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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 smörgås­bord 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.