ANIME & MANGA - Review
14:58 - 24th November 2015, by NEO Staff

Makeup Room

There’s probably no more (literally) fetishized aspect of Japanese culture than its diverse, internationally infamous porn industry. Sometimes unfairly held up as proof that Japan exists outside the standards of the rest of the world, its quirks and extremes are seen to embody difference, rather than similarity, with a western understanding of sexuality. Makeup Room, directed by former porn director Kei Morikawa, strips away those preconceptions, creating a cinematic experience that is insightful, relatable and unexpectedly charming.

The film is seen through the eyes of put-upon makeup artist Tsuzuki (Aki Morita) who finds herself single-handedly having to look after the demanding cast of a low-budget porn shoot. She is the anchor point around which each of the girls revolves, whether it’s the enthusiastic veteran Masako (Riri Kuribayoshi), the uninhibited Sugar Sato (Mariko Sumiyoshi), nervous newcomer Toshiko (Nanami Kawakami) or arrogant rising star Masami Ayase (Beni Ito). Juggling frazzled directors, incompetent actors and diva-like behaviour, all Tsuzuki wants to do is get on with her job. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done.

Stripping away the dehumanising sheen of the final product, Makeup Room instead reveals differing and recognisable characters who would otherwise be treated as mere objects. While we are only offered a fragmentary glimpse into the lives of these women, it is still enough to light-heartedly challenge preconceptions of the lives they lead on and off camera.

At times it feels almost voyeuristic to hear them confess their hopes, to relinquish their secrets, as personal barriers come down. It’s a feeling carefully established during the opening CCTV-style shots of the dressing room. Paired with the naturalism of the script and performances, it makes it easy to forget you’re watching a movie and not a documentary (especially given the actresses are actual veterans of the industry). However, once the camera drops down and begins to move amongst the growing bustle of the room, the film really comes into its own, taking on a more comedic tone that rarely falters until the credits roll.

The narrative is sparse, but Makeup Room instead focuses on the smaller moments that quietly fill the day. Whether it’s the terror and eventual jubilation of one girl’s film debut, or the annoyance at realising someone’s stolen your lunch, these stories are drawn out slowly, amidst moments of laugh-out-loud humour and even the odd brush of pathos. The comic timing of the main girls is particularly brilliant; Ito shines as the bitchy, guarded Ayase, and Kuribayoshi is irrepressible as the kinky, happy-go-lucky Masako.

Makeup Room is by no means perfect. The script tends to descend into pure cliché whenever it hits any particularly emotional moment, not helped by an inconsistently applied and slightly dodgy piano soundtrack. Most characters don’t get enough screen time to develop beyond caricatures, despite capable performances all around, and there’s an inescapable, rose-tinted tinge to the presentation of the porn industry as a non-threatening, non-exploitative environment. However, in terms of its ambition and overall charm, Makeup Room is still an entertaining and thought-provoking watch.

An enjoyable comedy with hints of a darker underbelly, you don’t need to be familiar with the subject matter to enjoy this quirky and surprisingly funny take on life in the strange and fetishized world of the Japanese porn industry. Probably not one for family film night, though.
SCORE: 3.5/5
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