The odds of every other theater patron enthusiastically throwing up a hand when asked, “Is anyone in the audience familiar with Japanese Pink Films?” are quite slim--unless you’re lucky enough to be part of a Fantastic Fest audience. Our impressively multilingual host went on to translate Underwater Love director Shinji Imoako’s words, “He also says you might enjoy it more accompanied by delicious cuisine and an alcoholic beverage.” I’m convinced he cheated and read our Mission Statement. He’s also known as one of the “Seven Lucky Gods of Pink." Just this once, we’ll allow him to exceed the typical allotment of per human cool points.Yeah, Underwater Loveis a basically a softcore porno (or pink film), but it also defies tradition by breaking a lot of the cinematic genre’s rules. One of the more notable, transcending aspects is how Imoako wrangled legendary cinematographer Christopher Doyle for the project. And it should come as no surprise that he captures the aqueous landscape exquisitely. To those unfamiliar, pink films are typically hurried, week-long endeavors shot on an aglet budget. I’m going to guess Wong Kar-wai’s right hand man costs a pretty penny.
As seen in the (NSFW) trailer, the story unfolds in a rural fish factory where our leads spend an abundance of time working and DANCING. The playful choreography and lip-syncing to French-German duo Stereo Total’s wonderful electropop score continues throughout. At the closing of the first musical number, Asuka discovers one live fish in the bunch and rushes to the waterfront to set it free. It’s then that we’re introduced to the signs warning of kappa-infested waters. In Japanese folklore, these mischievous humanoid/reptilian creatures are said to play a wide variety of pranks on humans and are to be avoided. To elucidate on their traits, you don’t have to tell me twice when it comes to 1. farting on me or 2. eating my liver. Even at the mature, ripe age of thirty-five Asuka proceeds with little caution and sets forth with a flopping fish in hand toward the water. The audience and I collectively (read: audibly) lost our minds as Aoki, the kappa, reared his scaly head from the deep to retrieve the snack.
It’s said that a kappa would befriend a human in exchange for a gift or offering, but this wasn’t why Aoki had his sights set on Asuka. We learn he was actually a middle-school classmate of hers that died in a freak drowning accident and has since been reincarnated as this turtle-like water sprite. This only seems far fetched until you recall Michael Keaton in Jack Frost. We’re knee-deep in the whole story behind the half shell when Asuka’s boss/fiance Taki makes his first appearance.
From here on out it’s a juggling act between two suitors. Taki’s enthusiasm for their future nuptials becomes super creepy when he shows up bearing a scrapbook of their heads taped to the necks of magazine-clipped brides and grooms. And after giving it some thought, you almost believe Aoki makes more sense as long as they’re within walking distance of a pond or bath tub. Surprisingly, our kappa is in the midst of an on-land love triangle between Asuka and another human woman as well. The other lady in question is frankly a bit of a trollop, but trust that the buildup to seeing the creature’s genitalia unveiled is worth the wait. It’s a harmless, butt-plug shaped lawn sprinkler comparable to a real turtle penis. I swear that’s more innocent than it sounds, but I also know that’s not a Google image search any of us want to explain.
Soon enough their distractions of the opposite sex are completely out of the picture and it’s clear Asuka and Aoki were simply meant to be. If only it were that easy. So here’s where the tale takes a turn with an earth-shattering level of bizarre hijinks. With the help of the kappa elders and the transvestite God of Death, we’re told the reincarnation can be undone as long as Asuka inserts a mythical ball called a “shirikodama” up her hind quarters. Admittedly, I laughed the hardest here because it uncannily resembled one of those Madballs. Acquired by Third Window Films with a pending release for next year, you’ll just have to wait and see if the elders were kind enough to quote, “lend their anal pearl” and furthermore, find out if that even worked. Let’s hope so, right?