Director: Shinji Sômai
Screenplay: Takashi Ishii
Starring: Kiriko Shimizu, Minori Terada, Noriko Hayami, Nobutaka Masutomi, Rie Nakagawa
Country: Japan
Running Time: 89 min
Year: 1985
BBFC: 18

Third Window continue their excellent Directors Company range of Blu-rays with another Shinji Sômai film, his first for the company, Love Hotel, which was originally released just a few weeks before his next, Typhoon Club.

The erotic drama Love Hotel seems like an unusual choice of film for Sômai to have taken on at the time. Whilst he worked as an assistant director in the 70s for Nikkatsu, a studio synonymous with making ‘Roman Porno’ films during the era, Sômai never worked on one of those himself. Meanwhile, several other directors working for The Directors Company had cut their teeth in that genre.

Whatever the reason Sômai had for approaching this material, written by manga artist, screenwriter and later director Takashi Ishii, it resulted in his first and only Roman Porno for Nikkatsu, who commissioned The Directors Company to make it.

Having been impressed with all the Sômai films I’ve seen so far (all of which I’ve reviewed for the site), I eagerly got hold of a screener for Love Hotel and my thoughts follow.

Love Hotel begins by showing businessman Tetsuro Muraki (Minori Terada) at the end of his tether. His company has gone bankrupt, leaving him drowning in debt. The yakuza, ruthless gangsters he owes money to, inflict a horrific revenge by raping his wife, Ryoko (Kiriko Shimizu). Consumed by despair and guilt, Tetsuro sees no way out. He checks into a ‘love hotel’, a place for short-term encounters, and hires a prostitute named Yumi (Noriko Hayami). His plan: a final act of intimacy followed by a murder-suicide.

Yumi, who we later learn is actually named Nami, however, isn’t just an empty vessel. Tetsuro hesitates, unable to take her life after he sees her getting a sense of pleasure from the sex toy he inserts in her, despite the horrific circumstances of his assault on her. He decides to flee the scene rather than take the act any further.

Years pass and we see Tetsuro has rebuilt his life, becoming a taxi driver. He hasn’t entirely paid back his debts yet but his mind is at least in a healthier place.

One fateful night, Tetsuro picks up a passenger – Nami. The past floods back, forcing Tetsuro to confront the trauma and the choices that forever changed their lives. The pair soon embark on an unusual relationship, whilst Nami tackles some of her own personal problems.

Love Hotel was an incredibly short shoot for the exacting Sômai, only 10 days in total, though these were extremely long days (24 hours a day for much of it, according to assistant director Koji Enokido). He had 2 months of rehearsals leading up to this though, meaning it feels equally as thoughtfully constructed as any of his work.

Like most of Sômai’s films, it’s largely shot in long takes. These are often shot from a distance too, allowing for more spontaneous and natural performances. Some of the long shots are fairly static, letting the actors provide motion, but others are incredibly elaborate, though they don’t often draw too much attention to themselves, to detract from the intimate drama unfolding on screen.

Also familiar in Sômai’s films is a sense of detachment, through avoiding too many close-ups. This distancing approach may make it hard to get as emotionally invested in the characters but it gives events a voyeuristic feel, which helps the film feel ‘real’ and get under your skin.

Using this style in the sex scenes also lets some of these feel truly intimate, as though we’re merely observing a loving couple have sex, rather than throwing in sweaty close-ups to create a titillating montage of writhing bodies.

The opening 15 minutes contains two rape/sexual assault scenes, which may put off many but stick with it, as the film develops into something less graphically grim from there and there aren’t any ‘true’ rape scenes later on. The nature of the story that stems from these is still troubling but, at least in my opinion, it makes for a raw, fascinating character study that explores dark corners of the human psyche.

Music is used sparingly but very effectively. There’s no score but pop songs are well integrated. Again, everything serves to create a film that feels natural, as though we’re nearby, watching this twisted love story unfold in the real world.

Due to the nature of the film, its subject matter and numerous sex scenes, it won’t be for everyone. However, if you’re not put off by this, you’ll be treated to an unusual, haunting drama that’s beautifully directed, as you’d expect from the masterful Shinji Sômai.

Film:

Love Hotel is out on 22nd July on region B Blu-ray, released by Third Window Films as part of their Director’s Company collection. The transfer is decent. The blacks are rather heavy, which means details can be a little lacking in places but this may be as intended. The colours are otherwise pleasing and the picture has a nice natural grain. I had no issues with the audio.

There are several special features included on the disc:

• Feature-length audio commentary by Jasper Sharp
• Shinji Somai at the Director’s Company: Video essay by Josh Slater-Williams
• Archival interview with actor Minori Terada and assistant director Koji Enokido
• Original Trailer
• Slipcase with artwork from Gokaiju
• ‘Directors Company’ edition featuring insert by Jasper Sharp – limited to 2000 copies

Jasper Sharp provides a commentary on the disc. He talks about how the film fits among the Roman Porno genre, as well as among the work of Sômai and writer Takashi Ishii. He also delves into the backgrounds of the film and its makers. It’s a remarkably well-researched track, which is recommended viewing for anyone wanting to dig deep and learn more about the film.

Josh Slater-Williams discusses Sômai’s work at The Directors Company and how this fits within his oeuvre as a whole. This is a great primer and also helps you appreciate the wide variety of films Sômai made.

In a Q&A, star Minori Terada and assistant director Koji Enokido discuss the production and some others, talking about Sômai’s unusual working practices and how he pulled off some of the film’s more elaborate shots. It’s a wonderful piece, with Terada, in particular, giving an honest but heartfelt account of working with the director whom he collaborated with on many occasions.

Assuming the paper insert included is the same that appeared in previous Director’s Company releases, it provides a clear and concise history of the organisation.

So, whilst only a small number of extras are listed on paper, the standards are high and each piece adds much value to the package. As such, the disc comes highly recommended.

Disc/Package:

Where to watch Love Hotel
Love Hotel - Directors Company - Third Window
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About The Author

Editor of films and videos as well as of this site. On top of his passion for film, he also has a great love for music and his family.

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