Moonlight Whispers (Gekko no sasayaki)
Screenplay : Akihiko Shiota & Yoichi Nishiyama (based on the manga Gekko no sasayaki by Masahiko Kikuni)
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 2000
Stars : Kenji Mizuhashi (Takuya Hidaka), Tsugumi (Satsuki Kitahara), Kota Kusano (Tadashi Uematsu), Harumi Inoue (Shizuka Kitahara)
Akihiko Shiota's directorial debut, Moonlight Whispers (Gekko no sasayaki) starts off like it is going to be about a typical teenage romance. The two leads, Hidaka (Kenji Mizuhashi) and Satsuki (Tsugumi), are shy 17-year-olds who are both members of their high school kendo team and practice together in the mornings.
We see glimpses of Hidaka staring longingly at Satsuki through the window as she goes out to gym class; we see Satsuki stealing glimpses of Hidaka during kendo practice. When Hidaka agrees to deliver a love note to Satsuki from one of his friends, the confident and experienced Uematsu (Kota Kusano), Satsuki admits that she was hoping Hidaka was interested in her. Hidaka admits his interest, and they become boyfriend and girlfriend.
The story then follows their blossoming romance. Bike rides together, shy talk about their feelings, and the obligatory tender/clumsy loss-of-virginity sequence. Shiota films these early scenes with assurance and a sweet touch; he manages to wring every last bit of emotion out of the teenage lovers without once slipping into being cloying or sappy. Shinsuke Honda's soft guitar rhythms compliment the tone nicely, and you might find yourself wondering, since only 20 minutes have passed when the teen lovers lose their virginity together, where else can the story go?
As it turns out, Moonlight Whispers is not about a tender teenage romance at all. Instead, it is a dark exploration of fetishistic and masochistic obsession that is made all the more disturbing (and, in some perverse ways, comical) because the characters are "innocent" teenagers. Hidaka's true desires are revealed when Satsuki discovers that he has been secretly stealing her gym socks, taking pictures of her legs from a distance, and surreptitiously tape-recording her in the bathroom. Rather than desiring to be Satsuki's boyfriend, Hidaka actually wants to be her self-proclaimed "dog"--her slave who will go to any degrading lengths in order to please her.
Hidaka tries to please Satsuki, and at first she is simply repulsed. But, after a while his masochistic devotion brings out her dark side, and she begins to revel in the joy she gets from causing him pain. This is not physical pain, mind you, but psychological torment through rejection and humiliation. Thus, she forces him to follow her at a distance when she goes on a date with Uematsu. When that is not sufficient to raise his jealousy, she makes him hide in a closet and listen to her and Uematsu having sex and then requests that he lick the combined sweat off her legs. And so on and so forth the game goes, with Satsuki constantly raising the stakes and Hidaka constantly bowing to her commands because he will not deny his desires no matter how much it hurts him.
Plot summary alone does not quite capture the perverse nature of Moonlight Whispers because it is not as conventionally twisted as it sounds. The film is fueled by a dark eroticism, yet there is a strange, underlying poignancy that holds over from the opening 30 minutes. No matter how pathetic Hidaka acts or how tyrannical and cruel Satsuki treats him, the characters maintain a certain level of sympathy. Kenji Mizuhashi and Tsugumi are excellent in their roles as Hidaka and Satsuki; they play up both the innocent, shy teenage roles and the ruthless adult roles without missing a beat.
Moonlight Whispers is gleefully perverse, but Shiota keep the tone restrained and suggestive, rather than obvious and graphic. If the film has a weakness, it is in the vagueness of what Shiota is ultimately trying to say. Is his adolescent S&M romp an allegory for the dark side of romance in general, or is he just trying to get mileage out of black humor? Is it a celebration of Hidaka's masochistic honesty as a form of self-sacrificing truthfulness? In the end, it is never entirely clear, yet this thematic weakness never bogs the film down as a whole. Passionate and intense with moments of dark humor, Moonlight Whispers is a film that is not easily be forgotten.
©2000 James Kendrick