It's ride or die on the streets of Kyoto.
Toei Company goes biker culture for Boso sekkusu-zoku, known in English as Hell Riders in Kyoto and Wild Sex Gang, which combines the typical Toei action film with aspects of American b-movies like Easy Rider and The Rebel Rousers. Takashi Shirai is a nihilistic and lawless twenty-something addicted to speed, and especially to motorcycles. When he's caught speeding by police his obsession goes into overdrive, and he decides to buy a 750cc bike that will enable him to outrun even the cops. Tsunehiko Watase is also obsessed with speed. He couldn't afford a bike to satiate his addiction, which is why he became a motorcycle cop. It allowed him to ride the 500cc bike he desired. Now Shirai is outrunning him. The rivalry between these two leads to one-upmanship that spills from the roadway and into other areas of their lives, but just when Shirai seems doomed the beautiful Miki Sugimoto arrives on the scene, and he starts to see that there's some value to life after all. But is it too late? Well, maybe.
Boso sekkusu-zoku is an interesting but not great entry from Toei that, like many crime movies from the ’70s, hinges on the presumption of redeemability. Shirai is lost, and is a danger to all those around him, but with luck and love he could become a good person. Needless to say, this is a retro concept today, in the age of non-forgiveness, and the belief that punishment must be decisive, vengeful, and usually permanent. For that reason it's interesting to watch the filmmakers here weigh Shirai's potential value. And it's also interesting to see how the cop Tsunehiko threatens to be corrupted by his hatred for Shirai. But these themes are not new, and exploring them as perfunctorily as Boso sekkusu-zoku does is a fatal flaw, in our view. More plot, more depth, more stuntwork, and more commitment across the board would have helped immensely. Still, though, it's worth a watch. It premiered in Japan today in 1973.
Mirror mirror in my hand, who's the raunchiest in the land?
And what the hell, let's double up on pinku films we can't find. The bright poster above was made to promote Gion nemonogatari: Kyô musume no shoya, which we doubt ever had an English release, but if it had might have been known as something like Gion Sleeping Story: Musume's Wedding Night. Gion is a geisha district in Kyoto, and there's a geisha on the poster, so we're guessing this one is about geishas. Sex and perversion with geishas, since it's a pinku film. Call it a highly educated guess. It premiered in Japan today in 1972.
There's no business like Showa business.
This steamy poster was made to promote the roman porno flick Showa onnamichi: Rashomon, aka Showa Woman: Naked Rashomon, aka Naked Rashomon, which starred Hitomi Kozue and Elmei Esumi. In case you're wondering, “rashomon” was an ancient city gate located in what is now Kyoto, which makes the title rather curious, but it's borrowed from the 1950 Akira Kurosawa period drama Rashomon, which used the gate locale as a central element. That film was famous for its four characters narrating four versions of the same terrible event.
Does Naked Rashomon have anything to do with city gates or multi-p.o.v. narratives? Well, no. When a nobleman's wife can't bear him a son, he turns to a mistress to get the job done and she gives birth to twins—a boy and a girl. The boy will be the nobleman's heir; but he orders the mistress and infant daughter killed. The bodyguard responsible for this heinous task instead secretly sends the pair away. Two decades later the daughter has grown up to be a beautiful woman and, unaware of her true ancestry, crosses paths with her father and twin brother with shocking results.
It's a bizarre premise but a good movie, considered one of director Chûsei Sone's best. And it has Pulp Intl. fave Kozue in a double role as both the mistress and her grown daughter, which can only make matters better. Compared to most Nikkatsu Studios roman pornos this one qualifies as high art, which means it's not just recommendable, but is also a reasonable place for the uninitiated to dive into the genre. But you might not want to dive too deep. It gets pretty gnarly down there. Showa onnamichi: Rashomon premiered in Japan today in 1973.
First the airline loses her luggage. And now this.
Above you see an incredibly rare alternate poster for Poruno no joô: Nippon sex ryokô, aka The Pornstar Travels Around Japan, aka The Kyoto Connection. Notice how it promises SEX in big letters. That English word appeared on many Japanese promos of the era, as we've documented before. Basically, the movie is about a Swedish woman who visits Japan and is abducted by a wacko taxi driver. See the original poster and read what we wrote about the flick at this link.
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 leastnot 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 many were liberal feminist allies satirizing conservative patriarchs/patriots. Their sexualization of women was spurred in part by studio demands, but there's also no doubt many thought of themselves as modernist trailblazers smashing social barriers through the use of sexual symbolism. The path their output has taken through the decades is parallel to that of Hugh Hefner, hailed as a 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 changes 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.
Don’t let the title fool you—this flick goes practically nowhere.
One of the elements we like about pinku films—aside from the action, the visuals, and the glimpse into a culture not our own—is that the women who have suffered all sorts of degradations at the hands of men inevitably massacre their tormentors in the last reel. When that doesn’t happen, we’re cheated of the final catharsis, which makes us party to the abuse rather than cheerleaders for the abused’s emancipation. We don’t need to be shown that the world is cruel—we just want to see something done about it, if only in the realm of violent fantasy. Thus Sadao Nakajima’s Poruno no joô: Nippon sex ryokô, aka The Pornstar Travels Around Japan, aka The Kyoto Connection doesn’t quite deliver for us. It’s a rather simple film, and it has nothing to do with traveling around. Quite the opposite, actually. The porn star in question is held captive in a room most of the movie and repeatedly abused by a rather disturbed taxi driver for whom she eventually develops feelings. Psychologists, so we hear, call this sort of emotional inversion Stockholm Syndrome. We call it a letdown, even though we understand there’s an attempt to make a serious point here. At least the movie has Christina Lindberg in the title role, so that’s a substantial silver lining. The poster above is one you can find on many websites, but we suspect only we have the rare two-panel version below. Too bad the printers produced such a shitty image. We can only assume that upon seeing a nude Christina Lindberg, they printed the posters one-handed while abusing themselves. Poruno no joô: Nippon sex ryokô, aka The Pornstar Travels Around Japan opened in Japan today in 1973.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1978—Son of Sam Goes to Prison
David Berkowitz, the New York City serial killer known as Son of Sam, is sentenced to 365 years in prison for six killings. Berkowitz had acquired his nickname from letters addressed to the NYPD and columnist Jimmy Breslin. He is eventually caught when a chain of events beginning with a parking ticket leads to his car being searched and police discovering ammunition and maps of crime scenes.
1963—Buddhist Monk Immolates Himself
In South Vietnam, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc burns himself to death by dousing himself with gasoline and lighting a match. He does it to protest the persecution of Buddhists by Ngô Đình Diệm administration, choosing a busy Saigon intersection for his protest. An image of the monk being consumed by flames as he sits crosslegged on the pavement, shot by Malcolm Browne, wins a Pulitzer Prize and becomes one of the most shocking and recognizable photos ever published.
In New York City, Dr. Robert Smith and William Griffith Wilson, who were both recovering alcoholics, establish the organization Alcoholics Anonymous, which pioneers a 12-step rehabilitation program that is so helpful and popular it eventually spreads to every corner of the globe.
1973—John Paul Getty III Is Kidnapped
John Paul Getty III, grandson of billionaire oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, is kidnapped in Rome, Italy. The elder Getty ignores a ransom demand for $17 million, thinking it is a joke. When John Paul's ear later arrives in the mail along with a note promising further mutilation, he negotiates the ransom down to $2.9 million, which he pays only on the condition that John Paul repay him at four percent interest. Getty's kidnappers are never caught.
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