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Moonlight Whispers

Kino // R // September 30, 2003
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted October 24, 2003 | E-mail the Author
I like that ratings are now always accompanied by some little subscript; it is a nice telling way to gauge a movie. Moonlight Whispers (1999) is Rated R for Aberrant Sexual Behavior. It is a surprisingly sweet yet dour tale of two Japanese teens whose first forays into young love escalates into an S&M relationship. It is sort of like Endless Love if it were directed by Andrew Blake.

Takayu and Satsuki are teenagers going to the same school and have been friendly since they both become members of the kendo club. Takayu has been hiding a deep crush for Satsuki, and when she reveals that she has always liked him, the two begin dating. Although it seemed to be what he always wished for, after the two lose their virginity with each other, Takayu finds he is not interested in her in a normal sexual fashion. Takayu is more comfortable with being subservient. When Satsuki discovers his drawer full of pictures of her, articles of her clothing, and an audio tape of her going to the bathroom, she is initially sickened and shocked. She begins dating a classmate, Uematsu, but Takayu continues to follow her and insist that he wants to be her obedient dog. Satsuki finds that she gets pleasure out of being cruel to him, and soon the two begin a strange relationship, struggling with their perverted desires.

For those interested in the kinks of the kinky, Moonlight Whispers is a film that finds a nice balance, not pushing too hard with its salacious extremes (unlike, say Tokyo Decadence, there is barely any nudity and the sex is handled tastefully) and never probing too deep into the twisted psychology. It strikes a satisfying level of ambiguousness, leaving the viewer to ponder why the characters fall into their sadistic and masochistic malaise so easily. While the film mostly keeps a respectful distance and doesn't pass judgment on the teens, the only real problem I have is how the film implies the idea that perversion is some sort of natural state, as Takayu says, "God made a mistake." This also may be evidenced by Satsuki's acceptance and pleasure in taking on the role of a sadist. While we see early on that Takayu has a few perverted hang-ups, with Satsuki, it is assumed that it was just some buried part of her natural makeup that suddenly sparks to life.

But, as I said, it does have a balance. While it may hint at the possibly of the pervert being some naturally occurring part of someone's personality, it also shows that there is a definite bleak side. And that is really what the films finds its focus on, the outsider, the misunderstood, those separated from the norm and unable to cope with their feelings of being foreign. So, it is taking that teenage angst everyone knows so well and presenting it in a different light. Yes, it does inject the idea that perversion may be as genetically normal as allergies, but it also shows that for Takayu and Satsuki it is another pressure, a disorder of self destruction and flirtations with suicide further enforcing that familiar adolecent feeling that the word will not accept you for who you really are.

This was director Akihiko Shiota's debut and he shows a very assured hand with potentially disastrous subject matter. He also has a good visual eye which was no doubt greatly aided by cinematographer Shigeru Komatsuba (The Eel, Warm Water Under a Red Bridge).

The DVD: Kino

Picture: Non-Anamoprhic Widescreen. I've been watching foreign films most of my life and I can be forgiving since the quality is often sub standard, especially with more marginal older films. Still, that said, for a recent film, the image quality is pretty lacking. If it were a $5 Japanese import DVD, that would be fine, but for the Kino MSRP, the soft image, dull contrast, and murky color is a disappointment. It is the color that is the worst off, being a bit too much on the yellow side, making the entire image suffer, be it fleshtones or fields of grass. Slight artifacts and minor edge enhancement are occasionallly noticeable.

Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, Japanese language with optional English subtitles. At least the sound is good. Dialogue is nice and clear with good bass response. the film is well scored, driven by simple melancholy guitar melodies. Fx sound is also decent, with nice use of natural sounds, be it the scuffling in the kendo club or a heavy rainstorm.

Extras: Chapter Selections--- Trailer, plus trailers for chaos, Junk Food, Tokyo Eyes, Dead or Alive and Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl--- Interview with director Akihiko Shiota (15:51). Good, concise interview, talking about his influences and how the film came together.

Conclusion: It is a shame that Kino is one of those nice companies putting out foreign films, yet, for some reason, they sometimes continue to be unable to hit the anamorphic button when mastering many of their movies. Even if the print isn't going to be absolutely crisp and pristine, you can at least make an effort to master it in a way that will help viewers forgive such common import quibbles. So, interesting film, but foreign film fans will have to make that judgment call- those forgiving of such transfers may want to pick it up, the more quality conscious will want to save it for a rental.

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