One of the most fascinating aspects of the string of Nikkatsu “Roman Porno” titles issued on DVD by Impulse Films is their unpredictability of tone.  In terms of content, they’re all sexploitation items built around frequent scenes of nudity and sex.  However, if you look at the tone of each film, they present this content in a variety of ways: one film might go for low comedy, the next might have a chilly psychological study style and another might go for a transgressive and horrific approach.

This broad range of moods shows that the despite the dictates of sexual content, the filmmakers who made these movies had a lot of latitude when it came to what kind of stories they wanted to tell.  Female Teacher: Dirty Afternoon shows yet another approach to sexploitation under the Nikkatsu Roman Porno banner: despite the lurid come-on of the title, this film has more of socially-conscious “indie drama” approach to its sex-fuelled plotline.

Female Teacher: Dirty Afternoon was a late entry in a long string of Nikkatsu films under the Female Teacher banner.  Most of those had school-centric plotlines and an element of sexual competition between a female teacher and a female student.  However, Dirty Afternoon subverts those concepts, foregoing school locales and going for a more interesting relationship between the student and teacher characters to achieve a more dramatic, less pulpy mood.

The teacher protagonist is Sakiko (Yuki Kazamatsuri). As the film begins, she receives a phone call from the cops telling her that Sueko (Ayako Ota), a former student, has been arrested for prostitution.  Sakiko bails the young girl out only to discover it wasn’t prostitution per se.  Instead, she hooks up with random men to please them with her body.  Sakiko is mystified by the girl’s oddly casual and emotionless approach to promiscuity and begins doing research to see if she can help her.  What Sakiko discovers dredges up a past tragedy that affected both of their lives – and it leads to some important discoveries for both that could change the direction of their lives.

As the synopsis should suggest, Female Teacher: Dirty Afternoon is no lighthearted sex romp.  Instead, it’s a rather moody drama about how tragic events can create long-lasting psychological problems for everyone it affects.  It also offers some commentary on the nature of urban life in Tokyo circa the early 1980’s: one angle of the plot explores how Sueko and her family are rural transplants who have financial troubles that compound their personal ones.  A subplot also explores Sakiko’s erotically charged yet emotionally void relationship with a businessman lover who becomes alienated from her when her emotional changes require him to give her more than his body.

An even bigger surprise about the dramatic focus of Female Teacher: Dirty Afternoon is that it works well, bypassing the story’s potential for garish melodrama to create an understated film that builds to a surprisingly emotional finale.  Director Kitchitaro Negishi is one of the Nikkatsu directors who eventually escaped the “Roman Porno” mill to do more critically-acclaimed, non-genre sorts of films and his no-nonsense approach to storytelling and dramatic textures shines through here.

Fittingly, Negishi gets strong performances from both of his leads:  Kazamatsuri makes her character’s slow-burn coping process with complex emotions convincing by playing each shift in emotion with subtlety and care while Ako gives an understated, sometimes darkly humorous turn that complements Kazamatsuri’s work nicely.

However, the serious dramatic tone of Female Teacher: Dirty Afternoon doesn’t mean that it downplays the sex scenes in favor of drama.  Instead, it actually uses the sex as an up-front element that complements its dramatic aims and always in a way that comments on its characters.  For instance, Sakiko is prone to acrobatically intense yet emotion free sex with her distant boyfriend while Sueko reveals how emotionally detached she is from her lovemaking by talking throughout it in a way that often disturbs the men who pick her up.  There are also scenes with other characters where sex is used as a means to an end, to manipulate or appease a partner.  As a result, these scenes actually manage to say something while fulfilling the commercial sex and nudity dictates of the genre.

Thus, Female Teacher: Dirty Afternoon is a very interesting example of how a filmmaker can subvert genre conventions to achieve their own artistic aims.  It also proves that talented filmmakers and actors can make complex and interesting work in any genre if they truly apply themselves.

DVD Notes: this was recently released as part of Impulse Films’ ongoing Nikkatsu Erotic Films Collection.  It maintains the high technical standard of past releases, delivering a a crisp-looking anamorphic transfer and freshly-translated English subtitles to accompany the Japanese mono soundtrack.  The disc also features a deceptively sleazy trailer but the best extra here is an insert booklet from Japanese pink-film expert Jasper Sharp, who explores the Female Teacher series in his notes as well as the more critically acclaimed work produced by its director and lead actress.