Eastern Premise reaches something of a milestone in this, it’s 70th instalment! Today, Jason Julier is tackling Akihiko Shiota’s Moonlight Whispers.
Eastern Premise always takes great interest in how misleading DVD sleeves can actually be and the influence such wraparounds may expel onto unwary passers-by. The Region 1 release of Moonlight Whispers is a perfect example with the quotations such as ‘discreetly erotic’ and ‘he wants to be her dog’ creating a first impression and subsequent expectation, before viewing that is entirely false.
The inspiration for this week’s selection was the recent Hope Lies features on David Cronenberg; a filmmaker that has looked into the darker recesses of human life and existence. Akihiko Shiota’s 1999 film is not another Tokyo Decadence with a younger cast and deserves to be considered upon its own merits. Gekko No Sasayaki or Moonlight Whispers is based upon a manga series of the same name by Masahiko Kikuni, which was adapted by Shiota for his mainstream directorial debut.
Shiota studied the arts of cinematography and screenwriting whilst being a member of Rikkyo University’s fruitful Cine-Club former home to many other Japanese filmmakers. He then worked as an assistant to Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Tokyo Sonata, Cure, Pulse) and gained further valuable experience within the Pinku genre as a scriptwriter on erotic films destined for video release. It was within this genre he made directorial debut in 1996 with Roshutsukyo no onna (the Naked Woman), before moving onto Moonlight Whispers. Another example of how the Pinku genre proves a fertile breeding ground for talent and invaluable experience for aspiring Japanese filmmakers.
While not a household name, Shiota’s career has enjoyed some acclaim internationally with festival awards and domestically with a Directors Guild Award and box office successes with Yomigaeri and Dororo. His films mainly deal with Japanese youth and the difficult situations and emotions they experience on the road to adulthood. Starting with 8mm projects such as Aria and Farara, both from the early 80’s, his journey to a director was protracted but ultimately worth the wait.
The main characters of Moonlight Whispers are two kendo high school sparring partners, Takuya and Satsuki, who are both new to love and attraction. Teenage innocence soon gives way to something else with their interactions going beyond sparring sessions. Satsuki is one of the top combatants of kendo and the quiet Takuya is little more than an enhanced training dummy to sharpen her fighting skills. Encouraged by her sister, Satsuki assumes a similar dominant level of control of the relationship once it blossoms and Takuya plucks up enough courage to approach her and ask for a date. The film is one of exploration for both sexes; Takuya lacks confidence in life as a whole and is a prisoner to his emotions and desires, albeit perverse towards Satsuki. Having landed the girl of this dreams he sets out to destroy his collection of photographs, personal affects and memorabilia in an effort to cleanse himself of such urges.
Their initial interactions as lovers are clumsy and for the viewer uncomfortable viewing. For all Satsuki’s preconceptions the main event for want of a better description, is as unromantic as one could conceive. Takuya is confined to his bed with a cold when Satsuki takes control of the moment to reach this personal landmark. The interaction is amateurish and the viewer can see the disappointment on both faces once the deed is done. It is an unusual environment to lose ones virginity but seems to set the benchmark for the future of the relationship and events. It is during future visits to Takuya that we are granted the unsettling revelation that he has not shaken off all of his desires and seemingly has returned to old habits; the method of which we’ll leave for those who have not seen the film. Having snared the girl of his dreams the actual realisation is one of disappointment and sexual frustration.
Shiota handles the subject matter with care and attention. Those expecting a sleazy or erotic viewing experience will be as frustrated as Takuya himself. We look on as the relationship implodes with Satsuki’s discovery of her partner’s unusual habits and this propels her into another relationship with a suitor purely for the purpose of revenge. During these events we can observe the transformation of Satsuki from a teenager into a young woman who is comfortable with her own desires and sexual satisfaction. Initially repelled by the idea of Takuya, she soon uses his devotion to harvest her own revenge and satisfaction through a series of challenges for her faithful companion.
Moonlight Whispers is an accomplished piece of work from a director displaying wisdom and restraint beyond his limited filmography. The performances from both Kenji Mizuhashi and the beautiful Tsugumi, who later starred in Sion Sono’s Exte and Noriko’s Dinner Table, are beyond their years and remain formidable and unshakable. Perversion is the most visible and tabloid topic within Moonlight Whispers; dig beneath its exterior and the DVD sleeve and what exists is a memorable, challenging and captivating experience that comes as a total revelation. Sadly, as is often the case with films within Eastern Premise, those wishing to experience the work of this director may struggle to find DVD releases outside of Japan.