Spotlights & Special Events

Feature Films : Behind the Pink Curtain

Behind the Pink CurtainThere can’t be many Oscar winners who can claim a background in pornographic cinema, but this is exactly the case of Yojiro Takita, who romped back home to Japan clutching the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award for DEPARTURES earlier this year, having began his film career in the 1980s with bawdy comedies such as the MOLESTER TRAIN (CHIKAN DENSHA) series. Takita is not the first major Japanese director to emerge from the spawning pool of the pink film, or pinku eiga. Since its birth in 1962 with the release of Satoru Kobayashi’s FLESH MARKET (NIKUTAI ICHIBA), this curious sub-genre of low-budget, independent 35mm softcore sex films has nurtured its own unique brand of artists, anarchists and visionaries, providing a vibrant training ground for fledgeling filmmakers to hone their craft and giving us such luminaries as Koji Wakamatsu, Masao Adachi, Ryuichi Hiroki, Masayuki Suo, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Hisayasu Sato and Takahisa Zeze.

With its mix of exploitation, formal experimentation, radical politics, comedy and great dollops of sex, the genre proved so popular during an era when the major studios in Japan were struggling to maintain their audiences against the new threat of television that by the mid-’60s it accounted for half of the industry’s domestic output. Several of the major companies jumped on the bandwagon, most notably Japan’s oldest film studio, Nikkatsu, established in 1909, who launched their bigger-budgeted Roman Porno line in 1971, releasing almost 1,000 lavish classics of softcore eroticism by contracted directors such as Noboru Tanaka, Chusei Sonei and Tatsumi Kumashiro, until the studio wound up the series in 1988. Several of Tanaka’s best works, including THE TRUE STORY OF ABE SADA (JITSUROKU ABE SADA, 1975), based on the same true-life story that informed Nagisa Oshima’s IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES (AI NO CORRIDA, 1976) and WATCHER IN THE ATTIC (YANEURA NO SANPOSHA, 1976), adapted from the works of celebrated ero guro (‘erotic grotesque’) author Edogawa Rampo, will be screening at the Cinémathèque Québécoise.

While Nikkatsu dropped out of erotic film production against the rising tide of hardcore pornographic video known in Japan as AV (‘Adult Video’), against all odds the independent pink film companies struggled on. Still to this day around 80 such films are shot on 35mm film and released to specialist adult cinemas every year, making Japan the only country in the world still producing softcore erotic films for cinema audiences in any significant number. Some of today’s filmmakers continue to push the boundaries of the format, of five to six sex or mild nude scenes in a film of approximately an hour in length, to explore their own stylistic of thematic concerns, with Rei Sakamoto’s relationship drama YARIMAN (2008) playing at the festival providing a perfect example. Despite the almost ludicrously low budgets and harsh shooting conditions, for the latest generation of pink film directors, the genre provides a unique chance to work on 35mm using professional crews to tell their own personal stories to cinema audiences.

And yet still the genre remains the subject of much misunderstanding and prejudice. Is it art or exploitation, and can these two aspects coexist side by side? In conjunction with the Cinémathèque Québécoise, Fantasia is proud to present some standout pinku eiga and Roman Porno titles from the past few decades, and leaves it to you, the audience, to decide.

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PLUS! More Pink Films screening at the Cinémathèque Québécoise as part of the retrospective L’Empire du désir, films érotiques japonais starting July 15th. See the details HERE.

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