Five people meet to form a suicide pact. As the time draws near, the event unleashes the will to survive within the members and a sex frenzy ensues. But Toshiya Ueno's 2003 Pinku Eiga winner, Ambiguous, is more than just sex and nudity. It's also about the meaning of life. Stephen Tan reviews.


Mild mannered hanko (stamp) engraver Hidehisa Ebata tries to engage in a relationship with a woman (customer). Not wanting anything long-term, she agrees only to a session of sex, and becomes dismissive when Ebata mentions marriage since they already had sex.

A porn actress wants the security and commitment in a marriage and is willing to succumb to various forms of sado-masochistic practices which her boyfriend indulges in. He ties her up before fondling her breasts and penetrating her from behind.

These are two of five alienated people who meet on the internet, form a suicide pact and meet up to end it all. The others include battered housewife Noriko Murayama, who desperately wants to look after her daughter but is prevented from doing so by an abusive husband. Then there is a waiter at a restaurant who has difficulty appearing subservient as his job demands. Finally, there is high school student Minami Aoyama, who might be a shoplifter or she might be one of those girls who entertains male customers for extra pocket money.

Outwardly, these people lead functional lives. But there is no meaningful connection between them and other human beings. What's left, for example, is physical abuse (for the housewife), abusive sex (for the porn actress), and ridicule for the student and the waiter. For engraver Ebata, he appears to make a decent living producing seals and engraving stamps but finds his life meaningless. This meaninglessness is exacerbated alongside another act in futility, the war on Iraq, which is reported constantly on his television set.

The idea of ending it all does sounds attractive - after all, none of them seems to have anything to live for - and the gathering at Ebata's home/workshop has the feel of a final celebration to life, or whatever that's left of it. At the same time, the gathering also unleashes hidden feelings among the members.

As a last ditch effort, housewife Murayama not only has a fling with Ebata but wants to fulfill what she sees as her mothering role in life - she insists that Ebata calls her "Mommy" and, needless to say, is all set to suckle Ebata. Meanwhile schoolgirl Aoyama gives herself to the sullen waiter as the two share a bath before their final meal.

In a scene that recalls those Sada Abe/Ai No Corrida movies, the porn actress accidentally kills her boyfriend in a strangulation act before turning up at Ebata's home. Feeling confused and distraught over the matter, she decides to slit her wrists in the bathroom instead of joining the others by gassing themselves.

However the porn actress' death raises questions of life and death for the rest whose immediate reaction is another round of sex, or as one of the characters says, the result of the progeny or survival instinct.

The film is considered a part of the successful Pinku Eiga (pink films), a form of Japanese soft porn movies which are fairly low budgeted - for instance, shot on 35mm; released through a chain of specialised cinemas and are roughly about an hour in length. Unlike porn films made in other countries, many well-known directors - for example Miike Takashi, Ryuichi Hiroki (Vibrator) and Masayuki Suo (Shall We Dance) - either had their start in pink films or have pink films as part of their resume.

While the sex and nudity in the film are not gratuitous, the movie is actually more about a quest for the meaning of life than a look at the suicide cult (ala Sion Sono's 2001 Suicide Club/Suicide Circle movie). With its sharp dialogue, Toshiya Ueno's Ambiguous (2003) might attract even more fans if its English title had been a direct translation of what it is in Japanese - "Obscene Internet Group: Make Me Come!!).

Much to its credit, the film is never preachy though the ending seems rushed with the characters' emotional issues seemingly unresolved. Still, Ueno's Ambiguous was voted best film at the 16th Annual Pink Awards organised by pink film specialist magazine PG in 2003.

Note: The Ambiguous DVD (Salvation Films) is banned in $ingapore.

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May 22, 2007

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