Document type
22 December 2009
Format viewed
Pink Eiga

A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn

picture: A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn (2003)picture: A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn (2003)

Original title
Chikan Gifu: Musuko no Yome to...
Daisuke GOTO
Running time
61 mins.

picture: A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn (2003)

Dean Bowman

There's an iconic Iranian film called The Cow directed by Dariush Mehrjui, which is accredited with starting the influential Iranian New Wave. A Kafka-esque tale, its principle character is a poor farmer with an intense love for his prized cow. When said bovine is found dead by the villagers, they hide the carcass in an attempt to keep their friend from grief. However they don't bank on the farmer losing it completely and taking on the identity of his cow. Distressed at seeing their friend kneeling in the stable chewing hay, they decide to take him to a psychiatrist in the nearest town, but the only way to get him there is to harness him up and lead him like the cow he thinks he is, thus conforming to the man's delusion. What begins as kindness soon turns to violence, and the film becomes a powerful critique of human nature.

It may seem strange to begin a review of a Japanese softcore porn film with this digression, but the comparisons seemed too tempting to pass up, and besides it's hard to find a comparative reference point to such a frankly bizarre movie. Filmed with a nod to neorealism (especially in the film's slow pace and the camera's lingering on the impoverished environment), this self-penned erotic fable from Daisuke Goto, best known as the director of Nikkatsu's last Roman Porno Bed Partner (1988) and the first two entries in the mid-90s resurrection of Zero Woman for the straight-to-video market, A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn follows ageing and senile Shukichi, who is resisting developers who want to buy his land. Realising that the slightest shock could push him over the edge, his daughter in law Noriko (Ryoko Asagi) takes desperate measures and each morning, strips naked in the milking shed and takes the place of his recently deceased prized cow Bessie (at least in the subtitles of this US release from Pink Eiga: she's actually called Hanako in the Japanese dialogue). Soon enough the old man comes plodding along and attempts to milk his daughter in law, patting her on the rump with a 'Good Bessie', who in turn gives rather unconvincing moos. The whole thing leaves you uncertain whether it's more likely to offend feminists or animal rights activists (but let's hope both).

It would have been better, perhaps, is if the DVD packaging didn't allude at all to this strange relationship, as it comes as a real surprise when the camera pans down a line of shit-encrusted cows to reveal Noriko's nubile buttocks. The bathos of this scene is wonderful. After we've seen the old man arduously rising at dawn, and heading out into the cruel morning armed with a bucket, such a shift to the ridiculous from the real is completely unexpected and utterly delightful. Perhaps Goto is hoping for too much when he attempts to ring some genuine pathos out of proceedings, such as the flashback of Bessie passing away; a close up shot of her eye closing and the screen blurring. Such elements, along with the film's melancholy string score, manage to create guffaws more than tears, given their contrast to the film's ridiculous principle theme, but then it's hard to tell whether that was Goto's intention in the first place.

While featuring pretty offbeat material for an erotic film (unless you have pretty odd kinks) Goto's most acclaimed work does amply demonstrate the utter originality and quirkiness that can and indeed does exist in Japan's pink film industry.