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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
They Call It Puppy Love
by Donald Levit

At a trim if scratchy sixty-seven minutes with live subtitles because the 35mm print had arrived without them, Top Stripper/Maruhon uwasa no sotorippa, sometimes prefaced by Zûmu appu:/Zoom Up:, or aka Uwasano Stripper, is the third of four features (plus a program of Osamu Tezuka experimental animated shorts) at the Japan Society monthly “The Dark Side of the Sun: John Zorn on Japanese Cinema.” The “unrated but may only be viewed by persons 18 years of age and older” was a first pink movie/pinku-eiga from Yoshimitsu Morita, then one of a number of new directors learning their trade in soft core.

At thirty-four, the writer-director was advancing from earlier 8mm short features and apparently learned enough in this one to follow it only a year later with biting social satire The Family Game. The latter earned the equivalent of Japan’s Academy Award, Kinema Jumpo, for 1983, and it is difficult to believe that the two films came from the same hand.

TS is a satire as well but, at three-quarters-of-an-hour shorter, a more light-hearted and notably less polished work. There is a certain amount of flesh on exhibit and noisy simulated sexual activity but nothing prurient. Indeed, the discarnate male faces of those that crowd the Urayasu Theatre stage and revolving platform, and of those beckoned to climb up and participate, are the camera’s butt of humor and their bright midday lust is silly rather than serious or sensual.

Rightly labeled an “irreverent coming-of-age story,” this could have gone in either of two diametrically opposed directions, depending on the reactions (or lack thereof) of the female objects of desire or love. Dietrich as “They Call Me Wicked Lola” Lola-Lola brings about some serious tragic (some see it as comic) suffering, ditto Bette Davis’ as cruel Mildred Rogers, while Yukiko Ogawa’s non-active courtesan O-Une is too hardened in pleasure to relieve her smitten admirer in silent Crossroads (the previous offering in this Japan Society series).

Morita’s strippers/”exotic dancers,” on the other hand, are regular people, a giggly family among themselves -- and their menfolk, which may cause performance problems. In this they resemble more the under- or un-paid crew in Abel Ferrara’s sorry Go Go Tales take on real-life New York Billy’s Topless.

In a non-descript building in a nothing neighborhood, the girls and their guys live in quarters behind the stage. The acknowledged cynosure among the performers is Gloria (Kaori Okamoto), fancied even by the manager though nothing comes of that or even starts. She pushes a box of tissues through the curtain to her “Big Sister” stage-christened Lady (Nami Misaki) when the latter makes love with her man, “Brother” (Akio Kaneda, as Takamasa), and she looks bored during her act except when eyeing lighting man university student Shoichi (Jun Ueno). One afternoon Yoichi (Kensuke Miyawaki) attends a show, falls for her, and comes back with a bouquet and a billet-doux. He is a department store delivery boy who soon winds up a repeat performer in bed with lonely Yoshiko (Ayako Ohta) after she pointedly asks him to stay and do a couple fix-it jobs.

He cannot consider that girl as steady or regular but goes back again and again to the girlie club to declare love for Gloria. In turn, the stripper is not nasty or mean but just one-hundred percent indifferent, passive. The aspiring lover’s inevitable disillusionment is par for the course in the genre. Perhaps in future he will be wiser. Perhaps not. No one is everlastingly hurt, although Big Sister is not happy about yet another abortion, and egos are bruised, Yoichi’s and, sadder, Yoshiko’s. But one hopes that, contrary to song, the pain of first young love does not endure the whole life long.

(Released by Nikkatsu. Not rated by MPAA.)

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