The Excitement of the Do Re Mi Fa Girl

doremidvdBreaking into the movies, getting to actually do that for a living means, for many artists, doing whatever work you can get. In America, that generally entails that you make your own small films and hope somebody notices. That’s where the little horror movies that used to go on the shelves, back when video stores had shelves, came from. Back when there were video stores. But there is a weird, stultified air about so much of this cheap movie-making in the U.S. It should be a chance for directors and writers to show their stuff, to take chances because hardly anyone’s watching. The opposite is the case – every single one of them seems to have the same grindy, nasty and boring plot with rote villains and cheap twists. On a different but equally depressing level, the godawful monster movies that populate Syfy’s weekend roster should be full of strange and interesting things. Instead they are retreads, with Jaws as the inevitable, constant template. The stakes are so low, why can’t something riskier be done? It won’t break the network.

In Japan, the system seems to be more open.* As long as the movie fits some parameters, the director is free to do whatever the hell he wants. Takashi Miike’s mad genius was unleashed in dozens of DTV movies. And The Excitement of the Do Re Mi Fa Girl, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s second feature, was for the small Roman Porno market**. Instead of looking like a Skinemax feature (or, more likely nowadays, a censored HC movie with the cameras staying north of the naughty parts), it’s more like a lost, minor Godard film, but funny.

Tell me those bodies aren't artfully positioned.

Tell me those bodies aren’t artfully positioned.

*This is, of course, a view from the outside that may not be as connected to reality as one could hope. But there haven’t been any breakout low-budget American filmmakers from the DTV era, and there have in Japan.

** Roman Porno has no togas and no shots of baby-making parts interacting. The Roman is short for Romance (Romans are also called pinku films) and indicates the soft-core nature of the film. It’s not a subject I have a lot of knowledge of, and if this Wikipedia entry can be trusted, this isn’t really a pinku movie (but rather edited down from one), AND the freedom I mention above that Kurosawa took was not ignored, but caused the studio to shelve his next film. That’s if you trust Wikipedia.

From the first shot (a long tracking shot of a young lady walking through a university in Tokyo that looks more like an abandoned army installation, with thick trees crowding the buildings), it looks like a Kiyoshi Kurosawa movie. It could have been a scene from Cure or Charisma. Contrasty, low-color saturated images, things moving in the foreground, cutting our connection again and again with our obvious protagonist. This is a cheapy soft-core movie, but the director uses it as a playground to find his own cinematic language, and he’s remarkably self-assured from the first shot.

doremi_2The young lady is looking for Yoshioka, a boy who pledged himself to her before going to university. She escapes the country, to find him and make good their pledge.

But he isn’t anywhere to be found. He’s supposed to be studying psychology but doesn’t come to the lectures. The girl makes a fast friend with a free spirit who invites her into her dorm, where she promptly strips down and hops into bed, while her roommate out in the next room vigorously stimulates herself with the phone.

The film’s sexual content, while at times random and sometimes clearly thrown in obligatorily, becomes intertwined with the story’s themes. The main one is the psychology professor’s studies in shame, which he considers a sort of self-replicating societal sham. I suppose there is a contrast between his theses and the experiences of the country girl, who finds college (and the fact that she happens to, again and again, walk in on people screwing) an overwhelming cultural experience.

The film might be making a philosophical argument, but to tell the truth I didn’t follow it too closely, or take it too seriously. I think it is all just part of a game Kurosawa is playing, to create scenes he wants to see. There is a musical circle that appears again and again, holding up signs in English and Japanese, while one of the circle bangs a drum. An old classmate of the girl’s is there. He tries to pick her up and get her to listen to Brahms, which leaves her unimpressed. Those scenes are shot on grainy video, while the rest of the film looks like it’s grainy 16mm. Midway through, when the girl finds Yoshioka at last, a music video breaks out for about five minutes.

Eventually, the psychology professor’s students perform experiments he won’t – which ultimately involve stripping down. In the end (spoiler!) the psychologist breaks down the girl’s defenses, and gets her nude on a table in his laboratory. When he opens her knees, a light shines out from her like her privates were Marsellus’s briefcase in Pulp Fiction.doremi_3

It is a typical soft-core-style story, ultimately. The girl is corrupted by the big city, but not until she is intellectually corrupted, tempted by the big-city ideas and discourses (she eventually makes her own little video thesis) that she lets the professor, ahem, experiment on her. The central story tension of the film is still “When will we get to see the lead naked?” Kurosawa does not throw out the nudie formula. He justs candies it up with the sort of stuff he likes.

It is hard to say if it adds up to anything but an amusing distraction. There are philosophical disquisitions and explorations of the role of women and sex and shame, a long strange scene where the professor tries to tell his students that asking “Why?” is inappropriate, that they should think for themselves but at the same time never think by themselves. I didn’t follow it, or try to, so if it connected, I wouldn’t know, and don’t much care. Films are best for carrying stories, and the stories themselves need to embody the philosophies, not the long discussions about important things. But then there is an extended scene where Yoshioka¬†and two other musicians sit on the ground, and he keeps screwing up a melody, and it all ends with them each trying to more effectively kick each other while sitting. It’s goofy, looks like an afterthought, and best carries the fun, using limited resources for maximum returns on the entire film.

The Excitement of the Do Re Mi Fa Girl ends with the psychology students wandering around in a mist, where they are shot to death by the musical circle. Our heroine sings some song to Brahms’s “Lullaby.” I guess it connects, I guess it’s just weird to be weird. It never stops being fascinating.

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About Kent Conrad

To contact Kent Conrad, email kentc@explodedgoat.com