less that of lovers – sex has no interest for them – than long-separated aliens who can never reveal their true forms to humans and find a blessed kinship in each other’s company.

The film unfolds like a series of case studies, but underlain with a police procedural plot.

And tying all the various story arcs together is Terai Hiroki (Inagaki Goro), a socially conservative public prosecutor whose ten-year-old son’s preference for online video stardom over school disturbs and worries him and brings him into conflict with his wife (Yamada Maho), who stoutly supports the boy’s ambitions.

How this family melodrama, with its inter-generational battle over the use – and abuse – of social media, connects to the “abnormalities” of the four main characters may not seem clear, but (Ab)normal Desire is getting at something real in its slow-burn way: Apparently innocent fun, even kids splashing in a park fountain on a summer day, can have dark undercurrents. And not all kinks are created equal. Some cause harm, others deserve tolerance. And sometimes, it’s not easy to tell the difference.

Mark Schilling
Film director: KISHI Yoshiyuki
Year: 2023
Running time: 134'
Country: Japan
30/04 - 7:15 PM
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
30-04-2024 19:15 30-04-2024 21:29Europe/Rome (Ab)normal Desire Far East Film Festival Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da UdineCEC Udine cec@cecudine.org
Online in Italy on Wednesday, May 1, 2024 from 8 pm to 11:59 pm (cest)