FESTIVAL OF NEW JAPANESE FILM: MAKEUP ROOM (MEIKU RUMU) (Kei Morikawa, 2015)
333 East 47th St. at First Ave.
Friday, July 10, $13, 8:45
Series runs July 9-19
Former porn director Kei Morikawa’s Makeup Room is a charming love letter to the industry for which he purportedly made more than one thousand films. Originally written for the stage, the highly theatrical tale takes place in one darkly lit room over the course of several hours, as five actresses, including adult video veterans, get their makeup done, change wardrobe, eat, study the script, and talk about work and life in between scenes of the film they are making, Deep Heat, which is being shot off-camera in the same building, “an epic porn on a tiny budget.” Aki Morita stars as Kyoko, an experienced makeup artist who serves as a kind of den mother to Sugar Sato (Mariko Sumiyoshi), Kirisaki (Kanami Osako) Masami Ayase (Beni Ito), Masako (Nanami Kawakami), and Matsuko (Lily Kuribayashi), who all bring their own issues to the engaging dramedy, from worrying about how their newly done nails will affect a lesbian scene to discussing how their boyfriends and family react to their chosen career. None of them fit it into the stereotype of abused, drug-addicted, desperate women who have turned to porn because they have run out of options; to them, it is just a job, like any other. And Makeup Room never gets lewd or mundane; in fact, in many ways it could be about any five women who will be working together, except this group tends to take their clothes off and shower much more often and ask questions like “Why is she a star and me only a fetish actress?”
The men in the film are mere props, assistants getting lunch, managers bringing in their clients, the director who doesn’t seem to care much about the details. The only time Morikawa shows a man who is actually acting in the porn film they are making, he is a goofy dude with no sex appeal whatsoever. Cinematographer Shinji Kugimiya and Morikawa do a wonderful job of navigating the dark room, which doesn’t feel claustrophobic even though the camera never leaves it. The film deftly avoids becoming overly stagey or confining as it unfolds in what seems like real time. The acting, particularly on the part of the five women playing the porn actresses and Morita (Sharing, Shinobido), is uniformly excellent, especially Kawakami, who is a whirlwind of catty energy. Ostensibly Morikawa’s mainstream feature debut — and inspired by actual events — it’s a sweet and lovable little sleeper with its own unique sex appeal. Winner of the Grand Prix in the Fantastic Off-Theater Competition at the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival, Makeup Room is having its world premiere July 10 at 8:45 at Japan Society’s annual Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Film, which runs July 9-19 and includes such other works as Hirobumi Watanabe’s And the Mud Ship Sails Away, Hiroshi Ando’s Undulant Fever, Lisa Takeba’s Haruko’s Paranormal Laboratory, and the closing-night selection, the international premiere of Juichiro Yamasaki’s Sanchu Uprising: Voices at Dawn.