Thursday, February 3, 2011

Les Gamins (2010)

Directed by HCK
Starring Risa Hashimoto, Naomi Ishikawa

"The first one to breath loses."

An erotic, artistic, hypnotically ambient opium dream, Les Gamins (French for "The Street Urchins"), aims to not only arouse, but also - if one be so inclined - to think.

According to director HCK, Les Gamins main theme is voyeurism, with hints at the reliability of memory as well. Beyond that, the film's intentions are a bit of a mystery; even, one could say, completely subjective to the viewers perception. Some find Les Gamins to be the fantasy (or memory of experience) of a hidden voyeur, witnessed from their point of view. Others have even seen the film as the documentation of the events before a murder. HCK himself certainly seems to have a story to tell, but what that story is, he would prefer you to decide for yourself.

The music and sound also play an important, if not integral, role in the film. The outstanding score by Kevin MacLeod (minus one track from OZU) adds a sense of beauty, dread, surreality and intention to the subtle actions of Naomi and Risa. To describe the music, I would chance to describe it as experimental ambient with hints of modern classical, found sounds and industrial.

Interestingly enough, the template used for the arrangement of scenes and music was The Beatles "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album. All of the scenes in Les Gamins work together, albeit not in linear fashion. This approach creates a constant, yet ever-changing viewing experience. Sights and sounds waver and flow throughout the film, subtly giving hints at moments to come, or merely to catch you off guard as to the chronology and even reality of the situations presented.

Les Gamins begins with Naomi and Risa enjoying a night time dip in the pool. The music over the scene is comprised of piano, street and crowd noises, and indecipherable male whispering. The girls are aware someone is watching them, as they glance at camera and smile more than a few times. After a few moments of wet frolic, the film cuts abruptly, a flash of the girls laying in bed appears, and then another abrupt cut.

Risa, now in a shower and adorned only in black panties and a collared shirt, stares into the camera as she slowly caresses her body and teases the viewer. A slightly harsher electronic sound, more pulsing than fluid, accompanies the action. Again, she is aware that someone is watching.

As the scene plays out, the music gets slower, darker, more ominous. By the time the scene is complete, Risa is on the floor of the shower; panties around her knees and cupping her Venus mound as she looks upwards with an emotionally ambiguous expression.

Next, we find Naomi in the bathtub, clothed only in panties and shirt - as Risa was previously. The music is slower, calmer, and backed by the warm crackle and hiss of a record on a turntable (which always sounds nice, in my opinion). As Naomi continues , the music switches to more traditional Japanese instrumentation.

With the delivery of the line, "Really, I want you to make love to me...", OZU's song "Haste" begins. The techno inspired track pulsates and thumps as the sound of lovemaking irradiates throughout the music. The girls are together, dressed in shimmery underclothes and providing a psychedelic bump and grind with abundant booty shaking and body rubbing.

After the dance scene ends abruptly, a projector reel countdown plays as a repeated clip of woman laughing echoes throughout. We are now in a bedroom, with Risa on the bed. There is a calm, and completely traditional Japanese instrumental with, what I am only guessing to be, shamisen and shakuhachi. The first nudity of the film appears as Risa rolls slowly around on the bed, grasping plush pillows to her naked body as she glances seductively at the viewer.

Soon, both girls converge on the bed together, passionately kissing and massaging each other. The music escalates in intensity as Naomi and Risa cuddle, kiss and effectively manage to display their intimate nether regions without actually showing anything at all.

After a completely silent close-up shot of pool water rippling and flowing incessantly, we then see the girls laying in bed asleep. A lullaby plays over another bedding of crackle and hiss, which soon also accompanies a piano elegantly repeating a single note refrain as the ladies slumber peacefully.

As the film comes to an end, we see Naomi and Risa in the pool again. The music is more restrained but still has an ere of sadness and danger to it. As the girls get out of the pool and walk off, they don't seem to notice anyone watching them, which is the only time in the film this happens.

Cutting to the bedroom again, one of the girls opens the curtains in the room. A whitewash of bright light fills the screen and the film reel counts down as the credits roll. The music intensifies slightly, as we see the last shot of the film: the girls embracing and staring into the camera with a detached and, yet again, emotionally ambiguous expression on their faces.

Primarily an artistically realized gravure idol video, I'm not exactly sure what to make of the added allusion of hidden meaning here. It certainly seems that HCK is trying to say something, but I'm not sure if that something is perhaps lost in the subtly of the whole affair, or if the scope of the message is less than what I am looking for. Either way, I have been re-visiting this and attempting to decipher clues to its story. As of yet, I've come up pretty empty-handed, but have found no less value in the film as a result.

Relative newcomer Studio Happy Chicken Pink bring Les Gamins to international audiences in an edited-for-Japan DVD presentation (which is the version I watched) and an extended, uncensored Blu-ray edition. I highly suggest picking up the Blu-ray if you have the means to play it, as it is a higher quality presentation and contains both versions of the film. Unfortunately, I have yet to upgrade my viewing options. As soon as I do, I will update this review to include the additional material cut from my version.

Coming in at an easily manageable 47 minutes (with the international version being about 5 minutes longer), Les Gamins is not only erotic, but also dark and thought-provoking. I look forward to future releases from Studio Happy Chicken Pink, and feel that Les Gamins is a great introduction to gravure film, or a nice addition to any fans collection.

- Jeremy Vaca

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