DAY-DREAM (TETSUJI TAKECHI, 1964)
Day-Dream is an early example of a pinku film from Japan. The genre, throughout its history, has attained a status as an example of a commercially viable venue for more experimental and counter-culture 'art house' fare under the guise of what in the west would be viewed as mere exploitation. As in any genre of film, there are examples of the genre that stand out as excellent, as well as examples that are mere exploitation without much artistic merit; Day-Dream being an example of the former. In fact, the film shares far more in common with the Japanese New Wave films that were being produced around the same time as it does the lesser examples of the pinku film.
Cheiko is a beautiful woman who arrives at a dentist office waiting room where Kurahashi, a young adult male, is already waiting. The two get called into the 'operating' room, and it becomes apparent that Cheiko is very uncomfortable with dentistry. As Kurahashi is given an injection to put him under so the doctor can remove a cavity, he sees the dentist and the nurse vampirize Cheiko, ripping her top off and biting her neck. The remainder of the film is depicted as Kurahashi's reverie, or day dream, as he dreams/fantasizes about Cheiko in a number of uncomfortable sexual situations, generally related to S/M.
The plot is fairly simple, but the approach taken is what makes the film unique. To begin with, Kurahashi seems to place himself in his day dream as a mere voyeur to the situations which Cheiko endures, as opposed to an active participant. Not only that, but he also views himself as an impotent hero for the first two- thirds of the film, utterly filled with desire for Cheiko but unable to save her from the demonized man who is causing her pain and suffering. The fact that he imagines himself as a voyeur, and as such is constantly depicted actually watching Cheiko's sexual misadventures, marks the film as decisively different than plain exploitation. While a woman is being sexually degraded on screen, Kurahashi's voyeurism calls attention to the fact that we, as viewers are simple voyeurs as well, imposing the question of why, exactly, are we watching this degradation.
This divide immediately causes a sense of the uncomfortable, as like Kurahashi, the viewer is impotent in'saving' the fictional character of Cheiko. We are constantly exposed to her pain and suffering, but we, like Kurahashi, can do absolutely nothing. It's a quite visceral reaction that, as mentioned, distances any sense of mere exploitation.
With the final third of the day dream, Kurahashi seems to rebel against this repression, and in an act that represents a sexual climax, stabs Cheiko to death in the middle of the street, where are large number of civilians pay absolutely no attention. Even with his desperate act, performed more out of reaction than any actual emotions towards Cheiko, he remains impotent, unable to change the world around him.
The film itself is steadily paced and features a very small amount of on-screen sex, especially in comparison to other pinku films. Cheiko is more or less terrified throughout all of her screen time, her terror climaxes in a delightfully surreal series of events that occur in an empty department store in the dead of night.
The music itself is minimal, occasionally erupting in a sort of avant-garde buzzing that helps to emphasize the remarkable psychological states occurring within the characters. As Kurahashi desperately pounds on a glass window where he watches Cheiko be tied up and electrocuted, the score swells to an emotional high as he collapses to the ground, unable to cope with his impotence.
Interestingly enough, while the film itself features very minimal nudity and on screen sex, when producer Joseph Green imported the film for domestic distribution he shot a number of inserts (in the same way Radley Metzger shot additional 'risque' scenes to spice up European films he had imported for Audubon Films) in an abstract, minimal environment featuring a number of fully nude men and women wearing grotesque masks. While the scenes were obviously just shot to up the nudity quotient and help sell the film to American audiences, they serve as an odd sort of representation of the subconscious of various characters, which is even more interesting to think about as the entirety of Kurahashi's day dream itself also serves to represent this. Most of the added scenes are incorporated fairly well, but there are a few instances where the looped soundtrack is obvious and the tension that is apparent in the original film is interrupted.
Outside of a single scene that was shot in color to heighten it's emotional impact (a la the Japanese New Wave films of Nagisa Oshima and much of Koji Wakamatsu's work), the film isn't remarkably impressive from a technical level. The cinematography is stark black and white, carefully balancing the white of skin against the black background of night. But the technicalities are not what's important here, what remains important about this film is the emotional impact of the events, and the aforementioned conflict of interests (sexual titillation versus the implied impotence of being a voyeur) serve to wonderfully heighten the emotional impact.
As a bizarre ending to the film, the camera reveals the bite marks left from the dentist still present on Cheiko's neck, very obviously outside of the context of Kurahashi's day dream; the camera pans up, and Cheiko grins widely before driving off. This ending seems to signify that it was actually Cheiko who was day dreaming, but that undermines the aforementioned emotional impact and significance of the film and instead subverts the ideas of the anonymous woman's response to the sexual degradation.
While the film is very interesting and entirely worth watching, it's not quite as impressive as the pinku films of Koji Wakamatsu, or much later down the line, Hisayasu Sato. Regardless, it's a worthwhile psycho- sexual story that remains very entertaining.