Tag Archives: Nikkatsu



Seen at L’Étrange Festival, Paris (France)

Format: Cinema

Director: Sion Sono

Writer: Sion Sono

Cast: Ami Tomite, Mariko Tsutsui

Japan 2016

76 mins

Sion Sono diverts Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno Reboot into a subversively playful and multi-layered take on the female condition.

The 2016 edition of the Etrange Festival offered audiences the chance to see two of the five films commissioned by Nikkatsu for their 100th anniversary, as part of the Roman Porno Reboot Project. Akihiko Shiota’s Wet Woman in the Wind was labelled by Nikkatsu as ‘Battle’, and Sion Sono’s Anti-Porno as ‘Art’. The latter director is a regular at the festival, as there has hardly been a year without at least one Sion Sono film programmed.

Anti-Porno starts in an Almodóvar-like colourful flat, in bright blue, yellow and red, with young Kyoko naked (but for her panties) dancing to her ghost-sister’s rendition of Offenbach’s ‘Nuit d’amour’, after a particularly boozy night. Unlike his earlier contemplative I Am Keiko (Keiko desu kedo, 1997), where the action (or the lack of it) was confined to an unrealistic red-painted flat fitted with yellow-painted appliances, so as to focus on the passing of time, the frantically paced Anti-Porno is rather a reflection on confinement and on the impossibility of real freedom, as the leitmotiv of a living lizard inside a whisky bottle reminds us constantly.

Every detail in this room feels artificial and exaggerated, while the film becomes more and more hysterical, as the versatile artist Kyoko becomes more and more sadistic with her assistant. Kyoko eventually has her bleeding and then raped during an interview that she gives to lesbian fashionista journalists. And just when we tell ourselves that this is really too much and too kitschy, so does the director, who orders the scene to be cut. Once the suspension of disbelief has been shattered, Sion Sono plays with endlessly embedding successive layers of reality, as he did with parallel worlds in Tag.

Sion Sono loves metaphors and, as in most of his films, he can’t get enough. Both the flat and the bottle stand for the virgin/whore dichotomy, to which Kyoko finds herself confined by the world of men. Sion Sono also adds another layer, using butterflies escaped from a biology book and trapped under a schoolroom ceiling to denounce the glass ceiling still blocking Japanese women. Yet Kyoko’s several soliloquies do not do justice to the film’s clever, manifold levels of perception and reality, concluding on one final and rather trivial aphorism: ‘Men’s world is shit, men’s dreams are shit… Porno is shit’. Why did Sion Sono opt for such an obvious and direct address? Was it because the film was a commission for Nikkatsu? Because he had already perfected the poetic treatment of the female condition in Japan in his previous films? Or because he feared he had not been fully understood so far? For, despite a few delightfully funny scenes, among which the bourgeois family dinner conversation on genitalia certainly ranks highest, Sion Sono gets excessively serious here. One has the impression that Anti-Porno moves from a form of criticism to that of a manifesto, bringing hope in the wake. In Tag, Mitsuko’s only solution was seppuku; in Anti-Porno, though Kyoko’s sister chooses death too, in the final scene we leave Kyoko writhing on the floor in gallons of paint, obsessively seeking ‘an exit’.

Pierre Kapitaniak

Eyes of the Spider / Serpent’s Path

Eyes of the Spider1
Eyes of the Spider

Format: DVD

Release date: 9 September 2013

Distributor: Third Window Films

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Title: Eyes of the Spider (Kumo no Hitomi)

Writers: Kiyoshi Kurosawa Yoichi Nishiyama

Cast: Sh&#333 Aikawa, Dankan Ren Ohsugi, Shun Sugeta

Title: Serpent’s Path (Hebi no Michi)

Writer: Hiroshi Takahashi

Cast: Sh&#333 Aikawa, Teruyuki Kagawa, Y&#363rei Yanagi

Japan 1998

83 & 85 mins

Despite his status as one of Japan’s most talented and consistently interesting directors, a great many of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s films have yet to see an English-language release. Most of the neglected titles come from before the release of Cure, the 1997 psycho-thriller that made the director a key figure on the international film scene. Like many of his contemporaries, the young Kurosawa started out directing erotic films for Nikkatsu’s well-established ‘Roman Porno’ (romantic pornography) line, before branching out into other areas, including an effects-driven haunted house movie (Sweet Home, 1989), a superior slasher movie (The Guard from the Underground, 1992) and a number of made-for-TV horror films, comedies and yakuza thrillers.

Serpent’s Path and Eyes of the Spider were both filmed in 1997, shortly after Cure was completed. Although not sequels in the traditional sense, the two films are linked by central concepts and casting, with both films starring Sh&#333 Aikawa, at the time a major star of the V-cinema or direct-to-video scene. Many of Kurosawa’s early films, including Serpent’s Path and Eyes of the Spider, were V-cinema movies, and he credits his time working in the field with providing valuable experience and affording an opportunity to experiment with a variety of different film genres. Serpent’s Path is one of these experiments; following its completion Kurosawa reworked the script, shifted the focus of the piece and turned it into Eyes of the Spider.

Written by Ring scriptwriter Hiroshi Takahashi, Serpent’s Path begins with two men – Nijima, a schoolteacher (Sh&#333 Aikawa) and Miyashita (Teruyuki Kagawa), an ex-yakuza – kidnapping a third (former comedian Y&#363rei Yanagi) and chaining him to a wall in an abandoned factory. Miyashita explains the reason for the kidnapping: he believes their hostage is responsible for the abduction and murder of his 8-year-old daughter. Naturally the man protests his innocence, but his protestations are ignored. After being forced to eat off the floor and denied the use of toilet facilities, the hostage eventually says that he knows who really murdered Miyashita’s daughter.

Watch the trailer for Serpent’s Path:

In Eyes of the Spider Sh&#333 Aikawa stars as another man called Nijima, although a different character this time. The film starts with him murdering the man who killed his daughter. From this point, Nijima’s life begins to unravel, as his marriage collapses and he ends up working for the yakuza. Throughout all this, the man seems to be almost sleepwalking, as if killing his daughter’s murderer has left him with nothing to live for.

Watch the trailer for Eyes of the Spider:

Serpent’s Path and Eyes of the Spider were both shot in Kurosawa’s typically understated style, using long takes and a minimum of camera movements. Neither of these films are traditional revenge thrillers, and Kurosawa’s purpose here is to explore the differing effects that achieving vengeance can have upon an individual. There are some last minute revelations, but these are not Hollywood-style twists, merely factors designed to shed new light on the events that have taken place. Kurosawa’s interest here is not in complex plots but in characters, something that has been a trademark of many of his films. Devotees of the director’s work will find these two films an interesting insight into Kurosawa’s early career, another glimpse into the background of a unique filmmaker. Those unfamiliar with Kurosawa’s films are probably better off starting with either Cure or the terrifying Pulse (2001), before investigating Serpent’s Path and Eyes of the Spider, although there is still plenty to enjoy here.

Jim Harper