Reflections on Japanese Pink Film – The Good, The Bad and The Sexy
Discs save the day during this pandemic thing, but once it’s over, it’s back to the theatres, right? Cinemas are an integral part of our cultural identity. Nothing can beat the ritual of going to watch a film in a theatre, especially when you’re seeing something people are hesitantly or even reluctantly drawn to, like Gaspar Noé’s Climax. Will anyone be offended enough by the sex and violence to walk out? Will the situation escalate to yelling or insults?
What’s also great to see with a crowd is an outrageous exploitation film, or better still, a porno. If you’re lucky enough to live in a country where you can still watch porn in public, like Switzerland or Japan, you should take the real experience and everything that comes with it. The men in their late 80s who are smoking, wheezing and drifting in and out of unconsciousness, their ghastly faces open-mouthed false teeth half out. The aroma of sweat and disinfectant. Checking your seat to make sure there’s no cum or piss on it. If you’re in Japan, there’s also the possibility of catching some disease from the tropical insects festering in the toilet.
Going to see a pinku eiga may not be a good idea for the newcomer to the genre. There’s nothing sexually explicit going on in any of them as they remain softcore even today. However, in addition to the more acceptable non-normative and “inappropriate” practices such as heavy bondage and sadomasochism, the films may contain fantasies of brutal rape and even murder. These being sex films the audience is expected to be turned on by the action flickering across the screen, no matter how incorrect or extreme it is. Women getting hung upside down and beaten, then starting to like it begging for more – you can expect that from the Japanese but when the narrative has an abuse messily killed as a continuation of the sex act, that can be unsettling, especially as more often than not you’ll see someone jerking off right thru the gore scenes. This is why you feel like hanging a sign on your neck saying “I’m studying cultural differences here” or “I’ll be watching this with ironic detachment only”.
Much as we’d like to go to those places, most of us are stuck at home and not in Japan. So, let’s focus on some prime pinkus available on disc. Of course these days the majority of them are targeted towards those with more civilized tastes but who’s interested in lame exhibitions of overage schoolgirls pawing each other, especially as nothing is really shown in detail? Rather, let’s go back to the golden more dangerous era of the genre when more often than not you’d be surprised, appalled and entertained by what was thrown at you.
A name to watch is the director Yasuharu Hasebe. His films are about as sleazy as they get yet they are directed with style, flawlessly edited and presented in big budget widescreen. One of Hasebe’s most notorious films is the easily available and hard to forget Boko Kirisaki Jakku / Assault! Jack the Ripper from 1976. This starts in an unusual manner with a weird montage set in a restaurant kitchen. A spatula is seen in close-up applying whipped cream over a slowly rotating cake, making wave-like formations on the surface. As there apparently is such a thing as a whipped cream fetish this must be quite a scene for fans of that. More and more cream is lovingly spread while seductive jazz plays in the background. After this detailed cake action, introduced are two co-workers in the restaurant, a waitress (Tamaki Katsura) and a pastry chef (Yutaka Hayashi). It’s the Rubenesque round faced Tamaki Katsura that gets the real starring role here. She is quite a sight being bitchy and totally bored with her job, rolling her eyes and giving attitude to customers and the owner of the place alike. In fact, she acts and looks very much like Divine as the teenage delinquent Dawn Davenport in the beginning of Female Trouble.
After a row with the owner, Tamaki gets a ride towards home in the car of the chef. This is when the plot kicks into gear with a scene similar to the hitch-hiker bit in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. A crazed party girl stops the car. She gets in and proceeds to undress, spread cake all over her body and laughing madly, to cut herself with a knife. The duo freaks out and trying to throw her out, end up accidentally killing her. Now, having experienced the act of murder and finding it an irresistible aphrodisiac, they go on a kill spree, attacking random victims, stripping them nude and stabbing them in the crotch.
Miss Katsura appears also in Hasebe’s following film Reipu 25-ji: Bokan (1977), also known as Rape! 13th Hour. The only way to watch this is getting the legit DVD available from France as Le Violeur à la Rose, the Rose Rapist. The lack of subs in English doesn’t matter as the narrative is easy to follow: a young gas station attendant (Yudai Ishiyama) saves Crimson (Akira Takahashi), a lecherously smiling man in a red leather jacket and a rose tattoo in his forearm, from three yakuza types. A bromance ensues and Crimson takes the guy for a ride. Breaking into a flat of a young woman (Tamaki) and her attractive roommate, Crimson then introduces him to the hobby of his, attacking and raping young ladies. After a moment’s hesitation, the novice gets into the spirit of things with wild abandon, throwing his victims on the floor, bashing their faces until they bleed, ripping their underwear off and then, violently raping them with encouragement from the maestro. This being a pinku film, the pained cries of the women soon turn into moans of ecstasy.
It’s no spoiler to reveal the yakuzas seen in the beginning will make appearances later on too, armed with not only guns but with tools useful in exacting a hideous revenge. The final bloodbath is a jawdropper in more ways than one.
These films would be easy to file under mere entertaining trash if they were not so genuinely well made. As production companies like Nikkatsu that had started with historical swordfight epics kept their experienced work forces active after having had to switch to sexploitation to survive, there was a professional sheen to the product. Also, the acting was top quality all around. When rereleased, both got good reviews in Japanese press, too. Hard to imagine that happening these days if stuff like Assault! was for some reason shown theatrically.
Another great director to accept to make the move from mainstream action fare to pinkus was Norifumi Suzuki. His Dabide no Hoshi: Bishojo-gari / Beautiful Girl Hunter (1979), while not as easy on the eye as the Hasebe films, is still generally hailed as the ne plus ultra of pinku violence and his Seiju Gakuen / The School of the Holy Beast (1974) as one of the best nunsploitation films anywhere. Both are available on DVD. For information on these, and everything you’d wish to know about the genre in general, there’s Jasper Sharp’s essential book Behind The Pink Curtain – The Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema. Get it, even though Jasper at the time of its writing didn’t care much for Rape! 13th Hour. I’m sure he has watched it again by now and probably loves it to death.
One more thing. We are as much cinephiles as we are sleazebags, so let’s act accordingly even if we are confined to home, and recreate the feeling of pre-pandemic cinemagoing by muting devices and getting the snacks ready. Draw the curtains, stop all external distractions and get fully corrupted by the films.
Original article from Grimoire of Horror