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Ryuichi Hiroki brushes with past in ‘Kabukicho’

'Sayonara Kabukicho'
‘Sayonara Kabukicho’

TOKYO (TR) – Over his three-decade cinema career, director Ryuichi Hiroki has transitioned from the soft-core pornographic genre of pinku eiga, or pink films, to more mainstream fare.

For his latest effort, “Kabukicho Love Hotel,” he has returned to his roots, but only marginally: The film chronicles a number of personal dilemmas as they unfold over a single day in Shinjuku Ward’s Kabukicho, the gritty red-light district that includes a number of love hotels for short-time liaisons.

After the film screened in the “Special Screenings” program of Tokyo Filmex, the nine-day festival, which includes nearly 30 current and classic films at three theaters in the Yurakucho area, Hiroki said that he was eager to present the true character of the district, including the inside of a love hotel.

“I thought most about the rooms themselves, how I wanted to shoot them, and Shinjuku itself, as it is right now,” said Hiroki during a question-and-answer session on Sunday in Yurakucho Asahi Hall. “I really wanted to capture that on film.”

Atsuko Maeda, a former member of all-girl pop group AKB48, stars as Saya, an up-and-coming musician whose resolutely sulking boyfriend, Toru, played by Shota Sometani “Tokyo Tribe“), manages a love hotel.

Other troubled characters, including an adult video actress, a number of “delivery health” call-girls, a cook at a restaurant and a street scout, come and go over the 24-hour period to create a mix of steamy sex and desperation.

Hiroki said that the screenplay was already completed when he first received it.

'Kabukicho Love Hotel'
‘Kabukicho Love Hotel’
“So I couldn’t refuse since it was already done,” the director said. “Because it was an ensemble piece, and quite a complicated story, I wanted to make it into a film even more.”

Produced by studio Nikkatsu, which released a number of Hiroki’s pink output in the 1980s, “Kabukicho Love Hotel” screened last month at the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea, which played a role in influencing one aspect of the film.

The Kabukicho district borders Shin Okubo, an area with many Korean shops and restaurants.

In recent years, Shin Okubo has been at the center of controversy due to anti-Korean demonstrations held by right-wing groups in the streets of the area. One scene in the film includes such a protest.

“It is a fact that this has been going on recently so I felt there was no need to hide it,” said Hiroki. “I personally feel that it is a quite shameful thing, and it was necessary to include in the film.”

“Kabukicho Love Hotel” opens nationwide on January 24.