Japan’s history of major studio-sponsored “pink cinema” retains its power to shock for two key reasons.  The first is its heady focus on taboo-breaking.  Rape is often a key plot element and any number of other taboos that are normally confined to the outer limits of pornography or underground cinema are flaunted with gleeful abandon by the filmmakers.  The other element, often overlooked but just as important, is how well-made these films are.  They benefit from high levels of technical polish, artistic ambition, acting skill and production value that are normally inconceivable in films dealing with the dark side of sexuality.

Zoom Up: The Beaver Book Girl provides an object lesson in how Japan’s pink filmmakers could combine perverse sexual extremism with artful technique to achieve a thoroughly disorienting effect. This film was adapted from a manga by Takashi Ishii, a specialist in stories about the psychology of sexual trauma and the creator of the infamous Angel Guts series.  In the opening sequence, a woman is brutally raped by an assailant whose face isn’t shown.  The sequence isn’t played for titillation: instead it is short, tough to watch and closes with a haunting close-up of the woman’s face.

The rest of story takes place a few years later and focuses on a photographer who supplies images for a porn magazine.  He specializes in bathroom-themed shoots and seems thoroughly uninterested in sex despite his gig.  His employer is pressuring him to fill the latest wave of demand for his work when a mysterious woman (Junko Mabuki) begins showing up around his shoots, finally volunteering her services for his work.  She has no problem satisfying any perverse command yet is elusive when he tries to control her.  If it sounds like this is leading the plot in a predictable direction, think again: the finale is as unpredictable as it is jaw-droppingly twisted.

If you’re in the market for a procession of shocks and kinks, Zoom Up: The Beaver Book Girl has no problem complying with such demands.  It hits all the categories expected from Japanese pink fare: there is an abundance of casual nudity, frequent sex scenes and themes of rape and sadomasochism.  However, it offers some surprises along the way.  For example, the sleazy atmosphere is heightened by setting the story against the backdrop of the porn industry.  Also, it also revels in the depiction of a particular bodily fluid, showcasing it in a trio of scenes that will leave even experienced shock-cinephiles doubting what they’ve just seen.

That said, the biggest surprise in Zoom Up: The Beaver Book Girl is that it actually tells a story – and a compelling one, at that – between the scenes  that fulfill all the kink-softcore expectations.  The photographer and the mystery woman are both complex, intriguing characters whose motivations get revealed over the course of the film.  The performances make the gradual unveiling work, with both leads managing to be the rare actors who can be uninhibited in front of the camera while also delivering skillfully crafted performances.  Director Takashi Kanno lives up to the quality of the script and performances by bringing a strong visual sense to the proceedings: he shows a skill for finding striking, artful visual compositions in the midst of grungy surroundings and paces the tale sharply, bringing it in at just under 64 minutes.

The end result has undeniable impact: even if you’re experienced with this kind of cine-sleaze, Zoom Up: The Beaver Book Girl is likely to knock you for a loop with its confident blend of erotic edgeplay and pristine craftsmanship.