The Most Beautiful Night in the World (Sekai de Ichiban Utsukushii Yoru) (2008, Director: Daisuke Tengan): Thanks to the good folks at the J-Films Powwow blog, I wound up with a free ticket to this film, screening as part of the New York Asian Film Festival. It was the perfect end to a four-day trip to the city, and a great way to spend three hours inside on another sweltering hot day. Daisuke Tengan is the son of legendary director Shohei Imamura and is well-known as the writer of such classic films as Takashi Miike’s Audition (1999), as well as his father’s films Warm Water Under a Red Bridge (2001) and The Eel (1997). This film just opened in Japan in late May, and this screening was the second at NYAFF, where it was making its international premiere.
Starting with an animated prologue, the film quickly takes this sense of whimsy and adds layers and layers of mystery, creepiness, humour and sex until it climaxes (sorry!) in a huge orgy scene that scandalized the Japanese press. The mystery involves a small village with the highest birth rate in Japan. Our 14-year old narrator takes us back to a time before her birth when a journalist from Tokyo was exiled to work at the village newspaper as the result of a sex scandal. Since there’s no real news, he digs around trying to find out as much about the town’s eccentric inhabitants. He uncovers what he thinks is a murder conspiracy. The proprietress of the local bar is a mysterious and sexy woman whose fiancé and then husband both died under mysterious circumstances. Thinking he has an insurance scam artist in his sights, he pursues the story further but it’s nothing at all like he thought. Instead, by the end of the film, a sexual revolution has been launched by the eccentric inhabitants of this mysterious village.
Director Tengan, even in this entertaining film, makes a political statement. Sex, he says, takes us back to our more primitive state, and destroys culture and civilization. But in light of what civilization and its representatives (politicians, clergy) have done to us, maybe that’s not such a bad thing at all. Railing at all political and religious creeds, he assures us “there is no promised future,” only the one we make for ourselves. Though orgies and wild sex might not seem politically subversive, consider, one character says, what would happen if everyone stopped what they were doing and just had sex for one night. We would have no war, no politics, no religion. Just love and passion and pleasure. It would be “the most beautiful night in the world.”
Yes, the sentiment is shallow and, as portrayed on screen, a little silly, but it’s heartfelt and actually kind of sexy and moving at the same time. And despite its running time (161 minutes), the film is never less than entertaining. Don’t make me come up with some lame joke about length here. Just see it, if you can.