Posts Tagged 'nikkatsu'

Erotic Diary of an Office Lady (1977)

Continuing my way through Kimstim’s Masaru Konuma collection of Nikkatsu Roman Porno, I watched his Erotic Diary of an Office Lady the other day. (See my postings on Tattooed Flower Vase and Cloistered Nun: Runa’s Confession.) Compared to his other work, this film feels slight. With a couple exceptions, there’s little about it that boffo or over top. No comedic rapes at gun point or tattooed nymphomaniacs here.

Instead of surrealistic kink, the plot that unfolds is comparable to a Sundance coming-of-age flick. Asami (Asami Ogawa) is an OL — a female office worker. Like nuns and perfectly coiffed beauties in kimonos, OLs are another often fetishized feminine archetype. When she’s not operating a very unweldy Japanese typewriter, she has regular trysts with a married middle-management type. At home, she dutifully cares for her widowed, borderline alcoholic father. In short, she’s not too different from a lot of single Japanese women.

One day while out with her friends, she happens upon a mysterious young man who sells baby chicks on the street. When they run into each other again, there’s is clear romantic tension, though the guy ruins the moment by trying to jump her. Judging by movies like these, seduction in Japan is basically limited to the guy throwing himself at the girl. Later, they finally do hook up. During their fevered groping, the coop door gets kicked open and soon the copulating couple are surrounded by chicks. It’s a beautiful and memorably bizarre image, the kind that Konuma is brilliant at stringing together.

Afterwards, he asks her to run away together. She demurs and soon regrets it. Her father has shacked up with a boozy older co-worker and her subsequent encounter with her middle-management lover goes sour. She breaks up with him and he responds by (of course) raping her. Though this is more or less a requirement for the genre, it’s the film’s only false note. Whereas the rest of the film was, uncharacteristically for the genre, clearly shot from her point of view, this scene the POV shifts to that of the male audience. Only Ogawa’s skill as an actress keeps the tone of the scene from killing the rest of the movie.

The film ends with her lighting up a cigarette and staring into the distance as a hard rock ballad to freedom blares underneath. Her dad is no longer dependent on her, she dumped her middle-management manfriend (which in these sorts of movies isn’t always a given after a rape), and her chick-raising lothario disappeared. She is indeed existentially free. And this would be a great ending if the film set up that she wanted to be free to begin with. We know so little of the character and the camera is always kept at a distance that I was surprised and perplexed when the credits rolled. Did I miss something here or did the film make a left turn into a completely different narrative?

Cloistered Nun: Runa’s Confession (1976)

Kimstim released a couple of months ago a mess of Nikkatsu Roman Porno and thanks to the glory of Netflix, I’ve been catching up with them. The other day, I caught Cloistered Nun: Runa’s Confession. The director Masaru Konuma is famous for directing some of Naomi Tani‘s more popular S&M flicks like Tattooed Flower Vase and Wife to Be Sacrificed. No, full-body tattoos or forced enemas here though. Instead, this flick features what one might expect from a “nunsploitation” movie — habit-ripping acts of sacrilegious sexual congress. The star — the giggly Runa Takamura, the half-Japanese, half-German go go dancer for the girl pop band Golden Half — has little of the dark charisma of Tani and is only semi-plausible as a nun.

In the film, Runa freaks out and joins a convent after her evil step-sister Kumi doinks her boyfriend. Once cloistered, she gets manhandled by a salivating gaijin priest. In one scene, he throws her into pile of mud and spilled milk and proceeds to soil her and her habit. Three years later, Runa shows up at Kumi’s doorstep. She has forgiven Kumi for her previous transgressions and on top of that, has a business proposition. Her mission is selling off some land cheap. Soon Kumi and Runa’s callow ex have ponied up the money to buy. Along the way, Kumi gets her comeuppance from the nine or so guys that she’s engaged to in the form of lavishly produced gang-rape. Of course, Runa’s out for revenge and bilks the money out of not only Kumi and her weaselly ex, but also the evil gaijin priest (who speaks laughably bad Japanese).

The film should have ended with Runa and her lesbian ex-nun girlfriend on a boat to Australia, laughing at all their ill-gotten money. Instead, it ends with Runa and girlfriend are on said boat getting raped at gun point. They are naked and all smiles as wacky, kooky music gets played over top. Seriously, what the fuck? There isn’t even a remote attempt at making it make narrative sense. As I noted with Tattooed Flower Vase, the real point of pink eiga is not eroticism but a bolstering of the seemingly very fragile male ego, buffeted by modernism and changing gender roles. Kumi is victimized for being a duplicitous bitch and Runa is victimized early on for looking cute in a habit. Sex is almost always used as a weapon of power and control and the male culprits are never punished for it. Except for the end of this film. Both the ex-boyfriend and the priest are duped out of a pile cash. And for that reason, Runa gets raped at gun point.  And because she’s a character based on fantasy instead of anything close to human psychology, she loves it.

Tattooed Flower Vase (1976)

In the 1970s, Japanese studios, faced with mounting pressure from television and Hollywood, surrendered and just gave what the teaming masses what they wanted — softcore. And thus, the pink eiga (pink movie) was born. What followed could either be viewed as the beginning of a golden age of Japanese cinema or its ignoble demise. It definitely seemed like a bizarro-world version of Japanese cinema popularized by the likes of Donald Richie. Movies like Wife to be Sacrificed — featuring sadomasochism, enema use, and hints of necrophilia — became blockbuster hits while Akira Kurosawa and Nagisa Oshima were forced to go abroad to find funding. Pink eiga were first vilified by scandalized Western critics (like Richie) as being little more than exploitation flicks. And sure, they are exploitation flicks with all the lurid sex and sexism that the genre dictates. It doesn’t mean that they’re not interesting.

The other day I watched Tattooed Flower Vase directed by Masaru Konuma (who also directed Wife to be Sacrificed). Michiyo (played by Naomi Tani) is a kimono-clad widow who makes traditional Japanese paper dolls in an old fashion corner of Tokyo that has no doubt been since paved over to make condos. Her nubile, thoroughly modern, daughter Takako (Takako Kitagawa) comes home from college and promptly the two take a bath together in a traditional Japanese wooden tub. As Takako soaps up her mom’s ample breasts, she admonishes her to go out date. The sweaty middle-aged guy who sells Michiyo’s dolls has the same idea, and with the charm and aplomb typical to sweaty middle-aged men in these sort of movies, he drugs and violates her. The rape begins a sexual awakening in Michiyo — a particularly loathsome, if common, cliche in pink eiga — that is intensified by the presence of Hideo, the son of the kabuki performer who loved/raped her when she was young. She falls completely and utterly for the lad, even though she keeps calling him by his father’s name. The problem is that Hideo has already shacked up with Takako. When Michiyo witnesses — while tearfully masturbating — Hideo doinking her daughter, she snaps and, um, gets a full body tattoo. Her transformation from being a prim upstanding matron to being a sex-crazed tattooed hellcat is complete. She ravishes the youth as if she were in heat. When Takako bursts in upon the copulating couple, Michiyo snaps out of her frenzy and either through anguish, remorse or sheer embarrassment proceeds to disembowel herself on a shard of glass.

Michiyo is the ideal of the “traditional” woman. She wears a kimono, lives in an old beams and tatami style house, and surrounds herself with traditional arts. She’s also demur and at least initially, chaste. And when her libido finally comes to a rolling boiling, it is something deep, elemental and frightening. Takako, who spends much of the movie either listening to pop music, demanding sex from Hideo, and/or pouting, seems vapid and superficial by comparison. Hideo, the clear stand-in for the male audience, is callow, passive and, well, dull. The character and his masculinity seem overwhelmed by the Takako’s bluntness on the one hand and Michiyo’s Krakatoa-like fount of feminine sexuality on the other.

This fault line between modernity and gender relations is something that runs through most of modern Japanese art. Or rather, Japan’s sudden and disorienting modernization is frequently seen through the prism of gender relations. Japan’s first novel Ukigumo by Futabatei Shimei is about one hapless schmuck trying desperately to understand a beautiful and thoroughly modern young lass. The tropes in the this film — modern girl vs. traditional girl, rape as sexual awakening, passive reserved male, a woman the slave to her passions — are so pervasive that I’m inclined to think that pink eiga is a churning reservoir for Japan’s collective unconscious. I need to think this through some more, but I think there’s something there.

Konuma direction is spare and elegant. Naomi Tani — whose beauty only really becomes apparent when she’s either writhing in pain or sexual esctasy — gives a memorable performance. But what I find really interesting about Tattooed Flower Vase is not what makes it remarkable; it’s what makes it typical.

The Garfield Factor: President James A. Garfield would no doubt dismiss the whole genre as ungodly smut and return to his beloved ancient Greek.


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