Acclaimed screenwriter Shin Adachi tackles the issue of onanism head-on in his directorial debut, 14 That Night, playing in TIFF’s Japanese Cinema Splash section. Although there are parallels with his script for Japan Academy Prizewinner 100 Yen Love (14), in which a woman changes her life by taking up boxing, Adachi’s freshman feature focuses on a teen boy who is desperate to escape from his dreary surroundings. While there is hilarious comedy with silly sexual gags, Adachi’s film does not omit the painful sufferings of youth, and he structures a poignant drama rather than simply penning a crowd-pleasing sex romp (minus the sex).
The audience is plunged right into the world of the protagonist and his friends, as three junior high school kids discuss the challenges of masturbating at home: “Which is worse, getting caught by your parents, or catching them?” It is just one of many, many memorable conversations on the topic. But every male has shameful memories of being as incorrigible as these kids, and this conundrum of self-pleasure is more serious than one would expect.
In the summer of 1987, those nostalgic days when people were still reading porn magazines and renting videos, Takashi (Naoki Inukai) is living with his family somewhere in the suburbs. He is indignant, surrounded by people he dislikes: a useless father who lingers at home every day and creates trouble (a very good Ken Mitsuishi), some punks in the neighborhood who treat Takeshi and his friends badly, and the girl-next-door with bountiful breasts, whom he’s known since childhood and longs to touch. One day, the news starts spreading that Kyoko Yokushimaru, a popular porn actress, is coming to town for an autograph session at the video shop. Takashi and his gang decide to get an autograph from her — and to lick her boobs at midnight, if they are lucky.
The film essentially follows Takashi’s activities during one long, life-changing night, almost as if it were a road movie, a journey to grab a great pair of bosoms. However, the horny teens’ erotic desires contribute to a poignant drama precisely because Eros is presented as an escape from Takashi’s harsh realities. 14 That Night is not just a nostalgic tale of the 80s, but a contemporary film that resonates with every male who went through puberty.
TIFF Programming Director Yoshi Yatabe introduced Adachi and producer Gen Sato after the world premiere screening on October 28, and mentioned 100 Yen Love, which won the Japanese Cinema Splash section two years ago and went on to be an indie hit. He asked, “In what way has the tremendous success of 100 Yen Love affected you?” Laughed Adachi, “People started actually reading what I’d written.” Since he had started as an assistant director, directing his own feature film had been his dream. The only reason he “dabbled in screenwriting” is that he thought of it as “an easier way to be a filmmaker.”
“The plot was ready even before 100 Yen Love,” noted Adachi, “By the time I was thinking of producing the film independently, Mr. Sato got interested in the project.” Speaking from a producer’s point of view, Sato said, “This is a film about boys who are dying to touch some boobs, a kind of movie that is difficult to make. Right after the success of 100 Yen Love, I thought now or never.”
The first question from the audience was that every viewer was secretly wondering: “How much of the film was based on your actual experience?” Adachi shocked everyone with his answer: “65 percent.” Even down to the porn actress coming to town. “It’s true that there was a rumor about that — they would let us touch her breasts after midnight. We actually went. But of course there was nothing going on, so we just went home.” This is not the only childhood experience that Adachi utilized for the film: “I’ve mixed a lot of episodes and made them all happen in one day.”
Yatabe was curious how Adachi prepared the four boys for their roles. “It was my directorial debut and I had to direct child actors, so I felt a necessity to spend plenty of time on rehearsals. But I myself didn’t really know what to do. It seemed fine, but something was wrong,” admitted Adachi. “On the first day on the set, though, they were really good. I have no idea why they could change so much.”
“The director always acts as if he has done nothing, but the rehearsals were really impressive,” praised Saito, “Thanks to his screenwriting background, he came up with so many ideas and added a few lines during the rehearsals. I felt scenes were getting better and better.”
The producer was not the only one impressed by Adachi’s accomplishments. They always say you should write what you know, and by sharing his own teen angst with the world, the newly minted writer-director has clearly found his métier.
14 That Night will be released theatrically in Japan on December 24.