Pleasures of the Flesh (Etsuraku) - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Pleasures of the Flesh (Etsuraku) Reviews

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April 20, 2014
A terrifically framed film that hits hard with a message of irrational indulgence that still rings true to this day.
½ February 24, 2014
Sort of a subdued examination of a man who commits murder to protect a woman he loves. But as he receives a large sum of money he's not allowed to spend, he comes up with a different kind of escape.

For a movie about living extravagantly and indulging in the physical pleasures, Pleasures of the Flesh is a remarkably tame movies, especially considering it is from the same director that gave us In the Realm of the Senses.

Not that "tame" is necessarily problematic--there are lots of tame films out there. However, where Pleasure of the Flesh stumbles is in providing narrative without reason. None of these characters are particularly interesting. And, perhaps worse, none of them are sympathetic. Instead we're left with an hour and a half (per Hulu runtime) of the main character bumbling around apartments with sexual bravado (very little of which makes it to the screen).

To help remove narrative interest, he hops around from woman to woman in the weirdest, most unexplained way possible. At first it makes sense--he has an expensive arrangement with a woman. But then without warning or explanation she's no longer in the picture and he's flashing money in front of another woman. And again. Repeat. Even in it's PG-esque innocence the whole thing ends up feeling rather crass.

By the middle of the movie he's become the kind of asshole clown he murdered in the first place. The whole thing ends up feeling like a long sexual assault as he consider's the female's opinion less and less.
Super Reviewer
½ November 20, 2013
Released in 1965, Nagisa Oshima's take on the then popular 'Pink' genre is a stylish thriller that explores the depths of nihilism, materialism, and the price of pleasure. Katsuo Nakamura plays Wakizaka, a teacher who having murdered the rapist of one of his students (whom he loves) finds himself blackmailed into hiding 30,000,000 yen of stolen money. When the student he murdered for decides to get married however, Wakizaka decides to spend all the money on his every sexual impulse and in doing so descends into a spiral of increasing paranoia.

A film noir in its very essence 'Pleasures of the Flesh' is a beautifully shot feature that uses its increasingly nightmarish cinematography to great effect. Moments of surrealistic editing become more and more frequent as the film progresses and increase the sense of claustrophobia and entrapment, making it feel as if viewers themselves are falling alongside the protagonist. As effective as this is the film does however stumble across moments in which it feels plodding, drawing viewers out of immersion and becoming slightly boring. The sequence in which Wakizaka attempts to win Keiko's love is an example of this, and although it houses one of the most beautiful moments in the film, it can't help but feel like it took too long getting there.

Despite supposedly being a 'pink' film the onscreen sex and violence is surprisingly tame, and the lacklustre ending feels as if it doesn't have the courage to live up to the other films of the genre or the increasing sense of immolation that preceded it.

Verdict: An interesting character study that occasionally strays off course and misses the mark with its ending.
July 31, 2013
Conflicts of Morality

Every once in a while, I see movies that beat the Idiot Plot. The Idiot Plot, famously, is the plot that relies on no one's talking to anyone. If two of the characters just had one serious, open conversation--and often, it's any two--the plot would be resolved in minutes instead of dragging on for however long it does. And that's in-story minutes, too. However, occasionally, you get a Seriously Idiot Plot, one where everything could have been resolved by a conversation before the movie actually started. In this case, it's only a Seriously Idiot Plot if you assume that the first couple of minutes are flashback, but I think that's a safe assumption. The simple fact is, if the main character had only had a conversation with the woman he loves to tell her that he loves her, much would have gone differently. Though there is one detail on the subject that I'd like to get back to.

Atsushi Wakizaka (Katsuo Nakamura) worked as a tutor while he was in college. His student was Shoko (Mariko Kaga). He fell in love with her. It turns out that she was molested as a child, and her molester returns ten years later to blackmail her parents on the subject. For . . . reasons, her parents cannot call the police, so instead, they convince Atsushi to kill the man for them. Only a man (Hayami, I think, played by Sh˘ichi Ozawa) witnesses the crime. He decides that Atsushi should then be the person to hold on to millions of yen in government money that he's embezzled, because if Atsushi reveals it, or spends the money, he will go to prison. The man knows he is about to be discovered and will go to prison himself, probably for five years, but if he hides the money, he will have it upon his release. Atsushi agrees. Only when he finds out that Shoko is marrying a rich man, he falls into despair. It is a year until the embezzler gets out of prison, and Atsushi decides to spend the money in debauch for a year and then kill himself.

I'm not sure if we find this out at the beginning; what we eventually learn, however, is that Shoko's husband was rich. (Or anyway believed to be; whether he actually was or not, I leave to the film to explain, because it leaves things in doubt.) This means I strongly suspect that she married him so that she could get the money. This means that Atsushi was out of luck even if he'd talked to her, or anyway he probably was. I have seen several Japanese movies from this era, and it leads me to believe that women did not always get to choose to marry the penniless tutor who loves them; sometimes, they had to marry the owner of the cosmetic company. Heck, they couldn't even afford to elope, it seems to me. Still, Atsushi did have a decent job; he'd tutored her years before, when he was still in college. She might not have had her parents' consent, but I'm not sure they would have been completely destitute--and her parents did owe him.

None of the women in this movie seem to have any control over their own lives. One woman seems to think that her only choice in avoiding what Atsushi wants from her is suicide. One woman goes along with it because she needs to support her own husband and child. One is such a determined prostitute that, despite the enormous amount of money Atsushi is paying her to be with him, she goes out and walks the streets. I mean, I could argue that no one in this movie really seems in control of their own lives, but that doesn't seem entirely to be the point. The point is that the women have even less control than the men. There's also the issue of how Shoko's family "can't go to the police" over her molestation, that there is something about it that leaves them open to blackmail. I mean, did they sell her to her molester? I don't get it. It can't be a statute of limitations issue, because he never went to prison in the first place, and they know who he is. However, I suspect it's blaming the victim, that the girl is disgraced, not betrayed.

The irony, of course, is that no one takes actual pleasure from flesh in this movie. Atsushi almost seems to be using it as a punishment. He has one year (parole apparently not being a possibility in this story), and he is spending it trying to make himself forget love. The way he chooses to do this is by burying himself in women, drowning in them. Only he doesn't really know any women except Shoko. The woman he takes on vacation (I missed most of the names, and neither IMDb nor Wikipedia has a plot summary, but I think it is Keiko, played by Hiroko Shimizu) appeared to me to be just some woman he picked up off the street. I'm pretty sure she let herself be picked up because she needed the money, which seems to be all any of the women in the story care about. Of course, if you don't have any real control over your life, money becomes a lot more important. Far more important than pleasure.
½ December 14, 2012
My God the Japanese know how to frame. This was my first Oshima film, and I'm extremely excited to see more.
Super Reviewer
July 23, 2012
Impressive film about indulgence, hedonism, and love. A simple tale presented in a compelling fashion by Oshima. Exceeded all expectations I had. Great work by Oshima, worth a watch.
Super Reviewer
December 16, 2011
Boy, does this film work hard to set up its premise. Let's see...Atsushi is a teacher is secretly in love with Shoko, a young woman whom he formerly tutored. He finds out she was molested as a child, and murders the offender by pushing him off a train. A government worker who is destined for prison witnesses the crime, seeks out Atsushi and recruits him to temporarily hold 30 million yen which he has embezzled. He realizes Atsushi is obligated to help him, or risk having the murder exposed. Then Shoko marries someone else, and distraught Atsushi decides to nihilistically spend the money within a year and then kill himself before the embezzler returns from jail. He moves to an elegant new apartment, and hires a prostitute at an extravagant monthly salary to be his full-time lover. It's no coincidence that she resembles Shoko.

Most of this occurs within the first 15 minutes! And of course, Atsushi is bound to regret his reckless plan.

"Pleasures of the Flesh" is more accessible than other Nagisa Oshima works of the period -- it's in widescreen color and, despite some abstract electronic bits (similar to Antonioni's "Red Desert," released the same year?), the score is more traditional and even includes vocal songs. There is some dreamy use of double images and a few slow-motion passages, but the filmmaking is otherwise quite mainstream.

What's lacking here are the usual resonances with Japan's contemporary culture. Instead of the timely youth-rebellion content of earlier Oshima movies, "Pleasures of the Flesh" is more of a standard film noir. Not so distinctly personal. And don't be misled by the lurid title: There is little sexual content to enjoy here.
½ November 26, 2011
For a movie called 'Pleasures of the Flesh' this was actually a fairly tame time. Specifically, if you're considering that you'll see some of that 'Wow-wa-wee-wa!' sexuality that Oshima made so notorious with In the Realm of the Senses you may just be outright disappointed. This story comes more by way of a precursor to a 'Leaving Las Vegas' where it's about a guy who goes on a path of self-destruction after being blackmailed into holding on to thirty million dollars by a man who saw our protagonist (Ashima) kill another man on a train. A lot of this plot doesn't really need to be explained - or rather, the movie does a helluva job explaining it to us again and again when not really necessary - and the main thrust is about a kind of guilt and shame filled trek into despair. Cheery, of course.

I don't know if Oshima's direction had quite gotten to the point it had in just the next few films he would make - i.e. Violence at Noon, Sing a Song of Sex, and the best of them Japanese Summer: Double Suicide - where he could make a compelling plot with a wild and idiosyncratic vision with the camera (the man simply shoots wide-shots and close-ups like no one else, somehow with him people are farther away and when close you can see the whites of their eyes). Here, he's got a solid premise, and some fine acting from his lead and a couple of supporting players, but has too much explanation of things going on and not enough, frankly, titilation. We see the character hand off money, lots of it, recklessly (which is good to see) for the women he acquires, the most interesting being a wife who is sleeping with him so he can support his husband and children (when he confronts Ashima it's really quite a tense scene, mostly for how seemingly nice or mean he could be in the same breath).

But at the same time we only see a little of how he really soaks up this 'pleasure' (albeit maybe the the title of the book this is based on, Pleasures in a Coffin, could have been an indicator for the film-noir-ish nihilism on display). A lot of the film is spent with the character lamenting his lost love, a once pupil of his who married someone else (and was part of the cause of this whole thing to begin with), and being a self-destructive ass around those he makes love to; one memorable scene has him on a beach in a situation with a woman where no one comes out well, and yet brings a marriage. You know, the kind of marriage that actually has a 'divorce-by' date included.

The cinematography in color brings out (oddly enough) the melancholy state of things, and the paranoia that builds in the third act is convincing and palpable. If only there was a little more focus, or just a stronger sense of the degradation of the character past the carelessness of the money (maybe more dangerous-type scenes like a gangster threatening one of his women with acid to the face), it could have been something special. As it is, Pleasures of the Flesh is more like a 'nice' (I hate to use that word but it is) indicator of the darker recessed the filmmaker would go into just in a year or so.
August 27, 2011
30 million yen in one year, yeah, ok, sure. But only on women? Where was the booze? Where was making homeless people do degrading things for a couple hundred thousand yen? What about becoming a patron of the arts? That's a way to waste money. At least he ended up with a retarded prostitute. Good for him, go for the gold buddy.
August 5, 2011
E.C. comics style pulp gone art film. If you're a fan of The Twilight Zone, Godard, David Lynch... you must see this. This is the first Oshima flick I've seen, and I can't wait to delve into the rest of the Eclipse box set.
½ May 22, 2011
The most amazingly twisted (and best) version of "Brewster's Millions" ever! There's a lot of strangely passionless sex scenes in this film, but some very striking images and characters mixed into this terrific psycho-thriller. I really like the way Oshima crafts his movies, though this is the first complete drama I've seen of his.
Super Reviewer
December 9, 2010
In "Pleasures of the Flesh," Wakizaka(Katsuo Nakamura) does a favor for the family of Shoko(Mariko Kaga), the woman he tutors and secretly harbors an immense crush for, by killing the man who molested her as a child and now threatens to expose her. Since one bad turn deserves another, Hayami approaches him with keeping 30 million yen that he had embezzled from public funds until he gets out of jail in five years' time in return for not informing on him to the police. Four years later, Shoko gets married and Wakizaka says to hell with it and decides to spend the 30 million yen over the the next year. After which, he will kill himself, insuring Shoko's secret is safe. To start, he will spend the money on women.

"Pleasures of the Flesh" gets off to a great start but calms down, paralleling Wakizaka's interest in living a life of quiet domesticity over sleeping with as many women as possible. Still, the movie is perverse enough to merit interest, along with excellent photography and a particularly ironic ending. As bad as he may appear on the surface, Wakizaka also hallucinates Shoko and Hayami from time to time which proves the existence of a guilty conscience. But Shoko is the only purely good person in this world which explains Wakizaka's obsession with her.

(Originally reviewed in the blog section on April 5, 2009.)
October 25, 2010
A really intriguing (though mildly implausible) premise, kind of like Leaving Las Vegas but with sex instead of booze, with a noirish edge and some O. Henry-esque twists. Just on surface value alone, it's a great story that develops nicely, but then there's the added value of some compelling social commentary on capitalism, violence, obsession and sexuality. Some excellent camera compositions as well. Oshima in general doesn't rock my world, but this is one of my favorites by him.
September 21, 2010
Atsushi is blackmailed by a businessman who embezzled 30 million, and is asked to watch over the suitcase of money while the businessman serves a 5 year sentence in prison. 4 years later, Atsushi realizes his poor life is wasted, and he could live his life to the fullest in riches if he didn't think about the consequences....

Oshima loves sexual repression and sexual obsession. This film is about both, but not in a visceral way like some of his later films, but the internal suspense in Atsushi's mind, as well as his change in character is great stuff, and the ending is absolutely appropriate, if tragic.
September 11, 2010
I was also ripping the seam out of a skirt, and it never got good enough to command my full attention.
August 23, 2010
Oshima's first film made for his independent studio doesn't feel as radical as the earlier films that made such a furor at Shochiku, but this tale of revenge and sexual obsession is right up the director's alley.

When a corrupt official witnesses Akira Hamada committing a murder on a train, he blackmails the man into caring for his 30 million in embezzled funds while he serves a five year prison stint; if the money isn't in tact when he gets out, the jig is up. But Hamada has plans of his own; he's been jilted by the love of his life, and, obsessing over it, begins to pay women huge sums of money to be his sexual slave, and the four that agree over the course of a year (a singer, a wife, a virgin, and a mute prostitute) come to represent the stages of a sexual awakening. When the money begins to run out, Oshima has a few ironic twists in store, and nobody come out unscathed.

There's little to suggest that this should be considered a famous "pink" film, the kind of Japanese soft-core feature with lots of sex and nudity; of course the movie is about sex, domination, and revenge, and it's a lush production (in full, beautiful color), but the sex is never shown, there's no nudity, and the women, ciphers for Hamada's hatred and betrayal by his unrequited lover, become more greed and loneliness than purely sexual beings. Oshima would get more graphic in a few years with "In the Realm of Senses", but this sexual psycho-drama is equally devastating, and playful.
July 20, 2010
Simple in its execution: a man betrayed by the one woman he loved, for whom he'll do anything, does...everything to make up for being betrayed; over and over again, the protagonist looks to find his love in a new woman, only to find himself thwarted. Variations on a theme, with an ironic twist at the end.
½ May 29, 2010
Another near masterpiece by Oshima, this film appears to be a turning point in his career. While Oshima's earlier films such as 'Sun's Burial' tended to deal more with the corruption money and power can create, 'Pleasures of the Flesh' seems to be one of his first films to deal with sexual obsession and sadism. The story is a very original and Oshima's kinetic style and editing do a fantastic job of creating this dream scape of our main characters psyche. The film really does a great job of getting us into his psyche; we do understand his obsession with Shoko and why in the end this man's confusion of lust vs. love vs. obsession is his downfall. Brilliant film making by one of the best.
December 2, 2008
Entertaining enough and wild with its use of shifting between B&W and color footage. Experimental enough and thats just fitting to its exploring characters. Poetry, books and theater help a couple explore their sexual identity as they embark on a journey that never finds an answer. Something to do with a riot in the streets of Japan at the end of the film that I didnt get at all that may shed some more answers but I had no clue.
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