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Film Review: Mai-Chan’s Daily Life (2014)

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SYNOPSIS:

Based on the popular manga by Uziga Waita, MAI-CHAN S DAILY LIFE is a diabolical dark comedy that takes fetish violence to shocking new extremes. A young woman, Miyako (Akane Miyako) responds to an advertisement for a live-in maid, and is given a job alongside the playfully alluring Mai-chan (Koshi Ann). Miyako quickly learns that housecleaning is the least of her duties, as the master (Maruyama Shogo) and his wife (Roman Soako) use the maids as toys in their unbridled erotic fantasies

REVIEW:

I dislike the phrase “torture p*rn.” It became something of a buzzword a few years back during the Hostel/Saw craze that started out clever and quickly spread into a wildfire of pretentiousness. It was used so frequently between so many internet think pieces that it became a meaningless, derivative phrase that amateurs could apply to any gory movie put in front of them. So, to ensure it stays buried forever alongside “manic pixie dream girl,” I avoid using it whenever possible. Well, friends, for today’s film, get out your shovels, because there are simply no other words to describe it. This is, quite literally, torture porn.

The subtitle of The Movie forced me to do a little pre-watch research, so let me spare you the horrifying Googling that I had to endure. Mai-Chan’s Daily Life is a manga (specifically hentai, specifically goru, “erotic grotesque”) in which Mai works as a maid/sex slave for a sadistic governess. Mai cannot die and can regrow anything that gets hacked off of her, so her mistress regularly rents her out to twisted businessmen wanting to get their rocks off through increasingly creative methods of torture. Mai remains steadfastly innocent and cheerful despite the hellish cycle of rape, dismemberment, and regeneration that is her life.

From the very few panels I could stomach of the manga, I can gather that it is not for me. But let it be said that there is some level of recognizable artfulness to the gore. There are images that are appealing in the same way of H.R. Giger’s haunting paintings or Clive Barker’s sensuous prose. You could almost call it beautiful if it wasn’t so upsetting. Having said that, Mai-Chan is some gnarly stuff. Even its wikipages, supposedly fan-made, seem created for the sole purpose of convincing others to stay far away, many using the words “what is seen cannot be unseen.” I came upon one website that briefly described the plot followed by the warning, “it would not be a good idea to have police find this on your computer in many countries.”

Now, with an introduction like that, you would think we’re in for a real treat, and maybe under different circumstances, we would be. There is some strikingly drawn hentai out there, and I believe that with the right team behind it, an animated version of Mai-Chan could make for quite the notorious little gem. Unfortunately, when hentai is translated to live action, it’s just porn. And it is depressingly easy to make bad porn.

Mai-Chan’s Daily Life: The Movie delivers little of the promise of its auspicious title, least of all being a movie. It runs just under an hour and was clearly produced with no budget, talent, or competence, yet it got a Blu-Ray release. The version I watched was sans subtitles, and after a half-hearted search for a translation, I realized that it was unlikely that anyone even bothered.

All evidence points to this film being a fan-made project that somehow slipped through the cracks as an official adaptation. We’ve all seen our share of poorly produced pornography (as a joke, of course), but Mai-Chan is an entirely different animal.  This looks like that horror movie you made with your friends in the backyard, filmed on a $10 webcam, and edited in Windows Movie Maker…only worse. There is nothing about this that is professional—from the teetering cinematography to the sound mix garbled with echoes and static. There are numerous shots where the open ceiling of the set is clearly visible, briefly revealing the vacuous warehouse they’re filming in. There are sudden closeups and baffling color filters that are better suited for Youtube than cinema, and even the mildest attempts at artfulness are clumsy and painfully amateur. Yet, like so many trainwrecks, this one is hard to look away.

If there is any story to be found in here (especially without the benefit of subtitles), it is this: Sayurin has been recently hired as a housekeeper at an isolated mansion in the country. Her employers are a mute man in a wheelchair and a terrifying governess named Kaede, who give her a full-body inspection before informing her of her duties. She is introduced to the other maid, Mai, a sweet cheerful girl who shows her the ropes around the mansion. Along with keeping the house’s collection of oddities free of dust, the girls are also responsible for fulfilling the whims of their bosses’ libidos by whatever means necessary.

One of Mai-Chan’s more fascinating features is how it gives off that distinct porno atmosphere long before anything remotely sexual appears. There is very little nudity, and when it does occur, it is shot plainly and clinically. But make no mistake: this is definitely porn. The ruffled Lolita outfits, upskirt shots and cat collars make their intentions quite plain. Buckle up, this is just the foreplay.

The real show begins when Mai spills some milk on the floor while trying to be a sexy kitty cat. Kaede responds to the blunder by grinding her stiletto into Mai’s little finger. Sayurin is horrified, but amazed to discover that her new friend’s finger looks intact the next morning. Later she witnesses Kaede gouge out Mai’s eyeball with a fork, only for the eye to begin growing back almost immediately. Eventually Sayurin learns the truth: Mai is immortal and can heal herself from any wound, no matter how extreme. Sayurin is actually intrigued by this and develops an infatuation with Mai. Kaede catches on to Sayurin’s crush and invites her to the torture dungeon to take out her vicious fantasies on Mai’s miraculous body. Sayurin expresses her passion by brutalizing Mai with a chainsaw through the night until she is literally in pieces. The film ends with the two girls in bed together, Mai looking mostly perfect save for a nearly sealed scar, only for Sayurin to begin the cycle again as she lovingly fingers the wound.

If the nudity in this film is shot like a medical examination, the gore is shot like a music video. It’s as if the whole thing comes alive with Mai’s screams of pain, and once the blood starts flowing, the frenzy does not stop. Despite the movie’s many technical flaws, the gore effects are pretty remarkable and effectively gross; the eyeball scene had me gagging and looking away from the screen. But there seems to be an unfortunate reason for that. As a female horror fan, it’s hard defending the merits of the genre when the bulk of it features violence against women, but the difference between horror and porn all comes down to its point of purpose. If the violence is in order to serve the story, it’s one thing; pure titillation is something entirely different, and Mai-Chan is certainly in the latter camp. This movie’s sexuality is very much entrenched in the darker side of its subject matter, which makes it really difficult to talk about in a critical way without bringing up some pretty uncomfortable questions, enough for its own separate essay (which I am frankly afraid to research).

Mai-Chan’s Daily Life: The Movie is a film made for and by its fans: it plays to its niche audience and scandalizes all others, and it doesn’t attempt to employ any sort of message. And that’s fine, because porn doesn’t need to have morals. Granted, it is rather upsetting to ponder the deeper implications on why this exists in the first place, since clearly the audience had to exist first, but I’ll leave that to a better writer with a stronger stomach to explore. Since it doesn’t quite match the nightmare fuel of its source material, I could definitely recommend Mai-Chan as a “seeing is believing” watch, since it is a unique concept for a horror film, and its poor quality is often enough entertainment by itself. But if you shudder at the thought of seeing Patrick Bateman’s fantasies made real, then perhaps its best you steer clear.

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