May 22, 2008
Plot Outline: A young man steps off a subway into the middle of Tokyo from somewhere or another, we don’t know his name, we only know he carries a Maddison Square Garden bag, has a heavy coat and looks downright mean. This is reinforced as we watch him knock people over in the heavy human traffic of the metropolitan area. Also in this city is a local pimp, who made a promise to his mother that he would never join the Yakuza – but they are putting pressure on him at every moment. The young man with his bag accidentally runs into a couple of Yakuza henchman where we discover he doesn’t really take too kindly to the Japanese crime world as he calls them worthless. Being the henchmen that they are, they decide to rough him up a little but things don’t go their way and they both wind up dead. All the while leading the young man to the Yakuza head quarters. Once there, he meets up with this disgraced pimp who is ordered to kill him – but instead let’s him go and a strange rivalry/friendship develops between the two as this young man slowly loses grip with reality.

The Review: When Artsmagic sent me the DVD for Blue Spring, I remember thinking “this is huge” afterward. Monumental. It certainly was too, I think as of this moment Toshiaki Toyoda may be the most important filmmaker in my life. Takashi Miike has been my favorite for a long, long time and probably still is – but what Toyota is doing feels lively, fresh and somehow carries a heart and soul to go with it’s style. If ever there was a man who (and I realize how utterly lame this is to say) has his pulse on the strength of cinema, it would be him. I have seen three films from him now, and although I guess nothing could ever top the feelings that rushed through me after watching Blue Spring, I have been amazed with every path he has taken. I had actually heard of Pornostar nearly a year or two before ever having seen it or Blue Spring. It was just one of those occurrences where you stumble upon something, perhaps in an online forum or some obscure reference in a review some place, but I remember reading the plot summary and then glazing over a few screenshots and I knew it had to be something special. I wanted to see it desperately, but could never find it anywhere. Then, after Blue Spring, the hunt became too hard of a thing to ignore and after waiting for what seemed an eternity, a copy finally showed up on eBay and I purchased it immediately. It was worth the wait and effort because it quickly turned into one of my favorite films. Now, you may look at the score and wonder how I could say that when 9 Souls received a five and of course Blue Spring received the Stubbing Award; but that rating comes down to a factor of ‘importance’. Now, Pornostar is likely no less brilliant than those two films, but as far as it’s importance with the other two in Toyoda’s catalog, these first steps may not be the most interesting for some viewers. Yet, much like Tarantino and Reservoir Dogs, when it comes to a film by Toyoda that I will watch over and over again; Pornostar wins hands down. It is perhaps more entertaining, certainly less draining emotionally, but really it comes down to how much fun it is in it’s simplicity. This is just a cool film, a little social commentary thrown in, but in the end it’s something you can enjoy and not grow exponentially attached to during its short running time. That perhaps sounds like a criticism, but it’s not. Some films are just built differently than others, and Pornostar is like a candy rather than a full course meal; just because it may not be as filling does not mean it doesn’t serve an equal purpose. It’s fun without a lot of the hassle, it’s touching without the full out blitzkrieg on your emotions and it’s so effortlessly cool you won’t be able to help but love it.

Toyoda starts the film with his now well known slow motion shot set to a rocking soundtrack, and once again (like 9 Souls), this time it’s a simple instrumental. Watching as our leading man walks through crowds of people, sometimes knocking them down, sometimes walking between them but seemingly always going against the direction of traffic. It’s a simplistic way to show the audience how antagonistic and rebellious he is towards what society views as normal, and it works exceptionally well. There’s some self-criticism in the script for the tolerance society pays toward Yakuza, but a lot of it seems deeply enriched in the culture and is hard for an outsider like myself to fully pick up on. I figure if you’re enough of a Japanese obsessed fanboy who keeps up with national events, maybe you too can truly get a grasp of where Toyoda is coming from, but it’s really not something vital to truly understand the film, and it seems simple enough of a moral for most foreign members of the audience to pick up on. There’s a lot of mystery to the script, giving the lead character no backstory nor even the faintest clue as to what has made him the killing machine that he is, but it makes Koji Chihara’s character like an even more ambiguous Sergio Leone style lone-gunman. Not that Chihara’s character is as much of a hard boiled killer as someone like Blondie from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly; we’re given more of the impression that this young man is severely deranged. One of the most brilliant moments in the film is when Chihara accompanies his companions along for a drug deal with some American’s who are… less than negotiable. Chihara’s character finds himself rambling on about some new moral discovery he has made to the uselessness of Yakuza and other gangsters, and then he begins to laugh uproariously in one long take before pulling out his pistol and laying waste to the two foreign delinquents. The scene even made it into the Japanese trailer, and is obviously one of the standout moments of the film, but really nails home the fact that this kid might not be all there. If his silence and murder habits had not lead you to that conclusion already, of course.

Koji Chihara, a young actor slowly making his mark in the Japanese film community (working with Takashi Miike and at least twice with Toyoda), puts in as impressive a performance as could possible be given for a character who rarely speaks nor divulges much of his motivation. Regardless of the confusion he may give the audience, it appears he at least knows what he is doing and even more important, the reasons. Not to mention he just puts off an aura of ‘cool’, which in a Toshiaki Toyoda film is as important as anything the ‘plot’ may have to offer. At least from a stylistic perspective. His moody attitude and consistent grimace makes the character all around memorable. The rest of the cast all put in as equally impressive debuts, including one or two Toyoda regulars along the way but what really takes center stage in the film is this simple story that is fleshed out for us. Black, white and grey all over; the point is to blue the line between good, bad and the all around crazy. In this world Toyoda creates, there literally are no answers. Vigilantism is more than just questioned, it is deliberately thought upon, and leaves the audience in the driver’s seat as far as questioning who is right and who is wrong in this situation. One has to think Toyoda has some courage to make the film he did, with a slight slant against the actual Yakuza crime world; that even the leading man opposite Koji Chihara actually comes from before becoming an actor. It seems as if it would take guts to even question their place in society, and although I’ve heard Toyoda say that he feels the film didn’t quite meet his expectations (as he says on the Blue Spring disc, he would actually like to remake it), I can’t imagine the film being much better. If there are any complaints, I guess it would be that it actually doesn’t reach the crest that his other films do, but I just couldn’t imagine one frame of Pornostar being changed; for better or worse.

So, with that behind me, Pornostar is just the sort of film I would blindly recommend to just about anyone into artistic cinema. Some will ‘get it’, some won’t, but in the end for those who find it as amazing as I do; their discovery will far overshadow those who just don’t feel the connection between characters. Toshiaki Toyoda is probably the most inspirational director I have been turned onto in years, and so far with me he is three and zero. Now if only I can score a copy of Unchained and his latest; I feel confident that no matter what it’s impossible for him to let me down. I almost feel like saying cheers to the man! Meh, maybe I’m taking it a bit over the top in my adoration, but you know, few filmmakers can get me so amped for the art form and I think that needs to be celebrated.

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