Genuinely funny, touching, and cleverly realized, Morikawa Kei's
) plays like a modest but deft combination between a chamber-like dramedy and well-observed ensemble piece that derives most of its energy from a wealth of enthusiastic performances and witty dialogue filled with perfectly memorable one-liners.
Drawing from his experience and work as an AV director, Morikawa, who apparently shot more than 1,000 adult films over the course of 20 years, weaves a deliciously kinky yet very intimate tale of manners and sexual taboo. Though theoretically Makeup Room
classifies as Morikawa's debut feature, it would certainly be foolish to call the man a debutant filmmaker. Intriguingly, with much confidence and passion he assures the audience that his ability to navigate through confined spaces, such as a make-up room of a porno shoot, is truly unparalleled. Thanks to some smartly written scenes and simple but precise visual tricks (like splitting the screen into two or more dynamic quadrants) Morikawa never loses grip of the material at hand and keeps the entertainment levels from flagging.
It's a well-known fact that the Japanese porn industry is among the largest and wealthiest in the world. What most people don't know, however, is how the industry operates on a daily/nightly basis. To get an insight into what happens before the camera starts rolling one might be tempted to watch one of the many documentaries available online, but the general problem with given footage is that it rarely offers anything beyond an outsider's perspective.
Morikawa, on the other hand, vigorously and with a firm, unhectoring hand invites the audience on a quick but rewarding behind-the-scenes tour of this seemingly isolated and strange yet curiously intriguing world - a world he knows really well. Save for a few scenes that are actually more hilarious and cute than raunchy and shocking, Makeup Room proves to be a surprisingly SFW experience that pulls the emotional heart strings at just the right moments and in the most sincere and unobtrusive way possible. Through simple gestures Morikawa movingly conveys emotions in their rawest form, whether it be in a close-up scene of heartfelt confession, or during a dialogue-driven sequence that features a bigger group of actors, and verges on slapstick.
What makes Makeup Room one of the most original and most interesting Japanese pictures of at least the past few months is its visual composition. Although at first on the basic structural level the film might seem a bit disorganized, thanks to the actors' constant and dynamic movement on and off "stage" the narrative flows smoothly, hinting at a somewhat theatrical nature of the whole film. Like One Hitoshi (director of last year's highly enjoyable Be My Baby) Morikawa makes perfect use of the very limited location - as the characters come and go the titular make-up room becomes a fascinating presence in itself.
Interestingly, there's only one person that doesn't leave the room even for a second - the make-up artist, played by Morita Aki from Metamorphosis. Not only does she have to work in a stressful environment, she must also act as a personal counselor to all the adult-video actresses (played by Ito Beni, Kuribayashi Riri, Kawakami Nanami, and Sumiyoshi Mariko), and eventually to other members of the crew as well. Morita gives a finely tuned performance that delicately accentuates the difference between the roles played by a film actress and real-life adult-film stars who undoubtedly make this short trip into the AV world much more realistic and entertaining.
Morikawa comes across as a person who has a lot of interesting stories to tell, and as a filmmaker who knows how to use self-depreciating humor to his own advantage. Clocking in at less than 90 minutes, Makeup Room skillfully mocks all the (stero)typical aspects of an exemplary adult video, and convincingly tackles a wide spectrum of characters that are sure to capture viewers' attention and heart. Moreover, by keeping his camera mobile Morikawa emphasizes the chaos that might and probably does take place backstage.
Though at first Makeup Room comes down to a battle of wits between five AV actresses, and their brief encounter with a woman who either cares or pretends to care about their many problems, the ever-growing sense of heartfelt sincerity that eventually permeates the room turns tense rivalry and jealousy into a very brief but beautiful friendship. Hopefully, the film will reach a wider audience it truly deserves.