Chō Inran: Yareba Yaruhodo Iikimoch, 2008
Lying on his deathbed, Takashima’s (Koji Makamura) life is about to flash before his eyes. Confronting a mysterious young woman (Yuria Hidaka) at a lonely beach, who responds only with “Eiga” when asked of her name, he is soon whisked away to recount a life spent dreaming of making the best movies he could, as key fragments from his youth and adulthood mark the development of his tremulous journey toward defining his career.
The Muse’s opening title proudly proclaims that we are now watching the 100th film from industry veteran Yutaka Ikejima. Twenty-three years since making his directorial debut for theatres (he was acting as early as 1981 and subsequently produced adult videos), his contribution to Japanese cinema, in general, has been nothing short of outstanding. The Pink Grand Prix acknowledged the importance of this feat by honouring him in 2008, an accolade which was further sweetened with The Muse taking the Best Film prize, Best Screenplay for Daisuke Goto, Best Score for Hitomi Oba and Best Actress for Riri Koda and Yuria Hidaka.
Filmmaking is a fascinating process and one that’s perhaps easily taken for granted by many audiences. Throughout the years, documentation on the trials and tribulations of getting from page to screen have provided riveting insights into the dizzying heights and spectacular pitfalls faced by director and crew. Some artists have found alternative ways to express the hardships of realizing their vision, notably via the Metafilm approach; dating as far back as the forties, though arguably popularized decades later, with seminal contributions from directors like Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut, it’s a technique that has become all-too-prevalent today.
In the pink industry, writers and directors continually seek new ways to challenge genre rulings: providing a set quota of sex scenes and completing shoots on a minimal budget within the space of a week, they are otherwise given free artistic reign to explore whatever their minds can conjure up. It’s a commendable system, which welcomes diversity, although like any other tests the will of those who choose to base their livelihoods around it. An indebted Ikejima and Goto seek to find their own Anna Karina in Shintoho’s The Muse; a film about filmmaking that’s unlikely to ever be held in the same kind of esteem as those seen from the French New Wave pioneers, but one that’s no less heartfelt in a rapidly moving industry that remains strict and arduous.
It’s with pathos, then, that the words of Samuel Fuller and Eric Rohmer bookend Ikejima’s milestone feature, the significance of their philosophies not only being integral to the art of filmmaking itself but so too their influence on the director’s approach in putting together what is undoubtedly one of his most personal works to date. After all, how does a man act in over five-hundred movies, direct over one-hundred of them and still find inspiration today? The pairing of he and Daisuke Goto is a solid one, as Goto’s screenplay marks an important journey of discovery, neatly matched by a pacey sense of direction which takes the viewer through a series of vignette-like sequences.
Pooling his resources as one of the pink film industry’s leading spokesmen, Ikejima surrounds himself with a string of talent, placing onscreen other well-established, creative figures in the field, who add authenticity to his vision by re-enacting a typical day’s shoot on actual ADR and editing stages. Although such moments are marginal, given the feature’s commitments to other areas – some creatively filmed sex scenes, which often work tremendously well as scenes within scenes – these provide some of its more amusing pieces, from the post-dubbing of grunts and moans to tempers flying on set as actors struggle to convey their emotions for the benefit of delivering a titillating encounter.
Such insights into the daunting task of making movies to entertain are bolstered by an overarching study on the value of one’s self. The non-linear structure of Daisuke Goto’s reflective script effectively illustrates the continual search for inspiration, as repeated in the referencing of Godot, as a young Takashima searches for his ideal muse. The women who enter his life provide him with fleeting moments of creativity, only for him to discard their feelings and needs in the pursuit of cinematic perfection. Koji Makimura and Naoyuki Chiba excel in their roles as the conflicted artist, remaining wholly likable in the selling of the life of a man filled with selfishness, frustration, and regret, who didn’t realize his own worth until the very end. Co-stars Riri Koda, Erina Aoyama and Yuria Hidaka also startle with their natural performances, which is high even for pink standards.
Fellini once said, “You only exist in what you do”. It’s in how we craft what we want to say that’s more important than the inspiration which fuels creativity itself. Yutaka Ikejima has arrived at that crossroad it seems. The Muse isn’t just a great pink film, it’s a poetically played introspection, which deals with the concept of artistic integrity and our continual pursuit in finding answers to life’s meaning. Regardless of its roots, it certainly deserves to go down as one of the most life-affirming pieces put to film.