"Moonlight Whispers" is typical for several newer Japanese films: Exaggeration helps understanding.
At the beginning the film looks like a sweet teenage coming of age film. First love, first sex and the first problems. However, in this case the first problems are not your usual kind of problems.
Takuya (Kenji Mizuhashi) is a young, shy high school student. He meets fellow student Satsuki (Tsugumi), who is one of the stars of the schools Kendo club, and he is immediately attracted to her. As their relationship develops Satsuki soon finds out, that Takuya is a masochist and fetishist he is more interested in sniffing her underwear and being her dog, than in a normal sexual relationship.
Satsuki is appalled and shocked by this, and at first she does not want to have anything more to do with Takuya. But he is very persistent, and to her alarm and worry she slowly starts to appreciate the domination and humiliation games.
So you say this is just another sexploitation film, where young actors are used to give the audience lots of gratuitous sex scenes with a sadomasochistic twist. You are so wrong.
There are no heavy sex scenes. No gratuitous nude scenes. In one scene Takuya is forced to sit in a closet in Satsukis bedroom, while she is having sex in her bed with one of his classmates. He hears and has to endure every sound, but he sees nothing and neither do we. The film is a romantic drama with a mesage.
Takuya is ruthlessly honest to himself and Satsuki even though he knows, that this honesty may very well cost him her love but he cannot (and will not) hide how he is.
Satsuki is deeply disturbed by his needs, but cannot deny his dedication and honesty, and she is slowly being drawn into his universe and just as slowly starting to find herself liking the dominating part, he needs her to play.
Where other teenage films tries to show, how difficult it can be to be young and in love, "Moonlight Whispers" take things quite a bit further. Here Director Akihiko Shiota shows how much more difficult things can be, if your sexual preferences differ drastically from those of your peers.
Japanese society is very rigid, and conformity is very important, which puts a lot of pressure on you, if you are just a little different. There are more than 30.000 suicides in Japan every year, and a lot of those are young people, who cannot cope with the pressures of society. They are forming "suicide pacts" and arrange group suicides, either because they're too scared to kill themselves alone, or maybe because that way they can feel they belong to a group. There is virtually no counseling or therapy to help people, who are having problems, so they don't know where to turn for help.
The director has wanted to show teenagers that being different from others are quite ok even though it can be very difficult. For that purpose he uses deviant sex combined with young love (exaggeration helps understanding) to such great effect, that he won the Japanese union of Directors price for best new director (its his first film). As with many other new Japanese films the story is based on a manga. To enhance the story the film is incredibly aesthetic with beautiful photography a trait that the viewer has come to expect from Japanese films.
For a film like this to work, it is extremely important, that the actors are convincing. Both Kenji Mizuhashi and Tsugumi are perfect for the parts. They convey love, determination, honesty, uncertainty and youth in fully believable performances and that cannot have been easy considering the subject matter.
Because of the actors believability and the directors fine and subtle touch, I found myself sucked into the universe of this film. I cared about the story and about, what happened to Takuya and Satsuki. I did not become a convinced masochist or sadist. But I was convinced that it is still possible to find happiness even if you are different from others as long as you are honest to yourself and your surroundings.
"Moonlight Whispers" is a warm, thoughtful and beautiful little masterpiece.