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Japan movie 'The Lowlife' tackles porn taboo

© AFP / by Alastair HIMMER | Zeze said he wanted to break down some of the prejudices associated with porn

TOKYO (AFP) - 

The director of a controversial new Japanese movie depicting the plight of three conflicted porn actresses is hoping his film will help eliminate what he calls "prejudice" against the industry.

Takahisa Zeze's "The Lowlife", an adaptation of a novel by erotic actress Mana Sakura which brings a hearty dollop of kitchen-sink realism to the porn business as it documents the trio's day-to-day struggles, premiered at the Tokyo International Film Festival this week.

"The movie is about people searching for their place in the world, for their identity," Zeze told AFP in an interview.

"I don't think there was an urgent sense of wanting to destroy taboos when we set out to make the film. But hopefully it can go some way to helping break down the prejudices that still exist towards porn.

"When we were auditioning for the film, for example, some actresses turned down the roles," he added. "They were okay with just taking their clothes off but they didn't feel comfortable about playing a porn star."

While Zeze's touching work tugs at the heart-strings, viewers expecting a moral twist will be disappointed -- the movie studiously avoids criticising the AV (adult video) industry, leaving it open to accusations it whitewashes the issue of exploitation.

The action sticks largely to the human drama, never really sliding into darker territory.

Even when frustrated housewife Miho (Ayano Moriguchi) awkwardly makes her debut as a porn actress, there is no hint of the conventional wisdom that the industry preys on such women.

"In my heart maybe I didn't want to focus on the murkier side of the business," said the book's author Sakura.

"Obviously not everyone is happy, like in most jobs," added the 24-year-old former bikini model.

"But not everyone is unhappy either. I feel that people too often want to draw the conclusion that all AV actresses are unhappy. Well, I'm not unhappy and I wanted to concentrate more on daily life, more on the light than the dark."

- Raw emotion -

Zeze's minimalist approach and use of hand-held cameras lends an almost voyeuristic feel to a movie heavy on raw emotion.

"I was looking to create a documentary effect," said Zeze, best known for his work in 'pink eiga' (softcore porn).

"I didn't want it to look like a work of fiction. The point was to show the regular side of life, rather than just the salacious part of the business," he added.

"Sexuality used to be taboo, but that's no longer the case -- we're trying to show that porn is a common form of sexual desire. It's part of our daily lives."

While ambitious in its attempt to try and normalise Japan's $20 billion AV industry, "The Lowlife" arguably succeeds in adding some perspective.

Ayano (Kokone Sasaki) throws herself into a swimming pool in a suicide attempt after being confronted by her angry mother, but survives and in the movie's final scene resolves to continue her career.

"The way I see that final scene on the roof is that it's her choice to carry on doing porn," said Sasaki.

"It ends with her arriving at a point where she can stand up tall and rather than feel guilty anymore, her heart has found a home."

Sakura makes no apology for taking the path of least resistance.

"There have been all sorts of tell-all books about the world of AV," she said. "But porn actresses are also just normal women who lead normal daily lives.

"Every year thousands of women make their debut in porn," added Sakura.

"The girl next door could be a porn actress, or your friends could be. And while you can't avoid stereotypes, hopefully this movie can help change perceptions a little bit."

by Alastair HIMMER

© 2017 AFP