The Virgin Psychics (Eiga: minna! Esupâ da yo!)
Japan (2015) Dir. Sion Sono
Not all heroes wear capes or fire laser beams from their eyes, some are ordinary people like you and me (well, maybe less me) who are called upon to use the quirks that makes us help save the world. If only that were true, especially in cinema where of course all heroes have some sort of magical ability, whether actually useful or not.
Yoshiro Kamogawa (Shota Sometani) is like any teenage boy in the tiny Japanese town of Higashi Mikawa, fantasising about meeting the girl of his destiny, whoever she may be, whilst pleasuring himself at night. On this occasion, a rare cosmic phenomenon takes place, hitting Yoshiro with a beam of light, giving him ESP powers, now enabling him to read the minds of everyone around him.
At school the next day, Yoshiro learns others have also been given powers, including two of his fantasy girls, transfer student Sae Asami (Erina Mano) and old friend Miyuki Hirano (Elaiza Ikeda). They are summoned, along with others affected by psychic investigators Takahiro Asami (Ken Yasuda) and Takako Akiyama (Megumi Kagurazaka), to stop evil psychics from turning the town into a cesspit of amoral sexual behaviour.
2015 was a very busy year for Japanese auteur Sion Sono, turning out five films, a 12-part TV series, and a TV movie, the latter two being versions of this film, all based on the manga Minna! Esper Dayo! (Everyone’s An Esper) by Kiminori Wakasugi. As the final project of the year, The Virgin Psychics does see Sono showing signs of fatigue by this point though his trademark subversive verve still packs a punch.
Whether it was necessary to remake the TV series for the big screen will depend on how many people in Japan enjoyed the small screen version, or if the relaxed censorship for cinema meant it could go further with its ribald content. There is evidence some plot points have been jettisoned for time which is odd for a 114-minute film that eventually stumbles to the finish line with a lacklustre final act.
Getting back to the story, and you may be wondering about how this disparate bunch of people were selected to receive esper powers. The clue is of course in the title – they are all sexually untainted and all just happened to be getting busy with themselves at the exact moment the light beam struck, otherwise it wouldn’t have worked. I imagine a “Don’t try this at home” warning would be wise at this point.
One of the group, 40-something café owner Terumitsu Nagano (Makita Sports) insists he is a seasoned stud but the others are having none of it. His ability is telekinesis, but only sex toys and related materials. Yoshiro’s schoolmate Yosuke Enomoto (Motoki Fukami) can teleport naked, and creepy Naoya Yabe (Reiya Masaki) has x-ray vision. Incidentally, Akiyama can see people’s futures but only if they look at her ample bosom, keeping her busy throughout the film.
Elsewhere, lesbian Akiko Amiya (Ami Tomite) can now wipe people’s memories so she targets all the classmates she fancies and makes them her toys, but like everyone else in the film, she becomes smitten with Sae and vows to have her to herself. Yoshiro is also in love with Sae thus assumes the role of her protector, though Sae thinks Yoshiro is a pervert.
No surprise then that this isn’t an exercise in subtlety or good taste, with many gags built around visible male arousal and similar prurience. The idea that the town is a chaste one about to be hit by a sexual tsunami is risible given how every woman already dresses in skimpy outfits, so when the curse hits, the next stage of reduced clothing is swimwear and underwear.
But how does an inexperienced bunch of literal tossers stop the rampant corruption of a force so powerful it can control an entire town? Unfortunately, the script doesn’t have much of an answer to that, and in all honesty, their abilities are really quite useless for when the real antagonist arrives later in the film.
Despite the prurience of the content, there is no nudity or overt sexual activity, likely to disappoint some, but is still a sexy but decidedly gratuitous film, though that is really the point. Regardless of how extreme he goes, Sono is usually saying something in his work, yet here the message is obfuscated by its excessive fan service.
Sono could be suggesting we should keep sex personal lest it loses it’s magic when all around us; or it’s a message warning us the objectification of women is rife everywhere whether we recognise it or not; he may even go the other way and is saying, hey sex isn’t bad, let’s stop being so hung about it and enjoy it. Yet, a chaste subplot involving Yoshiro’s hoping to meet the dream girl he first met while still in the womb supplants sex for the purity of a simple love.
I’ve said this before but it is remarkable how Sono is able to persuade his actors to perform in roles so lascivious or exploitative. Practically every young female is in a state of undress or in ludicrously skimpy attire and behaving luridly though most are gravure idols, like Ai Shinozaki (Google her now, thank me later). However, nobody takes it seriously and by playing it like a caricature, it creates a sense of everyone, audience included, being in on the joke.
At the risk of sounding like a shallow pig with a weakness for Asian women, aesthetically The Virgin Psychics is arguably the greatest film ever made, but I feel I can say that without recourse because its tongue is so firmly in its cheek. The self-awareness of its silliness is woven into its very fabric, even if the satire is harder to detect and the target of the jokes isn’t clearly defined. Not Sono’s greatest work but smarter than most Hollywood teen gross out comedy in the same vein.