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American romantic film is more S&M than Japanese film

American romantic film is more S&M than Japanese film

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in a scene from 500 Days with Summer.


Warning contains spoilers!

I WATCHED two films over the weekend that could not have been so different in both content and quality. Ironically the American romantic comedy/drama 500 Days with Summer was a torturous experience to watch because of the real sadomasochistic relationship it portrayed between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel.

In contrast, the Japanese light comedy/drama I watched, entitled I Am an S&M Writer, was much more real and less perverted in essence than 500 Days ever could be.
How could that be, one might ask, especially with the squeaky clean Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel in the lead roles? Well 500 Days seems like a great, quirky movie if you just watch the trailer. But we all know that trailers are often extremely misleading. “This is not a love story,” the trailer intones seriously. But hey guys, guess what? It is. One in which Gordon-Levitt, playing greeting card writer Tom Hansen, falls totally and sickeningly in love with his co-worker Summer Finn (Deschanel). That would be fine if only Deschanel did not spend the whole movie with one stupid expression on her face the whole time, grinning stupidly at first, then sneering at Gordon-Levitt for being so hopelessly smitten with her.
The first feature film of music video director Marc Webb, and written nonsensically by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, 500 Days, as my friend Ana Claudia told me, tries to cast Summer as the mature one and Tom as the immature sop. They are shown dating, eating out, browsing at a record store (Summer loves Ringo Starr), and even playing house in an Ikea showroom. “Oh how sweet,” we’re all supposed to coo. But then Summer starts going cold on Tom, pulling her hand away from his and skipping dinners together. She finally tells him that she just wants to be friends and resigns from her job. Tom is left crushed and heartbroken, utterly dumbfounded at what has happened. Weeks later he runs into her and she casually invites him to a party in her building, which turns out to be her engagement party to another hunky dude! What a bitch! Why she never tells him that she’s found a new guy is never explained, and she never apologizes for her nasty behavior. Her constant justification is that she told him from the beginning that she did not want a serious relationship. Come on! What bullshit, as Tom says in the movie.
A much more honest movie is Ryuichi Hiroki’s 2000 I Am an S&M Writer, which is being shown at the ongoing 11th Brasilia International Film Festival at the Academia de Tênis, along with his more recent Vibrator, and follows a long Japanese tradition of pornographic and sadomasochistic literature. Ren Osugi stars as older male writer Kurosaki, who has a beautiful and much younger wife Shizuko played by Yoko Hoshi. The writer churns out cheap pornographic novels that involve much light S&M which usually involves tying up a naked young woman with rope. To make his scenes as realistic as possible he hires a young woman to be tied up in his office by his assistant Kawada (Jun Murakami) and poked by him too if needed. Of course, as I noted to Ana Claudia, only the women in this movie are tortured, fully naked and act as if they love what’s being done to them. The men are invariably sleazy, fully clothed and in control.
The director Hiroki was flown in from Japan to attend the film festival here in Brasilia, and he was on hand to answer the questions of the 10 people who actually showed up to watch the first screening of the film. He looked like a DOM to me, or Dirty Old Man, who got smutty pleasure from making such films. But I must note that I Am an S&M Writer does not have very explicit scenes, much more is implied than actually shown. And its lighhearted approach to the story gives it a feel of the pornochanchadas, or sexual comedy films, that were very popular in Brazil in the 1970s.
After watching both movies I concluded that Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel’s dysfunctional relationship was far more sadomasochistic than anything depicted in I Am an S&M Writer. How ironic.

A scene from I Am an S&M Writer: