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Love & Pop

Kino // Unrated // July 6, 2004
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted June 21, 2004 | E-mail the Author
"The four of us aren't friends because we talk about everything. We're friends because we don't ask questions we don't want to answer or keep quiet when others expect an answer."

Love and Pop (1998) is a digital video feature from director/writer Hideaki Anno, best known to anime fans for his work on Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water and Neon Genesis Evangelion. The film concern the Japanese phenomenon of "subsidized (or "compensated") dating". This is a polite term for escorting or prostitution, where Japanese women (mainly schoolgirls) rent themselves out to men, sometimes for a meal, companionship, to fulfill a fetish, or to just have sex.

A clique of high school girls, Hitomi (insecure-skinny), Cheiko (the hot one), Sachi (a wannabe dancer), and Nao (insecure-chubby) in Shibuya endure the leers and advances of men just about everywhere they go. Sometimes they entertain the propositions to get paid just to have a meal with a man, but inevitably the men make some further demand that shatters the innocence of the arrangement. A man gives Nao a cell phone and encourages the girls to leave messages on an answering service. The girls do so, mainly just having fun with it, and roll their eyes at the messages left by the men. While shopping with the girls, Hitomi finds a topaz ring on sale and, in order to make money, decides to answer some messages from the service. But, she soon learns it isn't the most ideal way to make some quick cash.

This being his first feature, Hideaki Anno was obviously shooting with the looseness of the digital medium and, from all appearances, a quick schedule. Perhaps the animator found a little too much freedom in shooting live action because the film abounds with excessive, unnecessary edits, angles, and choices in camera placement with often nauseating movement. In something as simple as a one-on-one breakfast conversation, there are literal split second edits, so quick they are almost subliminal, and several cuts to angle changes. For what reason? It is beyond me. It seems to serve no other purpose than to strengthen ones Attention Deficit Disorder and get milage out of every camera angle he chose to shoot.

Likewise, the use of miniature cameras led Anno to make another "no-no" by over using them. There is tons of fisheye P.O.V. Most annoyingly, the camera is often attached to every object in the room. Hey look the cameras in the fan! It's on the bike! It's on her arm! It's in the microwave (twice in a matter of minutes)! It's in the bowl! It's in the sink! It's inside the karoke machine! Its in her armpit! Its in the ring!... You get the idea.

Any sense of being a fair-minded, non-exploitive, film about Japanese schoolgirls is also ruined by his choice of camera placement. Yes, while they are never explicitly naked (probably they were all too young for such scenes), he gets plenty of milage out of his young stars. In what I have no other choice but to call "the pussy cam", the camera is literally under Hiromi's skirt, giving us the point of view of her privates as she walks down the street. Also, in every instance that the girls are sitting down, there is always- always- a camera angle (sometimes multiple) from underneath the tables so we watch the girls legs shuffle about as they talk. Ogling Japanese schoolgirls would usually be fine by me, but the uninspired and glaring way it is executed in Love & Pop constitutes as a real turn-off.

Now, with all of that out of the way, the story was based on a novel by the highly regarded Ryu Murakami, writer of Coin Locker Babies, Almost Transparent Blue and writer/director of Tokyo Decadence. It is a one-sided affair as far as the men go, every guy who makes advances is some kind of fetishistic weirdo, loser, or psychopath. Sequences that stray, like Sachi deciding to drop out of high school and be a dancer, prove to be more interesting than the "compensated dating" plotline.

The DVD: Kino

Picture: Non-anamorphic. Well, it is a digital camcorder film. The aspect ratio changes, sometimes squeezed, stretched, or split screen, but mainly the image is a 1:33.1 square. This isn't the most stellar digital feature I've seen, and I guess a large part of that may be due to the advances made in the few years that followed the films production. Based on the image, if I wasn't told it was digital film, I could have assumed it was tape.

So, the transfer seems to do the best it can considering the source, however the video quality is pretty poor in the definition department, with colors and sharpness suffering the most. I did notice slight distortion lines for a few minutes at the bottom of the screen, the kind of noise you get if your video cables aren't properly hooked up or the tracking on your vcr needs a tweek.- but, as I said, it is slight. A B-grade transfer of C-grade image.

Sound: Japanese language Dolby Digital 2.0. Although the menu lists "subtitle options", you only get one, English. Like the image, the sound also has a very camcorder-y ring, often sounding like it was recorded from a camcorder mike. Therefore, it isn't the most stunning audio. Though the dialogue recording does add to the rough realism, the music score comes through very clear and makes you realize the weakness of the dialogue quality.

Extras: Chapter Selections— Trailers, four total for Love & Pop, plus trailers Moonlight Whispers, Tokyo Eyes, Junk Food and The Most Terrible Time in My Life.— Six Love & Pop TV Spots— Love & Pop music video. See the girls on vacation, at the airport, hotel, parading around on the beach, with a song that features some out of tune singing and a whistling solo.

Conclusion: While I think the murky motivations and stylistic excess really hurt the film, it is still an interesting curiosity for Asian cinema fans and those intrigued by digital film making. I'm going to lean towards suggesting it as a rental and as a tool to demonstrate how a directors unfocused excess can ruin otherwise interesting material.

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