An Explicit Romance
Ryota travels to Berlin hoping for a long-term relationship with a man he met online. However, the German guy thinks differently and does not even let him stay the night, so he wanders around looking for love, while staying at a lonely Japanese man’s place. Adult director Koichi Imaizumi teams with Japan’s most prominent adult manga author for the year’s most explicit gay romance.
“Berlin Drifters” is an explicit, willfully confrontational romance that will split audiences down porn-versus-art lines while arguing whether the characters found what they were looking for. Two Japanese men in Berlin are seeking connections in their own ways, and in doing so come together and drift apart over the course of a few lusty weeks.
“Berlin Drifters” brings together Asian and European eroticists, from Dutch porn star Michael Selvaggio and German self-described erotic photographer Claude Kolz to Chinese LGBT activist and dramatist Xiaogang Wei. We also have Japanese gay erotica artist Gengoroh Tagame who can be best described as Japan’s Tom of Finland. The XXX-rated nature of “Berlin Drifters” will keep it out of mainstream cinemas and even the most permissive of festivals and this is unfortunate but the film is indeed out there.
When the guy he flew from Tokyo to Berlin to see throws young Ryota (Lyota Majima) out of his apartment after they have sex, Ryota finds himself crashing at an underground sex club, having little in the way of accommodation options. He was convinced that his online fling was true love and is not prepared to be homeless.
After having a drink with his artist friend Xioagang at the same bar, Koichi (director Imaizumi) takes pity on Ryota and offers to let him stay at his place. Ryota is overly thankful and cleans, shops, offers sex and the two men settle into an odd domesticity. But eventually Ryota’s Grindr account calls to him and he starts to see other men. However, Koichi is becoming attached, and jealousy enters the relationship.
There is a good deal of narrative control this film “Berlin Drifters” and it is made more vivid by Tagame’s entry into screenwriting. His usual extremes of sexuality and masculinity are very much as are insights regarding acceptance and the stigmas surrounding homosexuality in Japan. We see a Berlin that is wild, tempting and ideal for the naïve Ryota, who’s sure he’s going to find great love in 48 hours. At the same time, it’s a safe haven, where Koichi can hide from the troubled past the ignored phone calls that hint at and contemplate how much he values an equally troubled prior relationship. Ryota and Koichi are fine as travelers on the same road, coming from different directions.
There is a lot of sex to get past all the sex and the production values could be better but the film is basically sweet and traditional and has heart. Imaizumi and Tagame are, ironically, meticulous in their use of sex, with the most emotionally rewarding segments as blatantly free of full-frontal nudity as the rest of the film is chock full of it. Koichi’s reunion with his old boyfriend Mioo and a farewell with Xiaogang are as affecting as they are pointed, as is Ryota’s slow understanding that he may be looking for true love in all the wrong ways.