OUT OF COMPETITION
You’ve Got a Friend
t.l. Hai un amico
夕方のおともだち (Yugata no Otomodachi)
Japan, 2022, 115’, Japanese
Directed by: Hiroki Ryuichi
Screenplay: Kurosawa Hisako
Photography (color): Nabeshima Atsuhiro
Music: Otomo Yoshihide
Executive Producer: Oiwa Yoshie
Producers: Asano Hirotaka, Saeki Shingo
Cast: Murakami Jun, Nahana, Azumi, Ayukawa Momoka
Date of First Release in Territory: February 4th, 2023
Given that even well-established directors in Japan can find it hard to make a middle-class living on indie movies alone, it’s not surprising that some take a “one for them and one for me” approach. Among the best at this balancing act is Hiroki Ryuichi, who began in the 1980s making erotic films with titles like Za SM (The S&M) and SM Kyoshitsu: Shikkin (S&M Classroom: Incontinence). He has long since graduated to alternating between commercial films, usually romantic dramas, and smaller projects more expressive of his own concerns and interests.
Not to say he phones in the former, but among the latter are his best work, including his 2003 masterpiece Vibrator about a female freelance writer who impulsively leaps into the cab and arms of a blond-haired truck driver and embarks on a life-changing road trip.
That film’s mix of Eros and human drama is also present in Hiroki’s You’ve Got a Friend. Based on a manga by Yamamoto Naoki, the film initially seems to be yet another BDSM porno. Yoshio (Murakami Jun), a quiet middle-aged employee of the city water department, has an unusual hobby: Lengthy sessions with Miho (the singled-named Nahana), a dominatrix at a local S&M club.
Though Miho is skilled at her trade and sensitive to her client’s needs, Yoshio can’t forget Yukiko (the single-named Azumi of the folk-rock duo Wyolica), the now-absent dominatrix who initiated him into S&M and, as we see in a graphic flashback, came close to drowning him.
There is far more to the film, though, than close-ups of Miho’s whip tearing Yoshio’s flesh, and his memories of past ecstasies. Yoshio, we learn, is caring for his bedridden mother alone, while at work is a butt of jokes by his co-workers, who know his sexual preferences. (One female colleague is fascinated, but when she approaches him about an S&M relationship, with her as the M, he quickly and bluntly disillusions her.)
His personal and professional troubles start to affect his erotic life – Miho can no longer arouse him. They begin to talk and bond as, not client and sex worker, but a man and a woman who find they have their loneliness in common. Yoshio decides to take the radical step of having normal sex. Then Yukiko reappears as a campaign worker for a local mayoral candidate – and Yoshio runs after the car carrying her and the politician like a madman.
This and much else, including a subplot about two sketchy candidates competing for votes in the upcoming election, is blackly comic, but the film does not treat Yoshio’s obsession solely as a joke. Working from a script by Kurosawa Hisako, Hiroki creates a character study and love story that, given the film’s hardcore opening, is surprisingly tender, while not stinting on emotional truth.
Playing Miho, Nahana shows another of her many faces as an actor (four of which can be found in another Udine FEFF selection, the omnibus She Is Me, I Am Her). And the veteran Murakami, who has often worked with Hiroki, makes Yoshio’s complex character feel all of one sympathetic piece, even if his idea of pain-as-pleasure isn’t yours.
BIO & FILMOGRAPHY: see 800 Two-Lap Runners