After the cult hit “The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai”, director Mitsuru Meike returns with another piece of Japanese ‘pink’ cinema. “BITTER SWEET” (2004, aka. Noko Furin: torareta onna) is a short tale that is very different from his previous film. It has a more serious narrative but it nonetheless doesn’t hold back in its titillation elements. I’ve mentioned before that ’pink’ films are basically softcore porn with a more thoughtful story and cinematography and this film doesn’t disappoint. Director Meike does know exactly just how to helm ’pink’ cinema.
Shoko (Konatsu, Blind Love) is a young woman who is about to get married. One evening, while her fiancé, Tamura (Takuya Fukushima) is away on business, she has dinner with her friend Mika (Minami Aikawa) in a small but cozy restaurant owned by Kudo (Hitoshi Ishikawa). Kudo is a great chef who is also married to his best friend’s ex-girlfriend. That same evening, Shoko returns to the restaurant and sleeps with Kudo. The bride-to-be may have only meant this to be one last “fling” with an older man but what she started ends up becoming an affair.
“Bitter Sweet” is a sophisticated story of sex, obsession, guilt, and relationships. The film may be short but it does have something meaningful in what it wants to say. Shoko is a woman who is looked at as one being so fortunate, her friend Mika would gladly switch places with her but what she experiences within is emptiness. I guess by having an affair with an older man she wishes to subconsciously sabotage her wedding. Tamura seems to be a decent guy, rich, responsible and maybe too perfect; that Shoko probably thought that the only way to call it off is to become unworthy of him. It’s a twisted idea, but with the lack of development of their relationship, I do believe that would be the best guess. Shoko also demonstrates the qualities of a woman who is confused, as she easily mistakes lust for love. These things do happen in real life, I do think Shoko’s body just got so comfortable with Kudo’s touch that nothing else could satisfy her.
Kudo is a man who fulfills his obligation to his wife, Keiko (Yumika Hayashi) and their two children. He was a womanizer in his younger days and shoulders some guilt when he married his best friend’s ex-girlfriend. Yoshida is Kudo’s best friend, divorced, bitter and sympathetic since he has developed cancer. The relationship between the three is quite complex; Kudo and Yoshida still remain friends although it’s obvious that Yoshida holds a grudge towards Kudo. Kudo is also a man who tries to “go with the flow” and would try to live with its consequences. His wife Keiko is appreciative that Kudo fulfills his obligations but we all know that those things aren’t enough for a woman.
Mika is a woman in search of “Prince Charming” and would jump at the chance to find him. I suppose the most sympathetic character in the film is Tamura since there really isn’t that much revealed about him. All we know is that everyone considers him the perfect “catch” and that Shoko is immensely fortunate to have him as her fiancé.
The film is a great study of relationships and the consequences of actions and reactions. Sex can be used as a diversion from loneliness, fear and frustrations. Sex can also be used to get attention and love. The film is also a story of secrets and that our past can oftentimes catch up to us. I commend the filmmakers that they don’t point an accusing finger and the film doesn’t give any judgments to any of its characters. “Bitter Sweet” is a story about the complexities of life and relationships. Sometimes, all we can do is try to enjoy the ride and hope for the best, while at the same time avoid stepping on anyone‘s feelings.
BITTER SWEET is a genuine piece of Japanese ‘pink’ cinema. Sexy, titillating, and quite solid with its message. Its simplicity is its greatest strength with its structure but it also may become its greatest weakness. Meike’s direction is kept pretty simple with no soundtrack but the proceedings still manage to convey emotion. Those looking for pervy kicks won’t be disappointed as there is a lot of sex and nudity on display. Most viewers will probably see it as an excuse so beautiful Japanese women can show their stuff but if you look beyond its numerous scenes of vigorous sex, it can be a rewarding experience and an enjoyable drama.
Recommended with caution (it clocks in little over an hour), rent it first. [3- Stars]