Haruo (Mutsuo Yoshioka) is a young man living in a small fishing village, where he supports his income by catching squid. He divides his time between his supportive girlfriend, Rika (Minami Aoyama), who is still hounded by her jealous ex-boyfriend Iwata (Masataka Matsubara), and his obsessive hunt for a giant squid, which the local media has reported sightings of.
One day, Haruo is visited by his destitute uncle Takashi (Shiro Shimomoto), who asks his nephew if he can stay until he gets his life back on track. Suffering from a recurring nightmare which entails him having sex with a mysterious young woman (Yumeka Sasaki) who turns out to be deceased, Takeshi spends most of his days guzzling down energy drinks to stay awake. The problem is that it leaves him with the side effect of feeling incredibly horny. Haruo suggests that he finds employment and sure enough Takeshi, after lying about his age, secures a place a local pizza delivery firm, where he quickly falls for co-worker Shiho (Rinako Hirasawa). It’s not long before he’s seducing any girl he can get his hands on, but the repercussions may prove irredeemable when it leads him on a literal descent toward hell as his phantom lady beckons him ever closer to her reach.
In recent years Shinji Imaoka’s name has generated a few waves in the west, notably on account of his much-celebrated festival favorite Underwater Love; a joint Japan/Germany pink musical production, it became a large talking point because of its unique collaborative aspects, not least of which involved cinematographer Christopher Doyle and musicians Stereo Total. However, a veteran of the Pink Eiga scene for more than twenty years, Imaoka is no real stranger to our shores. Two of his more renowned directorial pieces saw the light of day on DVD, care of Redemption Films: Lunch Box (2004) and Frog Song (2005), both having the distinction of winning the director the coveted number one spot in the Pink Grand Prix’s Top Ten Films of the Year category for two years running.
Released in 2006, Uncle’s Paradise (a.k.a. ‘Mighty Extreme Woman’ in Japan) placed eighth in the list, a year that was dominated by directors Tetsuya Takehora and “Mr. Pink” himself Yutaka Ikejima. It’s not entirely surprising to see Uncle’s Paradise failing to hit the heights of Imaoka’s previous works though. The director - who often prefers to shoot just one film a year - delivering by comparison a somewhat awkwardly structured narrative.
Not dissimilarly to Imaoka’s previous works, Uncle’s Paradise sets itself up in a grounded sense of reality, with Fumio Moriya’s screenplay pitching its characters as mentally scarred or hopeless individuals who seek to gain more from their inconvenient existences. For this the feature works well enough as a voice on middle-aged woes, compulsion and passiveness: examples which are evidenced through not only Haruo’s need to catch a gargantuan squid but so too his nonchalant behavior toward his uncle having sex with his girlfriend and - perhaps to a greater extent - the women themselves who take Takeshi’s advances neatly in their stride while he scrawls his name across their naked bodies. It’s all humourously played of course, with some randomly surreal insertions that don’t always work, but it’s geared toward delivering that timeless want of hope and retribution befitting of Imaoka’s style.
This all builds, rather unexpectedly, toward a third act which is so incongruously staged that it’s like watching an entirely different film altogether. Imaoka’s off-kilter mixture of family drama and the macabre is highly reminiscent of Nobuo Nakagawa’s Jigoku, though neither nearly as dense nor visually arresting. Not that Imaoka ever strictly confirms to normalcy, the ambiguously played psychological aspects of dream versus reality taking a turn toward a more matter-of-fact conclusion, nonetheless displaces the overall tone of the piece as it subverts genres. That’s not to say that it doesn’t pack a punch. Indeed Imaoka shows some flair for his surreal depiction of hell, which takes place in a normal looking (and that’s saying something!) love hotel, while its proprietor - Yama, the King of Hell (Takeshi Ito) - conducts seedy business over games of Jankenpyon.
Still, while Uncle’s Paradise is bound to cause some head scratching, there is plenty of fun to be had and Imaoka does manage to end it all quite fittingly (along with a visual reference to The Graduate?), however absurd the heights it reaches. Bouts of spontaneity, including an obligatory musical number, are aided by some charming performances, particularly from veteran Shiro Shimamoto as the nutty narcoleptic, fully deserving of his Best Actor win at the Pink Grand Prix, with co-star Yoshioka placing second. Former AV idols Minami Aoyama (also winning Best Actress) and Rinaka Hirasawa (re-teaming with Imaoka after Frog Song) provide effective support, including their partaking in some unassuming sex scenes, which goes without saying at this point.
Courtesy of our friends at Pink Eiga, Uncle’s Paradise is available to stream or download here