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Film review: Dawn of the Felines – Tokyo sex workers’ melancholic tales in roman porno reboot

Director Kazuya Shiraishi’s slice-of-life drama takes a morally complex look at its various downtrodden characters, but is often unduly interrupted by a soft-core sex scene whenever it hints at a more human story

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 May, 2017, 8:30pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 October, 2017, 5:07pm

3/5 stars

Storied Japanese studio Nikkatsu’s series of rebooted “romans porno” – theatrical Japanese soft-core pornographic films – has seen more hits than misses, with both Akihiko Shiota’s Wet Woman in the Wind and Sion Sono’s Antiporno proving to be wildly diverting revelations. As the last of five such films screening in Hong Kong cinemas under the erotic sub-genre tag, Dawn of the Felines is a suitably melancholy, though no less involving, slice-of-life drama revolving around a trio of prostitutes working for a shabby escort agency in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo.

In her first major film role, voice actress Juri Ihata plays the homeless Masako, who develops an awkward romance with a reclusive client who hasn’t left his own building in 10 years. The stories of her fellow sex workers are no less downbeat: there’s unhappily married Rie (the mono-named Michié), who finds solace in the company of an old man drowning in guilt over his wife’s recent death; and single mother Yui (Satsuki Maue), who casually leaves behind her abused son just so she can date an obnoxious comedian.

Although it’s a homage specifically to roman porno classic Night of the Felines (1972), a sex comedy set in a bathhouse brothel, this new film by writer-director Kazuya Shiraishi is a largely unflattering character portrait which finds no humour in the irresponsible lifestyles of its anti-heroines.

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While Rie’s plight stems from her husband’s infidelity, Masako is a university graduate who nevertheless got into debt – and prostitution – because of her laid-back attitude to work, and Yui is a disgrace of a mother.

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A study of loneliness from which the viewer is somewhat distracted by the roman porno’s requirement of at least one soft-core sex scene every 10 minutes, Dawn of the Felines often hints at a considerably more human story – before more sex interrupts the action. Running at 85 minutes (five over the limit for a roman porno production), Shiraishi’s film succeeds in taking a morally complex look at various downtrodden characters in contemporary nightlife – even if it does, regrettably, short-circuit much of its social commentary.

Dawn of the Felines opens on May 18

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