When we get together we do the usual stuff—chat, drink wine, endure whippings, have a forced enema or two.
We don't share pinku and roman porno posters just because we're interested in the films. We also share them because, first, the art is always great, and second, it's easy to get. Its availability is a reflection of how many productions of the type were made—in a word, many hundreds. That's two words. Let's go with thousands—which is not an exaggeration. These were incredibly popular films is the point, made by multiple studios trying to place double features into vertically integrated, wholly dependent cinemas every weekend. Many of the movies have fallen prey to the ravages of time, which occasionally leads to us sharing art from movies that no longer exist, but today's offering, Nawa to chibusa, aka Rope and Breasts, starring Nami Matsukawa and Izumi Shima, is one we did in fact find and watch.
The movie premiered in Japan today in 1983, and it involves a couple running a traveling bdsm show who arrive in Kyoto and are hired for a private performance that turns into something more. The woman is planning to retire, but now learns what bondage and discipline really are as she and her man are teased and tortured to within an inch of their sanity. When all is said and done the woman forgets retirement, not because she loves torture, but because she realizes her life is hell anyway and if she has to live in hell she'd like to at least make money from it. Very upbeat stuff. An interesting aspect of the copy we saw is its use of pixelation to obscure the private parts of the actors (see below). Since roman pornos are softcore the masking is purely directorial flourish, designed, we suppose, to give the action a veneer of the forbidden.
For those who've missed our previous discussions about the roman porno genre, the filmmakers generally contend that the sexual abuse depicted is symbolic of patriarchal Japan's subjugation to occupying Americans, or to modern life, or to a burgeoning counterculture, etc. As a smart man once said, when something is symbolic of everything, it's symbolic of nothing. In other words, we don't buy the boilerplate on roman porno, at least not fully. We think it was primarily money driven, and the more intellectual aspects were secondary, distantly. But the main thing we try to remember as outsiders looking in is that cultural judgement is a slippery slope, and while in this particular 2018 moment of discussion about the all too prevalent dangers men present to women, it's easy to dismiss roman porno films as masculine horror fantasies sprung from the brows of unrepentant misogynists.
But times change, and there are layers to the issue that make such assessments a bit too facile. It's possible to be on one side of a cultural issue during a certain moment in time, but be judged as on the exact opposite side a generation or two later. Today's observers could easily conclude that roman porno filmmakers were conservative nationalists, but in reality they were mainly liberal feminist allies satirizing conservative patriarchs/patriots. Their sexualization of women was spurred in part by box office need, but they believed in their own symbolism and there's no doubt most of them thought of themselves as modernist trailblazers smashing social barriers. The path their output has taken through the decades is parallel to that of Hugh Hefner, hailed as women's rights hero in 1967, reviled as a cog in a destructive porno machine half a century later. Times change.
If Japanese viewers of 1980s American horror movies had demanded to know why so many productions featured people being lured into the woods to be slaughtered it would have led to some uncomfortable conversations about apocalyptic American attitudes toward sex, as well as the eternal American worship of violence. These discussions would have been much more needed than any concerning 1970s Japanese mores. But as for modern observers, they get to judge earlier filmmakers only up to a point. They weren't there. They forget that work incommercial media has its demands, if the work is to be secured at all. Old targets are no longer fully relevant, as well as being way too easy to criticize in hindsight. Subversive messages are often slipped into popular art and those messages matter. They wink at us. They say, “You and I both know this is just entertainment, but this other thing—if you are detecting it—is what we're really about here.” But modern viewers of old films often miss these important messages. As culture changes receptivity to these small signals change too.
So, okay, Nawa to chibusa is a weird movie. It's a weird movie hailing from a weird genre. The genre was meant to both make money and provoke people, and all these years later the films remain as artifacts of an industry embarked upon a radical social discussion, spearheaded by filmmakers who hadn't yet realized that images also carry weight apart from their alleged political intent. In other words, the question becomes whether the same goals could have been achieved by other means—i.e. other means of provocation, other types of imagery. We can't answer that. We weren't there. We don't know of anyone who has tallied the social gains and losses, if any, brought about by all this shocking cinema. All we have is an inadequate twenty-first century perspective, an inadequate Western perspective, an incomplete male perspective, and a whole lot of crazy posters.
Fifty shades of Tani.
It's roman porno's runaway mainstream success that keeps us watching the movies. We seek to understand them from the point of view of the millions of Japanese filmgoers that made them box office gold, and we try to do it without being squeamish about the content, which is softcore, yet far beyond the pale by American standards. Made half a decade earlier than the second wave bondage flicks we've been featuring lately, Niizuma Jigoku, aka Newlywed Hell, aka New Wife's Hell stars undisputed bdsm queen Naomi Tani in a hit roman porno made with considerably more artistry than second wave films. It's still the same basic idea though—woman has no idea she's into kinky bondage until forced into it. But a more restrained approach than would be prevalent later elevates the material a bit. It's still weird as hell, but you won't feel permanently filthy after watching it. As a bonus, the amazing Terumi Azuma co-stars. Niizuma Jigoku premiered today in 1975.
Junko Mabuki gets deflowered.
We just saw Junko Mabuki last week, and here she is again in the roman porno vehicle Dan Oniroku bara jigoku, which is known in English as Hell of Roses. Oniroku Dan was Japan's perv laureate of erotic bondage literature, and he became so famous that his name often appeared on the front of movies adapted from his material. And his material was pretty fringy stuff, at least by our standards. Last week's Oniroku Dan movie was centered around a slimy photographer's bondage obsession. This time there are two photographers, working in tandem to produce bdsm shots of young women who don't have any real idea what they've signed up for. Junko plays a famous singer who gets into their crosshairs. She'd never submit voluntarily, so the two predators subdue her with chloroform and spirit her away to an isolated house. Once she awakens she puts up a real fight and even manages to bloody one of her captors, but she still ends up caged, roped, dildoed, etc., and then there's that roman porno pee thing again. And a snake. And a kinky blood fixation. But you know what this movie doesn't have? Roses. Go figure. Dan Oniroku bara jigoku premiered today in 1980.
If you love somebody pin them to a corkboard.
You know by now that roman porno is a Japanese softcore film genre, and that the “roman” stands for “romantic.” So it's fitting that the poster for the roman porno flick Seishojo: hitontasu no keiken has a romantic image. That isn't usually the case, but this one, with the colors and flowers, is pretty. The English title of this was One Summer Experience: Sexy Virgin, or sometimes Sex Virginity Hito: Natsu's Experience, and what happens is a man named Nobuyuki who collects butterflies meets a girl named Ruri who thinks she's the incarnation of a butterfly. Turns out she's a mental patient, but nuts never looked as good as Terumi Azuma, so Nobuyuki has to be be forgiven for violating the tenets of the hot/crazy matrix. This one gets pretty weird. There's a scene where Ruri experiences sexual pleasure from being stabbed with insect pins, and all we can say is, you know, it's roman porno. The movie has immense importance, at least to us, because it was Azuma's first lead role, and she gave the cinema world plenty of enjoyable material over the years. Below you see a beautiful promo shot—reversed by the lithographer, which we know because in real life Azuma's torso mole is actually on her left—and a nice alternate poster. Seishojo: hitontasu no keiken premiered today in 1976.
Nikktasu's revitalized roman porno screens for NYC audiences.
Today in New York City at the New York Asian Film Festival, two productions from Nikkatsu Studios' ballyhooed Roman Porno Reboot Project will screen for audiences. The Reboot Project was announced last year, and includes major directors such as Hideo Nakata of Ringu fame, Sion Sono of Cold Fish and Tokyo Tribe, and Kazuya Shiraishi, who made The Devil’s Path. Three films will be included in the New York fest, which began several days ago—Kazuya Shiraishi's Mesunekotachi, aka Dawn of the Felines, and Akihiko Shiota's Kaze ni nureta onna, aka Wet Woman in the Wind, will screen today. Isao Yukisada's Gymnopedies ni Midareru, aka Aroused by Gymnopédies premieres on July 14.
Will these be as edgy as Nikkatsu's vintage roman porno offerings? We have our doubts—some of those movies indugle in excesses so extreme we're amazed they're even available on DVD. We expect the new roman porno to be milder but perhaps contain a modern feminist twist, a shift in point-of-view that would be welcome, at least to us. All three of the movies playing in NYC have already seen release in Japan and gotten decent reviews, which means festival audiences should find something enjoyable in them. If you're in the Big Apple area you now have a potential plan for the next ten days. As for us folks who live far across the ocean, hopefully we'll get a chance to see some of the films soon as well, and if we do we'll certainly report back.
She may get pushed around but eventually she always pushes back.
Rashamen Oman: higanbana wa chitta, for which you see he promo here, is known in English as Foreigner’s Mistress Oman: Falling Autumn Flower. The movie starred Sally Mei, aka Sally May, an enigmatic half Anglo half Japanese actress who appeared in a handful of movies and had a short singing career, here playing the character Oman in a sequel to Rashamen Oman: ame no Oranda-zaka (poster here). She'd do one more film in this series called Enzetsu jokyo-den: Oman midarehada, and all of them premiered between March and August of the same year, which shows you how fast Nikkatsu churned these Krispy Kremes out.
The plot of the first movie saw Mei travel from Shanghai to Japan in search of her mother, only to be betrayed by her companion and sold to a brothel, where she becomes a geisha and gambler. Luckily, Mei had picked up some sword skills along the way and put those to good use julienning her captors. The sequel, then, picks up after she's served a prison sentence only to find that her sister is in the clutches of a group of yakuza lowlifes. Mei is up the challenge once again. Starring as her sister, by the way, is Yuri Yamashina, who we've looked at before. Rashamen Oman: higanbana wa chitta premiered in Japan today in 1972.
Jo Shishido is too cruel to be schooled.
By now you've noticed this year's Noir City slate concerns heists—all the films so far have involved foolproof plans to make a big score. 1964's Kenjû zankoku monogatari, aka Cruel Gun Story is about a crew that wants to rob a race track, same as in Kubrick's The Killing. Japanese superstar Jo Shishido leads his minions on a caper that goes wrong almost immediately and eventually erupts into pyrotechnic violence. If there's a lesson here it's don't get on Shishido's bad side. Though he's preternaturally cool (really, we can't think of another star who could make exchanging close quarters gunfire while smoking a cigarette look believable), restraint in the face of aggression isn't his strong trait. When he has something serious to say, it's going to come from the muzzle of a gun. This is another Noir City offering that most sites don't label as film noir, but the influences are certainly there, and in fact the film is part of The Criterion Collection's five film Nikkatsu Noir DVD box set. We've seen Kenjû zankoku monogatari described as Nikkatsu Studios' crown jewel. We don't know about that. We'd call it an imperfect but entertaining effort.
Miyai's indoor escapades continue in installment eighteen of Nikkatsu's popular series.
This poster was made to promote the roman porno flick Danchizuma: Okasareta hada, known in English as Apartment Wife: Violated Skin, eighteenth entry in the Apartment Wife series launched by Nikkatsu Corporation in 1971. Erina Miyai stars again, and we can't imagine there are many surprises eighteen entries into the series, but we couldn't find a copy so all you get is the poster. And the promo photo below. Danchizuma: Okasareta hada premiered in Japan today in 1977.
Take off your coat. Stay a while.
If the Siri voice application for iPad is ever given a visual form, we vote for this one. The two panels above show lovely Japanese actress Sayaka Seri, aka Meika Seri, who made her debut in 1973 with Yasagure anego den: sôkatsu rinchi, aka Female Yakuza Tale: Inquisition and Torture, but became well known for the Nikkatsu hit (Maruhi) shikijô mesu ichiba, aka Secret Chronicle: She Beast Market, which was released in 1974. These photos date from that year. You may be wondering if Seri keeps disrobing in subsequent shots. Actually, she does, and if you're really good maybe we'll show you those a bit later.
How do you juggle marriage and prostitution? By keeping them apartmentalized.
Didn't we just see Erina Miyai a couple of days ago? Indeed we did. Her prison pinku flick Onna keimusho opened two days ago in 1978, and this effort, Danchizuma maruhi shuccho baishun, aka Apartment Wife: Secret Call Girl, premiered today in 1976. It's about a blackmail ring that uses illicit photos of an unfaithful wife to force her into prostitution, pretty basic Nikkatsu roman porno, sixteenth of twenty-one entries in the Apartment Wife series, a moneymaking franchise that lasted from 1971 to 1979. This one was the first of three go-rounds with Miyai. Hard to find, but interesting to watch.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1942—Carole Lombard Dies in Plane Crash
American actress Carole Lombard
, who was the highest paid star in Hollywood during the late 1930s, dies in the crash of TWA Flight 3, on which she was flying from Las Vegas to Los Angeles after headlining a war bond rally in support of America's military efforts. She was thirty-three years old.
1919—Luxemburg and Liebknecht Are Killed
Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, two of the most prominent socialists in Germany, are tortured and murdered by the Freikorps. Freikorps was a term applied to various paramilitary organizations that sprang up around Germany as soldiers returned in defeat from World War I. Members of these groups would later become prominent members of the SS.
1967—Summer of Love Begins
The Human Be-In takes place in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park with between 20,000 to 30,000 people in attendance, their purpose being to promote their ideals of personal empowerment, cultural and political decentralization, communal living, ecological preservation, and higher consciousness. The event is considered the beginning of the famed counterculture Summer of Love.
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