As anyone who has delved in Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno style of sexploitation knows, this studio had a very “anything goes” approach to the form. As long as they delivered a sex scene per reel, the filmmakers could crossbreed sexploitation with horror, the thriller, comedy, you name it. Some even tried a soap opera approach – and that is what Office Love: Behind Closed Doors goes for. Beneath the carnal cavorting, this film offers drama with a kind of feminist undertone that might surprise you.
The heroine of Office Love: Behind Closed Doors is Reiko (Rei Akasaka), a top secretary at a travel agency. She is successful in her career, partially because she is very smart and partially because she is willing to reward her horny bosses with sexual favors to advance her own success. Surprisingly, she doesn’t view herself as a victim despite this state of affairs. Instead, she uses sex to advance her personal agenda and maintain a sense of control – her paramours always want to marry her or make her a kept woman but she maintains her independence, using sex to keep them wanting her.
However, things get complex for Reiko on a number of fronts: the conflicting desires of a few bosses threaten to spill over into her professional life and a new hire at the office approaches her in an earnest, genuinely romantic way that she fights the urge to give in to. Toughest of all is the return of Takayuki (Junpei Kusami), the son of her boss. He also happens to be a former love: he abandoned her when she was pregnant to take up with a girl in an “arranged” relationship. Caught in this web of would-be suitors, Reiko struggles with her professional and personal desires – but the finale finds her devising an unorthodox, totally personal approach to her problems.
On the surface level, Office Love: Behind Closed Doors is pure sexploitation. In classic Roman Porno style, there is a sex scene every reel and the film’s mid-80’s vintage ensures they are fairly explicit though they stay away from hardcore extremes, complete with obligatory optical fogging. Akasaka is the key participant in most of these and handles the bumping and grinding with uninhibited poise.
However, Office Love: Behind Closed Doors reveals itself to be different in how it deals with the sex. Akasaka’s sex scenes throughout the first two-thirds of the film are acrobatic but perfunctory, reflecting her view of sex as something for either anonymous pleasure or pragmatic business purposes. It is only during the finale, where she comes to a certain point of crisis/decision, that she gives herself over to passion in an unusual sex scene where the bedroom action is as much a moment of character reveal and discovery for the participants as it is about fulfilling genre needs. The resulting sequence is genuinely erotic and impressive as an example of how sex can express characterization in the hands of a clever craftsman.
Finally, Office Love: Behind Closed Doors is also as slickly made as any Hollywood film from the same era. Director Yasuro Uegaki makes effective use of stylish interior sets and sleek urban architecture to create a stylized backdrop for his story of sex as a bargaining tool, using the visual design to reflect how the characters manipulate their surfaces to conceal their true natures and hidden desires.
He also gets a strong lead performance from Akasaka, who creates a compelling heroine who is more than just the expected sex object. Uegaki and Akasaki make a great team, creating a sexploitation narrative where the story is as rewarding as the sex and throws in a few progressive attitudes as a bonus.
In short, Office Love: Behind Closed Doors is a memorable example of the diversity that occured under the Roman Porno banner – and all the more impressive for its uniquely female-sympathetic approach to the form.
DVD Notes: this film recently made its U.S. DVD debut as part of Impulse Pictures’ ongoing Nikkatsu Erotic Films Collection line. The anamorphic transfer is top-notch, delivering a colorful and handsomely rendered image for this glossy effort. The 2.0 Mono Japanese soundtrack sounds strong and the newly translated English subtitles. Extras consist of a typically wild Nikkatsu theatrical trailer and a smart set of liner notes from Japanese film scholar Jasper Sharp, who uses the film as a pretext to discuss how Nikkatsu had to change up its approach to erotic content to keep up with the times.