“Pornographer” (2018) Series Review

Three men stand in a room. Two men know more about the situation than the third man.

Words spoken in different situations create varied physical reactions. The man who knows the score ambivalence wears facial expressions of curiosity, jealousy; which tell the viewers there is more to the story than we know. It’s that hypocritical style of filmmaking that makes Japanese drama “Pornographer” beguiling.

Based on Marukido Maki’s manga of the same name, this drama centers around a naive university student named Haruhiko Kusumi (played by Kenta Izuka). Kusumi rides his bike into author Rio Kijima (played by Terunosuke Takezai) accidentally. Because he is a good person, he offers assistance once the two discover Rio’s arm is broken. The task requires Kusumi to act as a writer for Rio’s three novels. Much like in Lars Von Trier’s film “Dogville”, the simple task is revealed to be more difficult than that.

It is easy to label this “Yaoi” or “Erotica” but this is much more than that. The series creates an almost diorama of a small world where Rio is the center of it. The fact that he intends to enter into a sexual relationship with Kusumi is anyone’s guess, as the story isn’t ambivalent on his intentions. Obviously he chooses not to disclose the contents of his latest novel. Rather, it comes as a surprise when it is reveaked to be darker themed erotica sexualizing a woman. The tight closeups on the two men’s faces as Rio recites the lines he had written, while Kusumi tries to surpass his growing arousal showcases Rio’s pleasure as he enjoys Kusumi’s subtle reactions.

The series keeps this intimate style of filmmaking for most of the series creating a voyeuristic view of these well written characters. Although they are purely toxic, we love them because they make us feel alive. We get two parallels in this drama, where Rio becomes that toxic influence for Kusumi. On the other hand, Shiro Kido (played by Yoshida Munehiro) with his seductive words and self destructive narcissism becomes Rio’s personal haven. It is easy to fall in love with his confidence, but Kido never sticks around to save Rio from his loneliness. The script illustrates this in private conversations that Kido has with Kusumi after Rio has passes out drunk.

The warm color palette of the lighting, the soft tones all focus on Kido’shandsome features, as he tells the story of his and Rio’s friendship to a jealous Kusumi. The two have watched over each other, as the show’s slow paced timing shares glimpses of their true relationship. So it felt very gratifying to watch the two converse like friends even though they have barely known one another for a night. Kido, despite being a married man still comes to check on the walking wreck that is Rio. Kusumi senses their shared intimacy but fervently ignores Kido’s warnings.

Rio has a magnetic pull that Kusumi can’t ignore which is perfectly displayed throughout the first three episodes. From listening to Rio’s erotic novels, learning his mannerisms to punctuate sentences to reading his books under the guise of learning sexual terms in Chinese, Kusumi is entirely bewitched with Rio. I honestly felt that this was orchestrated, so that Kusumi stays aroused and enamored with Rio. It’s not far fetched to believe Rio wanted the results that explode across the scene in the final episodes (No Spoilers).

I do enjoy the way the script presents Rio as a predator, but still leaves us shocked at the consequences of his own actions. It’s as if he had no idea about his sexual appeal to Kusumi, despite his antics trying to getting Kido to cheat on his wife. It is this complex mode that kept me captivated to the scene after scene display of sex and clever word play. Japanese BL’s have a way of creating a sense of foreboding that just draws me in. This series didn’t disappoint, as we first get to watch the enactment of the pornography that Kusumi is writing for Rio. Then Kusumi replaces those characters with himself and Rio in his vivid imagination. We are treated to sensatized fantasies featuring both Kido and Rio. Each displaying his fall deeper and deeper in lust or love with Rio.

With the fantastic soundtrack scored by Erina Koyama, even the most heartbreaking scenes have an added sweetness to them. Unfortunately, the slow pacing also ruins the moods sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, sex is interesting , but I did find the enactment of the porn scenes a bit gratuitous. Each episode being 22 minute long, there could have been more to the story. For instance, Kusumi was a very blank character. We learn so much about Kido and Rio but absolutely nothing about him. It made me less inclined to care about him or his hormones.

This series is definitely one to watch, but Im not sure about its rewatch value. I rather adored the show’s lack of defined sexuality. Men love men, men fuck men, the word “gay” is never used. It was so refreshing to see that. Kusumi is dressed down by Rio about his kinks and never anything remotely related to the word “Gay” mentioned. They know he likes penis at this point, but no one sees a point in talking about it. It was the new normal. It was abit confusing, because I feel the story was inclined towards Rio but the focus was on Kusumi. But most of Kusumi’s reactions were subjective to Rio and Kido’s behaviour. So by the finale I feel abit empty watching his scenes, but nevertheless I did enjoy Kido and Rio’s final moments. The prequel series “Indigo No Kibun” is actually all about them so go watch that.

Rating- 4 out of 5

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