Written by Grace Wong, CNN
It is hard to escape the news of sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby. But one thought-provoking short film tackling the issue that didn’t make it to Netflix is currently earning a rave reception on Japanese streaming platform Spacefaring.
The dark and absurd “The Sex Lives of College Girls” tackles the lives of naive American women hitchhiking through Japan. At its most suggestive, it draws from the voyeuristic aspects of the central character, Berta, in the 1990 thriller “Bad Girls” starring Naomi Watts.
In the movie, the character drops out of high school and reads “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov. Berta’s naivety shines through in her naive sexual desires, and she quickly becomes a tragic victim of her peers’ promiscuity.
No longer the reserved student, Berta is courted by older men with curves and expensive cars. According to director Masashiro Hoshino, Berta simply wants to reach a place in life where she feels safe, and to begin to shed her innocent wrapper.
A scene from “The Sex Lives of College Girls.” Credit: Takizawa A/Spacefaring
“She has an inner sense of emancipation because she wants to live her life in the way that she is today. She loves freedom, sexual freedom,” Hoshino says.
Hoshino, who is from Japan, says the rough parts of the project went through many rewrites. An early draft would have seen a girl kidnapped from the car. However, Hoshino and his team decided not to go in that direction.
“I felt that this is a much more horrible story, because it was a girl. But then there was another reason we decided to go further down the road, which was the money for filming something like that would run out quickly,” he says.
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Instead, Hoshino inserted a backstory for the character. She is something of a liar in the script, but Hoshino reveals that her initial cowardice was set in motion in a more personal way.
“I wanted her to have a huge secret that I wanted to play with as a concept,” he explains. “Berta was ashamed of something she was doing at school … and at the same time she also wants to erase it from her life.”
The film moves from darkness to joy with incredibly extreme irony as the situations spiral. At the very beginning, Berta is eyeing up the bowl of cookies thrown in front of her. “Now they’re full,” she declares.
The film keeps viewers interested with visual homages to classic Japanese erotic cinema. The entire production was shot in Tokyo, and the limited physical space provided by the cultural hub encouraged the team to push the visual boundaries.
“Kono is quite an empty place … So to fill it up with a visual style that’s different from the world in which we live, which is quite serious, was a challenge for me,” says Hoshino.
According to Hoshino, some of the locations were used for other locations while others were utilized because they made the cut.
Hoshino says the film not only affected him as a director, but as a Japanese man. It is difficult to get movies made in Japan, but “Sex Lives of College Girls” became his own “most detailed drama.”
“There’s no chance that a regular movie can come out like this, so I did everything I could to make the movie look good,” he says.