On Film: Thai Relax

26 02 2012

Thai Relax was the third Happy Chicken Pink film released in America, and the fourth released in Japan.

If you ever find yourself in Fussa, Japan, take the right hand exit of the train station.  Follow the stairs down and continue straight past the police box, past the statue and the taxis, continuing past the Japanese restaurant and down to the next intersection.  If you look on your right, you’ll find a Thai massage parlor named Thai Relax.  I used to go there when I could.  They had a masseuse name Jai; she was a little Yoda-like granny missing two fingers on one hand.  Her massage technique was insane, and it was there that I came up with the idea of the video named for the store, Thai Relax.

The concept was very simple: an idol relaxes during various sensual massages and relaxing things.  The titillation comes from not seeing anything… you know, that thrill of almost seeing something.  That’s what makes good gravure.  We never approached the owner of the actual Thai Relax about filming there; they were much too busy, and the layout of the store wasn’t very conducive to what we needed to do.  We would have been in the way and probably have scared away potential customers.  Instead, we shot at another Thai massage place in Fussa that’s catty-corner from the Seiyu department store there.  Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name.  The plan was to shoot two massage scenes there that day, an oil massage (called aroma massage in Japan) and then a traditional Thai stretch massage.  The normal masseuse was good looking enough, and I was a little unhappy to find out that for the actual film day she had been replaced by a shorter, squat older woman who resembled a toad; but beggars can’t be choosers.  They were very concerned that what we wanted the masseuse to do was to give our idol, Ayaka Uchiyama, a sexual massage.  I assured them that just a normal oil massage would be fine.  See, anyone can have sex in front of a camera… it’s much more difficult to pull off sexy without being blatantly sexual.  That’s why I tell the idols not to worry about what happens while we’re filming, everything will look different when it finishes in postproduction.  The key is the editing.

So we shot the oil scene OK.  Our photographer, Jarod Hodge, wasn’t there for that; but we did have someone extra working a second camera, Isaac Needleman.  He was filming me while I was filming the scene… something extra for the DVD.  Only one thing went wrong during this part of filming: for some reason, my camera suddenly stopped using the custom color setting I had programed into it to give the scene the warm look I wanted.  It did this ¾ of the way through the scene, while I was filming.  Since we shot the massage portions in real time with no starting of stopping, I couldn’t very well yell out “cut” while I fixed the problem, so we kept rolling.  I fixed the problem later during postproduction.  You can’t even tell when you look at the video now.

Jarod Hodge, Li Zhao, and Isaac Needleman all shoot the stretch scene.

Next up was the stretch scene.  This didn’t go so well.  Our lights died right at the end of the oil scene (protip: never, ever use cheap lights for filming.  You’ll regret it later) but I was cool with using natural lighting and continuing on.  The only problem was that the sun was setting.  That causes the temperature of the light to rapidly constantly change, thus changing the look of the scene.  Eventually because of the darkness creeping into the room we had to stop.  By that time Jarod had arrived.  He took his pictures, we packed up, and went home for the day; the plan being to return the next day to wrap.  Only, on the way home we received a phone call from the owner of the shop saying that they hadn’t anticipated that we would have lights with us.  They were concerned that our lighting was going to cause a jump in their electric bill, and so they wanted an extra ¥10,000 ($120) when we showed up the next day.  Well, I wasn’t going to have any of that.  I think it was quite obvious they were just trying to milk us for cash, so I told them that we wouldn’t be back.

Now that continuing to film at a massage parlor was off the table, I decided that we’d shoot a relaxing bath and shower scene at a love hotel (love hotels are hotels designed specifically for sexual encounters, and are very popular throughout Japan).  For this scene it was just Ayaka and I.  The look I wanted for the scene was very neon blue… the tub had lights both in it and around it that would illuminate the scene.  Only problem was that the lights were designed for mood lighting and not for film lighting.  No matter how I set the camera or lens, I couldn’t get the look right.  Very frustrating.  But we pushed on, and Ayaka did the scene.  The room had this big massage chair smack dab in the middle of it, and as I was putting up the equipment, Ayaka ask if we had enough time that she could use it.  This is how I learned about the wonders of what happens when you put a girl in a bikini in a vibrating massage chair.

Gravure Idol Ayaka Uchiyama poses before shooting the noodle scene.

The rest of the scenes were filmed in the same place we filmed Ayaka is Your Angel, save for the opening title sequence and the food eating scene.  That was filmed at a place in Fussa called “Bar Road” (or Bar Row, as the Yanks call it) and then at the Red Dragon restaurant that was across from Yokota Air Base.  Our production manager Li was friends with the proprietors, so we could film there for free.

I think you could say that Thai Relax was an exercise in using the “long take” and in more relaxed editing methods than I had used previously in Sundae Girl and Ayaka is Your Angel.  Because the massage scenes had been filmed in real time, they had to be cut down quite a bit to not really bore the snot out of the viewer.  If you watch Thai Relax, pay special attention to the look of each scene.  I gave each one a special feel and color temperature to set them apart from each other.

Originally, Ayaka was supposed to provide an alternate audio track to some scenes that viewers could switch to and hear her sexy “thoughts”; but that just didn’t work out.  Some of the audio from those recording sessions was mixed into the music of the massage scenes.

Thai Relax was our first release to open at the number 1 position on Amazon.com’s Hot 100 Asian Films list.  It sold well in America and even better in Japan.  I think it’s safe to say that I’ve seen Thai Relax at more stores in Japan than any of our other titles.  Incidentally, there are two different covers for Thai Relax.  Our Japanese distributor hated the cover I originally made for it, so Jarod did some reshoots and the result was the bathtub cover that can be found on the initial Japanese DVD, the American re-issue, and the international Blu-ray.



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