27 January 2021
For each of the features in competition, IFFR asked a critic, writer, academic or programmer to write a short reflection in a personal capacity. The resulting series of ‘Appreciations’ aims to encourage viewers − and filmmakers − at a time when there is no physical festival. Kristen Yoonsoo Kim shines a light on Sexual Drive.
Food and sex have long been bedfellows so naturally, filmmakers have come up with many a lascivious way of translating the sense of taste into the sensual. The Japanese director Yoshida Kota’s vision of culinary eroticism sits in yet another ingenious class of its own. In his perversely comedic triptych, Sexual Drive, there is no depiction of actual sex; the titillation comes purely from the act of eating, or merely the talk of it. A natural cinematic comparison would be Juzo Itami’s 1985 ramen Western, Tampopo, one of the greatest food films of all time, which not only draws on the sexual pleasures of food preparation but literally uses yolky methods of foreplay for its sex scene.
But Yoshida flirts with copulation while staunchly remaining in the abstract. In his first vignette, ‘Natto’, a mysterious man named Kurita simulates cunnilingus on a box of the titular soybean dish, comparing its stringy texture and subtly pungent stench to, well, a different kind of box. Part of his name, ‘Kuri’, means chestnut, a souvenir this enigmatic character leaves behind in all three chapters, after a lesson in sexual awakening for those he encounters. ‘Kuri’ is likely a pun as well, as it is the Japanese word for clitoris.
In ‘Mapo Tofu’, Kurita reveals a masochistic kink of being bullied and maimed by the vignette’s heroine, which later disturbs something within her. It is a depiction of S&M never seen before: no whips, no chains, just the lava-hot flavour of the Sichuan dish that evokes equal parts pain and pleasure. This encounter later inspires a low-angle, lens-fogging shot of the woman cooking mapo tofu that rivals most sex scenes.
The final chapter, ‘Ramen With Extra Back Fat’, best mirrors the aforementioned Itami film. Both acknowledge the transcendent experience of eating ramen, but while Tampopo makes this nearly religious (one must tap and apologise to the pork), Yoshida defaults to a more carnal appetite. The men sweat and salaciously slurp noodles. There are no slices of pork that one can lovingly nudge, instead a heaped pile of back fat that the narrator (Kurita) likens to a monster. The woman who receives this ramen trembles and submits to the violence of her dish, emulating its moistness. Looking for sexual release, she makes eye contact with Kurita and leaves with him instead. Or does she? In Yoshida’s singular execution of food porn, everything but the arousal is abstract.
Kristen Yoonsoo Kim is a New York-based film critic and journalist, whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Pitchfork and The Criterion Collection.
‘Appreciations’ aims to encourage viewers − and filmmakers − at a time when there is no physical festival. Discover more short reflections on the features in competition.