Original title: OL kanno nikki: Ah! Watashi no naka de
Director: Masaru Konuma
Starring: Asami Ogawa, Michio Hino, Tatsuya Hamaguchi
Director Masaru Konuma is widely regarded as one of the foremost exponents of Japanese softcore flicks, or as they're called in Japan, Pinku Eiga. While best known for films such as 1974's Flower & Snake and Wife to be Sacrificed - my first introduction to his work was his 1994 Girls-with-Guns genre flick, XX: Beautiful Hunter (reviewed here).
I figured it was time to check out some of his earlier work. At just over an hour in length, and considering the title, I assumed this would be an easy watch.
Just a quick backgrounder if you're new to Pinku Eiga - the rough approximation with Western 'softcore' is more than a little unfair, as it brings to mind C-grade acting, scripts resembling a daytime soap, and poor technical quality. This is certainly not the case here, nor with most Pinku Eiga.
This film, from acclaimed studio Nikkatsu, is part of their Roman Porno line - and generally speaking this represents a significantly higher quality than the word softcore might suggest. While it's true that Roman Pornos required a sex scene every 10 mins and contain their fair share of nudity and erotic situations, aside from that directors were free to do what they wanted. The films were generally shot on quality widescreen film with highly skilled crews, and represent a veritable golden period for the softcore genre. Which explains its growing popularity today.
What's interesting about Erotic Diary of an Office Lady is that, as the name suggests, it is told from a woman's perspective. We are given insights into how women were perceived in Japanese society in the 1970s (and to some extent still are) - including the glass ceiling syndrome (women could not expect to advance above a certain level in their careers), and were most highly valued as office decoration and sex objects.
So we meet Asami (Asami Ogawa) and Komako (Aoi Nakajima) - both typical Japanese Office Ladies (OL for short) who work together in Tokyo, and are both in their own misguided way looking for love. And this is where Konuma slyly gets his message across, the age old dichotomy of relations between the sexes - with men looking for sexual gratification and women equating sex with love.
To begin with, what we see is sex, sex, sex. The women are attractive, sexually voracious and available ... the male perspective/fantasy.
Asami is banging the boss after work, who treats her as little more than an on-demand sperm bank. Her friend Komako meanwhile has gained a reputation of being willing to screw anyone, and we find her servicing male co-workers in the toilet stall, the stationery closet, the elevator ... you name it. Her availability has earned her the nickname 'public convenience'.
But as the movie continues, we get to know more about these two women and the female perspective is revealed. Asami needs her boss to tell her he loves her before fully unleashing her passion. And, sadly, believes him when he does. While acceding to his requirements as the perfect fucktoy, she has not realised that his words are merely lip-service.
Komako meanwhile is fast approaching 30, and is desperately hoping to find a suitable partner to settle down with - one who will treat her with respect. She has taken to drinking on the job, and screwing anyone who shows interest in the hope of finding Mr Right.
So while at first we thought these women were your typical sexual fantasies (and in a film named Erotic Diary of an Office Lady who can be blamed!) - Konuma masterfully exposes the viewer to the flipside of the coin.
While the sex scenes start off kinky and erotic, they increasingly turn to loveless, and violent affairs, defining an arc from the women's hopes and dreams to a far less romantic reality.
Aethetically speaking, while there are a few stand-out scenes that show what Konuma would be capable of given more time and budget - most of the movie is shot in a utilitarian, realistic mode. Therefore, I wouldn't say that it stands as one of the higher quality Nikkatsu productions in terms of visuals, but the style serves the story well.
What really blew me away though was the final scene - a dialogue-free montage set to some incredible Japanese prog-rock. Neither IMDB nor any other reviews I could find mention the name of this song - a hard-driving rock anthem featuring some fantastic blues/rock guitar, Joplin-esque vocals, and Deep Purple style keyboards. I can now tell you, for anyone that's interested, the song is Watashi wa Kaze (I am the Wind) by Carmen Maki and Oz - an 11-minute opus now on high-rotation on my playlist.
While this film is no masterpiece, it delivered a lot more than I was expecting. Along with the frequent sex scenes, it is also an intelligent and poignant drama.