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.