Pink film (ピンク映画, Pinku eiga) is a style of Japanese softcore pornographic theatrical film. Films of this genre first appeared in the early 1960s, and dominated the Japanese domestic cinema from the mid-1960s through the mid-1980s. In the 1960s, the pink films were largely the product of small, independent studios. In the 1970s, some of Japan's major studios, facing the loss of their theatrical audience, took over the pink film. With their access to higher production-values and talent, some of these films became critical and popular successes. Though the appearance of the AV (adult video) took away most of the pink film audience in the 1980s, films in this genre are still being produced.
Description of the pink film
The pink film, or "eroduction" as it was first called, is a cinematic genre without exact equivalent in the West. Though called pornography, the terms "erotica," "soft porn" and "sexploitation" have been suggested as more appropriate, although none of these precisely matches the pink film genre. Due to the nature of Japanese censorship laws, the display of genitals, and even pubic hair, were long-held taboos in the genre. This restriction forced Japanese filmmakers to develop sometimes elaborate means of avoiding showing the "working parts", as Richie puts it.
Some have claimed that it is this censorship which gives the Japanese erotic cinema its particular style. Donald Richie says, "American pornography is kept forever on its elemental level because, showing all, it need do nothing else; Japanese eroductions have to do something else since they cannot show all. The stultified impulse has created some extraordinary works of art, a few films among them." Writing in 1972, at the commencement of the Second Wave of pink film, he qualifies his statement with, "None of these, however, are found among eroductions." Contrasting the pink film with Western pornographic films, Pia Harritz says, "What really stands out is the ability of pinku eiga to engage the spectator in more than just scenes with close-ups of genitals and finally the complexity in the representation of gender and the human mind."
Richie and Harritz both enumerate the fundamental elements of the pink film formula as:
- The film must have a required minimum quota of sex scenes
- The film must be approximately one hour in duration.
- It must be filmed on 16 mm or 35 mm film within one week
- The film must be made on a very limited budget Writing in 2006, Pia Harritz gives the required budget as about $35,000
History of the pink film
Background to the pink film
In the years since the end of World War II, eroticism had been gradually making its way into Japanese cinema. The first kiss to be seen in Japanese film-- discreetly half-hidden by an umbrella-- caused a national sensation in 1946. Though throughout the 1940s and early 1950s nudity in Japanese movie theaters, as in most of the world, was a taboo, some films from the mid-50s such as Shintoho's female pearl-diver films starring buxom Michiko Maeda, began showing more flesh than would have previously been imaginable in the Japanese cinema. During the same period, the taiyozoku films on the teen-age "Sun Tribe", such as Kō Nakahira's Crazed Fruit (1956), introduced unprecedented sexual frankness into Japanese films.
Foreign films of this time, such as Ingmar Bergman's Summer with Monika (1953), Louis Malle's Les Amants (1958), and Russ Meyer's The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959) introduced female nudity into international cinema, and were imported to Japan without problem. Nevertheless, until the early 1960s, graphic depictions of nudity and sex in Japanese film could only be seen in single-reel "stag films," made illegally by underground film producers such as those depicted in Imamura's film The Pornographers (1966).
The First Wave (The "Age of Competition" 1962-1971)
The first wave of the Pink film in Japan was contemporary with the similar U.S. sexploitation film genres, the "nudie-cuties" and "roughies". Nudity and sex officially entered Japanese cinema with Satoru Kobayashi's controversial and popular independent production Flesh Market (Nikutai no Ichiba, 1962), which is considered the first true pink film. Made for 8 million yen, Kobayashi's independent feature film took in over 100 million yen. Kobayashi remained active in directing pink films until the 1990s. Tamaki Katori, the star of the film, went on to become one of the leading early pink film stars, appearing in over 600, and earning the title "Pink Princess".
In 1964, maverick kabuki, theater and film director Tetsuji Takechi helped invigorate the "First Wave" of pink film, by directing Daydream, the first big-budget pink film. Takechi's Black Snow (1965), resulted in the director's arrest on charges of obscenity, and a high-profile trial which became a major battle between Japan's intellectuals and the establishment. Takechi won the lawsuit, and the publicity surrounding the trial helped bring about a boom in the production of pink films.
In her introduction to the Weisser's Japanese Cinema Encyclopedia: The Sex Films, actress Naomi Tani calls this period in pink film production "The Age of Competition". Though Japan's major studios, such as Nikkatsu and Shochiku made occasional forays into pink film territory in the 1960s, such as director Seijun Suzuki's Gate of Flesh (1964)-- the first mainstream Japanese film to contain nudity, the pink films of this era were mainly independent, low-budget productions. Independent studios such as Nihon Cinema, World Eiga and Giichi Nishihara's Aoi Eiga made dozens of cheap, profitable "eroductions". Among the most influential independent studios producing pink films in this era were Shintoho, Million, Kanto, and Okura. Typically shown on a three-film program, these films were made by these companies to show at their own chain of specialty theaters.
Three of the most important pink film directors of this time, Hiroshi Mukai, Kinya Ogawa and Shinya Yamamoto are known as "The Heroes of the First Wave". Another major pink film studio, Wakamatsu Studios, was formed by director Koji Wakamatsu in 1966, after quitting Nikkatsu. Known as "The Pink Godfather", and called "the most important director to emerge in the pink film genre", Wakamatsu's independent productions are critically-respected works usually concerned with sex and extreme violence mixed with political messages.
The "first queen of Japanese sex movies" was Noriko Tatsumi, who made films at World Eiga and Nihon Cinema with director Koji Seki. Other major Sex Queens of the first wave of pink film included Setsuko Ogawa, Mari Iwai, Keiko Kayama, and Miki Hayashi. Other pink film stars of the era include Tamaki Katori, who appeared in many films for Giichi Nishihara and Koji Wakamatsu; Kemi Ichiboshi, whose specialty was playing the role of a violated innocent; and Mari Nagisa. Younger starlets like Naomi Tani, and Kazuko Shirakawa were starting their careers and already making names for themselves in the pink film industry, but are best remembered today for their work with Nikkatsu during the 1970s.
===The second wave (The Nikkatsu Roman Porno era 1971-1982)===Until the late 1960s, the "pink film" market was almost entirely the domain of low-budget independent companies. At the beginning of the 1970s, now losing their audiences to television and imported American films, Japan's major film studios were struggling for survival. In 1972, Richie reported, "In Japan, the eroduction is the only type of picture that retains an assured patronage."
In order to tap into this lucrative audience, major studio Toei entered the sexploitation market in 1971. In films like his ero-guro series and Joys of Torture series of the late 1960s director Teruo Ishii had provided a model for Toei's sexploitation ventures by "establishing a queasy mix of comedy and torture." Producer Kanji Amao designed a group of series-- shigeki rosen (Sensational Line), ijoseiai rosen (Abnormal Line), and harenchi rosen (Shameless Line), today collectively referred to as Toei's "Pinky Violence". Most of Toei's films in the pink film style used eroticism in conjunction with violent and action-filled stories. Several of these films have the theme of strong women exacting violent revenge for past injustices. The series was launched with the Delinquent Girl Boss (Zubeko Bancho) films starring Reiko Oshida. Other series in the Pinky Violence genre included Norifumi Suzuki's Girl Boss (Sukeban) films, and the Terrifying Girls' High School films, both starring Reiko Ike and Miki Sugimoto. Other examples of Toei's films in this genre include Shunya Ito's Sasori (Scorpion) series of women in prison films based on Toru Shinohara's manga. Starting with Female Convict #701: Scorpion (1972), the Scorpion series starred Meiko Kaji, who had left Nikkatsu Studios to distance herself from their Roman Porno series.
Also in 1971, Takashi Itamochi, president of Nikkatsu, Japan's oldest major film studio, made the decision to take his own company's high production values and professional talent out of action films and put them into the pink film genre. Like Toei, Nikkatsu had made some previous films in the sexploitation market, such as Story of Heresy in Meiji Era (1968) and Tokyo Bathhouse (1968), which featured over 30 sex-film stars in cameo appearances. Nikkatsu launched its Roman Porno series in November of 1971 with Apartment Wife: Affair In The Afternoon, starring Kazuko Shirakawa. The film became a huge hit, inspired 20 sequels within seven years, establishing Shirakawa as Nikkatsu's first "Queen", and successfully launched the high-profile Roman Porno series. Director Masaru Konuma says that there was essentially no difference between the pink films and Roman Porno except for the studio's higher budget. Nikkatsu would make these higher-quality pink films almost exclusively, at an average rate of three per month, for the next 17 years.
Nikkatsu gave its Roman porno directors a great deal of artistic freedom in creating their films, as long as they met the official minimum quota of four nude or sex scenes per hour. The result was a series that was popular both with audiences and with critics. One or two Roman Pornos appeared on the top-ten lists of Japanese critics every year throughout the run of the series. Nikkatsu's higher-quality sex films essentially took the pink film market away from the smaller, independent studios until the mid-1980s, when the AV all but ended the theatrical pornographic film.
Tatsumi Kumashiro was one of the major directors of the Roman Porno. Kumashiro directed a string of financial and critical hits unprecedented in Japanese cinematic history, including Ichijo Sayuri: Wet Desire (1972) and Woman with Red Hair (1979), starring Nikkatsu's second "Queen", Junko Miyashita. He became known as the "King of Nikkatsu Roman porno" Noboru Tanaka, director of A Woman Called Sada Abe (1975), is judged by many critics today to have been the best of Nikkatsu's Roman Porno directors. The S&M subgenre of the Roman Porno was established in 1974 when the studio hired Naomi Tani to star in Flower and Snake (based on an Oniroku Dan novel), and Wife to be Sacrificed, both directed by Masaru Konuma. Tani's immense popularity established her as Nikkatsu's third Roman Porno Queen, and the first of their S&M Queens. Other subgenres of the pink film developed under the Roman Porno line included "Violent Pink", established in 1976 by director Yasuharu Hasebe.
When ownership of VCRs first became widespread in the early 1980s, AVs (adult videos) made their appearance and quickly became highly popular. As soon as 1982 the AVs had already attained an approximately equal share of the adult entertainment market with theatrical erotic films. In 1984, new government censorship policies and an agreement between Eirin (the Japanese film-rating board) and the pink-film companies added to Nikkatsu's difficulties by putting drastic new restrictions on theatrical films. Theatrical pink movie profits dropped 36% within a month of the new ruling. Eirin dealt the final blow to theatrical pornography in 1988 by introducing stricter requirements for sex-related theatrical films. Nikkatsu was finally forced to concede defeat to the AV industry, and closed its production facilities in April of 1988. Bed Partner (1988) was the final film of the venerable 17-year-old Roman Porno series. Nikkatsu continued to distribute films under the name Ropponica, and theatrical pornography through Excess Films, however these were not nearly as popular or critically respected as the Roman Porno series had been in its heyday. By the end of the 1980s, the AV had become established as the main form of adult cinematic entertainment in Japan.
The dominant directors of pink films of the 1980s, Genji Nakamura, Banmei Takahashi and Mamoru Watanabe are known collectively as "The Three Pillars Of Pink". All three were veterans of the pink film industry since the 1960s. Coming to prominence in the 1980s, a time when the theatrical porn film was facing considerable difficulties on several fronts, this group is known for elevating the pink film above its low origins by concentrating on technical finesse and narrative content. Some critics dubbed the style of their films "pink art".
By the time Nakamura joined Nikkatsu in 1983, he had already directed over 100 films. While the plots of his films, which could be extremely mysogynistic, were not highly respected, his visual style earned him a reputation for "erotic sensitivity." Nakamura directed one of Japan's first widely-distributed, well-received films with a homosexual theme, Legend of the Big Penis: Beautiful Mystery (1983), for Nikkatsu's ENK Productions, which was founded in 1983 to focus on gay-themed pink films. Some of Nakamura's later pink films were directed in collaboration with Ryuichi Hiroki, and Hitoshi Ishikawa under the group pseudonym Go Ijuin.
Banmei Takahashi directed "intricate, highly stylistic pinku eiga", including New World of Love (1994), the first Japanese theatrical film to display genitals. Another prominent cult director of this era, Kazuo "Gaira" Komizu, is known for his Herschell Gordon Lewis-influenced "splatter-eros" films, which bridge the genres of horror and erotica.
Nikkatsu, Japan's largest producer of pink films during the 1970s and 1980s, declared bankruptcy in 1993. Nevertheless, even in this most difficult period for the pink film, the genre never completely died out, and continued exploring new artistic realms. Indeed, at this time the pink film was viewed as one of the last refuges of the "auteur" in Japan. So long as the director provided the requisite number of sex scenes, he was free to explore his own thematic and artistic interests.
Three of the most prominent pink film directors of the 1990s, Kazuhiro Sano, Toshiki Sato and Takahisa Zeze all made their directorial debuts in 1989. A fourth, Hisayasu Sato, debuted in 1985. Coming to prominence during one of the most precarious times for the pink film, these directors worked under the assumption that each film could be their last, and so largely ignored their audience to concentrate on intensely personal, experimental themes. These directors even broke one of the fundamental pink rules by cutting down in the sex scenes in pursuit of their own artistic concerns. Their films were considered "difficult"-- dark, complex, and largely unpopular with the older pink audience. The title "Four Heavenly Kings of Pink" (ピンク四天王, pinku shitenno?) was applied to these directors, at first sarcastically, by disgruntled theater owners. On the other hand, Roland Domenig, in his essay on the pink film, says that their work offers "a refreshing contrast to the formulaic and stereotyped films that make up the larger part of pink eiga production, and are strongly influenced by the notion of the filmmaker as auteur."
Pink film today
The newest prominent group of seven pink film directors all began as assistant directors to the shitenno. Their films display individualistic styles and and introspective character indicative of the insecurity of Japan's post-bubble generation. Known together as the "Seven Lucky Gods of Pink" (ピンク七福神, shichifukujin?) they are Toshiya Ueno, Shinji Imaoka, Yoshitaka Kamata, Toshiro Enomoto, Yuji Tajiri, Mitsuru Meike and Rei Sakamoto.
Recently, director Mitsuru Meike's pink film The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai (2003) made an impression on the international market and gained critical praise uncharacteristic and unprecedented for the industry.
While some directors have used pink films as a steppingstone for their careers, others work exclusively with the genre. Some notable directors of pink films include:
Some notable pinku eiga actresses include:
Some notable pinku eiga films include:
- Domenig, Roland (2002). Vital flesh: the mysterious world of Pink Eiga. Archived from the original on 2004-11-18. Retrieved on 2007-02-19.
- Grossman, Andrew (April 2002). The Japanese Pink Film: Tandem, the Bedroom, and The Dream of Garuda (English). www.brightlightsfilm.com/.
- Harritz, Pia D (2006). Consuming the Female Body: Pinku Eiga and the case of Sagawa Issei (English). mediavidenskab.
Macias, Patrick (2001). TokyoScope: The Japanese Cult Film Companion. San Francisco: Cadence Books. < ISBN:1569316813 > on Amazon.com
- Richie, Donald  (1987). "The Japanese Eroduction", A Lateral View: Essays on Culture and Style in Contemporary Japan (in English). Berkeley, California: Stone Bridge Press, 156-169. < ISBN:0962813745 > on Amazon.com.
- Sharp, Jasper. Pink Films special (English). Midnight Eye. Retrieved on 2007-05-29.
- Weisser, Thomas; Yuko Mihara Weisser (1998). Japanese Cinema Encyclopedia: The Sex Films. Miami: * tal Books : Asian Cult Cinema Publications. < ISBN:1889288527 > on Amazon.com.