Monday, December 26, 2011

Sharp, Jasper - Behind the Pink Curtain: The Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema

Japanese sexuality has become a source of morbid fascination in America. Their pornography (with its images of violent S&M, animated women with huge breasts, hentai, lolitas, and “tentacle porn”) continue to repulse and confuse Western audience. Seen in the West as one part depravity and one part repression, British writer Jasper Sharp helps pull back the veil of confusion around Japanese sex by focusing on a uniquely Japanese phenomenon: the pink film.
 Pink films (pinku eiga) are low-budget softcore erotic films. They are roughly an hour long and usually play in double or triple bills at specialized movie theatres. Pink films have no direct counterpart in American film. They are somewhat akin to the “sexploitation” films that were popular in the 1960’s, but sexploitation films fell out of favor in the 1970’s as hardcore pornography became readily available. Pink films have remained in favor in Japan since the 1950’s, though the “Golden Age” of the 1980’s has passed. Whether this has to do with the fact that hardcore pornography is still illegal in Japan is unclear.
Sharp’s book is the very definition of comprehensive. He meticulously catalogs all major films, directors, and trends in pink films since the genre’s origins in the 1950’s. This is no small feat. Thousands of pinks films have been produced but only a few weren’t tossed away after their run in theatres and far fewer are available on DVD. Sharp does the best with what he has, spending a great deal of the book describing the plots of certain films and providing hundreds of film stills.
This meticulous recap is to a point necessary for Western readers as pink films are next to impossible to find in the US. Of the hundreds of titles mentioned I was only able to find four on Netflix. It occasionally becomes tiresome and repetitive, leaving this reader wanting a greater variety of structure. Very little is said about the lives of most actresses and actors in the film, which seems a great loss.

Though a great many of pink films are just loosely associated scenes of sexual happenstances, Sharp is quick to point out some are socially poignant. For example, Tetsuji Takechi’s “Black Snow” (1965) is a dark and angry critique of America’s continued military presence in Japan. The film  includes a famous scene where a young raped woman runs naked in the snow on the outskirts of an American airbase. Mitsuru Meike’s “The Glamorous Life of Sanchiko Hanai” (2004) is a fierce satire criticizing the Iraq War and the policies of George W. Bush. The film follows a clumsy call girl who comes in possession of Bush’s finger and uses it for a rather interesting purpose. According to Sharp, Time Out New York said the film explored “the previously untapped erotic potential of the writings of Noam Chomsky.” 
 As has been mentioned, the book is at sometimes highly entertaining and at others dreadfully dull. I’m sure that Japanese films buffs would find this film absolutely thrilling, but as someone with a limited knowledge of Asian cinema I found myself lost at times. Sharp assumes that his audience knows quite a bit about Japanese culture and cinema. He references events in Japanese history with little explanation. Sometimes his very detailed biographies of directors can be a little dull. However, when he is actually talking about films Sharp is quite amusing. Some films are funny and poke fun at Japan; others are repulsive to my sentiments. There is a strong theme of misogyny and rape throughout the films.

My favorite part of the book was the titles of the films. They almost always have a colon in them and are for the most part, completely ridiculous. Here is a list of my favorites:
White Rose Campus: And Then Everyone Gets Raped (1982)
Moistening Housewife: Pantyless Apron (2004)
Go Go Second Time Virgin (1969)
Molester Assault Bus: Put Through (1998)
Carnal Desire Ghost Story: Beautiful Flesh Numb Fuck (2004)
Modern-Day Sex Theory: Rape Me (1970)
Sensual Zone: Sorrowful Pimp (1972)
Gushing Prayer: A 15 year-old Prostitute (1971)
Assault Young Girl Diary: Female (1968)
Sex Document: Serial Rapists (1974)
College Girl Secret Floor Exercise (1980)

I would have liked to seen more cultural criticism and explanation from Sharp. Though this book may seem confusing and repetitive to general audiences, anyone with an interest in Japanese culture, pornography, or the history of film will find this book a must read. 

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