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First Look Review - SEXUAL DRIVE

sexual drive review
Three stories of seemingly unconnected strangers and their sexual and gastronomical appetites.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Kôta Yoshida

Starring: Manami Hashimoto, Ryô Ikeda, Mukau Nakamura, Honami Satô, Tateto Serizawa, Shogen, Rina Takeda

sexual drive poster

Love begins with a kiss, the urgent conjunction of two mouths and tongues: a commitment which silences the vocal expression of both participants, willingly unsealing the constitution of each to engender an entirely physical dialect of licks, lips and bites. When the mouth is open then so is the body; receptive and expressive, wetly giving and receiving the various flavours of love. A parted mouth is the entrance to the heart of Eros, a dynamic explored within the louche sexuality of Baroque mise-en-scenes, Pop-Art’s fetishisation of lips, the visual shorthands of porn marketing. Of course, the mouth does perform other functions, and the romantic/carnal implications of consumption are well established - the intimacy of eating in front of one another, of sharing food, the overwhelming sensation of flavour and texture which presages sex. It’s a dynamic the triptych of Kôta Yoshida’s Sexual Drive takes as its thematic momentum.

sexual drive review

In these loosely linked hors d'œuvres, three people are confronted by their sexual guilts, histories and desires, with fleshly appetites linked explicitly to hunger. From a western perspective in awe of Japanese food culture, the contiguity is pertinent; consider the effort and love which goes into preparing, say, sushi, along with the careful process of gourmandisation (when I was a callow youth I remember teaching myself to use chopsticks simply because I wanted to impress future dates - it all ties in!).


The tales are connected by Tateto Serizawa’s koboldic presence: a nemesis figure, Serizawa’s character rocks up in the lives of three separate characters ingratiating himself in order to taunt and eventually overwhelm each according to their various peccadillos and repressions. The first, and most interesting, story involves Serizawa’s goblinesque trickster arriving at the apartment of a man whose wife he claims he is having an affair with. In this first chamber piece, the revelations are drawn out, and there is uncomfortably recognisable drama in how the (supposedly impotent) victim really doesn’t want to, but yet actually has to, know what apparently went on between his nurse Mrs and this recovered stroke patient. Lots of poorly recounted oral sex apparently (spoilers - fwiw, there is no sexual imagery in Sexual Drive, just explicit verbal references). It is all linked, rather tenuously in my opinion, to the pulchritudinous wife’s liking for natto, a Japanese cereal fashioned from soybeans. At the climactic end of the sequence, we see her slurp some with all the artificial arousal of a woman under a waterfall eating a Flake bar. Again, if you ask me, it looks a bit silly (and, as a disciple of Nigella Lawson, whose camp conflation of wholesome naughtiness and good food is the stuff of national treasure, a bit redundant).

sexual drive review

But then, perhaps I am not the most appropriate person to canvas. Cheerfully recognising sexual union as the reason why we’re all here - both in our physical genesis and a drive to keep on going - I find it very difficult to get hung up on people having it off (viz. that opening paragraph!). However, within the frame of Japanese cinema, the alien repressions of Sexual Drive may relate to specific social situations. It is a fool’s errand to generalise, but art is both the lamp and the mirror, even when being held from idiosyncratic angles. How else to contextualise the ensuing sequences of Sexual Drive wherein a nervous woman knocks the troll-like mien of Serizawa over in her car and turns out to be a stifled masochist? The bloke in a secret ramen bar (where no one is allowed to speak - talk about buttoned down) who is having poison whispered into his Bluetooth earpiece via the impish conniver. The film ends with a static sequence of commuters in a city, strictly waiting at kerbs for signals to move and dutifully negotiating the prescribed routes of crossings and pavements: what a bunch of squares, eh readers?

sexual drive review

Despite the discordant nature of the repression it depicts, and even though there is sympathy afforded across the board, there is a specifically male gaze and voice dominant in Sexual Drive, not least of all in the gremlin governance of Serizawa, who is judge and jury in matters which can only ever be intimate and imperviously particular to two individuals. Furthermore, the women are all breathlessly beautiful, while the male figures are a right bunch of nerds: there is a distinct flavour of othering in Sexual Drive, its own guilty secret of male geared fantasy. Taken with a pinch of shichimi, Sexual Drive is an intriguing social document, but even at a lightweight 70 mins, you may yet find it a bit much to stomach.

Sexual Drive is on US VOD from April 22nd. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.



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