Based on a collection of short stories by Hideo Okuda, “Lala Pipo” is a collection of interwoven narratives connected by themes of sex and loneliness. The opening monologue divides the world into two types of people, winners and losers, or ‘those who have sex’ and ‘those who watch sex’, referring to the humanities interminable struggle for dominance and atavistic competitive streak. This sets us up to be judge of the characters that follow, whether they are to be admired or pitied; in short whether they are the winners or losers alluded to. Hiroshi (Sarutoki Minagawa) is a freelance writer, a university graduate living in squalor and making a pittance, who pleasures himself to the sounds of his upstairs neighbour having sex. He later finds love in the voluptuous form of Sayuri (Tomoko Murakami), but he seems incapable of seizing this chance for happiness. It later transpires that Sayuri is luring men to perform unwittingly in a series of pornographic films. Tomoko (Yuri Nakamura) is a shy girl, picked up by Kenji (Hiroki Narimiya), a scout for hostess clubs and adult video, who cajoles her into entering the seedy world of pornography. He later takes on another client, a desperate 40-something housewife Yoshie (Mari Hamada) who he must find work for. Koichi (Tei Tomari), a part-time worker at a karaoke bar is disgusted by sex, fantasizing about being an interstellar traveller (his alter-ego Captain Bonito) studying the unpalatable carnal desires of humans; but it may be that his ostensible aversion is due to a supressed need.
With a screenplay by Tetsuya Nakashima (World of Kanako, Kamikaze Girls) and directed by Masayuki Miyano, “Lala Pipo” does a good job of telling several stories, each with their own dramatic arc, showing either the rise or fall of the characters, often due to some personality trait. Each storyline neatly overlaps with the others as we see several of the characters interact or cross paths. This allows the filmmakers to examine the themes of the film thoroughly, seeing the same events from several perspectives. There is a good mix of comedy and more serious themes in the film, including several hilariously surreal moments such as a green furry cartoon penis discoursing with one character, and another being transported into a gargantuan superhero to fight his worst enemy: a sexualised woman. Far from the two types of people the film proposes in the beginning, we instead see the uniqueness of each character. The film shies away from delivering a strong message or verdict on the characters, leaving that up to the audience to determine whether they are the winners or losers of their own lives. The actors are all fantastic as the film blends genres. The relationship between Nakamura and Narimiya is captured beautifully, with them see-sawing in terms of who holds the power. The comic actors, Tomoko Murakami and Tei Tomari help prevent the film becoming an unbearably depressing affair. Worthy of mention is the film’s set design, from the garish pink bedroom of Sayuri, to the heaped rubbish of Yoshie’s home, it shows us the various aspects of how people live, often hidden from the real world.
“Lala Pipo” may seem at first glance like a knockabout sex comedy, with perverts, porn actresses, miserable loners, and slick talent scouts, but as things progress it slowly reveals a darker side to the sex industry and people’s obsession with sex. One of the film’s strongest themes is that of the profound isolation experienced by people in society. Even those seemingly adored by fans often lack the basic human connections that help people get by. We see that both the playboy and the loner are at heart one and the same, both struggling to find something of meaning in their lives. Sex is not always a constant, meaning different things to different people. In the case of this film it can be a way of exploiting people, a goal, a perversion, or an escape. The characters show the desperation, jealousy, selfishness, shame, feelings of inadequacy, and other anxieties that confront people. The comedic performances and light-hearted tone help to underscore many of the more uncomfortable messages at its heart. An enjoyable film that says a lot about sex and society.