Archive for November 30, 2010
Film studios around the world felt the sting of the generation gap during the 1970’s. Young viewers were tired of fare designed to appeal to all ages and began looking for something edgier that they couldn’t find at home on television. The studios realized their profits would vanish if they didn’t get with the times so they relaxed their censorship standards, brought in younger talent and gave them a greater degree of freedom to follow their aesthetic whims (as long as they could also turn a profit).
In Japan, Nikkatsu Studios – the oldest and biggest movie studio in the country – took this younger/wilder aesthetic to its furthest extreme with the launch of their “Roman Porno” division. This division of the studio focused on erotica that mixed studio-level resources with the kind of wild, overheated carnality that most countries left to the low-budget independents. The Roman Porno division of Nikkatsu would crank out over 1000 films during its seventeen-year existence and the result was the most distinctive, prolific (and frequently unhinged) collection of erotica produced by any cinematic culture.
This achievement becomes even more impressive when you consider that Japanese cultural taboos dictated that filmmakers could never show penetration or even display the pubic areas of its actors (the mere sight of pubic hair was a serious no-no). The filmmakers never allowed this rule to restrain their ability to explore Japan’s collective libido. They were savvy enough to know that eroticism begins in the mind and focused their attentions on creating stories that pushed the psychology of erotica in every direction – and they never shied away from plumbing its dark, forbidden depths.
If you want to get a thumbnail of sketch of what Nikkatsu’s erotica output was like, The Nikkatsu Roman Porno Trailer Collection provides an ideal opportunity. Watching this hour-long program of 38 vintage trailers is the aesthetic equivalent of doing a mad-dash shopping spree through a porno shop. Each trailer offers a gleeful, high octane burst of skin and perversity, sometimes laced with bawdy humor and sometimes laced with black-hearted cruelty. The majority of the trailers are short (they’re seldom longer than two minutes) and they densely pack their compact running times with quickly-edited images, narration and lascivious superimposed titles that dazzle the eye and ear. It’s sensory overload in the truest sense of that expression.
Once you get past the sense-shock, a lot of interesting qualities comes into focus. The most salient is the recurring use of rape as a plot hook in many stories. Eroticizing rape remains a taboo in many societies but Nikkatsu’s filmmakers gleefully throw that taboo aside in films like Female Teacher: In Front of The Students, Rape Me! and Zoom In: Rape Apartments. This aspect of the Roman Porno won’t sit well with a lot of viewers but it offers an intriguing glimpse into a culture-specific aspect of Japanese erotica. One man’s taboo is another man’s fetish and the use of rape as recurrent theme here vividly illustrates that idea, showing just how differently this topic is viewed in Japanese pop culture.
Another interesting element that presents itself in this set is how Nikkatsu’s filmmakers cross-bred erotica with other genres to create their own unique, attention-grabbing hybrids. For example, Sex Hunter: Wet Target pitches itself to the viewer as an “action porno” that combines shootouts, punch-ups and a mystery plot (revolving around a rape, of course) with the expected softcore groping and grinding. Other attention-getters include Pearl Divers: Tight Shellfish, which combine sex-comedy goofiness with a double-helping of sex and a strange fetishization of shellfish(!), and Painful Bliss! A Surprise Twist, a romantic comedy about a love triangle between a woman, her yakuza boyfriend and her drag-queen lover.
Most importantly, if you simply view The Nikkatsu Roman Porno Trailer Collection as a smorgasbord of exploitation, it delivers time and time again in its own highly distinctive way. Some of the most entertaining entries here are the most shameless ones, the films that have no ambition beyond delivering smut with a feverish intensity. Highlights in the shameless category include I Like It From Behind!, a sex comedy about women who dig into their erotic obsessions with a hobbyist’s fervent mentality, and New Company Girls: 9 To 5, a sexploitation version of 9 To 5 with a bouncy disco soundtrack.
Finally, it’s worth noting the high quality of the filmmaking on display in all these trailers. Regardless of what you think of the content, the levels of professionalism displayed in the photography, editing, music and production values are impressive throughout the entire collection. These filmmakers approached their work as craftsmen and had the resources to back their convictions up, resulting in a Hollywood-level of quality to the way these films look and sound.
In short, The Nikkatsu Roman Porno Trailer Collection is a dazzling tour through a part of Japanese pop culture that isn’t explored often in the Western world. It has been said that you can learn a lot about a country by exploring its entertainment – and Your Humble Reviewer would argue that concept is especially true when applied to a country’s sexploitation filmmaking. This disc shows how Nikkatsu allowed Japanese cinema’s id to run free in their erotica – and the results shock and dazzle in equal measure.