It Feels So Good (Japan, 2019) (JAPAN CUTS 2020)

The story is simple. Two 30-something friends meet in Akita on the eve of one’s wedding and they rekindle the flames of passion they shared for each other when they were younger. An agreed one night stand becomes five nights of sex and, in the moments between intercourse, they confess the lies of their less than stellar presents and rake over their history to find some way to face an uncertain future.

It Feels So Good is the third film from veteran writer Haruhiko Arai and follows his rather staid drama This Country’s Sky (2015). He got his start writing Roman Porno titles like Woman with Red Hair (1979) and has worked with Ryuichi Hiroki in adapting books for the screen with Vibrator (2003) and It’s Only Talk (2005). Here, he adapts another book, one by Kazufumi Shiraishi, and, like his collaborations with Hiroki, creates a film full of complex adults with bracings of sex.  

There is not much plot to clutter this film as it zeroes in on detailing the lives and histories of illicit lovers Kenji (Tasuku Emoto) and Naoko (Kumi Takiuchi) amidst numerous sex scenes. There is plenty of nudity and some graphic action, but while it is explicit, the tone avoids being lascivious. The film is shot neutrally and the sex is realistic and not stylised in any way. We see its spontaneity, its pleasures and mishaps, and it comes with the two occasionally offering the kind of funny commentary that people comfortable with each other pipe up with in lulls between bouts of physical pleasure.

Takeuchi and Emoto are brave in baring as much of their bodies as they do for the camera but do better at portraying the emotional lives of the characters over the course of the film as the two reach an honest understanding of each other. This is credibly achieved through the numerous conversations they share over home-cooked meals, while travelling across Akita Prefecture, and during the many impromptu sex sessions.

When we first meet them, they are facing settling down for mediocre middle-aged life with deep dissatisfaction, so it stands to reason that they have one eye on the powerful emotions they felt for each other when younger. As the narrative goes forward, their talks become confessionals and their behaviour becomes more authentic. They show their true souls and the scars they bare. These details offer profound depth, and while some of the expository dialogue is clunky, we forgive it because we gradually come to understand two complicated adults marked by the human and economic cost of the 3.11 disaster, the spectre of mortality and the desire to live a fulfilling life at a time when Japan is lashed by disasters. Their emotions and problems are universal which means their characters should resonate with audiences far beyond the headline grabbing nudity.

There are only three characters in this film, the two lovers and Kenji’s father. Emoto has developed a line in playing skeevy guys, as seen in Dynamite Graffiti (2018), and his Kenji feels like a continuation of his character in And Your Bird Can Sing (2018), a young man scrabbling around for something good in an uncertain life. Takiuchi announced herself to the world with her cheerfully insane performance in Greatful Dead (2013) and shows tremendous growth here portraying a woman who is confident in her sexuality and prevents her significant other from plunging into a pity party. She doesn’t feel exploited. Rather, she is compelling and powerful in her sexuality and maturity. The two work together well all the way to a hopeful ending where the sex becomes a natural extension of their emotional language.

It Feels So Good is streaming as part of JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film from July 17-30.