Tokyo Decadence (1992), written and directed by Ryu Murakami.
Tokyo Decadence takes place in a world where everyone has money and bodies are nothing but merchandise. The human body and mind as a contrast to the high-rises of Tokyo during the economic boom. It tells the story about Ai (Miho Nikaido), a prostitute but not a very confident one, making you believe that her life wasn't always like this. She takes on s&m clients, sadists as well as masochists, but doesn't handle either very well. She never seems comfortable in playing a role but every time her own personality comes through she is punished for it. Perhaps a failure of identity and individuality, she is just a prostitute, not a person.
Within the context of the bubble economy (a context I only got from reading the essay included on Cinema Epoch's dvd) and Japan as a country where everyone works with financial gain as the only goal, Ai is one of the people on the outside who for some reason wasn't included or lost her place in society. She tries to find her place in the crowd as an individual but as such she will always fail. On several occasions she finds herself the object of a crowd's condemning stares, only once being saved by another outcast who Ai has shown some kindness earlier. Not even this original, a vocalist, in a crowd of otherwise likeminded people lets Ai be herself, repeating Ai's customers' demands of "more" and "louder" when she wants Ai to be her audience.
In the end, none of Ai's problems are solved, her only happiness seemingly coming from accepting her situation and take some pride in having the strength to be who she is. As a prostitute friend of her says, the masses have achieved wealth without pride, but maybe Ai as an individual can find strength within herself.
When I watched the film I had no real knowledge of the social circumstances surrounding it and it seemed like just a story about a young woman trying to find her identity and place in a world she doesn't necessarily want to belong to, the only clear sign of societal critique being the comment by Ai's friend. Knowing the context do help put things in perspective, and to see the meaning behind the film, it makes it easy to see that Tokyo Decadence is more than just a soft-core s&m flick. But does it really help it as a film? Since the first 80 minutes or so consists of barely nothing else than sex scenes that seem to go on forever and the last 30 being a mess of Ai running around, all drugged up, trying to find the house of a former lover she can't forget, I would have to say no. Even though the end does help in conveying that she should be more self reliant, that she wouldn't be in this mess had she not taken the advice of others, it feels too contrieved, too self consciously strange for the sake of being strange, and towards the end the film just lost me completely. An interesting premise wasted by a bad presentation.