18-year old schoolgirl, Kuniko (Hijiri Kojima), is kidnapped by a 43 year old man in this crime thriller. After being taken to her captor Iwazono’s (Naoto Takenaka) house, Kuniko is told that he doesn’t want to rape her, rather to groom her into a perfect sexual partner. His intention is to experience a true love and perfect sex, connecting body and mind. Kuniko is understandably disturbed by his behaviour but appears to slowly grow closer to him.
Based on a novel by Michiko Matsuda, with a screenplay by Kaneto Shindo, “The Perfect Education” is a curious film, owing a debt to Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” in its theme. The film begins as a thriller, but soon develops into a relationship drama, with a battle of wits between Kuniko and Iwazono. Kuniko often commands him, goads him, denigrates him, while Iwazono appears as a pathetic figure, apologetic and more of a voyeur than a real threat. He tells Kuniko early on that he will cut her if she tries to leave, but she has soon manipulated him into getting her whatever she wants, taking her on holiday, and buying her new clothes. The uncomfortable subject matter is brilliantly utilised with excellent direction, by Ben Wada, and cinematography, often leading to conflicting feelings in the audience as we watch the power struggle between these two characters. Early on we see deep, ominous shadows in Iwazono’s apartment, later replaced by brighter settings, including on their holiday to an onsen resort. The various occupants of Iwazono’s apartment block provide comic relief, again creating an slightly disturbing tone by puncturing the tense drama happening in their same residence. The classical score likewise emphasises this strange disconnect and drift between light and dark, with an often uplifting, even romantic accompaniment to Kuniko and Iwazono’s strange relationship. The way the score swells before an abrupt stop again works to manipulate the audience and make them question exactly what is happening, whether we are likewise beginning to become inured to the danger of Iwazono. Hijiri Kojima gives a spellbinding performance as Kuniko, more than a match for Naoto Takenaka’s Iwazono.
“The Perfect Education” is an erotic crime thriller with a controversial theme that many viewers may find uncomfortable. It gets at the heart of what sex and relationships are about, a battle of desires and demands, with aggressor and victim often shifting places. The film’s nuance and apparent ambivalence about the fate of Kuniko give it a certain power, confronting the audience with these events while seemingly offering little in the way of commentary itself. The film perhaps gets close to revealing unpalatable truths about humanity and the psychology of relationships, leaving much unsaid and open to interpretation. In the end, it is up to the audience to take what they will from this story, but it is undeniably one that is thought-provoking and with two excellent performances from Kojima and Takenaka.