Daisuke Miura has been making films for a while now, but he's remained mostly under the radar so far. Unless you've been keeping a close eye on Japanese cinema, the name probably doesn't ring a bell. Miura's output is becoming increasingly more interesting though, and so he was bound to come up with a masterpiece sooner than later. Call Boy [Shônen] is that film for me. A frank and edgy drama about a young boy who ventures into the world of call boys, in order to find out who he is and what he stands for.
The Miura films I've seen so far have been good, solid dramas, yet always stopping short at being truly special or memorable. It was a little surprising then to see that Call Boy jumped out both stylistically and thematically. The film is an adaptation of a 2001 novel, more interesting though is that Miura and Matsuzaka (the lead actor) adapted the novel as a stage play first (if you've already seen the film and wonder what that must've looked like, just know the play was notorious for its on-stage nudity). That rendition had so much success that they decided to take it one step further and turn it into a film.
Call Boy is an apt title, as the film dives into the world of male escorts. On the one hand Miura doesn't shun nudity and sexual encounters, as it is clearly part of the world he explores here, but ultimately that's all just window-dressing for the emotional discovery and transformation of the lead character. For a film that is quite open and frank about its subject, it has a surprisingly strong dramatic undercurrent, so much in fact that some might find it hard to figure out what this film is actually about.
The story focuses on Ryo, an introvert and slightly detached university student who earns an extra buck working in a bar. He is mostly dispirited, going through life without much passion and direction. Not even women interest him very much. Until one day a lady walks into his bar and gets through to him. She invites him home, but once there Ryo is asked to have sex with her daughter while she watches from the sidelines. Almost unfazed, Ryo does as he is told and before he knows it, he is offered a job as a male escort.
Visually there's plenty to like here. While I didn't peg Miura as a very style-crazy director before, he sure made a big U-turn with Call Boy. It's a style not everyone is going to appreciate though. Miura uses harsh lighting, muted colors and a slightly washed-out look to create a world that is dark and alluring, but not particularly warm or cozy. The camera work is equally strict and stylish, while the editing is often striking in its absence. It gives the film a cold and stark exterior, though befitting its subject matter and executed with great conviction and attention to detail.
The soundtrack too is pretty interesting, featuring a selection of somewhat eclectic and nervous jazz songs. Not quite the elevator music you might've expected from a film like this, then again the choice for jazz isn't all that surprising either. It's a very solid soundtrack that fits in quite snugly with the rest of the film, though by itself it doesn't really add all that much. Miura goes for a more unobtrusive and withdrawn use of music, which in this particular case didn't really bother me.
The acting is overall great. Matsuzaka does a commendable job as the lead character, especially when he starts to open up to the experiences that are presented to him. His closed-off facade remains firmly in place, but it's clear that behind it a lot of things are starting to move. The rest of the cast is solid too, in particular the strong supporting performance of Yuki Sakurai. People who watched The Limit of Sleeping Beauty are sure to remember her, here she confirms that one performance wasn't just a lucky shot.
Once Ryo starts his job as an escort, he comes into contact with a series of different people, all struggling with their own issues and limitations. Ryo opens himself up to them, listens to them and serves them to his best of his abilities, which quickly allows him to move up in the business. But the story is just a frame for Ryo's own growth, which is triggered by the people he meets and the stories he hears. Not all the choices he makes may seem like the most obvious, then again that's what gives this drama its unique flair and what keeps Ryo's character interesting.
Call Boy is a serious upgrade from Miura's previous films, which weren't exactly bad to begin with. The jump from being an up and coming director to producing a masterpiece is quite a steep one though and I'm glad to see he managed to make it. Call Boy is a very direct, somewhat impenetrable yet beautiful and ultimately touching film that relies on sublime styling and great performances to craft a dark and alluring universe. It's not going to be everybody's cup of tea, but if you like your dramas with a little edge then there's plenty to admire here. I'm already looking forward to Miura's next film.