It’s a little known fact that everyone seems to know, but the Japanese pornography industry is one of the most lucrative in the world, producing countless hours of “AV” or “adult video” movies every year. No one expects the world of erotic filmmaking to be glamorous, but rest assured Makeup Room is not interested in exploring the dark side of the industry either. For the characters involved in this rather witty backstage drama it’s just another working day filled with personal concerns and petty office disputes.
In fact, Makeup Room began as a stage play and occupies just the one set - the green room where the various starlets hang out before the performance. The star of the show in here is the veteran makeup artist, Kyoko, who is responsible both for creating whichever look the director has asked for from innocent school girl to sexy cop or dominatrix and for providing guidance and moral support as she chats away to the various divas and ingenues who occupy her chair. Porno shoots happen very fast, the team only have a brief amount of time in this location before the next crew arrive to shoot another porno so everything needs to go to plan. Today, nothing goes to plan. The lead actress is late, another actress has an undisclosed tattoo meaning she’ll have to switch roles requiring some hasty script edits, and the new girl who’s apparently an inexperienced nymphomaniac is having a few last minute jitters. The director’s stressed, the veteran actress is getting antsy and they’re all just lucky Kyoko is around to keep everything running smoothly!
Makeup Room starts with a rather worrying disclaimer to the effect that this was an extremely low budget shoot and that given the materials available, there is a degree of stuttering in the video which cannot be fixed. In actuality it isn’t that much of a problem but you’d have to admit Makeup Room is never a very pretty looking film. Perhaps appropriately it has a very cheap video look and a simplistic directing style using mostly static camera shots from different angles of its one set location.
However, the rather basic approach does allow the script and performances to shine. Undoubtedly witty, the dialogue both rings true and offers a fair amount of humour at the expense of the diverse cast and crew many of whom are played by real life AV actresses making their “debuts” in a purely narrative film. This is not a tale of fallen women forced into the sex industry through a series of traumatic events, each of the women is fine with their career choice and likes what they do. Though one character reveals that many of the people in her life don’t know what she does and not all of those who do approve, including her boyfriend who’s only just found out and not taken it well, mostly the women talk about the practicalities of their work. Whether that’s having a tattoo that’s much larger than your manager tells people it is, or having your nails done right before finding out you’re down for a lesbian scene meaning they’ll all have to be cut off, or chatting about the way your work is going to change as you get older, the kind of workplace problems that occur perhaps aren’t altogether different than those women experience in all industries.
Director Kei Morikawa has had a long career in the AV industry as well as in more mainstream fare and makes good use of his personal experience to create a film which at least feels very authentic as well as giving the impression of a group of friends getting together to send themselves up in classic style. Full of frank humour though very little explicit content, Makeup Room comes across as a warm and refreshingly straightforward look at the Japanese porn industry though its extreme low budget stylings are likely to put off viewers who prefer the glossier side of things.