Review: Yuriko’s Aroma (Yoshida, 2010)

Japanese title: ユリ子のアロマ (Yuriko no Aroma)

Director: Yoshida Kota

Info: IMDb, AsianMediaWiki, Trailer

Rating: ★★★★

What if you woke up to someone licking the sweat off your hair?  How would you react?

17 year old Takeshi (Sometani Shota) experiences this strangely erotic act in the secluded, deserted, run-down shed where he takes a nap after kendo practice.  The licker?  Yuriko (Eguchi Noriko), who works in a massage parlor run by Takeshi’s aunt.  Upon meeting Takeshi, Yuriko realizes that she’s turned on by his body odor and ends up stealing one of his gloves to smell it.  Yeah, the premise is pretty strange.

So, what does Takeshi do after realizing that he was just licked by a strange older woman he had only met the day before?  In true teenage male fashion, he decides that he wants more, allowing Yuriko to sniff him and ending up getting some pleasure of his own out of it, if you know what I mean.  A strange relationship is born from here.  A 17 year old high school boy who has never experienced a relationship before, let alone any sexual actions, and a woman in her 30’s who is turned on, and maybe even in love with, Takeshi’s scent.  Takeshi even turns aside his long-time admiration for an incredibly cute girl at his school, even when she shows signs of liking him, to spend time with Noriko.  One can sympathize completely with Takeshi’s feelings; we can assume that nobody has ever let him know that they are interested in him, or at least physically attracted to him, so he is excited and willing to experiment with this new adventure.

Director Yoshida Kota handles this film with such expertise, telling a fluid story with a relatively short runtime (75 minutes).  Yuriko’s Aroma is only Yoshida’s second film, his previous effort being the short film Coming With My Brother (2006), a similarly-themed movie about an older woman becoming increasingly attracted to her younger brother.  The attention he delivers to strange and unique human attractions is prevalent in both of his works. On the one hand, these relationships feel quite strange to witness but on the other hand, they feel refreshing and are presented in a manner which is truly a joy to watch unfold on screen.

The casting is incredible and surprising in its effectiveness.  With Eguchi Noriko, Yoshida has an unconventional actress that is perfect for the strange role of Yuriko.  She’s not a beauty, but has boyish looks that are distinct and eye-catching regardless.  She’s also a great actress, a perfect example of what I’ve been enjoying a lot of lately–the Japanese actress that is unafraid to go beyond the limits of conventional roles, with other examples including Ando Sakura and Mitsushima Hikari, both who emerged out of Sion Sono’s epic Love Exposure.  Sometani Shota, who plays Takeshi, is also a great choice for his seemingly normal looks but very interesting facial expressions.  He fully embodies the essence of teenage awkwardness and uncertainty, even handling emotional scenes well.

There is a blatant, stand-out scene that feels out of place within the context of the film.  Although the film is definitely not in the pinku genre, this erotic lesbian self-pleasure scene seems like it belongs in a pinku film.  It is definitely an unnecessarily involved scene that could have demonstrated its point in a much less dramatic fashion.  Also, speaking of dramatic, the film becomes a bit too much so towards the end, seeming out of place in an otherwise composed atmosphere.  It could be rationalized that Yuriko’s Aroma builds up to such an emotional point, and definitely deserves the emotional release, but it felt like too much.  Various continuity issues (heels magically become sneakers, somehow), which remove the careful observer from the story, are quite avoidable on the filmmakers’ part but one can’t get stuck too much on them.  The superb aspects of Yuriko’s Aroma far outweigh the low points.

With its constant depictions of various aromas swirling through the air, from spray deodorant to dust to natural smells, Yuriko’s Aroma paints a picture of Yuriko’s world for the audience and does so quite effectively.  Although one may not fully understand Yuriko’s attraction, we still sympathize with her character (and, in fact, all characters).

Yuriko’s Aroma is a good example of the originality that is possible in Japanese cinema, the reason that many fall in love with this country’s movies.  This is the kind of film that reinforces one’s love of independent cinema in general, giving the audience something it hasn’t quite seen before.  Yuriko’s Aroma is far from perfect, but in it’s imperfections lies an endearing story and characters.  It is unconventional filmmaking and a strange story that most directors (and actors) wouldn’t approach, but is made to work quite well.  Yoshida Kota is a director to watch, as are both Eguchi Noriko and Sometani Shota.  Make sure to see this film, it’s sure to reinforce the fact that independent, original Japanese films are continuing to be produced and enjoyed.

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