'Tokyo Decadence': It's not porn, but . . .

MOVIES

September 17, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

"Tokyo Decadence"

Starring Miho Nikaido

Directed by Ryu Murakami

Released by Northern Arts Entertainment

Unrated

... **

Any film with the word "decadence" in the title better deliver the goods -- or the bads, as the case may be -- and this one, which opens today at the Charles for a steamy week, does. I can't begin to describe specifics, not and keep my very nice job,Any film with the word "decadence" in the title better deliver the goods -- or the bads, as the case may be -- and this one, which opens today at the Charles for a steamy week, does. I can't begin to describe specifics, not and keep my very nice job, so I won't even try, but in outline "Tokyo Decadence" follows the adventures of a young Japanese prostitute working for an agency that caters to a clientele bent so far into kinkiness that it seems to spring from another universe. It's the story of Ai, not O.

The subtext is sado-masochism, and like many a film that seeks to examine the prostitute's life, it derives all its energy from the contrast between the bland and dreary exteriors of her clients and the extravagance of their imaginations, which is played for ,, the black and bluest of comedy.

Is it art or is it porn? Technically, I suppose one could argue that since it's not porn in the hard-core sense that it never displays graphic close-ups of sexual organs and orifices, it has to be art. But that begs the question. Its gestalt, its whole system, is pornographic, in that it traffics in imagery of the forbidden, and the ideas that propel it forward are certainly self-evidently pornographic and blasphemous. They revolve around the utter sexual degradation of the human spirit, the complete objectification of the body, regardless whether you're giving or getting (that is, in trade argot, whether you are an S or an M.)

The grace notes are minor and relatively meaningless. Despite the dissolution-sodden atmosphere, the young heroine Ai (Miho Nikaido) and her colleagues remain quaintly Japanese, taking time off for tea and the like. There's a mild plot (typical to porn movies, by the way) that finds Ai consulting a fortuneteller in quest of true love and trying to follow her recipe. The movie ends in a blast of surrealism that left me not so much dazzled as bewildered.

In the end, I think I prefer the integrity of true porn. It doesn't try to be anything it isn't -- it is what it is. "Tokyo Decadence" isn't hard of core, but it's sanctimoniously hard of spirit.

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