Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
In the 1980s, when home video was new and Japan was rushing to fill the market with hastily-made OAVs, there were a lot of projects made that, in saner times, nobody would have ever considered making. Such is the case with Call Me Tonight, an utterly absurd half-hour short with a sharp satirical edge.
Rumi is co-owner of a small phone sex club, but she seldom reports in for work. Her playing hooky is interrupted by a phone call from a coworker, hoping to hand off a particularly bizarre client: a young man who claims to "transform" whenever he masturbates. Intrigued, Rumi agrees to go meet the guy at a diner. The guy's name is Ryou, and he's the good looking but shy type. Rumi's pretty happy that she took the time to doll herself up to visit him, and doesn't listen to his repeated warnings that brushing up against him like that is NOT a good idea. After all, what guy doesn't turn into a bit of a cretin when it comes to sex?
But Ryou wasn't talking about becoming a "monster" in any normal sense. Rather, he literally -- physically -- turns into a giant, grotesque, tentacled demon of the sort anime is infamous for. And he does just that, right in the restaurant. Most everyone flees in terror, but Rumi is more fascinated than anything else. After a while, the guy goes back to normal and confesses that he's pretty sick of this condition -- his clothes are all destroyed, as are most of the things in his room. Rumi agrees to help, and gleefully sets about trying to "cure" him.
Her attempts mostly involve exposure therapy. She takes him into a porn theater (where a hentai happens to be on screen), and tries to turn him on by standing out in the rain while the water turns her clothes see-through. (There's something just incredibly wrong about a montage of a girl trying to show a tentatcled monster porno magazines.) What she doesn't know is that the butch sister of her gang leader classmate is spying on Ryou, and that gang leader is dyin' to get her mitts on a man that out of control.
I can't imagine anybody making Call Me Tonight or anything like it in today's world. It's short, experimental and edgy piece of pulp art, almost playing like a sketch comedy sendup of common adult anime tropes. The very idea of satirizing violent porn could easily end in disaster, but the OAV is also shockingly intelligent in what it has to say, and looks at the world of hentai with a knowing sense of snark. It's one of the few anime that I can say is probably funnier the more it's analyzed.
The film is amazingly perceptive for its short running time, using its dark humor to lob sharp criticism at society and gender roles, not to mention the stupidity that horniness brings out in pretty much everyone. Ryou's character is easy to decode: he's normally a nice guy, but when sex is involved he becomes a violent psychopath. The film happily points out that the tentacled monster, long the staple of grotesque comic pornography by this point, is little more than the male libido itself: destructive, scary and stupid. The women, already far from being the innocent, docile playthings of lesser anime, are taken to task for being too blinded by their own libidos to see that they're willingly throwing themselves at an inhuman creature who will inevitably do them great harm. Moreover, the entire erotic grotesque genre (typified by Toshio Maeda's hugely influential Urotsukidoji) is taken to task for being essentially a reflection of this, the worst type of romantic relationship.
But while there are plenty of opportunities for Ryou's tentacles to stray into dangerous places, they never do, and for all its bawdiness Call Me Tonight stays fairly benign in content. In fact, it's Rumi who, in the end, discovers what will calm the savage beast. And perhaps the very thing that solves the problem is the most hilariously crass thing the film has to say about the male half of the species.
The film is short, and so like short fiction, the film suffers from a lack of back story and character development, but ultimately its short running time lends it an immediacy, like a comedy sketch that doesn't overstay its welcome. The animation, while technically decent, has aged incredibly due to its strict adherence to mid-80s fashion (which looks extremely similar to the original Megazone 23). The characters, designed by Kumiko Takahashi, have that huge-eyed cherubic look common to the era. Nobody will ever mistake Call Me Tonight for being anything but a product of the 80s.
Created by Bubblegum Crisis manga-ka Toshimichi Suzuki and written and directed by Tatsuya Okamoto (who never seemed to rise above episode director for a handful of 80s shows), Call Me Tonight has almost nothing in common with anything else in either creator's catalog; in fact it's pretty unique among anime in general. The film is part of a series of four edgy OAVs, known as Pink Noise. All were produced by AIC on a shoestring budget, but other than some common staff and a penchant for the perverted, the OAVs have little in common. Call Me Tonight is the only one that really impressed me to any degree.
Call Me Tonight is truly original, and a total product of both manga culture and the 80s. It's absurd enough to be completely unpredictable, and smart enough to warrant repeated viewings. If you can ignore the tacky music and cringe-inducing fashions, it's easy to enjoy it as the subversive treat it is. While it's not hentai in any sense, the very idea of seeing tentacled monsters squeezing cute, underdressed girls will surely be too much for some people. But if you can deal with the adult subject matter, Call Me Tonight is a hilarious, mostly inoffensive sendup of a genre that desperately needed to be taken down a notch.
|A||Abundant. Available anywhere that carries anime.|
|C||Common. In print, and always available online.|
|R1||US release out of print, still in stock most places.|
|R2||US release out of print, not easy to find.|
|R3||Import only, but it has English on it.|
|R4||Import only. Fansubs commonly available.|
|R5||Import only, and out of print. Fansubs might be out there.|
|R6||Import long out of print. No fansubs are known to exist.|
|R7||Very rare. Limited import release or aired on TV with no video release. No fansubs known to exist.|
|R8||Never been on the market. Almost impossible to obtain.|
|Adapted from Soviet-Awards.com.|
Where to get it:
The Pink Noise OAVs have never seen a DVD release in any country, and all currently existant copies are aging Laserdiscs or VHS copies. They've all been fansubbed at various times, and can all be found online. Call Me Tonight was actually given a gorgeous fan-restoration by the same guys that did TO-Y and a few other Buried Treasures, though given its age and budget it doesn't look quite as nice as some of their other work. In any event, it's well worth checking out.
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history