Film / Reviews

'It Feels So Good': An explicit escapade, artfully told

by James Hadfield

Contributing Writer

The average bride-to-be spends the final days before her wedding fretting about seating plans and whether she’ll be able to squeeze into her dress, but Naoko (Kumi Takiuchi) decides it’s a good time to hook up with an old flame instead.

In the years since they were together, Kenji (Tasuku Emoto) has become an unemployed, deadbeat dad. But Naoko has evidence of his kinky past, in the form of a photo album documenting their carnal escapades in artful monochrome. Her favorite picture shows them posed in a lovers’ suicide in front of an aerial shot of Mount Fuji: bodies entwined on the edge of a volcano.

There’s a similar air of nihilistic abandon as they become physically reacquainted. It’s Naoko’s idea at first, but once Kenji gets started, his body doesn’t want to stop. After a one-night stand proves inadequate to contain their passions, they opt for a five-day fling instead, interspersed with philosophizing and plenty of food.

It Feels So Good (Kako no Futari)
Rating
Run Time 115 mins.
Language JAPANESE
Opens Aug. 23

And what a fling it is. Veteran screenwriter Haruhiko Arai — making his third directorial outing — has seldom been coy about sex, but he shows an enthusiasm here that harks back to his earliest work scripting softcore Nikkatsu Roman Porno films like 1979’s “A Woman With Red Hair.” Beds, baths and kitchen tables aren’t safe; during a road trip, the lovers even manage to get off while staying on the bus.

These scenes are explicit without being gratuitous. Emoto and Takiuchi have a convincing chemistry as two people totally at ease with each others’ bodies, even if they’re better at conveying intimacy than uncontrollable lust. There’s also a welcome frankness in the film’s depictions of sex; it’s not often that erotic dramas consider things like chafing.

Unusually for a tale of forbidden passion, “It Feels So Good” allows little interference from the outside world — and any dramatic tension it might have introduced — in what’s essentially a two-hander. Naoko’s fiance, a military officer whom Kenji insists on calling “SDF” (Self-Defense Forces), remains an unseen presence, while Kenji’s father (played by real-life dad Akira Emoto) is only ever heard in phone conversations.

The staging is just as flat as in Arai’s previous film as director, “This Country’s Sky” (2015), though the use of actual locations rather than sets makes it a little less drab. Like that movie, “It Feels So Good” is more interested in getting you to think about the onscreen action than in making you feel it.

The films also have a common theme of people surrendering to private passion in the face of more momentous events beyond their control. Kazufumi Shiraishi’s source novel was written in the immediate aftermath of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, and there’s a background rumble of unease, even before the story takes an apocalyptic turn in its final act.

Arai accentuates the novel’s existentialist themes by shifting the action from Fukuoka to Akita, which is part of the Tohoku region but was largely unaffected by the disaster in 2011.

In an evocative sequence, Naoko and Kenji watch the Nishimonai Bon Odori, an eerie summer festival where masked dancers mingle with the spirits of the dead.

For all the flesh on display, it’s moments like this that leave the most lasting impression, capturing a sense of the precarious balance between life, lust and death.

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