Unearthed Films: Tokyo Decadence (1992) - Reviewed

RyĆ« Murakami's Tokyo Decadence (1992) is a film that explores the sex worker lifestyle through the eyes of a young woman named Ai (Miho Nikaido). Ai doesn't seem to enjoy her profession and her demeanor is shaky and withdrawn. She works for an escort agency that caters to rich men with strange fetishes and the gamut runs from classy business men to shady yakuza. 

The first half of the narrative is comprised of short vignettes that each focus on a different client and their whims. The tone ranges from scary, to humorous, to downright sad, and it becomes apparent that some men use this service not just for sexual gratification but for intimacy or companionship. Ai herself is using sex work as a way to disassociate from her unrequited love for a married gallery artist, which accounts for her seeming reluctance to fully engage in the sex acts she performs. 

Ai is also the Japanese word for "love" and metaphorically it can be seen an exploration of how love can be lost in the shuffle of daily life, or buried deep down inside left to wither away if it has nowhere to go. Ai mourns the loss of the innocence of her younger carefree days, and she offers her body up as a sacrifice to men she will never become close with. Later in the film Ai works with a confident dominatrix (with a drug addiction) who she comes to admire, and through that admiration she discovers the confidence she needs to take control of both her emotional state and ultimately her life.

Tokyo Decadence is beautifully filmed, and has a home video voyeuristic feel to it. Murakami doesn’t seem to be making any sort of moralistic judgment of the sex or the sex workers themselves, it’s just showing them working and internalizing everything. The sex acts depicted might be too much for viewers who don't watch a lot of erotic films as there are quite a few extreme kinks on display: erotic asphyxiation, sodomy, sadomasochism, submission, bondage, and water sports. The goal here is titillation but as the narrative progresses it tapers off into a character study. The pacing is quite languid, especially in the first two acts, and the aimlessness of the story might be off-putting to those just looking for a porn to watch. Tokyo Decadence is more in the arthouse realm than pure pornography.

Unearthed Films Edition Extras:

  • Featurette
  • English Language Dub
  • Stills Gallery
  • Trailers

--Michelle Kisner