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.