This Week: Kama Sutra: The Ultimate Sex Adventure (Kyuukyoku no Sex Adventure Kamasutra).
Go Nagai, and one of the longest lasting works of Sanskrit literature.
One of the hallmarks of Go Nagai’s creative career is the sheer magnitude what he is willing to try.
He has pushed violence and sexual content envelopes which made him a thorn in many a parent-teacher association. Swung in wild fashion from giant pilotable robots to creating bedrock for the magical girl genre. Jumped into direct to video works when that was still a developing market. He has had a tendency to output more material in a single decade than some do in an entire lifetime. While this means his hit rate is littered with under-performers or just plain old bad ideas, his great successes have more than made up for it by tapping into areas nobody even knew they had a desire for.
In some respects, this drive would make someone like him well suited to trying their own spin on the Kama Sutra.
In its original form, the classic work is a kind of lifestyle manual. The chapter on sexual positions is by far the most notorious and well known. That said, other parts deal in elements like managing priorities and household conduct. Nagai, teaming up with Kunio Nagatani for co-writing, created a four volume 1990 manga series dealing in ancient love across time against a villainous quest for eternal life. With, of course, the sexual content one may expect of either Nagai or the millennia old text.
This 1991 OVA by Animate Film being an abridged version of the manga.
On a basic level, I have no qualms with taking such liberties with the original material. The Kama Sutra is more like a guide than anything close to a narrative story. So, coring out whole components and laying down characters, objectives, arcs and so on I feel is justifiable. Unless one wanted to make a literal adaptation and an comic or animated how-to guide themselves. Which opens up a whole other can of worms, with some of the social advice being archaic to a dire degree. Something, then, has to give. In this case, the Kama Sutra being more of a means by which to set this quest in India, some associated visual and musical trappings, and justifying some name drops and sex stops along the way. Cheap and manipulative. But, also plausible enough for a forty-three minute tape.
However, it is also the beginning of a variety of problems.
A key stumbling block of this OVA is it is awfully timid of how far it wants to explore the sexual aspects of the Kama Sutra. Which, as sex is the main component linking it back to the inspirational source, seems questionable.
To put things another way: this is a direct to video version of a Go Nagai re-imagining of a work most remembered for its sexual content. On a fundamental level, while there is a whole lot of words between a few sex scenes, this is a hentai video as a matter of course. But the animation team comes off as either ill equipped or outright embarrassed to be working on it.
There is little shading on most of the animation. In motion the content comes off as flat, stiff, and much older than its actual age. A lot of the time it looks closer to an episode of an average weekly episodic 1970’s television series than a restriction free home video release over two decades later. One could chalk this up to wanting to maintain a certain kind of “classic Go Nagai” feel, and on that front I would be somewhat sympathetic. But the video is also lacking significantly for in-betweens. Characters end up in a Good Morning Althea situation where they make jarring whiplash movements by just not having significant content between key frames. While there is a place for that in some animation, here it seems off the mark.
The tone, while at times featuring Nagai’s lewd jokes between an eternal life and kidnapping plot, does not feel to be going so far into homage mode where this choppiness feels like a cohesive artistic choice. This extends into the sex scenes, which one would consider a highlight for a title banking on what folks think of the Kama Sutra. In execution they look jerky and all over the place, and not in a sensual sense. They do not come across as either erotic or an eye winking sort of comedic affair.
The go to comparison for such a Go Nagai work would be to the lavish Animerama films by Osamu Tezuka and Mushi Production. A Thousand & One Nights, Cleopatra, and Belladonna of Sadness. The last one being notorious for having a lot of still frames due to an active studio bankruptcy meltdown. Yet, still having style through gratuitous mixed media attention to such moments. Even deploying elements like gold leaf for visual impact.
Kama Sutra looks astoundingly cheap, and outright unfinished on a direct comparison. When considering this is adapting four volumes of manga at about ten minutes apiece, this leaves it without a scorching visual ace to make up for its narrative contortions.
The plot of Kama Sutra is well worn enough territory that you have likely seen it a few times already through different media. A couple in love. An outside force coming for one of them (in this case, via war and pillaging in ancient times). One of the lovers making their last stand. The other ends up in a “I will wait for you to return” scenario across time. So too also does the original villain come back as well, causing a whole new set of events in a cylindrical fashion in our present day.
It is a reliable enough little narrative. The trouble is this adaption assumes familiarity to the degree that it does not even take the time to set up its own characters.
In the case of our young lovers, Princess Surya of an ancient Indian land was transported away for hundreds of years by the gods after her man died protecting her from a siege horde. We meet the reincarnation of the man in the present day as a man named Ryu Aikawa. An assistant to his scientist of a grandfather, who has excavated up the comatose Surya and aims to revive her. Dialogue throughout the video pegs Ryu and Surya as lovers. They have such feelings for each other. That they miss each other. Even how Ryu needs to practice his sexual capabilities so he can one day be with Surya. But their actual on screen time together developing any kind of familiarity with each other is almost nonexistent. This also while the anime tries to cram in a subplot involving the fact that Ryu already has a girlfriend.
A rudimentary plot where Surya is kidnapped and Ryu wants to free her and this all happens to line up with a larger past lives love scheme could have been acceptable. That perhaps be learns about his love of destiny along the way and all that. But here it comes across like characters are privy to whole chapters of off screen development. The viewer is constantly needing to make leaps of cause and effect faith for their actions or conversations to make sense.
Compelling writing, let alone anything close to a robust lost loves found again through history despite the odds of time thread, this is not.
In keeping with Go Nagai’s tendency to throw any conceivable thing at the wall across his projects and see what sticks, there is one aspect of Kama Sutra that I do feel could have made an interesting film.
The initial sex scene involves a massive palatial water feature. Upon pressing a button, it drops Ryu and the woman with him down a shaft and into a chamber with an extremely specific shape. According to her, the cramped room is designed for the missionary sexual position. The only way for them to get out is for them to perform the act well enough. That their movement will nudge the right mechanisms in the floor to trigger a door to progress to the next room. Which is also designed for a specific sexual position. And then there is another after that.
It is as contrived and elaborate excuse as any to try and justify a sex scene in a Kama Sutra work, to be sure. Ridiculous, even. And given the visual hiccups, the erratic leaps between frames are all the more apparent. Placing the point of view towards trying to feature such a contained series of spaces is a shaky proposition. It is a tough set to try and make exciting, and the characters have little room to move. But there is that thought that it is definitely an awkward time. And so in turn my takeaway it is the most interesting aspect to what did make it into the OVA.
If Kama Sutra ran with this idea more, I feel it could have almost had something.
A plot using such a ridiculous facility could make for some character intrigue. Degrees of exploring mutual trust, awkwardness, acceptance, togetherness, puzzle solving, and so on. Even in a way almost in keeping with part of the intent of the historical text as a guide. It would have been kind of neat to see if even only as an experimental film. Perhaps toss in some kind of shameless Indiana Jones style dungeon or temple goal for the larger ancient narrative thrust.
I am not sure it would have made a great piece either, to be fair. But those few minutes are the most interesting aspect of the one we do have.
The most famous chapter of the Kama Sutra has sixty four sexual acts described within it.
There is a good adventure one could imagine up in there. Even just the one in the preceding few paragraphs.
But on the whole and from its top to its bottom there is so little passion or care given to this adaptation. It barely even feels like it is awake at all, let alone give anything back to the viewer as a partner.
Mothballs is a weekly write-up of already completed anime I have either removed from my backlog or have recently revisited. A crash space for my immediate thoughts and personal processing, these are not intended as full reviews.