If only life were as simple as a pink film. Japan’s unique genre of erotica has been a staple of porn cinemas since the 1960s, playfully subverting government-imposed “pixel dick” censorship on low budgets to deliver light nudity and softcore thrills to the masses. Brandon Kemp revisits a little-remembered gay take on this mostly straight genre.
Hiroyuki Oki’s minor classic I Like You, I Like You Very Much (あなたが好きです、大好きです。1994) is a notable exception to Japan’s usually straight-leaning pink film movement. The modestly produced film begins as the handsome young Yu spies a guy on his commute. Forgetting his boyfriend, Shin, he approaches the stranger to tell him it is love at first sight. “I like you, I like you very much.” Hard cut to a scene of them rimming.
What the movie lacks in technical artistry, it more than makes up for in spirit—and house music, which dominates the film’s otherwise limited soundtrack. Lights inexplicably flicker as the men go down on each other. At times, the camerawork is so shaky that it’s difficult to make out just what’s happening. It’s a paradox that somehow something that by every conceivable standard should be both bad porn and bad cinema is in fact such a hilariously entertaining, oddly life-affirming treat.
The plot is minimal, centering on the romantic troubles of Yu and Shin as they’re drawn to strangers, ex-lovers, and each other. A not insignificant portion of the dialogue is just the title, repeated over and over. When a girl with short-cropped hair sitting next to Yu hears him muttering it to himself with headphones in, she pulls them out and listens. “There’s no music,” she comments. “Are you seducing me?” “Yeah,” he replies, smiling and high on love, though maybe he’s high on something else. Maybe you should be too. Cue more house music.
These days, after the shuttering of X-rated cinemas, I Like You is easiest to find on spam-ridden porn sites. Watching this already slightly granular mess on a tiny laptop, straining to see what’s happening, feels oddly right. But it also feels like the sort of film young gay men might have watched together, cracking jokes, commenting on the leads, or just watching each other. It’s the kind of film that invites enjoyment without demanding your full attention. Like its nominal protagonist, I Like You is open to wandering, cruising eyes. This makes for a joyously non-oppressive and non-monogamous viewing experience.
Part of the film’s infectious gaiety comes from the way the film treats its protagonists’ feelings, sex, and self-knowledge as given, there to be celebrated, rather than censored. The utopian dimension of much of the best and worst gay cinema, especially of the semi-pornographic variety, springs largely from the fact that straight audiences’ absence could be assumed. There’s no need to explain, pathologize, or apologize, no need to beg for sympathy. Instead, there’s a freedom simply to be, to move the tissue box out of reach and relax in the sticky present.
In an age where marriage equality in Asia is no longer a distant dream, I Like You’s comically messy honesty is refreshing and as timely as ever. Yu blurts out his feelings to Taka, then later apologizes to his boyfriend. Later he seeks out—and sleeps with—his ex. Both his ex and his new lover console and hit on Yu, openly competing with one another for him. There is a lightness to all this, a sense of humor and mutual understanding suffusing the friendships and erotic encounters. As the camera cuts to Shin being undressed outdoors by multiple young men, Yu reaches for a cup of tea served by his ex’s lover. “That’s my cup,” he scolds possessively.
I Like You is not a masterpiece. It can’t compete with Ryosuke Hashiguchi’s sensitive portraits of youth or Jean-Daniel Cadinot’s savage twinks. Nor does it hold a candle to Gregg Araki, whose film posters decorate the characters’ bedrooms. It fails most when it tries to ape the experimentation or existential angst of these filmmakers. Its energy comes in bursts. Mostly fun and often sexy, I Like You remains, in my view at least, vastly superior to much of the current wave of squeaky-clean mainstream gay cinema. In the final assessment, maybe all it lacked was a little more house music.
Words: Brandon Kemp
Translation: Will Dai
Originally written in English. Images are from the film.
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