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Nikkatsu revives successful porn genre of ’70s and ’80s

36 Comments
By Brett Bull

The promotional flyer says it all: “This is not a remake — it’s a return!”

Four decades ago, struggling movie studio Nikkatsu shifted its focus from action and gangster films to a form of soft pornography termed roman porno (a combination of the English words “romance” and “pornography”). It was a breakthrough genre for a major studio: hour-long films with relatively substantial storylines blended with copious nude scenes.

The first roman porno to be released, 1971’s "Danchizuma: Hirusagari no Joji" (Apartment Wife: Afternoon Affair), detailed the erotic extramarital activities of a housewife residing in one of Japan’s infamously bland suburban block-housing units.

“At that time, society regarded it as a dirty film,” said the female lead, Kazuko Shirakawa, 62, during a recent appearance at Eurospace theater in Shibuya. “It was not ordinary for a woman to be seen naked. The overall content was a bit shocking.”

Yet the audiences applauded, and the studio had a hit on its hands, with Shirakawa reaching certifiable “queen” status. "Apartment Wife" went on to generate 20 sequels, and by the end of the genre’s run 17 years later, a stunning 1,100 roman porno features had been released.

Nikkatsu, Japan’s longest-running studio, is now making a comeback with reworked versions of the genre’s seminal films. Under the moniker “Roman Porno Returns,” the series has revitalized a cultural icon that launched the careers of many stars of the conventional film industry.

Updates of both “Apartment Wife: Afternoon Affair” and 1980’s "Ushiro Kara Mae Kara" (From the Back, From the Front) recently enjoyed two-week runs at Eurospace. The two are now playing in Sapporo and will move to Osaka and Fukuoka next month. Satellite provider Sky PerfecTV!, meanwhile, airs "From the Back" on a pay-per-view basis.

“At first I was shocked about the revival because these films represented my youth,” said Shirakawa. “But then, after realizing that one of the original directors was involved, I had total confidence.”

That director is 58-year-old Shun Nakahara, who helmed the 75-minute remake of “Apartment Wife,” in which Sayaka (Sakiko Takao) has a series of erotic encounters with a water-purifier salesman (Masaki Miura).

Shirakawa, who appears in a cameo role, feels that the revival gently conveys the simple life of this plain housewife, a woman who “has something inside her uterus that is screaming to get out.”

“The director beautifully uses symbolism to describe this feeling welling inside her,” she said, “such as with the scenes showing running tap water and boiling pasta noodles.”

Opportunity for emerging filmmakers

Nikkatsu sees the roman porno revival as an opportunity for emerging filmmakers and actors to make their mark. Over the last few years, Japan’s box office has been dominated by TV network-produced films, which are staffed by their own production crews — a trend that many in the industry believe is shutting out new directors.

“It is hard for young talent to make a debut,” says Yoshinori Chiba, a producer of the new films. “We are hoping that the ‘Returns’ series will bring opportunities to young directors to break through this closed environment.”

The reworking of "From the Back," a rather nasty comedy directed by fresh face Shoichiro Masumoto, finds sultry and shapely taxi driver Momoko (Tomomi Miyauchi, a former model and member of the Miniskirt Police pop group) offering passengers far more than a simple ride when they hop in her back seat.

Shirakawa’s roots in the trade go back to the ’60s, when she was performing in "pinku eiga," a similar genre in which tiny, independently run studios churned out quick-and-dirty erotic productions.

With little in the way of a support staff, Shirakawa said that a pink actress was relegated to such menial tasks as fixing her own hair or purchasing a kimono at a pawn shop. “I really learned how to read the script because there was nobody there to assist me,” she said. “I became a self-made person.”

By contrast, Nikkatsu’s roman porno films were able to offer larger budgets and, as a result, better production values. They also benefited from distribution via the studio’s chain of theaters. Shirakawa recalls that after being lured away from "pinku eiga" by Nikkatsu, she felt like she had taken a definite step up.

“When I was in pink films, I had to hide my job and couldn’t make aspects of it public,” she said. “On the cover of the scripts, I had to write something like ‘Fuji TV’ to conceal the contents. However, at Nikkatsu, I felt as if I was in Hollywood.”

Director Nakahara said that he was initially reluctant to join Nikkatsu because the studio had “stolen” Shirakawa, his favorite erotic actress, whom he frequently caught on pink screens when he was a student. “But once I saw a roman porno film, I was reminded of a new wave of American cinema,” said the director, who made his debut in 1982 with "Okasare Shigan" (Candidate for Seduction).

Roman porno got its start during an era when the emergence of television threatened the entire film industry; Nikkatsu, for one, was on the verge of bankruptcy. In Japan’s “Golden Era” of cinema in the ’50s and ’60s, the number of screens around the country totaled over 7,000, but by 1970 only 3,000 were left.

“The roman porno direction was taken to rebuild the company,” says Nikkatsu’s Chiba.

Although Shirakawa may be correct that "Apartment Wife" was shocking for its content, major studios in Japan previously dabbled in smutty offerings. Along with Toei, which in the ’60s experimented with various torture and erotic-grotesque films, Nikkatsu had released its share of non-puritanical fare, like director Seijun Suzuki’s "Nikutai no Mon" (Gate of Flesh, 1964). As with today’s revival, the emergence of the roman porno genre provided a testing ground for young talent to develop their craft — that is, as long as the requisite skin-scene-every-10-minutes quota was met.

“It had the image of something new, something different,” said Nakahara. “All of the directors were competing to come up with something novel. If one director did one thing, another would try something else.”

Going beyond bored-housewife standard

The styles went far beyond the bored-housewife standard, taking in everything from hardcore SM, like 1974’s "Hana to Hebi" (Flower and Snake), to truly romantic stories, like the very soft "Love Letter" (1981), which was billed as appropriate for female audiences. According to the “Roman Porno Returns” website, students would look forward to the release of two new films every other week, and the competition between directors resulted in quality productions. The movies were intended to be genuinely emotion-filled — a contrast to typical porn flicks that focused on naked bodies and pounding flesh.

“Roman porno was not trying to simply show sex. It also wanted to bring adult themes out into the open,” says Jasper Sharp, author of the book "Behind the Pink Curtain" (2008), a look at the history of sex in Japanese cinema.

Critical acclaim was not unusual. In 1972, trade magazine Kinema Junpo ranked "Ichijo Sayuri: Nureta Yokujo" (Ichijo’s Wet Lust) eighth in its annual top 10 list, and in 1999 named it one of the top 100 Japanese films of the century.

Predictably, the high profile of roman porno stirred up controversy as well. Yoko Hatakenaka was a one-time idol whose musical debut, “Love Letter from Canada,” earned her a spot in NHK’s renowned Kohaku Uta Gassen song competition in 1978. Two years later, she appeared in the roman porno "Ai no Hakujitsumu" (Daydream Love), a controversial transition that propelled the single and, subsequently, the film to hit levels.

Roman porno finally died out in the ’80s, largely due to the emergence of adult video, which allowed fans to get their fill of erotica in the privacy of their own homes. In 1993, Nikkatsu filed for structural reorganization, and the studio, originally founded in 1912, is now jointly owned by SKY PerfecTV! and the Nippon Television Network. In true Nikkatsu fashion, the studio last year launched a special imprint specializing in gore films, Sushi Typhoon, which producer Chiba is heading.

Critics believe that the original roman porno films laid the foundation for much of today’s Japanese cinema. "Time Escapade: 5 Seconds Before Climax" (1986) is included in the resume of director Yojiro Takita, who won an Oscar in 2009 for "Okuribito" (Departures). Nakahara went on to make the critically acclaimed mainstream feature "Sakura no Sono" (Cherry Blossom Garden), a 1990 adaptation of a manga set in a high school.

The original roman porno movies are not entirely dead, either. Film festivals around the world, especially in France, routinely slot the productions into their lineups, and revival theaters in Tokyo often have their own screenings. Cinema Vera in Shibuya (www.cinemavera.com) is now featuring numerous works by roman porno directors like the acclaimed Noburo Tanaka, including 1977’s SM-themed "Hakkinbon Bijin Ranbu Yori: Semeru!" (Beauty’s Exotic Dance—Torture!).

Although Nikkatsu has no current plans to continue the revival series, the positive response it has received from filmgoers — many of them female — has been overwhelming. The studio is now contemplating further releases.

“Perhaps people are fed up with the information on sex that is chaotically floating around the world,” says Chiba. “We hope that ‘Returns’ will establish itself as a new genre that will assimilate itself into the present era.”

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.


36 Comments
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and now the country is saturated with porn. Weird thing is the entire society here is sexually confused, bizarre, repressed and “Perhaps people are fed up with the information on sex that is chaotically floating around the world,” no dude... its just the Japanese.

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Wow. This is the longest article on JT. Does porn have that much to say?

Japan = Porn.

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Many of these are wonderful films. Too bad about people from puritan cultures who can't deal with it.

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Kommentator

Many of these are wonderful films. Too bad about people from puritan cultures who can't deal with it.

You mean you actually bother to watch the entire movie instead on fast forwarding to the essential scenes :) ??

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Where can I find some bored housewives?

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Weird, because I always though Japan was pretty sexually liberated and progressive in their own way. Not in the over the top, in your face, American way, but in a way that seems comfortable and pragmatic with sex and sexuality. Japan seems free of the hang ups associated with sex in some countries, it seems to celebrate it. Love hotels, phallus festivals, vagina festivals, Cosplay, Ukiyoe, Roman Porno etc. Not what I would call repressed or confused or bizarre.

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Tamarama, whilst I don't mind most of the things you mentioned, I do worry that Japan doesn't set boundaries clearly enough. Other sex subcultures of Japan just go way too far over the (western demarcated) line - take rape porn and rape video games, for example.

It's pretty sad that aspiring directors have to work in porn - though that doesn't mean they aren't talented. I'm sure I read once that the enormously talented Nobuo Uematsu, who is known to gamers around the world for his long work in the Final Fantasy series, got a start working in porn music a long time ago. I might be mixed up, though.

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Where can I find some bored housewives?

seconded. All my infamous apartment boring apartment block has is dudes and old ladies...

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that a former porn director win the best foreign Oscar has a lot to say about the depth of talent in Japan's movie industry. These guys can do anything.

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Saborichan, I agree with you, and I didn't say it isn't free of it's problems, because clearly it isn't. But I suppose I was focusing on the more positive aspects of the Japanese social sexuality, which I think are significant. No question there seem to be some very grey areas that are right open to exploitation. Elephunk, you are drawing a long bow there. "Huge proportions" implies what, 70%? 80%? Where do you get that kind of statistic? Are you saying think the Japanese have a greater thirst for child pornography than other places in the world? Can you explain why you think so? Are there studies on this I can see?

Moderator: Child pornography is a completely different subject. It is not relevant to this discussion.

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Most people commenting here appearently know nothing about japanese film history. Many of the Pink eiga and Nikkatsus roman porno movies were genre movies with high production values and were often filmed by very talented movie directors. Some movies are more subtle than others, but i can assure people that these movies have a lot to offer. The genre really lost a lot in the 80ties because of changing times and a different film industry. The sex shown or concealed in these movies often dont overshadow the stories present in these movies. The movies may not be Kurosawa or Ozu, but definitely are worth watching for people interested in good genre cinema.

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My jaw tumbled southward at TWENTY SEQUELS.

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morriconelover: Saw a pink movie in a N.Y. art theater after it was reviewed in the N.Y. Post., "The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai"(2006). The original title was "Horny Home Tutor:Teacher's Love Juice". I kid you not. The director,Mitsuru Meike, took an original pink movie and re-edited it to include more humor and topical interest(North Korean spy searching for the cloned finger of George W. Bush). There was a simulated sex scene every ten minutes(I was there for research purposes only). I have to say I didn't enjoy it. Neither sexy nor very interesting.

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Pretty heavy handed moderation hereabouts. I take exception to my last post being deleted. As Elephunk says, the discussion is based around observations made as a result of the article. And we are capable of a mature discussion. Requesting evidence of statistical claims is being thorough, not antagonistic, and if someone has information to further flesh out a topic, I am always keen to see it. Give us some room here guys.

Moderator: Sorry but we wish readers to focus their comments on what is in the story.

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Maybe "the female lead, Kazuko Shirakawa, 62" can come out of retirement and make a comeback! Harrrrrr!

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The Nikkatsu had the absolute monopole on theater movies in the 80's. That is why japanese cinema had the time of his life through video cinema. The Nikkatsu produced porn out of pure lack of imagination and desperate need of ¥¥¥. If one desires to watch interesting funny softcore, one has to check the video cinema that were released during this time.

Also, I agree with some JTnautes here. There is nothing to celebrate, when we consider the place porn has taken in Japanese society today.

Weird, because I always though Japan was pretty sexually liberated and progressive in their own way. Not in the over the top, in your face, American way, but in a way that seems comfortable and pragmatic with sex and sexuality. Japan seems free of the hang ups associated with sex in some countries, it seems to celebrate it.

Tamarama, no offense, but you might be aware that today japanese are not feeling horny watching Ukiyoe. This is a western cliché. All this talk we hear in the West about how japanese sex is sophisitcated and easthetic is BS. I am all for sexual freedom, however today homo japonicus desire is focused on the infantile, passive, submissive, dumb, mini-skirted teenager. Basically, today's japanese porn describes a mighty japanese man dealing with silly, submissive, (too) young girls, which is a "carnivalesque inversion", considering that japanese men are now beleaguered, mostly bitter and rely pretty much on masturbation or prostitution to get satisfied, and that more and more women are dealing with their sex life in a less "men-centered" way and can deal with their sex life more than before.

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She looks just like my Mother-in-law when she was younger.

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classic post Genevaman....

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however today homo japonicus desire is focused on the infantile, passive, submissive, dumb, mini-skirted teenager.

Commonly referred to as sexploitation

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Shirakawa’s roots in the trade go back to the ’60s, when she was performing in “pinku eiga,”

You know you've spent too much time in Australia when this makes you smirk.

Kumibo

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Gotta love the Japanese entertainment industry. Non-stop innovation and creativity.

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Well, all porn is pretty much the same if you ask me. Only diff is Japan has a bizarre habit of mosaic/blur censoring XXX instead of just making some really steamy R-rated movies. Why bother if you take away what the watcher is there for? Liberal my foot xD.

Porn has no real storylines. Although it would be a very strange day if a porn movie won an acadamy award for screenplay, best supporting actor/actress, special effects etc. I'm laughing just thinking about that.

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"Japan has a bizarre habit of mosaic/blur censoring XXX" And at this day and age, what's the point? Who and what are they protecting? A young child is far more likely to see XXX on the internet than on a dvd. And the rest of the world has access to uncensored Japanese dvd's. Go figure.

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@Paulinusa: I was mainly pointing out how the output was from the industry in the 70ties and 80ties. I did say that the genre faded out into cheaper production from end 80ties, and whats left is more close to hardcore and cheap productions that doesnt have the style or the talent among directors making these movies today. You need to check out some of the old stuff.

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@Honestdictator: As i mentioned, watch some of the old 70ties and 80ties stuff from Japan when we talk about Nikkatsu or Ping eigas. Many of the movies belong more in the art house department because of the style of directing and not as porn. Please see some of the movies before just talking without having seen any of them. Many of the movies from back then are shown as film retrospectives in art cinemas across europe and New York and do have a big cult following. Its actually as far away from "porn" that you can get considering that the target audience is supposed to be people who want to see "Porn".

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pink_film

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I've seen a few of these late at night on channel Neko- love that gritty retro 70's atmosphere. The film's budgets left the cast and crew with little more than their talent, imagination and ambition to create something entertaining. Its no suprise the stars involved go on to bigger things; a lot of today's major Hollywood players (Cameron, Raimi, Jackson) started their careers in low-budget 80's horror films (Piranha II! Evil Dead!! Brain Dead!!!). By today's standards its all very charming and innocently naive, not unlike Boogie nights. Also, some very funky, often cheesy sountrack music too.

I'd much rather sit through one of these than one of the souless star-vehicle big-budget, TV studio produced and "talent" agency influenced pieces of trash they release nowdays. I don't know when exactly corporate entertainment executives start dictating what the public should buy into but they are now. Which is why 80% of the movies released nowdays in Hollywood & Japan's film industries are made to be bland, unchallenging mass-marketed wastes of 2 hours.

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I can't stop laughing! --'a woman who “has something inside her uterus that is screaming to get out.”'

“Apartment Wife” went on to generate 20 sequels--Apartment wife Returns, Apartment Wife: The revenge, Apartment Wife Zero, Apartment Wife: The Final!! LOL!

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Japan = porn? I wonder why this stuff sells so well in other countries then.

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The Japnese equivalent of "The Red Shoe Diaries" it sounds like

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bicultural: Maybe but they still blur the naughty bits which is no fun.

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a woman who “has something inside her uterus that is screaming to get out.”

Could this be the greatest quote in human history? There is an ultra cheap horror movie waiting to be made here.

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How did I guess this article would be spammed with comments.

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Triple888:

Include yourself. These are not spam, but well though out comments.

Spam is a multi use item of the Hawaiian Island chain.

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Soft porn usually relies on imagination when presenting sex, whereas hard-core bashes you over the head with the raw act. ("We're 1 1/2 minutes too short? OK, add in more "piston" close-up shots and dub in some more moaning.")

I prefer soft-porn to hard core.

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“Apartment Wife” went on to generate 20 sequels

@dolphingirl

You forgot Apartment Wife: Reloaded and Apartment Wife: Revolutions :-)

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