Erina Miyai's world is turned upside down.
Above is a poster for the Nikkatsu roman porno flick Hatachi no sei hakusho: Nokezoru, which premiered in Japan today in 1978. The literal translation of the Japanese title for this is so convoluted and crazy it's useless to even repeat it, but for its international release it was called Brute's Desire, which doesn't bode well. But we love the poster art, and we love Erina Miyai. If the concept of roman porno is new to you just click the keywords below to have all our posts on the subject at your fingertips. Hatachi no sei hakusho: Nokezoru premiered in Japan today in 1978.
Nikkatsu pushes the envelope of taste—and social responsibility—with Okasu!
Above, a poster for the roman porno flick Okasu!, which premiered in Japan today in 1976. The title here, in a rare occurrence and complete contrast to the above film, translates directly—Rape! Considering that hundreds of roman porno (short for “romantic porno”) movies were made by Nikkatsu Studios during the ’70s and ’80s we take them seriously and seek to understand them. So we watched this and... we don't understand. Starring Natsuko Yashiro, who you may remember from her female diver movies, and co-starring Naomi Tani and Yuri Yamashina, Okasu! is the story of a rape victim who develops an obsession for her attacker and searches the city for him, constantly exposing herself to similar dangers.
To be clear, we make no cultural judgments here—around the same time in the U.S. on the soap opera General Hospital, Luke raped Laura and became the number one hunk on daytime television. So we're not failing to understand Okasu! from a cultural vantage point, but from a generational vantage point. We don't find non-consensual anything sexy. From our perspective this dubious flick has only two plusses: there's a highly ironic, even grimly comical, ending; and Yashiro masturbates with a walnut, which we never knew was possible. Wanna try it? Follow her lead below. But when you're making your way through vintage Japanese movies give this one a pass.
Even in Japan payback is a bitch
Above, a nice but slightly damaged poster (it had a strip of tape across the top) for Joshigakuen Yabai Sotsugyô, aka Girls' School: Wild Graduation Song, starring Junko Natsu and Yoshiko Ikebo in a movie about students at two girls schools—White Rose Academy and Harbor Junior High—and how their rivalry turns into open conflict. There's a really funny scene in this where the two schools' volleyball teams get into a massive brawl after one of the girls is hit in the crotch. We knew serves could be underhanded, but that's just plain evil. Joshigakuen Yabai Sotsugyô premiered in Japan today in 1971.
You only get partial coverage, and that's if you're lucky.
Let it be known—if you cheat on Hitomi Kozue she'll come after you with a samurai sword. At least, that's what happens in the intro of Shin jitsuroku onna kanbetsusho: Rengoku, aka New True Story of a Woman Condemned to Hell. After Kozue slices her cheating man and his mistress, we smash cut to her chained in a prison van headed toward the rest of the movie. Jail time starts with a complimentary cavity search, and from there the amenities continue to disappoint. No pillow mints. No DSL. There's cell service, though, which comes in quite strongly after dark. But in general Kozue finds incarceration to be a bummer. Oh well. These deprivations are nobody's fault but hers—you've gotta keep a level head even when your partner is dicking a local tramp.
Kozue is lonely, but she soon learns that a man can easily be replaced by a piece of polished wood, or a religious figurine, or an inflated condom, or a willing finger or two. If she'd known all those possibilities before she kebabed her boyfriend she might have avoided imprisonment. But maybe not—we learn in flashback that what seemed like a straightforward case of catching her man cheating is more complicated. We won't say more. You'll just have to watch the film, which is a better-than-average women-in-prison entry, with that unique pinku flair, and a special beauty in the lead role, plus Yuri Yamashina in support. Shin jitsuroku onna kanbetsusho: Rengoku premiered in Japan today in 1976.
Below: a nice promo image of Hitomi. Why? Be-Kozue we had it. More from her later.
Need a little help around the house?
Above is a poster for Dorei keiyakushu, yet another entry in Nikkatsu's roman porno pantheon, and one that gets viewers to the usual place by a slightly different route. The film opens with Nami Matsukawa having her pubic hair shaved off by a man. She isn't too thrilled about it. Then he gives her an enema, and it's us who aren't too thrilled. Then he binds her in rope kinbaku-bi style, basically wrapping her like a gift, carefully places her in a crate with some packing material, closes it up and has some delivery guys take the container away. The parcel ends up in the house of Hidekazu Mikami, who's surprised as hell when he opens it, as is his wife, played by Izumi Shima. Imagine explaining that. A sheaf of legal documents around Nami's neck says that she's a slave and will serve as payment of a debt. And just like that it's straight to the kinky sex and domination. You can always count on Nikkatsu—they never fail to get you to bondage land, if indeed that's where you want to go. Us, we can take or leave it. Even though we have many more roman porno posters we'd like to share, we may shift more toward Toei's pinky violence action movies for a while. They're harder to find, but worth the effort—and we can only watch so many enemas. Dorei keiyakushu premiered in Japan today in 1982.
It says she'll do anything you ask. Laundry, dishes, handjobs, whatever.
Baby, I swear I didn't order a slave.
But as long as we have one...
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.
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