I’m not the best person to review Momoe’s Lips, as it’s the first of Nikkatsu’s Roman Pornos - a series of erotic movies produced by the once-prolific Japanese studio - that I’ve seen. Not only did it take me some research, after the movie, to get a better sense of the context in which it was made, but its “entertainment value” is alien to me. The movie’s full title is Rape Shot: Momoe’s Lips, and it’s as salacious as the title would suggest. It’s surprisingly well-made, but for a dubious purpose, with Nikkatsu making up for what Japanese films were forbidden to show in terms of graphic nudity with a buffet of perverse, degrading behavior. I’m not judging anyone who’s into this sort of thing, but I couldn’t wrap my head around it.
The movie’s title, according to the liner notes by Jasper Sharp, refers to Momoe Yamaguchi, a pop star and actress; while there aren’t any characters named Momoe in the movie, she clearly inspired the movie’s main character, a new star (Minako Mizushima) who is kidnapped and held for ransom. There’s an opportunity here for an entertaining, pulpy thriller about the dark side of fame, but Momoe’s Lips is only superficially interested in this. The focus here is all about the many ways the young star is degraded and humiliated for our entertainment. In the first fifteen minutes, she’s assaulted and forced to urinate by a journalist hoping to prove that she’s on drugs, and that guy proves to be the hero of the film! The entire movie is filled with images of its female star bound, begging for help and repeatedly assaulted by her captors - there’s a place for such provocative imagery in cinema, but I prefer to see it treated with some intelligence or even a hint of self-awareness.
For what it’s worth, the movie is well made on a technical level. The widescreen cinematography is gorgeous, and director Katsuhiko Fujii does a good job of staging the occasional scenes that allow for sensual effect. Mostly, though, my interest in Momoe’s Lips was sociological - it’s a fascinating glimpse into another culture that has some notions of entertainment that are familiar from our own (beautiful young women in danger, the pitfalls of celebrity), but viewed through the prism of a culture with its own unique history of sexual repression that emerges in disturbing, unexpected ways in its cinema.
The movie’s 2.35:1 scope photography looks great on Impulse Pictures’ DVD. Aside from occasional print damage, the transfer’s colors, contrast and detail are all strong. The mono soundtrack is clear throughout, especially during the movie’s musical interludes, and English subtitles are provided.
Apart from the liner notes by Jasper Sharp, only a theatrical trailer is included.
Keeping in mind that I’m out of my element on this one, Momoe’s Lips seemed like the kind of cultural artifact that is more interesting than entertaining. For Nikkatsu fans and collectors, though, Impulse’s DVD is a solid presentation of the film.