Actor-director Eiji Okuda's "Shoujyo -- An Adolescent" takes seriously the plight of a 45-year-old man and a 15-year-old girl falling in love, but Okuda stretches his film to an unconscionable 132 minutes, which allows for the lurid distractions of contrived subplots involving the girl's trashy mother and her older brother.
At its core, the film is strong and involving, focusing on the painful transformation of the middle-aged man, but its undue length, sometime plodding pace and over-the-top side trips -- which admittedly reflect a Japanese taste for the darkly bizarre -- render "Shoujyo" decidedly uneven yet intriguing.
Izuru Narushima and Katsuhiko Manabe's script (from a novel by Mikihiko Renjo) has a stubborn, persistent and honest quality, and those willing to sit through the film to its end will be rewarded by the sense that the couple's acquired wisdom and understanding have been hard-won.
Okuda's small-city policeman Tomokawa covers his beat on a bicycle, and the quiet, low-key community allows him plenty of time and opportunity for casual sexual encounters with lonely women and for knocking back a lot of beers with fellow cops. One day Yoko (Mayu Ozawa), a pretty teenager, hits on Tomokawa in a cafe. Automatically assuming she's a hooker -- and the town does seem to have no shortage of very young-looking prostitutes -- he takes her to a hotel and pays her up front. He wakes up finding her gone but having left her payment behind. The jaded and cynical Tomokawa is stunned to realize that Yoko has swept him off his feet.
Locating her is not difficult nor is continuing their affair, but not surprisingly obstacles escalate, not the least of which is that Yoko is underage and not free to marry Tomokawa until she turns 16, should their relationship endure.
In the meantime she is so intrigued by a single-winged bird tattooed on Tomokawa's back she heads for the library and learns that, according to a myth, the creature is a metaphor for the sacred vow between a man and a woman. Without a woman the man is unable to fly, and it's clear that Tomokawa has not been getting anywhere for a very long time. Okuda's portrayal of Tomokawa is unsparing in its depiction of a disaffected, indifferent man coping with the onslaught of unexpected emotion and discovering the responsibility that goes with it. Tomokawa may be three times Yoko's age, yet for all the vulnerability of her youth, she is far more emotionally mature and resilient than he.
"Shoujyo" marks Ozawa's acting debut, and Okuda elicits from her a daring and selfless portrayal.
She and Okuda form a solid linchpin for a sometimes meandering -- and decidedly kinky -- movie.
Shoujyo -- An Adolescent
MPAA rating: Unrated
Times guidelines: Considerable steamy sex and overall kinkiness
An Indican release. Director Eiji Okuda. Producers Okuda, Henri Ishii, Ben Yamamoto. Executive producers Okuda, Ishii. Screenplay by Izuru Narushima, Katsuhiko Manabe; based on a novel by Mikihiko Renjo. Cinematographer Hirokazu Ishii. Music Shigeru Umebayashi. Art director Katsuhiko Hibino. In Japanese with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours, 12 minutes.
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