Saturday, 30 June 2018

#54: Call Me Tonight (1986)


Director: Tatsuya Okamoto
Screenplay: Tatsuya Okamoto
Voice Cast: Sakiko Tamagawa as Rumi Natsumi; Chie Koujiro as Oyuki; Katsumi Toriumi as Ryo Sugiura; Rumiko Ukai as Maki; Toshihiko Seki as Hayata
Viewed in Japanese with English Subtitles

Synopsis: Rumi Natsumi is the youthful founder of a phone sex company whilst still in school. One client who rings her all female business is Ryo Sugiura, a young man who literally turns into a horrifying monster whenever he becomes sexually aroused. Fascinated by this, Rumi decides to meet him herself face-to-face. When his claim is proven to be true in a cafe, Rumi is un-phased by this and desires to help him overcome this issue.

One of the most interesting sides of Japanese anime and manga is how they deal with sexuality. To be frank, however, let's not just praise Japanese animation and manga for depicting sexuality with greater depth as, for every good work, for every bawdy sex joke that lands successfully, there's as much a dark side to this as well. Whilst there is a willingness to tackle sex and sensuality, from mainstream to hentai pornographic work, which can be gratifying especially as gay and (to a lesser extent) lesbian themes appear in both, there's sadly the other side, the Hyde to Jekyll, the problematic gender politics, the downright misogynistic and gross material.

The subject which this obscure thirty minute anime Call Me Tonight tackles, in the same decade where the beginnings of straight-to-video anime started and both this production and hentai anime came up as product for the format, is parodied directly within a film-within-the-film when protagonists Rumi and Ryo hide in a cinema. A sci-fi film where the tentacle aliens kill the male astronaut and have sinister intentions for the female one, stripping her for nefarious reasons. It's a sanitised take on a concept at its most infamous for Urotsukidōji (1987-1994), on one hand an epic of almost Lovecraftian narrative, nihilistic and horrifying yet complex and full of scale, yet on the other a problematic title in how it tackles its intentional sexual transgression on slanted gender lines, the males strong and turning into tentacle monsters, the women merely there for sexual violence from said tentacle monsters, justifiably condemned as misogynistic and offensive even in the butchered feature length cut you could buy on British video and DVD. And yet, just before that series came into existance, when it was originally a multi-episode straight-to-video anime itself, you have Call Me Tonight mocking that kind of story by showing a strong, sexually confident young woman literally taming a man who turns into such a monstrosity every time he gets an erection or aroused, trying to help him towards an adult, mature sexual life as his improvised therapist.

Part of four OVAs called Pink Noise Vol. 1 - alongside Body Jack: Tanoshii Yutai Ridatsu (1987), Maryuu Senki (1987-89) and Campus Special Investigator Hikaruon (1987) - I suspect the creators of Call Me Tonight were doing this story as an excuse to draw gnarly creature designs, Ryo never turning into the same horrifying creature twice. There are numerous references to sci-fi and horror from the past throughout the short anime which prove this. (Such as the famous poster for the 1985 vampire film Fright Night as a jigsaw puzzle). However the jabs at hentai not far from its birth are so obvious, so much so that the explanation of Ryo's transformations as a life absorbing alien comes off as the one huge mark against the short. It's a terrible inclusion when as a metaphor of violent, destructive male libido these transformations are perfectly set up symbolically. Even the cliché of the nose bleed, a short hand in anime and manga to show sexual arousal when a character has a trickle of blood coming out their nose, is mocked in a gruesome way when, in a cafe, the blood doesn't stop flowing and covers the entire tiled floor.

At thirty minutes there's not a lot of time to explore the premise beyond its surface. Half the length is a series of light hearted gags, such as the sight (immortalised in many screenshot captures) of Ryo in monster form looking at a softcore porn magazine. Whilst its sexual politics are incredibly progressive, the anime's very much of the time in how eighties it is in aesthetic, the fashions replicated from the era and the music full of synthesizers, the colourfulness of the proceedings as memorable as much as a time capsule.


A new plot thread, including the unfortunate attempt at an alien back story, begins where a fellow schoolgirl Oyuki desires Ryo for the mere fact he is meant to turn into a monster. Willing to acquire goons and force him into a situation in a closed room with her, even if it leads to an immense danger, it presents a contrast in his destructive libido with how a person (male or female) can willingly put themselves in harm's way for their own. Even here the gender politics for a brisk, minor anime are interesting, the purpled haired Oyuki strong and assertive, her older sister who intervenes a muscular woman not drawn as traditionally feminine, both rocking leopard print pants and deciding to bring a bazooka to a monster fight when required.

[Spoiler Warning]

The other big surprise is that it offers a twist ending gag where Oyuki herself turns into a monstrous figure when aroused. It could link to the whole alien subplot, which just emphasises the terrible plot point, but as she transforms into a mass of tentacles for the final shot, it can also have a subversive quality when she, now working at the phone sex group, has embraced this side of herself. It may violently contrast the original point of this metaphor, destructive male libido, but at the same time it works in an interesting way if read further into. Even if the twist ending for Call Me Tonight is merely a shock "got-you!" moment, not surprising considering all the horror and sci-fi references within, it's a nice little subversion in itself.

Whilst the whole "tentacle porn" genre of hentai has always been problematic, entirely (and justifiably criticised) as being due to violence against women, the idea of monstrous sexuality literalised whilst transgressive should not necessarily be thrown onto the pyre as merely offensive. Considering this can originate as far back to The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife (1814), an iconic painting by legendary Japanese artist Hokusai which have had many replications (including gay depictions involving men) over the centuries, the idea of the idea of beastly sexuality is a form of intentionally provocative concept with artistic merit. The problem is that, within anime and manga, it is just an excuse for misogynistic ideas rather than used for something more progressive. Even as a twist ending, seeing this same destructive libido with a female character is more meaningful as the idea itself is not the issue to be condemned, rather stereotypical sexuality of men.  

[Spoiler Ends]

That we can have an anime which plays within thirty minutes there various ideas - the depiction of male libido as problematic and driven to violence, yet that monstrous sexuality itself is not inherently negative in the right context, a mysterious freakish (kinky) side of men and women that can be healthy or unhealthy - is a lot to admire. As one of the only anime from the Pink Noise selection that's been talked of decades later, that recognition says a lot to how through light sex comedy it managed to hit on a pertinent idea ahead of its time. That sadly this problematic side of sexuality in anime and manga is rarely parodied or questioned like this is a great shame, as it deserves to be done and had plenty of material to work with for mockery. It has admittedly helped Call Me Tonight stand out in spite its paltry form.


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