Film / Reviews

'Jeux de plage': A romantic roundelay by the beach

by Mark Schilling

Contributing Writer

Japanese film companies mostly make local films for the local market. Often the films may as well have “not for export” written in the credits.

Launched in 2008 by Kiki Sugino and Kosuke Ono, Wa Entertainment has set its sights beyond Japan in everything from stories and casting to the titles of the films themselves. Instead of the usual literally or strangely translated English, the international title of its 2013 Rohmer-esque summer-by-the-beach film was “Au revoir l’ete.” France, here we come.

Another ensemble drama set by the sea was the 2014 “Chigasaki Story,” whose English title evoked the globally beloved films of Yasujiro Ozu. (Much of the action takes place in the ryokan (inn) where Ozu scripted eight of his films.) World, we are waiting.

Jeux de plage (Hamabe no Gemu)
Rating
Run Time 77 mins.
Language JAPANESE, ENGLISH, KOREAN, THAI
Opens May 4

Wa Entertainment’s latest film, “Jeux de plage,” is in this vein albeit with a more Asian flavor. Scripted and directed by first-timer Aimi Natsuto, who contributed a segment to the Ono-produced omnibus “21st Century Girl” (2018), the film unfolds by the Shonan coast, south of Tokyo. And the story is again something of a romantic roundelay.

The difference is that Natsuto amps up the farce and the sex from a distinctly — and raunchily — feminine point of view. This is hardly a new approach in Hollywood: Think the 2011 “Bridesmaids.” But I’m trying and failing to remember another Japanese comedy where three women joke about penis sizes. Maybe I should change my viewing habits.

Natsuto mixes in elements seldom seen in Japanese romantic comedies — from a quarreling Korean couple (who are not actually a couple) to a love-struck Thai guy (Donsaron Kovitanitcha) — and makes them feel unforced and play funny.

Finally, her ending is as abrupt as any I’ve seen — and may leave some jaws hanging. I left the screening room laughing.

Not that the entire film is a laugh riot. Instead, the story ambles and rambles along, while slowly building to comic payoffs, character reveals and woman-on-man violence.

It centers on the above-mentioned trio — Sayaka (Haruna Hori), Yui (Juri Fukushima) and Momoko (Nanaho Otsuka) — who end up together at a Shonan beach house. We soon see that Yui has romantic designs on the highly-strung Sayaka, while the free-spirited Momoko, who is best buddies with Sayaka, declares herself indifferent to the sex of her lovers.

The Thai guy also falls for Sayaka and innocently expresses his feelings in a diary. Meanwhile, a louche musician, Akihiro (Shinsuke Kato), comes to the house to reunite with a woman who was a former bandmate and lover, but ends up enraging both her and, don’t ask why, Momoko.

A woman assaulting a man is not a joke, especially when potentially lethal weaponry is involved, but the sight of the miserable Akihiro face down on the sand, as two women act out their rage on him, is more ludicrous than lamentable.

Playing Akihiro, Kato is the catalyst that takes the proceedings to a comic boil. While bringing out the character’s creepier qualities, he also makes him non-threatening — more like a floppy-eared dog with an overactive libido than a scary sexual aggressor.

Meanwhile, the unknown actors who play the central threesome impress with their naturalness, as though the director simply trained her camera on college-age friends and let them vent and, like an active volcano, occasionally explode.