Sasayaki: Moonlight Whispers
dir. Akihiko Shiota
Opens Fri Feb 2 at Grand Illusion.

Who can forget their first high-school romance? Ahhh, the furtive glances, the halting admissions of affection, the sneaking into the school at night to smell a piece of intimate clothing left in a locker. Yes, Moonlight Whispers has all of that and more.

Takuya Hidaka (Kenji Mizuhashi) and Satsuki Kitahara (Tsugumi) practice kendo together for the high-school team and harbor secret crushes on each other. When Hidaka's friend Tadashi Uematsu (Kota Kusano) asks him to deliver a love letter to Kitahara for him, he agrees, but she is disappointed that he is only the messenger and not the one asking her out. Because of Uematsu's letter, they admit to liking each other and start dating. It's sweet and innocent and absolutely charming. At least that's how it starts out.

The first hint that Hidaka may be on the other side of normal comes during kendo practice, when he admits he likes it when she smacks him on the head with her bamboo sword. The second occurs before they start dating, with his orgasmic breathing when he sniffs the skirt he pulls out of her locker. Once they decide to have sex he's disappointed by the experience; he would rather tape-record her going to the bathroom and then masturbate to that later.

Kitahara eventually finds out about his various perversions and is unable to deal with them. So she breaks up with him and starts dating Uematsu. But she can't get Hidaka out of her head, and he can't help but follow her around like a dog (sometimes literally). Every time she tries to punish him or make him jealous, he gets off on the pain, which disturbs her even more. She eventually has to get in touch with her inner dominatrix.

Director Akihiko Shiota has an obvious compassion for these characters as they struggle to understand not just each other, but themselves as well. He's also got a stunning visual style, with long takes and beautiful compositions that often get lost underneath the bizarre story. Actually, the hardest thing to understand is why it's called Moonlight Whispers. A better title would be something like I Was a Teenage Pervert--something less arty and more honest. Just like the movie itself.