Lily Festival (2001, Hamano Sachi), program notes, Kinema Club XVIII

Lily Festival

百合祭 Yurisai

2001, 100 min

Director: Hamano Sachi 浜野佐知

Written by: Yamazaki Kuninori 山崎邦紀, based on a novel by Momotani Hōko 桃谷方子

Starring: Yoshiyuki Kazuko 吉行和子, Mickey Curtis ミッキー・カーチス, Shōji Utae 正司歌江, Shirakawa Kazuko 白川和子, Nakahara Sanae 中原早苗, Hara Chisako 原知佐子, Ōgata Hisako 大方斐紗子, Meguro Sachiko 目黒幸子 

Desire doesn’t evaporate like dew when we hit a certain age: in Lily Festival, the freedom of old age leads to a new blossoming of sex and passion when the seductive Mr. Miyoshi (Mickey Curtis) moves into an apartment building with a group of feisty old ladies. Miyano Rie (Yoshiyuki Kazuko) finds herself flirting with the comparatively younger Casanova but also longing for the sort of intimacy she had with her recently-deceased friend, Mrs. Totsuka (Meguro Sachiko). As the women begin to compete for Mr. Miyoshi’s attention, we see their lives, their friendships, and their simple desire for touch and companionship: Mrs. Mariko (Shōji Utae), the landlord’s busybody wife, Mrs. Yokota (Shirakawa Kazuko) with her wisdom from years of owning a bar, Mrs. Kitagawa (Ōgata Hisako) who is always embracing one of her many cats, the youngest (69 years old!) Mrs. Satoyama (Nakahara Sanae), a bit of a goofy gossip, and the serious Mrs. Namiki (Hara Chisako). With this star-studded cast of film and TV actresses, plus the handsome Mickey Curti, Lily Festival brings to life the tension and comedy of strong personalities living together and looking for love.Though the gentle humor feels familiar, Lily Festival’s serious treatment of late-in-life sexuality is starkly, regrettably unusual. Women of any age in film and television are often denied the possibility of being agents of their own pleasure; even when a woman is shown desiring sex, it is often as a device for arousing the desire of men in the audience. Films focusing on desire by women, between women are rare. Older women, apparently useless once they stop being “sexy” in the typical (young) manner, are relegated to roles as mothers, wives, grandmothers, friendly old ladies, supports or obstacles for the younger, often male, protagonists. When an older woman is the protagonist, the story is often about her children, her husband, her loneliness, her patience—her life is told through her forbearance as a central figure in a family which, as she grows older, seems to need her less and less. Lily Festival is what happens to those women once they have moved out of their relatives’ houses and get back to living their lives, kids and grandkids be damned. It answers two lacks in the world of film: a depiction of older women as sexual people, whose desires and identities are still evolving, and a nuanced portrayal of female intimacy, how the line between friendship and romantic/sexual love can shift between two women.

Hamano Sachi is the most prolific female filmmaker in Japanese history—and most people have never heard of her. The majority of her over-300 films are in the genre of softcore pornographic film called pink film. Pink films are structured around sex but, outside of the sex scenes, allow a great deal of freedom in terms of genre, story, and form (as long as budgets and deadlines are met.) The world of pink film therefore came to be known as an area of filmmaking where young, independent directors could make their debut without enduring the hierarchy and oversight of the traditional studios. Of course, that freedom doesn’t apply to women in the same way: Hamano writes of the harassment she endured just starting out in pink production in her memoirs Onna ga eiga o tsukuru toki (When a Woman Makes a Film). Rejected repeatedly and subjected to abuse and exclusion, she persisted out of a simple desire to make movies, no matter what, and a fierce stubbornness.

She debuted with The 17-Year-Old Free Love Tribe in 1972; she continues to make pink films to this day. In 1998, she began making non-pink films, starting with Wandering the World of the Seventh Sense: Searching for Osaki Midori on female author Osaki Midori. She followed that film with tonight’s Lily Festival and, in 2011, Yuriko, Dasvidanya (a.k.a. Yoshiko & Yuriko), an historical film on the lesbian relationship between author Miyamoto Yuriko and Russian translator Yuasa Yoshiko. Throughout her films, both pink and mainstream, she cultivates a focus on women’s desire through a focus on the intimacy of touch—the closeness between lovers, between friends, and between bodies brought to life through a camera which carefully caresses women both as objects and as subjects of desire. In Lily Festival, look for these gentle caresses and consider the simple potential of desire to transform one’s life.