Feb 5, 2012
In the year 1999, South African avant-garde filmmaker Ian Kerkhof officially changed his name to Aryan Kaganof. During that same year he directed Tokyo Elegy (1999) aka Shabondama Elegy; a work that was produced by the Japanese porn producers Stance and filmed in the Land of the Rising Sun. Unsurprisingly, Tokyo Elegy features graphic anal sex and cum-drenched yellow faces. Still, these details are more than a little bit misleading as Tokyo Elegy is a work that totally transcends the formless formulas and penis platitudes of mere Jap jack-off material. In the film, a morally unstable white man named Jack (played by Thom Hoffman who was featured in Kaganof’s previous work Wasted and later in Paul Verhoeven's Black Book) caps a couple chauvinistic Japanese cops (who arrogantly believe Japanese tea is the most supreme) and then subsequently begins a heavy and steamy love affair with a thoroughly degraded porn model named Keiko (Mai Hoshino). When not forcing Keiko to recite satirical bible quotes while sodomizing her, Jack basks in the warmth of Cocteau’s kick and unconsciously finds other methods to cease his miserable life of incessant hedonistic nihilism. Kaganof modeled the character of Jack on real-life criminal author Jack Henry Abbott; the born doomed spawn of an Irish-American soldier and a Chinese prostitute who killed himself in 2002 while serving a prison sentence for manslaughter which he received just six weeks after he was released from prison for a previous sentence. Despite his lack of dialogue, Thom Hoffman does an astute job portraying the undeniably haunted and tragic character Jack; an unconsciously suicidal man who anti-ascetically partakes in heavy drug use and wild interracial sexscapades as a way to relieve his unspoken, undying pain. Of course, Jack knows, whether he admits it to himself or not, that dying is the only true way for him to reach the eternal bliss of nirvana.
As one can expect from a film directed by the always experimenting Aryan South African auteur, Tokyo Elegy has a form all of its own. Naturally, the film features a nonlinear storyline that is as erratic as the anti-heroes debauched sex-drive. Everyone knows that one of the most appealing aspects of cinema is that one gets to experience voyeurism from the passive safety of a movie theater chair or their couch. In Tokyo Elegy, virtual sex is brought to a whole new level as Kaganof employed digital cameras that thrust with the motion of Jack's pulsating Johnson into Keiko’s pink pinko arsehole. Indeed, Tokyo Elegy seems to come closer to real sex than a big dollar date with a webcam scam virtual hooker. To be honest, I would be lying if I did not admit that Kaganof sometimes brings the graphic sex featured in Tokyo Elegy to levels that border on irksome. It also does not help that Keiko is a victim of sexual abuse. I can genuinely say that I was particularly perturbed by a scene in the film where a middle-aged Jap tortures Keiko with his sushi-sized member. Keiko's internal suffering is further accentuated by her off-screen narration of penetrating prose taken from Tricia Warden's Attack God Inside (a novel released through Henry Rollin's 2.13.61 publishing company). Although somewhat disturbing, Tokyo Elegy is ultimately more humorous than it is unnerving, thus making for a film that is more sweet than bitter and never failing to deliver. The emotional tone of Tokyo Elegy is further counterbalanced by a normally revolting but uncommonly complimentary soundtrack featuring Japanese jazz and mediocre country-rock music. Ultimately, Tokyo Elegy is a film that defies all categories as it features more sex than your typical degenerate French erotic arthouse film, more art and less sex than the recent works of Bruce LaBruce (Otto; or Up with Dead People, L.A. Zombie), and more humor (albeit somewhat cryptic) than your typical Hollywood comedy. Whereas many independent and arthouse filmmakers seem quite disingenuous and desperate in their attempts to create artistic and groundbreaking works, it is most apparent that Aryan Kaganof’s unclassifiable and diverse technique of direction is instinctive and totally organic. In short, I doubt Kaganof could successfully direct your typical bromidic Hollywood production (whether it be and action or drama flick), even if he tried.
After watching about 10 minutes of Tokyo Elegy, the viewer finds out that the libertine anti-hero is destined for a fancy unmarked Japanese grave. That being said, it is not a film one watches to see the unfolding of a typical linear story, but a pseudo-Cinéma vérité work of random flashbacks that act as an unpredictable sensory overload for the unsuspecting viewer. Tokyo Elegy is also one of few ‘pornographic’ films that has the potential to make the pleasure-seeking viewer feel guilty (unless they are genuinely a sadist of sorts), as the candid and tormenting psychodramas featured during and between moments of hardcore miscegenation sometimes seem like genuine stock footage from behind doors of a psyche ward. Despite being filmed in my least favorite format (digital video), I was impressed by Kaganof ability to fully utilize the schlocky recording system to his advantage by assembling a realist work that rightfully distances the viewer from the unrealistic lavish production of a big-budget Hollywood feature. Essentially, Tokyo Elegy is a deconstructed film noir (or 'anti-film noir") flick that breaks every convention (both aesthetic and thematic) of the classic style, and for that reason alone (among many others), it is a work that will most likely only appeal to adventurous cinephiles and those that love studying various film theories. Of course, I am sure everyone can find a segment or two of Tokyo Elegy that they find enjoyable, most especially the scenes featuring Keiko in the nude being used as the white devil Jack's oriental plaything. Naturally, Tokyo Elegy has inspired me further delve into Aryan Kaganof's unparalleled and mostly unpredictable filmography.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 9:15 PM
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