Yoshida Kota, known from his highly successful erotic comedy-drama film Yuriko’s Aroma (2010), his adaptions of Onna no Ana and Torture Club in 2014 , and his somewhat explicit Even Though I Don’t Like It (2016), is back with another erotically charged narrative: Sexual Drive.
Natto. One day, designer Enatsu (Ikeda Ryo), who has grown suspicious of his wife Masumi (Hashimoto Manami), calls Kurita (Serizawa Tateto). Kurita decides to visit him, bringing him a box of chestnuts, and immediately confesses that he has an affair with his wife.
In Mapo Tofu,Akane (Sato Honami), on her way to buy some mapo tofu sauce, accidently hits Kurita with her car. He does not want any police or hospital involved. The only thing he desires is that she drives him home. In the car, he confesses that he is a sexual masochist.
Ramen. One night, Ikeyama(Shogen), who as a married man has been having an affair with Momoka (Takeda Rina), learns that Momoka has been ‘kidnapped’. He is contacted by Kurita and ordered to do exactly what he says or his affair with her will be exposed.
Kota’s Sexual Drive does not only explore the erotic dimension of the oral drive as such, but also reveals how food, by being associated with the object of desire, can attain an erotic quality and an aphrodisiacal power. In Natto, for instance, the resemblance between natto and the girl’s parts in ecstasy is powerfully explored. In Mapo Tofu, it is not food as such, but the act of cooking that has an erotic quality – the second narrative shows, via the symbolic element of spicy Mapo Tofu, that a woman is most attractive when she has embraced her sexual desire. Ramen explores the erotic or even aphrodisiacal side of the act of eating – the oral drive – as such.
In Natto, it does not take long for the spectator to doubt that Kurita came to apologize to Enatsu for his affair with his wife. The enjoyment that underpins his confessional speech of how he and his wife got involved – as made evident by his subtle smiling and his passionate manner of speaking, is aimed at tormenting him and enjoying the torment he causes. While Enatsu is willing to believe most of Kurita’s spicy story, he refuses to believe the most shocking revelation, the revelation of his wife’s active sexual desire. The reason why he refuses to believe the existence of an active sexual desire in his wife is because it confronts him with the riddle of his own marriage; If his marriage to Masumi is devoid of any kind of sexual desire, what exactly keeps them together? Kurita, furthermore, confronts Enatsu with the lack of own sexual desire for Masumi: What is Masumi for him if she is not his object-goal of desire (Narra-note 1 (spoiler))?
Mapu Tofu is another piece that is driven by confrontation and confession. He does not only confess that his sexual desire is masochistically structured, but also confronts Akane, by exploring how he was bullied by her, with the sadistic element of her own sexual desire. This narrative plays with the idea that anxiety problems can be function of a certain refused sexual desire. In more Freudian terms, one could state that Kota hypothesizes that the libidinal energy attached to sadistic side of sexual desire is transformed in anxiety because the expression of this desire in sadistic (sexual) acts is radically refused.
Ramen is also structured around the element of confrontation. In this narrative, Kurita confronts Ikeyama with the fact that he, in his affair with Momoka, merely used her for sexual satisfaction, that he, so focused on attaining sexual satisfaction, failed to meet her as subject and see her subjective position of loneliness. In other words, what he fails to see is that, for Momoka, sexually engaging with him is nothing but an attempt to quell the loneliness that marks her as subject. In a very subtle way, Kota underlines that in the act of copulation the male and female subject never meet each other at the same level, that there is, in other words, no harmony in the sexual act.
While the three narratives appear unrelated at first glance, the presence of Kurita, the person that instigates the subjective changes in all three the narratives, makes evident that all three narratives are interrelated. One can understand Kurita as the person that repairs what is broken at the level of sexual desire and romance (Narra-note 2). In this sense, the function of Kurita resembles the role that the mysterious visitor played in Miike’s brilliant Visitor Q (2001).
The composition of Sexual Drive, which offers a balanced mix between fixity and dynamism (tracking and spatial movement), stands out due to its visually pleasing shot-composition. The beauty of the shot-composition, a beauty most evident in the static moments of the narrative, is not only function of a subtle play with geometry, but also of the impact that the effective lighting design has on the composition of the shot as such (Cine-note 1).
But what makes the composition truly pleasing is Kota’s exquisite play with signifier-like quality of the image. By relying on the linguistic device of association and utilizing certain cinematographical elements (e.g. close-ups) to emphasize said association, Kota succeeds in imbuing certain images (e.g. Masumi eating natto, a broken cigarette, playing with the gear shift, … etc.) with a powerful erotic meaning, hereby crafting some truly powerful erotic imaginary. It would, in fact, not be incorrect to state that most of the spectator’s joy is function of the exquisite way in which Kota, by merely playing with linguistic association, tuns his visual narrative into such an erotically enticing experience.
Sexual Drive is an amazing and unconventional narrative that not only explores the eroticism of the oral drive in an enticing and visually pleasing way, but also succeeds to touch, in a lighthearted way, upon the complexity of sexual desire as such. Kota, in fact, reveals three aspects of sexual desire: its dependence on the image the subject has of the sexed other– Madonna or whore, the need for the subject to accept the polymorph perverse reality of his own sexual desire, and the fact that the male and female subject never meet each other as subject in the act of copulation.
Narra-note 1: Enatsu’s change in desire has everything to do with the debasement of his wife to a mere whore. What Natto touches upon is the very fact that impotence, impotence as function of desire, is often linked to how one meets the female other as image, be it as Madonna or as whore.
Narra-note 2: As Ramen implies, the things Kurita tells are not necessarily true. His narratives are, in essence, focused on transforming the other, be it the impotent Enatsu, the anxiety ridden Akane, or the sexually opportune Ikeyama.
Cine-note 1: Due to a more natural lightning design and less opportunity to exploit geometry, Mapo Tofu has less visually pleasing shot-compositions than Natto and Ramen.