"Toshiaki Toyoda is one of Japan's most promising directors as of now, and I really can't wait to see what else he can come with."

- Jesse

Pornostar (1998)

Director: Toshiaki Toyoda

Writer: Toshiaki Toyoda

Producer: Miyoshi Kikuchi, Masakazu Takei 

Cast: Koji Chihara, Onimaru, Ri Ozawa, Akaji Maro

Running Time: 98 min.

Plot: See review below.


JESSE'S REVIEW: A young, brooding, and handsome Japanese male as the lead. Check. A stylish slow-motion intro with cool music in the background. Check. A supporting cast of eccentric characters. Check. This is when you know that you're watching a film by Toshiaki Toyoda, when at least all three of those details are present. Pornostar is a thought-provoking and not always easy to read metaphorical film, layered with symbolism and various complexities throughout. 

At the beginning of the film, we see that YBR (young, brooding, and handsome) character getting off the subway and walking straight forward with a cold look on his face, mowing down anybody that gets in his way. Arano (Koji Chihara) is a man in his late teens/early twenties with one goal at hand: to wipe out all Yakuza that he meets, whatever their age may be or how good of a person they are, even for a criminal. Arano never fully explains why he is on his mission to eliminate the Yakuza that he meets; the only explanation that he gives is that they "are useless", or no longer needed. Arano eventually meets up with big time gangster Kamijo (Onimaru) after murdering one of his yakuza pals, and they form an uneasy alliance. Though never made explicitly clear as to why, Kamijo decides to spare Arano's life after his boss sends him to kill him, and he brings him along as Kamijo and the rest of his Yakuza brothers meet up with drug dealers and have a night out on the town. Arano splits from Kamijo and his gang, and meets up with a girl he met at the very beginning of the film while facing off with Kamijo. She and Arano chill with a bunch of youthful skater punks and later make plans to one day escape to Fiji and leave that life behind. Of course that whole "relationship" feels pretty rushed since they don't really spend much time with each other, but that's a small flaw that one can easily look past. Well Arano soon goes after a high roller that Kamijo was ordered to kill, and things get a bit more complicated from there.

Although Pornostar is a deep film that doesn't always give you straight answers, it does have a great style that really helps when things get a bit too slow for their own good. As in Toyoda's two later films, Blue Spring and 9 Souls, his usage of catchy rock music combined with his master camera work will make any film lover drop their jaw in awe. Toyoda also knows how to build up a nice deal of tension in a scene, which is a quite effective tool used throughout this film. Take for instance a scene early on in the film, as Arano follows two yakuzas to their place of business as he carries a bag which they believe has something that they are looking for. As Arano and the two men climb up the hilly road, the camera begins to move in slow-motion as it trails the left side of his jacket while he reaches down in his pocket for a weapon and we hear the clinging of his knife. The camera circles around as we slowly watch Arano (from the backside) and the two yakuzas walk to the building, and the audience gets a strong feeling that something is about to go down that won't necessarily be very pretty. Cut to the door of the room in which the other Yakuza are in, as the man Arano was previously talking to walks in clutching his chest, with blood all over, and proceeds to fall down face-first onto the floor. Right when he falls, the Boss/head Yakuza and the three men kneeling down turn their heads and look as they see blood gracefully ooze towards them in a fit of complete silence. Cut to the room's entrance as we see the side profile of Arano as he moves to block the doorway, and then turn and menacefully walk towards the body laying on the floor and the other men as he looks down at the man he murdered only a few minutes ago. The silence is broken in a humorous end and those suspenseful moments conclude as the men suddenly react by scurrying around loudly and grabbing their weapons. And scenes like those completely make the movie worth watching. 

We do not learn a whole lot about the characters in the film though, and that is where my expectations weren't met 100%. Arano is a detached figure that expresses few emotions and it is hard to make any sense out of why he does what he does from a realistic standpoint. His character is interesting to try to figure out though, and the moments when he challenges the yakuzas is anything but dull. We do get a bit of a background on Kamijo and he is probably the most sympathetic character in the film, even though he is far from being perfect. The supporting characters are fairly one dimensional, but they are wacky and lively enough for one not to care too much about that. As in his other two feature films, Toyoda provides many poignant and even one or two heartbreaking moments to combat the cruel violence and harsh brutality of what all is going on in the film. One of the best scenes in the film is when Arano's "girl" reiterates her dream to travel to Fiji and escape from everything, even though it is almost certain that wish will not come true. The final stand-off between Arano and the gang of Yakuza that he formerly associated himself with is quick but also a very exciting moment that you won't soon forget. The ending of the film certainly isn't clear-cut and will have you wondering what the film's message is exactly, but that doesn't stop Pornostar from being a very impressive and entertaining piece of filmmaking.

Pornostar is a film that some might not enjoy a whole lot due to its slow pace and lack of a concrete plot, but it is filled with enough emotion and visual style that it certainly will please those that come into the film without any expectations and are open-minded. Toshiaki Toyoda is one of Japan's most promising directors as of now, and I really can't wait to see what else he can come with.