Are you a fan of Asian dramas with a hint of anime? Then, prepare yourselves for Hiroshi Akabane’s feature film, Beautiful Lure: A Modern Tale of Painted Skin. Our story centers on a young woman, Maiko (Nao Hasegawa), an executive assistant to the vice president of a major bank. But at night, she is a hostess at a high-class club. Her job is to provide companionship to its wealthy clientele, who wish to spend an evening with a beautiful woman. I’m incredibly literal here — no sexual shenanigans, just company.
I should add that Maiko is also a “youma,” also known as a “foxy demon.” Long ago, Maiko was possessed by a nine-tail fox who used her host’s beauty and cunning to work her way up the social and political ladder, causing chaos across Japan. She can instantly deduce your personality and directly target your character flaws and weaknesses. She can also kill you with a single touch and make it look like a heart attack.
Maiko has finally found her perfect next victim in Taro (Ryoma Ichihara), the son of a popular member of Japan’s House of Representatives. He is a bright, idealistic young man with a passion for serving his people and his eye set on Prime Minister, thus serving all of Japan. Maiko not only proves herself to be the perfect advisor for Taro but schemes her way into marrying the hesitant man as well.
Suspicious of Maiko’s odd behavior, Taro visits his mentor and spiritual leader, Katsuko (Yoshimi Ashikawa), who warns Taro that Maiko is a youma. Nevertheless, Taro is in love with Maiko and believes she can be saved. Katsuko, on the other hand, is disappointed that Taro is willing to risk everything, including Japan’s future, for a pretty woman because beauty is only “painted skin.”
“…possessed by a nine-tail fox who used her host’s beauty and cunning to work her way up the social and political ladder…”
It’s essential to understand what Beautiful Lure: A Modern Tale of Painted Skin is before going in. Written by Ryuho Okawa and Sayaka Okawa, their story is an Asian drama — akin to a soap opera in presentation. The images are bright and clean, especially for such a dark tale about a power-hungry demon.
Ichihara plays Taro as if JFK was a boy scout. He loves his country, and personal integrity is of the utmost importance. Hasegawa shows a great deal of range as Maiko. She’s meek and humble when around Taro and his politically powerful father. Then on the turn of a dime, her claws and teeth come out. The ending leads to an anime-like battle, but with a television budget. The special effects feel more like Doctor Who than the cinematic CGI effects we now see in Marvel television shows.
Soap Opera is the best way to describe Beautiful Lure: A Modern Tale of Painted Skin. Good is good, and bad is bad. There’s not much gray as Taro maintains his boy scout purity throughout. I appreciate how Maiko weasels her way into Taro’s family and how she deals with his rural Japanese past. So if you’re a fan of Asian dramas and soap operas, this feels very familiar and will please its vast fanbase.
I make this qualification because I like my drama much more grounded than this, even if it involves a demon fight in the end. As a whole, the genre has its own set of weaknesses, so liking or not liking the film now becomes a matter of preference. I had fun with Beautiful Lure: A Modern Tale of Painted Skin, but not enough to make me a fan of the genre. This is despite the many of my friends and relatives who wish I would be.
"…if you're a fan of Asian dramas and soap operas...will please its vast fanbase."