A Japanese “pink film” (i.e. soft-core porn) that’s also a giddy musical set to the absurdist tunes of French-German pop duo Stereo Total, Underwater Love concerns the difficulties that arise for factory worker Asuka (Sawa Masaki) after she meets a kappa – a mythological human-fish creature that has a beak, a turtle shell on its back, and a bald scalp that requires constant watering – and it turns out to be the reincarnated boy she had a crush on in high school before he drowned at seventeen. This meeting becomes even weirder when the kappa, whose name is Aoki (Yoshiro Umezawa), decides that he wants to be with Asuka, even though she’s engaged to her boss Hajime (Mutsuo Yoshioka), whose over-the-top enthusiasm for the upcoming nuptials (he pastes pictures of himself and Asuka over the models in wedding magazines) is almost as intense as his horniness. Pink film titan Shinji Imaoka’s saga is a bizarre hybrid that oozes oddness while simultaneously treating its heroine’s emotions with sincere compassion. That synthesis is also found in regular Wong Kar-Wai DP Christopher Doyle’s cinematography, which captures its out-there sights – Aoki’s arms-outstretched greeting poses, a giant, magical “anal pearl” that wards off the God of Death – with a stylized naturalness (sudden zooms, tilting pans, environmental lighting) that heightens the proceedings’ fantasticality. From characters bursting into bubbly dance routines set to upbeat songs with randomly ominous lyrics, to an explicit encounter between virgin Aoki and Asuka’s whorish colleague, Underwater Love marries the real and the unreal with charming bizarreness.
2011 Tribeca Film Festival