It's interesting to note that that the director of the (anti-?) porn drama Love & Loathing & Lulu & Ayano, Hisayasu Satō, is himself a director of pink films. Since 1985, he's directed a couple dozen films in the exploitation genre, and as Wikiedia so helpfully informs me, many of his works deal with matters of passion and obsession through the prism of his chosen genre. His current work can be counted among that catalog of like titles, as a movie about sex, featuring a bit of it. A story about the journey of two young women through the Japanese adult film industry, it (mostly) manages the balancing act of showing why a young woman would want to get into porn and how they might have trouble getting out.
The Lulu and Ayano of the title are porn actresses--one new, one a veteran. The former is by day, a mousy office worker who named Junko who falls for the slick enticements of an adult movie recruiter. Ignored at work and treated poorly by her cruel mother, she's lured in by the promise of being someone that she currently is not--that is to say, someone people pay attention to or find desirable. After an awkward start on her first shoot, she adopts the Lulu persona who is outgoing, energetic, and unafraid to say what she thinks. Her counterpart is Ayano, who is leggy, good-looking, and hostile and not too much older than Lulu. She has a louse for a boyfriend, a dangerous temper, and I'm not sure if she dislikes Lulu initially because the newbie is so awkward or because she doesn't want the younger actress to get trapped in the same way so many of the other girls do.
As Lulu/Junko, Norie Yasui is not exactly the strongest actress, and seems to play the role a couple of octaves louder than absolutely necessary. As Junko, she's called upon to be painfully shy which translates into locking her limbs and speaking barely above a whisper; as Lulu she's tasked with being a ball of ceaseless energy, the embodiment of otaku fantasy, but what we get is a lot of noise and flailing. Weirdly, this almost kind of works--I keep going back to the word "awkward" and I think this sums up Lulu, who has a vague concept of what a certain type of guy likes and exaggerates it. Junko thinks she's found her voice in her alter ego, but really she's just trading one form of emptiness for another.
As Ayano, Mayu Sakuma makes me wish there was an entire feature devoted to this former girl gang member whose anger has pretty much cut her off from most other options in life. She's not exactly convincing late in the movie when she's called on to swing a bat at some thugs, but her anger and toughness is believable from scene to scene without obscuring the character's basic vulnerability.
A note on the look of the movie: it seldom rises above its low-budget roots, but never distractingly so. Shot on HD among a small selection of inexpensive-looking sets, it doesn't look too far off from the types of movies that it's casting a critical eye on.
Love & Loathing & Lulu & Ayano will be screening on July 8th as part of the Japan Cuts film series. You can find out more information about the screening and other films at the Japan Society site.