Crickets, Drums, and Frantic Relationships: Sex Machine (2005)

Independent Asian romance films often dance a very fine line between soft-core porn and run of the mill romantic comedies.  Yuji Tajiri's Japanese film  The Strange Saga of Hiroshi the Freeloading Sex Machine, or simply Sex Machine exists in this divide.  At an hour long, a third of which involves drawn out acts of sexual intercourse, the film is undeniably pornographic.  While it is by no means In the Realm of the Senses or even Nine Songs it does unabashedly display full frontal female nudity and images of male ejaculation.  However, as any legitimate film does, it takes time to clearly differentiate the portrayals of sexuality from the narrative of relationship evolution, thus separating it from the lower form of art that is pornography.  Sex Machine is a story first and a depiction of the intimacies second, not the other way around.

The film opens with a young Hiroshi (Mutsuo Yoshioka) gazing upon his girlfriend Haruka (Rinako Hirasawa) as they head to live together in suburban Japan.  This is almost immediately followed by their sexual relationship, one that is so intense that it causes a minor earthquake in the surrounding neighborhood.  Hiroshi can find little wrong with his situation and seems quite content...that is until Haruka's former lovers and her son's father appear.  Each demands her back, her former Anzai (Kazuhiro Sano) going so far as to force himself upon Haruka who eventually submits to his demands.  Hiroshi even proves unfaithful and cheats on Haruka with her son playing in the background.  The two have a falling out which is only solved with a series of cricket fights, underwater tunnels and lesbian contact between Haruka and Hiroshi's recent affair.  Ultimately, the two realize their relationship is strong only through a moment of loss.  It ends with Haruka playing the drums of monotony and safety, which while uninteresting prove far less stressful than the wilds of their previous activities, sex included.

Despite involving a rather large amount of sex scenes, the film is extremely cinematic, incorporating the obvious influences of Ozu, particularly his comedic work Good Morning.  Many of the scenes, both sexual and nonsexual, are filmed in a first person style, implying a sense of voyeurism to the entire scene.  Viewers are drawn in not only by the insane sexual acts, but by the tension of couples's relationship as well and the handheld camera and close-ups only serves as a point of fixation.  Furthermore, the film raises questions of whether or not differences exist between humans and insects, particularly in the power dynamic of males and females.  It is apparent that the only weakness to male crickets is a female cricket in heat.  Similarly, Haruka's own sexual promescuity proves problematic to many men within the film who either see her as an object to conquer or to gaze at for sexual gratification.  In fact, the only man oblivious to the sexuality of Haruka is her own son.  Arguably, it is only through genderless interactions that harmony may exist, a rather bold statement for a film that focuses so heavily on the role that intercourse plays in a heterosexual relationship.  The film is by no means void of problematic images, but its philosophical leanings lead me to believe that it might just transcend notions of male dominance as a positive thing.  One can only hope that the drum heard at the films end is not a call for that tradition as well.

I would recommend this movie in a heartbeat, but with that being said I should not that it does have imagery that some may find offensive.  While I am quite liberal in my notion of cinema, I know some may not enjoy it, but for those who do care to see it either view it on Netflix or get the DVD.

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