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Long a devoted chronicler of the grimier side of life, Eiji Uchida attained a measure of mainstream respectability earlier this year when his transgender drama, “Midnight Swan,” won the Japan Academy Prize for best picture. As if to deflate any lofty expectations this might encourage, his follow-up is bypassing theaters altogether, in favor of an on-demand release via Amazon Prime Video.

Streaming feels like the right route for “Shrieking in the Rain,” an ensemble comedy-drama that’s as frothy and forgettable as a Christmas TV special. The subject matter also lends itself to home viewing, this being an ode to the kinds of movies that flourished during the heyday of video rentals.

The year is 1988, and the setting is an anonymous studio lot, where first-time director Hanako Hayashi (Marika Matsumoto) is trying to complete her debut feature. When we first meet her, she’s locked herself in a producer’s car to escape the crisis brewing around her. The shoot is running way behind schedule, and she’s lost the trust of her crew, a bunch of veterans whose creative input tends to come spiced with a generous dose of sexism.

Shrieking in the Rain (Ame ni Sakebeba)
Rating
Run Time 102 mins.
Language Japanese
Opens Now streaming on Amazon Prime Video

The movie in question is an erotic melodrama starring a popular teen idol (Kenta Suga) and a more experienced actress whose career is on the wane (Maeko Oyama). The story is straight out of a soap opera, though considerably more explicit, which causes problems when the set is visited by a representative from the film classification board (Shinya Owada).

Hanako also has to contend with interference from her producer (Kazuya Takahashi) and the movie’s financier (Kiyohiko Shibukawa), a video company executive whose “creators first” motto turns out to be less than sincere.

This will all be familiar territory for viewers of Netflix’s porn drama “The Naked Director,” which Uchida co-directed. “Shrieking in the Rain” takes place during the same era, and could be generously interpreted as an attempt to redress the balance, by prioritizing female perspectives and highlighting the barriers that women have had to overcome in the movie industry.

Hanako bonds awkwardly with a female camera assistant (Serena Motola), though gets little chance to demonstrate how she ended up in the director’s chair in the first place. She’s already deep in panic mode at the start of the film, and Matsumoto spends almost every scene with tears in her eyes or gasping for breath, which gets awfully repetitive.

The rest of the cast are able to have more fun, and the way they spark off each other can sometimes recall Koki Mitani’s ensemble comedies, even if Uchida’s dialogue doesn’t have quite the same finesse. Oyama is a standout as the power-dressing diva, willing to bare it all for the sake of her art, while Shibukawa relishes getting to play the story’s pantomime villain.

Uchida’s depiction of the filmmaking process is unusually granular — even the crew’s key grip is given a chance to shine — though his script’s affirmations of the magic of movies, like its hat tips to female empowerment, can feel a little rote. It’s best not to ask too many questions, and enjoy “Shrieking in the Rain” for what it is: saucy, silly fun, topped off with an old-school musical finale. In other words: perfect holiday viewing.

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