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November 17, 2015 – 5:23 am

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What goes on in the making of a porn movie? Kei Morikawa’s Makeup Room (2015) is a good-natured inside look at an industry whose participants are treated more like outcastes, especially by their own family members. Stephen Tan reviews.

The Makeup Room (2015) is a fictional film about the shooting of a porn movie in Japan. It comes from a filmmaker who certainly loves the industry despite its flaws. And director Kei Morikawa is no stranger to Japanese porn movies as he has made many of them. Given the subject matter, least anyone expects, there are no sex scenes though there are some scenes involving topless and nude women. It is not that kind of movie!

Shot within the confines of a one-room set, Kei Morikawa’s Makeup Room feels more like a stage play turned into a movie as the dialogue plays a crucial role. And instead of making the film director the lead, the focus of the movie is on make-up artist Tsuzuki (Aki Morita), who has seen it all. In fact, every character in the movie has seen it all, except newbie porn actress Toshiko.

As porn movies have a limited budget and shot on the quick, Tsuzuki and the director’s assistant, Kato, have to quickly set up their make-up “room” in the rented “studio”. [The understanding is that they all have to vacate the premises as soon as shooting is wrapped up, which is either late that night or early next morning, so that another group of filmmakers can move in.]

First on the set are Sugar Sato, an actress who specialises in “Lolita” (student) roles, and Kirisaki (or Saki). Without any warning, director Saeki wants to shoot the two actresses first and Tsuzuki is given hardly any time to get them ready. It turns out Sato has a huge tattoo covering her back and the director decides to switch the girls’ roles, hence different make-up. Then, it’s the lead actress, the popular though haughty Masami, who seems to have gone AWOL. Fortunately, her manager tracks her down and brings her to the shoot.

All this while, Tsuzuki is waiting for her helper to turn up. (Given the number of actresses involved in the night’s shoot, the director had promised another person to help her out.) Sato finishes her scene, returns to the room and says: “My pussy is bleeding. That actor fingered me like I was a pinball machine.” To which Tsuzuki says, matter of factly: “It might be metrorrhagia (bleeding in the uterus). When you finish, go and see a doctor. For now, stop the bleeding with a sponge.” And then, there is Kato with a sponge, helping Sato without so much as a blink of his eye.

Masami seems so tired that she falls asleep while Tsuzuki applies her make-up. Tsuzuki ends up doing the make-up with Tsuzuki dozing on the floor. Then another actresss arrives. She had left the industry about half a year ago, did some prostitution, and now is back in the porn movie business with a new name, Masako (originally called Minazuki).

Saki returns from her scene and says: “Although his huge cock hurt like hell, I’m done for today anyway.” Director Saeki visits the room and chit-chats with Masami before she does her masturbation scene. However, Masami wants to shower first and Saeki takes out his dismay (at the delay) at Tsuzuki. In-between shoots, Sato and Saki talk about their difficulty working with Saeki. Saki says: “He asks me to be seductive, so I do it but he keeps saying ‘Wrong!’”

Then, Toshiko arrives with her manager. Toshiko, who is nervous and shy, is making her debut appearance as a porn actress. Tsuzuki passes her a robe to get changed and Toshiko, unknowingly, strips down until Tsuzuki asks, “What are you doing? The changing room is over there.” As a newbie, Toshiko needs to shoot a scene introducing herself and keeps flubbing her lines - particularly with her vital statistics, until even Tsuzuki commented: “If her bust is 59 cm (23 inches), then she’s comically flat.”

Toshiko continues to have a hard time shooting her scenes - she keeps breaking down - and, back in the make-up chair, Tsuzuki reassures her that it’s not a big deal with the crew filmming her and that her lead (porn) actor is very gentle. Tsuzuki also tells her not to worry even if it’s her first movie, as everyone has to go through that hurdle.

Masako comments on how pure Toshiko is and adds: “I was like that in my first scene… I stripped without hesitating and the director told me, ‘Can you be a little more shy?’ That was tricky.” Luckily, Toshiko has found her forte in the porn industry - she can groan and moan like the best of them. The shoot ends successfully and even Toshiko’s big boss shows up to lend his support. Tsuzuki tells him: “The crying Matsuko is now doing this. I never expected that.” The boss replies (again, as a matter of fact): “She said she has hardly had sex before either. But I’m good at capturing the essence of girls.” He also adds:” Off the record though, I’m pretty sure she’s a nympho.”

Kei Morikawa’s Makeup Room has been described as a well-observed portrait of ordinary people who have done that most human of things: adapt to their situation and make the most of it. It is certainly that but the people involved are those in the porn-movie industry. Not exactly the thing to tell your parents and loved ones, a point which several of the actresses here touched on.

If revealing your work is a problem, especially to the boyfriend, nasty film directors and brutish co-actors are another daily “hazard”. After one of her shoots, Masako returns with a towel covering her eye. She says: “That stupid actor shot cum at me!… He said nothing when he came.” Tsuzuki puts some eye drops on Masako while Sato advises Toshiko to “watch out for facial cum”.

But what really comes across in Morikawa’s film is the camaradarie among the actresses and the watchful and therapeutic presence of the make-up artist. After discovering what she is capable of, a jubilant Toshiko returns to the make-up room, with the rest of the supportive cast and crew. Sato tells her: “Your voice was spectacular. I love it.” Toshiko turns to the make-up artist and says: “Ms Tsuzuki. I fucked!” A male crew member chips in: “You gave me a boner.”

Ironically, the meat of Morikawa’s movie is not the nudity or sex or the film’s one-liners. It is the conversations Tsuzuki has with the various actresses, particularly Saki, Toshiko and Masami. Like the barstool, the make-up chair is where dreams, pains, success and failures are talked about and listened to. Tsuzuki might be experienced but she is never disdainful or condescending or shows she knows it all or looks down on the actresses. Like any good bartender, she has a perceptive ear and seems like a friend to everyone. It is the viewers who only see her irritation at the director and it would have been wonderful if they had shown her blowing up on him.

Morikawa’s film has also been accused of being too good to be true. Which is true - one can imagine the jealousies among the actresses (even the “ageing” Masami is gracious towards newbie Toshiko) and, once their unhappiness in life (and in the industry, for example, Saki thinks that all that she can amount to is being just an extra in porn movies) is vented out, it’s life as usual the next working day.

With Morikawa’s Makeup Room, here’s a porn movie that porn stars can feel good about. To prove their faith in Morikawa, the film includes real porn stars such as Beni Ito (Masami), Nanami Kawakami (Masako) and Riri Kuribayashi (Matsuko).

Note: The Makeup Room DVD is banned in $ingapore.

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