It's almost as if director Yuki Tanada wrote her first feature length film, Moon and Cherry, with Eguchi in mind. The film centers on the machinations of Mayama, played by Eguchi, as a member of a university erotic literature writing club. Mayama, its only female member, is the most talented and respected of the group because she's already been published, albeit under a male pseudonym. She's had sex with all but one of the other members of the group and uses the experiences as fodder for her writings. The film kicks into gear when a younger student, Tadokoro, joins the group. He immediately impresses the male members of the group with his knowledge of female anatomy, but just as he is swimming in their praise and accolades, Mayama walks in and says "Yeah, but you're a virgin." Experienced women can sense these things and Tadokoro is busted. Thus begins the intriguing gender role reversal story that is Moon and Cherry.
Mayama knows Tadokoro will make for good material so she takes him home to create some copy. The deflowering scene is controlled by Eguchi with aplomb, and in a moment of directorial panache, while Mayama is performing fellatio, we see Tadokoro biting his lip to the point of drawing blood. I don't need to spell out the brilliance of that metaphor. As soon as Mayama pops Tadokoro's cherry she jumps out of bed and starts writing. Tadokoro is befuddled but doesn't complain too much. As the relationship grows, Mayama sees Tadokoro's inexperience as an opportunity to try new things like sending an S&M dominatrix to his apartment and then demanding Tadokoro tell her all about it. She invites herself, followed by a pre-paid prostitute, to his place and then hides in his closet to watch the two of them go at it.
The only problem with completing this attempt at full on role reversal is the fact that Mayama is one of those women that men lose their minds over. There's no escaping that. Mayama has sex with Tadokoro in bed, on the floor, in the park, against a vending machine, but in between these events she disappears from his life. Tadokoro is torn but wants to make better use of his new found experience so he starts a relationship with a sweet and attractive co-worker, Akane, who serves as juxtaposition to Mayama. This sort of turns the film back on itself but I don't consider it a shortcoming at all.
Moon and Cherry is a very well-acted, creative and intelligent film that takes a different look at love, sex, and relationships. It's a low budget indie film shot on digital video as part of a Love Connections series of 2004 and it's a welcome opportunity to see the marvelous Noriko Eguchi star in a film. It's a smashing feature debut from writer/director Yuki Tanada who's gone on to script the female and visual extravaganza, Sakuran; write and direct Yû Aoi in One Million Yen and the Nigamushi Woman; and most recently write and direct the small masterpiece, Ain't No Tomorrows which I'll be reviewing soon.
A final shout out to newcomer Tasuku Nagaoka who plays Tadokoro with an awkwardly genuine sincerity. He's young and frail but never lets you think he won't make it, impressive in holding his own in scenes with the powerful Eguchi.
This could be a five star film but I don't think it wants to be. It wants to remain small and intimate. And independent. And even though it's one of the better films in recent memory, considered one of The Best of the Decade by a couple of the folks at Midnight Eye, I'm going to respect its wishes and give it four stars (with a stealth fifth star in the labels).
Starring: Noriko Eguchi, Akira Emoto, Tasuku Nagaoka