Getting cold feet about getting married? First find a chef like Kudo in Mitsuru Meike's Bitter Sweet, who will show you what's sex like on the dining table. Stephen Tan reviews.


Pinku Eiga (Pink Films) director Mitsuru Meike might be better known for the cult movie, The Glamorous Life Of Sachiko Hanai (2004), but the low-key Bitter Sweet (2004) is no slouch either.

Shoko (Konatsu) is on the verge of getting married to Tamura (Takuya Fukushima) and goes to the marriage registry for the registration form. She meets chef Kudo, who is there to pick up a divorce form. That evening, Shoko has dinner with her friend at Kudo's restaurant but she returns alone later that night. Plagued by her own uncertainties over the impending marriage, Shoko is also interested to find out why Kudo is thinking of divorcing his wife. However, Shoko's passion gets the better of her and she ends up having sex with Kudo on one of the restaurant's tables.

Despite warning Shoko not to get "hooked" on him, Shoko's relationship with Kudo deepens and she begins to neglect Tamura to the point of not answering his calls. While Kudo looks after the material needs of his wife, Keiko (the late Yumika Hayashi), and his two children, he is away at the restaurant most of the time and feels that he'd be happier on his own. Meanwhile, Kudo's friend, Yoshida (Kazuhiro Sano), who is suffering from cancer, is hospitalised. It's slowly revealed that Keiko was Yoshida's girlfriend whom Kudo "stole," but after they were married, Yoshida had forced himself on Keiko and that her eldest son is Yoshida's.

At only 58 minutes, Bitter Sweet is a lean and trim movie about the uncertainties of marriage, being in love and hanging out with an older and more matured man, and about finding happiness in and out of a marriage.

As the lead, Konatsu gives a strong performance as a young woman besetted by doubts and who, as it appears, manages to calm her fears through sex. To Meike's credit, there are no "villains" in the piece. Just that people fall out of love (of course, the basic idea being that they were never "in love" in the first place). Some women viewers, however, may baulk at the idea that Kudo has it good and enjoys the best of all worlds - he ends up with the adoring Shoko after getting his "freedom" from his wife. The "twist" in the film is that it is Keiko who hands him the divorce papers though he is shown throughout the film thinking about divorce.

But the movie does underline the position of women in Japanese society. Kudo demands sex from his wife Keiko but ignores her when she tries to vent her frustrations. In Shoko's case, even when they are not married, Tamura expects Shoko to "behave" herself, but it is all right for her to give herself sexually to him. And for Shoko, she naively thinks, or is conditioned to think, that the fastest way to a man's heart is to give him a blowjob. Or that sex will solve all problems.

The movie opens with a drunken Yoshida recalling the sex he had with Keiko. As the movie title suggests, this sequence is supposed to cast a certain shadow over the rest of the film. Unfortunately, the rest of the characters act too independently of this fact and the result of this coupling - that Keiko's eldest son is Yoshida's - has very little reverberation in the movie.

Still tightly paced and thought-provoking, Bitter Sweet can be seen as an understated movie. But for Pinku Eiga fans, this is certainly not where the nudity and the sex are concerned.

Note: The Bitter Sweet DVD (Inter Film/Uplink) is banned in $ingapore.

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August 14, 2007

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