Gushing Prayer

Wild Japan: Sex in Japanese Cinema of the 60s and 70s

1-30 December 2008

BFI Southbank, London

BFI website

Japanese pinku eiga, (‘pink films’) from the 60s and 70s have become more widely available in the West thanks to recent DVD releases that include Norifumi Suzuki’s Sex and Fury (Fabulous Films), Yasuzo Masumura’s Blind Beast (Yume Pictures) and the Female Convict Scorpion series (Eureka), but the genre remains under-explored in spite of its importance in Japanese cinema. Although it is not solely focused on pink films, Wild Japan, a new BFI season curated by Jasper Sharp and Matt Palmer, brings many rare gems of the genre to London’s Southbank, making it an unmissable event.

Throughout the 60s, pink film was almost exclusively produced by small, independent studios, meaning that directors enjoyed a fair bit of creative freedom within the confines of the genre. This particular strand of pink film is represented by Kan Mukai’s extremely rare Blue Film Woman (1969), as well as by Secrets Behind the Wall (1965), made by one of the most important of the independent directors, Koji Wakamatsu. The enfant terrible of Japanese cinema, Wakamatsu formed his own production company in 1966 and made a series of startlingly provocative films that delivered a heady brew of sex, violence and radical politics. His one-time collaborator, the equally fierce Masao Adachi, is also represented here with Gushing Prayer (1971), which mixes sexual liberation, literature and subversive politics in another challenging work.

At the beginning of the 70s, two major studios, Toei and Nikkatsu, moved into the lucrative field of exploitation cinema after their audiences began to decline due to the encroachment of television and the increased number of American productions being shown on Japanese screens. Directors were allowed free rein so long as they delivered nudity at regular intervals, and many used that freedom to experiment with delirious visuals and/or to include anti-authority political messages. Nikkatsu’s bigger-budget ‘roman porno’ strand led to such visual delights as Masaru Konuma’s Wife to be Sacrificed (1974) and Noboru Tanaka’s Watcher in the Attic (1976). Nagisa Oshima, who had explored the leftist politics of the post-war student movement in Night and Fog in Japan (1960), used extreme sexuality in In the Realm of the Senses (1976) as an act of rebellion against his country’s repressive society (something that Masumura had done earlier in Red Angel and Manji).

The BFI season juxtaposes pinku eiga with non-exploitation films of the same period that deal with sexuality in a novel or frank manner. Ko Nakahira’s Crazed Fruit (1956) was the first film to focus on the wild youth of post-war Japan and opened the way for more sexual openness in Japanese cinema. Well-respected directors are represented too: Shohei Imamura’s The Pornographers (1966) is a sharply observed black comedy that describes the life of a porn director, while Kaneto Shindo’s Onibaba (1964) and Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Woman of the Dunes (1966) both explore a dark sensuality inseparable from violence.

Whether infamous shockers or art-house classics, the films in the Wild Japan season are all worth discovering or revisiting. London film lovers might have to cancel their Christmas plans…

Virginie Sélavy