Tsumugi (Sora Aoi) is a bit of a curious gal; she spies on her teacher, Katagiri, who's having a little romp with a fellow staff member named Yoko up on the school’s roof. She promises not to say anything, yet when Katagiri arrives home from work, he finds Tsumugi sitting on the steps outside of his house. He fears that blackmail is in his future, but quite the contrary; Tsumugi wants to have her own little romp with Katagiri. He’s initially ashamed with himself, considering his wife is away and about to give birth to their first child. It doesn’t take long for him to fall head-over-heels for Tsumugi however, and soon all of his qualms with the relationship go out the window.
Complicating matters is Tsumugi’s attraction to one of her classmates named Kosuke. He’s a virgin, and it almost seems as if Tsumugi wants some action on both sides of the spectrum, one of experience with Katagiri and one of inexperience with Kosuke. Neither of the guys knows about one another, yet Yoko, who is obsessed with Katagiri, soon finds out about his relationship with Tsumugi, which could certainly lead to big problems for him. Ah, what a tangled web we weave…
For those unaware, Sora Aoi is an AV (Adult Video) actress in Japan; to put it bluntly, she’s a porn star. In Japan however, that connotation doesn’t carry the same stigma it does in the states. A respectable number of these starlets end up branching out into TV work or even big name films. Regardless of that fact, many leave a lot to be desired. Just like anywhere else, a pretty face is sometimes favored over actual acting chops. Luckily, Aoi is a step above just a pretty face. While she’s certainly not going to headline the next Yoji Yamada film, she has a screen presence that’s hard to ignore, probably due to her ability to carry her vibrant real-life personality over to the characters she plays on screen. This was her first real acting experience, and while she doesn’t exactly create a role that’s much different from her true self, she shows a lot of confidence and doesn’t come off feeling fake or forced at all.
Utilizing her own charm and charisma for the character of Tsumugi actually works perfectly when taken in context with the film itself. While it may not have worked everywhere, the innocent and outgoing nature she exudes gives the character some great dimensions, and beneath that veneer a troubled soul lies. No matter the relationship, it seems like she can’t create the ideal one for herself. Katagiri loves her too much and Kosuke doesn’t love her enough, deciding that training for a triathlon is more important to him than she is. She can’t find the balance she yearns for, and once the layers are peeled back, that appearance of happiness doesn’t go too deep. In fact, it’s here where I finally realized the film was a bit more than what I had initially guessed. It’s pretty standard fare until the final act, when the emotional floodgates are opened, and it sheds a whole new light on everything that preceded it. There are a lot of nuances within the film that are there if you’re willing to take the time to look.
The film still has its share of flaws however, the main one being the subplot featuring the aging punk-rocker and his biggest fan. While it definitely plays into some of the themes of growing up that the film dabbles in (and provides a setting for Katagiri to regress, going so far as to crowd surf), I felt that it took away from the main story. The film is short at only 62 minutes, and this side story takes a good 10 minutes away from the main affair, and while Tsumugi’s relationship with Katagiri is rather well defined, the one with Kosuke is a bit underdeveloped, as are Yuki’s feelings of rejection when it comes to Katagiri. The film could have benefit greatly from focusing on these elements in more detail, and overall would have probably allowed for a greater impact. What’s here is still clearly good, but director Hidekazu Takahara may have been just a little too ambitious, trying to cram as much content as he could into the film’s short runtime.
Not as overtly outrageous as many films in the Pink genre, Tsumugi is nonetheless interesting and surprisingly heartfelt, and I’m sure the presence of Sora Aoi alone is worth the price of admission for a lot of people. If you’re in the mood for some Pink that’s based mostly in reality with a hint of kink, Tsumugi should fill that void nicely.
The fine folks at PINK EIGA have released Tsumugi in both standard and special edition flavors. The film is presented in letterboxed 1.78:1 widescreen format, which looks passable but is far from ideal. For a film made less than 5 years ago, this should look MUCH better. It appears to have been sourced from a video master, even though like most Pink films it was shot on 35mm, and it really suffers. There’s tons of aliasing, and sharpness and detail is disappointing; for instance, scenes with fields of grass have no definition, and appear to be a giant green blob. There’s also a bizarre flaw that’s present throughout the entire film, where there’s these vertical bands going across much of the screen, and it’s really prevalent during outdoor scenes. Regardless of where you feel these types of films fall on the cinematic ladder, they deserve a much better presentation than this. It's too bad PE didn't have a better source to work from.
Audio is presented in a 2.0 Dolby Digital mix, but the special edition also includes a 5.1 surround treatment. I viewed the film in 5.1, and the only real directionality to be found is during the more music-heavy scenes. Still, it’s pretty damn cool to have a Pink film with a 5.1 mix. Subs are burned into the print as with all of PE’s releases (check out our interview with co-founder Ayumu Oda for the reasoning), and it seems like a solid translation, with no typing snafus of any sort. First up are the extras that are included on both releases, which are in-line with their previous efforts. We get some text notes from director Hidekazu Takahara, which are quite informative, and it’s interesting to hear about his journey back to the Pink genre as well as even though the film itself only took five days to shoot, the entire ordeal, from writing the script to finally getting it released took two years! He states the film also received a normal theatrical release, which is unusual for Pink films.
From there, we get Takahara’s production diary, which chronicles the entire five day shoot. Some very good insight is given here, and if you’re a filmmaker yourself, you’re sure to find some good stuff in this piece. Also included are cast and crew biographies in text format, two trailers for the film, a short photo gallery, the film’s original poster art, and a ton of trailers for current and upcoming PINK EIGA releases (c’mon, S&M Hunter Begins!)
Then there’re the special edition exclusives, which sets this release apart from PE’s previous work. A behind the scenes look at the film that centers on Sora Aoi is the biggest of the featurettes, clocking in at 20 minutes. It’s not particularly in-depth, as all you really see is Aoi acting out scenes and flubbing things here and there, but her bubbly personality makes it entertaining. Next up is a 9 minute interview with Ms. Aoi herself, although it’s mainly a fluff piece with little in the way of anything revealing. The biggest thing I took out of it is even she keeps messing up the name of the film and calling it “Tsugumi”. For all the pervs, there’s a 12 minute piece called “One Night with Sora Aoi”, where you can toss all the story elements of the film right out the window and watch all the naughty bits in succession. Rounding out the exclusives are two live videos from the now-defunct punk band Dread Nought, who are featured in the film. Overall, while the visual quality of the film itself is a disappointment, this is unquestionably PINK EIGA’s most complete package to date.
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