One of the most interesting things about Nikkatsu’s line of “Roman Porno” softcore films is how fearless they were about diving into taboo areas of sexual fantasy. In their attempts to cater to every conceivable whim or fetish of their audience, Nikkatsu filmmakers delved into areas that would be considered too taboo or underground to be explored in major studio films. Nikkatsu not only allowed this to happen, they also allowed such forbidden subject matter to be explored in entire series of films.

Nikkatsu’s Female Teacher series is a good example of how this studio allowed the filmmakers’ collective psychosexual id to run wild on the big screen. This line of films exploited high school setting for all manner of controversial kinks: sexualization of teenagers, inappropriate contact between teachers and students and, as is often the case in Japanese erotica, heavy themes of rape and S&M. The fact that these films were done with professional filmmaking techniques, above-average production values heightened the subversive edge of these films – and the dark content was often supported by surprisingly skillful scripting and performances.

Female Teacher Hunting was released in 1982 and offers a memorable illustration of this singular blend of kink and storytelling skill. The protagonist is Miss Sakitani (Yuki Kazamatsuri), a teacher who involves herself in the lives of students Midori (Kyoko Ito) and Daisuke (Hajime Ishigami) when Daisuke is accused of raping Midori on the school’s grounds. Daisuke ignores the teacher, deciding to leave the school and enjoy a summer vacation on his own. Miss Sakitani vacations in the same town, pursuing an affair with a married man that is doomed to end when he returns to his wife.

However, Miss Sakitani isn’t prepared to give up on her students. She continues to pursue both and discovers that the supposed rape was just a rumor spread by a jealous student. The news shocks her and she acts out by becoming impulsive with her lover while continuing her attempts to “redeem” her students. Meanwhile, Daisuke is living with a bar-owning couple who teach him their own kinky lessons about sex and romance. The finale spins out a series of confrontations between Miss Sakitani, Daisuke and Midori that push the story into surprising and very dark sexual territory.

Though the finished film has sex scenes throughout its running time, Female Teacher Hunting never feels like simple, straightforward erotica. Hiroshi Saito’s script is amazingly complex for such a short (only 65 minutes) film, with a careful structure to how it parcels out plot and character info to the audience and a slow, simmering build-up to the conflicts that drive the story. When those conflicts have to be resolved, the script unleashes a dark view of the world in which men must be sexually aggressive to truly be men and women must accept the passive role (but can figure out how to use it as a means of control). The final ten minutes are truly stunning, with characters making choices that are shocking yet totally make sense in the fetish-driven world the story establishes.

Director Junichi Suzuki takes an approach that works well with the script’s subtle, moody approach, giving it an elegant but understated visual style that plays up ocean/water imagery (a recurring motif in the script). He also offsets the stylized storyline by getting straightforward, unaffected performances from the cast. Ito and Ishigami do well in demanding roles full of tricky emotional textures but it’s Kazamatsuri who takes the major honors as the film’s central figure. She manages to be compelling yet enigmatic, deftly underplaying a sexually demanding lead role with poise.

Simply put, Female Teacher Hunting might deliver all the sex its premise suggests but does so in an artful style that incorporates a surprising amount of psychological complexity. If it wasn’t marketed as sexploitation, it would be easy to mistake it for arthouse fare.

DVD Notes: Impulse Pictures recently gave this film its first U.S. DVD release as part of their Nikkatsu Erotic Films Collection. The anamorphic transfer handles the film’s cool visual style, particularly some challenging scenes shot at dusk, and the English subtitles are well-timed and bright. Disc extras are limited to a theatrical trailer but Impulse also includes an informative set of liner notes from Jasper Sharp in the DVD case. Sharp offers a sharp analysis of the film’s abstract expression of sexual fantasies and also covers the history of the Female Teacher film series.