Review by Crites | Impulse Pictures | Buy at Amazon.com
Sakiko Kurata (Yuki Kazamatsuri), a teacher at Municipal High School #1, is interrupted during sex by a phone call from the Youth Officer at City Hall; he has some questions about a student of hers, Sueko Nomuto. It seems young Sueko was caught with a group of students "smoking marijuana and huffing paint thinner." So, Sakiko puts down the phone and finishes taking it from behind. Say, this might get pretty good...
When Sakiko goes down to the police station to pick up Sueko (Ayako Ota), who she really doesn't know very well, she finds out in the process that the girl has also been charged with prostitution. "It wasn't prostitution," Sueko explains, "I didn't take any money." Casual sex is just kind of her thing. 'Man-aholism,' she calls it. And she will demonstrate this affliction more than once.
It turns out that Sueko is from the same mountain mining prefecture that Sakiko is from. Sakiko fled to the city after a violent sexual assault; oddly enough, Sueko's father Suekichi had lost his job at the mines after an "incident" involving sexual assault. It develops that Sakiko had at the time accused Sueko's father of assaulting her, as despite the assailant wearing a nylon stocking mask at the time she identified him by the smell of paint thinner on his body. Sueko informs Sakiko that her father was not her attacker, he simply worked in a paint shop when not at the mines; a call to the police station confirms that a vagrant, a "thinner addict," was caught and arrested during another assault shortly after Sakiko's ordeal. As a result Suekichi has become a borderline vagrant himself, now a thinner-huffing janitor barely making it in the big city.
When Sakiko relates this series of unfortunate events to her lover, instead of being supportive he instead becomes resentful of the fact that she is burdening him with her trauma and guilt. Even when they try and move forward to maintain the relationship on a purely physical level, he asks her in the act, "Who was better? Him or me?"
In an attempt to make amends, with Sueko's help Sakiko tracks down Suekichi and insists that he accept some token cash. He is reluctant, claiming that it is all in the past and he holds no grudge over the both of them becoming victims of misfortune. But eventually he does accept the money, and even joins Sakiko for lunch. During the meal, which is accompanied by a fair amount of alcohol, Suekichi postulates that Sueko's problems stem from the time he fed her her pet rabbit in a pot of sukiyaki... ("Killed by a weasel," he tells her. "I couldn't let it go to waste - we hardly ever got a chance to eat meat back then.") Somehow, Sakiko's mind is not set at ease.
Sueko and Sakiko begin to bond, and oddly begin to adopt each other's roles: Sueko seems to mature, speaking frankly to Sakiko and even returning the money given to her father, while Sakiko, disturbed and confused by recent events allows herself to be picked up by a stranger for sex. After witnessing Suekichi, now unemployed after being caught huffing on the job, attack an apparently random passer-by with a rock, Sakiko takes him to the train station and runs away with him. Only to watch as he convulses and collapses on the train out of the city.
During his period of recovery in the odd setting of a traveling theatrical troupe, Suekichi becomes distraught at the prospect of the company moving on and carrying Sueko with it. He attempts to hang himself, and upon seeing this Sakiko tries to join him. But the suicides are thwarted by chance and Sakiko consoles the broken man, sexually, underneath the pier he tried to hang himself from. Sueko, witnessing this, quickly goes to make herself available to one of the actors playing a role as a criminal ronin.
And then there's a somewhat unexpected plot detour – which, I suppose, makes for something of a happy ending. Except for those of us who were looking forward to some sort of violently depraved sexual denouement...
Were I a more cultured and academic self-styled critic, I might play up the wildly dysfunctional cast of the apparently damned seeming to seek some sort of existential redemption through misplaced ideals of love and honor in a randomly French or even Flemish manner, citing Bataille, Geeraerts, Dogme 95... But then again, I might not. There is definitely a more dark and murky cloud bubbling beneath the surface of this DIRTY AFTERNOON, one considerably more substantial than the kinky schoolgirl genre implications of the title and cover. Talk of dolls with cracked eyes, odd addictions and liaisons, random violence, the eating of pets; there's even a shade of faded BLUE VELVET to the scene in which Suekichi, huffing from his bag of thinner, fogs the window through which he's watching his wife being groped by her boss in the supermarket storeroom. Sure, you've got the nekkidness, the simulated sex acts and aggression, the schoolgirl pissing, all of that, but there's much more at play here. I still wish the ending had been more in keeping with the course of the film, but FEMALE TEACHER is still a much more intriguing watch than one might at first suppose.