Films about elderly men falling for elusive young women (and utimately regretting it) go back to "The Blue Angel" (1930). One Japanese example is Kaneto Shindo's 1992 "Bokuto Kidan" ("The Strange Tale of Oyuki"), a biopic about writer Kafu Nagai and the prostitute he came to love. Unlike the deluded professor in "Blue Angel," Nagai (Masahiko Tsugawa) refuses to cling, but he ends up old, alone and poor anyway.

Gakuryu Ishii's "Mitsu no Aware" ("Bitter Honey") is similar in origin and arc. Based on a 1959 novel by the then-70-year-old author Saisei Muro, the film centers on an elderly writer (Ren Osugi) in postwar Tokyo that we first see sketching a young woman (Fumi Nikaido) in his big Japanese-style house. Wearing a clingy red dress and calling herself "atai" (a somewhat babyish form of "I" used by girls of the period), she is coquettish and innocent, nubile and naive. That is, a male fantasy figure, but one of a special kind: She is a goldfish in human guise.

Once known for his extreme indie films, including the 1982 punk rock sci-fi "Burst City" ("Bakuretsu Toshi"), Ishii has since become quite a different filmmaker. In "Bitter Honey," costume designer Kazuhiro Sawataishi's gorgeous frocks, art director Hisashi Sasaki's meticulous period details and cinematographer Norimichi Kasamatsu's beautiful but bold compositions — punctuated by giddy camera swoops and swirls — make for stylish visuals. And Ishii's approach to this unusual story is in keeping with its look: A shade ironic and a touch voluptuous, as if telling an erotically charged cautionary fable to sophisticates.