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Pink Films special

by Jasper Sharp

Pink film (pinku eiga) is the name of the genre of independent softcore erotic program pictures that have been produced for the big screen in vast numbers in Japan since the early 60s.

The films differ in several respects from the type of pornography one conventionally finds in other countries. Firstly, they are shot on 35mm and intended for theatrical release in a network of specialist cinemas in the nation's metropolitan areas, a phenomenon that disappeared completely throughout the rest of the world during the 80s but is still thriving in Japan.

Secondly, due to Japan's relatively strict screen censorship, enforced by the film censorship board Eirin, no depictions of genitals or sexual activity (the so-called "working parts" as Donald Richie calls them in his essay The Japanese Eroduction contained in his book A Lateral View) are allowed to be shown. Thirdly, over the past few decades, the pink film has provided a training ground for many of today's top directors, including Takahisa Zeze (Moon Child), Ryuichi Hiroki (Vibrator), Yojiro Takita (When the Last Sword is Drawn) and Masayuki Suo (Shall We Dance), as well as turning out such notable "enfants terribles" as Koji Wakamatsu, Banmei Takahashi and Masao Adachi.

The films themselves average about an hour in length, and aside from the necessity of containing a specified number of sex scenes, differ widely in their scope and ambition. Titillation may be the primary purpose, but aspects such as character, story and technical qualities are also given their due consideration.

Amazingly around 100 of these films are still produced every year by five different production companies (one of which, ENK, specialises exclusively in films for the gay market). They make up a significant proportion of the output of the Japanese film industry's independent sector, even more crucial when one considers that unlike most other examples of "independent" filmmaking within Japan, which pool their budgets from a variety of film and TV production agencies, pink films are funded entirely in-house by their own production companies. (This independence is also something which distinguishes the pink film from the so-called Roman Porno movies of the 70s and 80s, which were produced by the, at the time, major production and distribution company, Nikkatsu). In other words, the pink genre is a vital, self-sustaining and thriving part of the Japanese film industry. Yet it is one which is virtually ignored by critics both inside and outside of Japan.

It's a vast field, of course, and no one could ever dream of seeing more than but a tiny fraction of the literally thousands of films that have been made since the early 60s. Though many are currently available on video and DVD within Japan, until recently these films have been virtually impossible to see abroad.

A handful of titles have been exposed in recent years in festivals such as Udine and Rotterdam, but until very recently the only overseas video releases were a handful of titles put out a few by the company Screen Edge. More recently Salvation Films have put out a number of newer titles from today's major directors in the genre, but this still represents but a mere trickle compared to the deluge pouring into pink cinemas in Japan every week.

In order to provide a clue exactly as to the vast diversity of what is out there, Midnight Eye is here to guide you through some of the more interesting recent releases of one of the most important players in the field, Shintoho and their affiliated company Kokuei.

A note about titles: Pink films are referenced by a plethora of alternate titles. Firstly there is the one given by the director. Secondly, there is the one given by the distributor for the theatrical release. Thirdly there are the export titles given by foreign festivals and distributors which often differ wildly from the first two and are barely ever direct translations.

The films reviewed here are all new and have not been released abroad in any format. The titles therefore given are the translated Japanese theatrical titles. These are intended to catch the eyes of potential patrons passing the cinemas, and are often permutations of ridiculously over-the-top sexual expressions and words whose precise nuance is very difficult to capture in translation. I have done my best to catch the spirit of the originals rather than more literal reading, which are often virtually nonsensical.

Obscene Internet Group: Make Me Come!!
Greedy Housewives
Greedy Housewives 2: Take Me To Heaven Technique
Nurse Sisters: Pink Consulting Room
Milking: The Pervert Stepfather, The Son's Bride and…
Horny Home Tutor: Teacher's Love Juice
Mansion of the Senses: Wife's Ascension
Pervert in the Attic: Peeping Lewd Beast

Pink Film Resources

Obscene Internet Group: Make Me Come!!

Original Title: Waisetsu Netto: Shudan Ikasete!!
Director: Toshiya UENO
Cast: Hidehisa EBATA, Noriko MURAYAMA, Nikki SASAKI, Minami AOYAMA
Running time: 63 mins.
Year: 2003

picture: scenes from 'Obscene Internet Group: Make Me Come!!'A battered wife (Murayama), a hardcore porn actress (Sasaki), an ostracized high school student (Aoyama), a rather morose waiter at a curry rice restaurant and a dispirited maker of hanko (the stamp the Japanese use to sign their names) are brought together via the internet. With the AV actress recurrently subjected to the violent sadistic sexual demands of her one-man production team and the hanko maker (Ebata) increasingly dispirited by the war raging in Iraq, all five pledge to commit mass suicide by inhaling gas. Despite their feelings of disconnection with the rest of society, when they finally come together in person the couples within the group begin to form more intimate physical connections with each other as the final hour approaches.

Rather morbid subject matter and an uncharacteristically sullen approach given its intended market, Ueno's film is nevertheless in some ways quite typical of the stance taken by its production company, Kokuei, that pink films are, first and foremost, films. As long as enough sex scenes are present, it is up to the director to choose in which context they are presented. It is an approach that sometimes infuriates regular sex film patrons and unfortunately goes all but ignored by mainstream film critics, but nevertheless attracts its own unique group of adherents. Waisetsu Netto Shûdan swept the board as the best work of its year at the 16th Annual Pink Awards organized by pink film specialist magazine PG.

It also stands as one of the most genuinely insightful and of-the-moment films produced within the Japanese independent sector in its year. Just as in the early days of Koji Wakamatsu's most political work in the 60s, the fast production times and complete independence from the mainstream industry allow the pink film to remain uniquely contemporary and on the pulse. Thus, outside of the obligatory sex scenes, Ueno's film actually has something of note to say about the state of the national psyche and interpersonal relations within it - including an amusing mobile phone gag. It is also worth noting that the spiritual malaise to which the central characters succumb and their disgust with the world of which they are part is explicitly invoked though TV footage of President Bush's proclamation of war. The same device was also used over ten years before during Bush number one's Gulf War, in Takahisa Zeze's No Man's Land (Waisetsu Bôsô Shûdan Kedemono, 1991), also produced by Kokuei.

Greedy Housewives

Original Title: Yaritai Hitodsuma
Director: Chise MATOBA (a.k.a. Sachi HAMANO)
Running time: 58 mins.
Year: 2003

picture: scenes from 'Greedy Housewives'When sexually jaded young housewife Aya (Yuki) is rudely awakened by the rather rough and ready advances of her horny husband as she is sleeping, she is forced into reminding him that a wedding ring doesn't give carte blanche to rape one's wife, and that there is a world of difference between love and sex. To prove the latter point, she heads off to the big city with her silicon-enhanced friend Kei (Kagami) for a rendez-vous in a love hotel arranged over the internet with two young men, photographing the evidence on her mobile phone camera and mailing it back to her remorseful spouse. Kei later introduces Aya to a sex counselor with the aim of helping her overcome her sexual difficulties with her husband.

One of the many entries in the sex film market by the ultra-prolific Sachi Hamano, the industry's longest-serving woman director with a track record stretching through literally hundreds of pink films all the way back to 1972. Hamano's recent work in the mainstream independent sector includes In Search of a Lost Writer (Dainanakankai Hoko: Ozaki Midori O Sagashite, 1998), a biopic on the forgotten woman writer Midori Ozaki, and Lily Festival (Yurisai, 2001), a humorous and spirited look at the reawakening sexuality of a group of women aged between 69 and 91 when an aging playboy moves into their apartment block.

Here (directing under the pseudonym Chise Matoba) Hamano's experience behind the camera is much in evidence in terms of the adept framing and staging of the scenes. It all looks so much more polished than many other pink films. The only drawback to this heightened display of technique is that it foregrounds the fact that, as with virtually all pink films, the soundtrack is all post-dubbed.

Though Hamano has claimed that she shoots these from a woman's perspective, as far as approach goes, there is little real evidence of a feminine touch. Even if the focus on women's pleasure-seeking seems more natural and convincing than is usual for this type of film, if anything, with the women most definitely staying on top of the events that befall them, Hamano's film is lewder, ruder and a good deal more to the point than many contemporary pink films, with only the bare minimum of dialogue cluttering up the running time. And of course, the audience in mind is all male.

Greedy Housewives 2: Take Me To Heaven Technique

Original Title: Yaritai Hitodsuma 2: Shoten Tekunikku
Director: Chise MATOBA (a.k.a. Sachi HAMANO)
Running time: 59 mins.
Year: 2003

picture: scenes from 'Greedy Housewives 2: Take Me To Heaven Technique'Eri (Sakurada) manages to ruffle more than a few feathers when she appears on TV promoting her new book that claims that women who devote their lives exclusively to being housewives are effectively nothing better than livestock, reliant upon "selling" sex to their husbands in order to receive their monthly housekeeping allowance. Two viewers take particular umbrage at such views and, independent of one another, set out on a path of revenge. Tamayo (Kagami) lies in wait outside Eri's publisher's and lures the boss of the company (Nakamitsu) to a hotel room, promising to reveal all about the sexual powers of housewives' and clinching a book deal of her own in the process, whilst Hiroko (Sasaki) uses her own charms to draw Eri's young lover (Hirogawa) into her immaculately-kept abode, putting more than just dinner on the table.

With only a couple of the same cast members and a number of similar locations acting as connecting tissue, this is a sequel in name only to Hamano's first Greedy Housewives movie. Whilst Hamano can be credited with using feminist themes as an organising principle, like its predecessor the movie is most memorable for the remarkable gymnastic displays of all of its performers.

Nurse Sisters: Pink Consulting Room

Original Title: Naasu Shimai: Momoiro Shinsatsu-Shitsu
Director: Osamu SATO
Cast: Yumeka SASAKI, Nikki SASAKI, Miyuki KONNO, Kikujiro HONDA, Toshimase NIIRO, Seiji NAKAMITSU, Nobuyuki MATSUDA
Running time: 63 mins.
Year: 2003

picture: scenes from 'Nurse Sisters: Pink Consulting Room'Chikako (Yumeka Sasaki) and Wakako (Nikki Sasaki) are two sisters sharing the same apartment. Both work as nurses, though this is where the similarity ends. Whilst sober and reliable Chikako is engaged in a serious relationship with Keiji (Matsuda), her more flighty younger sibling is embroiled in an affair with the married Tsukamoto (Honda), the doctor at the small town clinic where she works. One day, Chikako finds herself caught in an emotional maelstrom when Keiji proposes to her just after they have made love in a motel, finding herself tongue-tied and unable to reply. The reason behind her confusion is the departure of her father years ago, who left home when she was a small girl, never to be seen again.

With her eye-catching debut in Toshiki Sato's Cuffs (Tejyo aka Lost Virgin) in 2002, Nikki Sasaki followed her astoundingly prolific elder sister Yumeka (Anarchy in Japan, Tokyo X Erotica) into the world of the pink film. Nurse Sisters is Shintoho's first attempt to pit the pair together, though the two don't actually participate in any of the same sex scenes. In fact, despite the salacious images conjured up by the title, this is yet another classic case of a pink film whose erotic power derives more from its emotional qualities than its carnal aspects.

With her cartoonish facial tics and throaty voice, the perky Nikki is extremely watchable in all her scenes, but it is the far more experienced Yumeka who carries the drama. Her powerful central performance, as in Mitsuru Meike's (STOP USING) SEX AS A WEAPON + (JUST LIKE) STARTING OVER, demonstrates that she is by far one of the best actresses in her field, and lends added weight to the claim that, discounting the undeniable verve with which the sex scenes are staged, many of Shintoho's films are just as well-scripted and work just as well dramatically as anything else produced in Japan. That said, those more lured by the promise of its sexual content may feel a little short-changed by this particular title.

Milking: The Pervert Stepfather, The Son's Bride and…

Original Title: Chichishibori: Chikan Gifu, Musuko No Yome To…
Director: Daisuke GOTO
Cast: Horyu NAKAMURA, Ryoko ASAGI, Yumeka SASAKI, Sakura MIZUKI, Seiji NAKAMITSU, Toshimasa NIIRO
Running time: 59 mins.
Year: 2003

picture: scenes from 'Milking: The Pervert Stepfather, The Son's Bride and…'After the death of his son Hideo (Niiro), aging dairy farmer Shukichi (Nakamura) is left to run his farmstead with only his young daughter-in-law Noriko (Asagi) to help. Struggling under the onset of senility, when his prize heifer Hanako also passes away, it is left to Noriko to cushion him from the emotional shock. Every morning as the sun begins to rise, she creeps off to the cowshed, disrobes and gets down on all fours in anticipation of her father-in-law's arrival with the milking pail. So addled by old age is Shûkichi that he is unable to tell the difference. This natural state of affairs soon falls under threat, however, when his scheming daughter (Sasaki) turns up from the big city plotting to grab the land all for herself, claiming that her father is in no fit mental state to look after a farm. Given the strange events she witnesses in the milking shed, there's few who will argue…

As if the video cover didn't say enough already, Chichishibori is a pretty rare movie in every sense of the world. An erotic film for those rough and ready types who don't mind getting their hands dirty, it relocates us far from the standard anonymous suburban environs of most modern-day pink movies to give us a glimpse at life in Japan's rural hinterlands. What director Goto (who donated such delights as Sasori in the U.S.A. and a few entries in the Zero Woman series to the straight-to-video market during the 90s) has done here, to quote Spinal Tap, is to "take a sophisticated view of sex by putting it on a farm". Well, one might laugh, but cast and crew alike all strive to keep matters as straight-faced as the far-fetched premise allows, and even more surprisingly, they just about get away with it. The rural sex movie is not a particularly well-ploughed furrow, but though Goto's film occasionally teat-ers on the ridiculous, it is nonetheless out-standing in its field, and quite unlike any udder.

Horny Home Tutor: Teacher's Love Juice

Original Title: Hatsujo Kateikyoshi: Sensei No Aijiru
Director: Mitsuru MEIKE
Cast: Emi KURODA, Kyoko HAYAMI, Kanae MIZUHARA, Takeshi ITO, Yukishiro HOTARU, Tetsuaki MATSUE, Yota KAWASE
Running time: 65 mins.
Year: 2004

picture: scene from 'Horny Home Tutor: Teacher's Love Juice'Sachiko Hanai (Kuroda), a call girl at an imekura (or sexual role-play club) specialises in playing the type of lusty private home tutor that every adolescent boy dreams of having correct his maths homework. One day, between clients, she inadvertently stumbles into a coffeeshop where some dodgy-looking dealings are taking place at a nearby table between a North Korean (Ito) and a Middle Eastern-looking man. Tempers flare and pistols are drawn, and Sachiko unwittingly finds herself in the path of a stray bullet that hits her bang in the centre of her forehead. Remarkably she gets up and, dazed and confused, wanders out into the street, but not before picking up a strange metal canister lying on the floor next to her. The next day, after discovering the small aperture in her cranium, she attempts to dislodge the bullet from her brain, setting off a volley of flashing lights and strange images in her mind. Suddenly Sachiko finds herself able to understand foreign languages and solve complex mathematic formula, abilities which make her much in demand as a bona fide home teacher. Unfortunately, the cylinder she picked up happens to contain the finger of the American President, whose fingerprint is capable of unleashing a devastating nuclear apocalypse across the world. Sachiko begins to finds herself the subject of unprecedented international attention.

It is perhaps no surprise to discover that the exuberant imagination behind the script for this project is none other than Takao Nakano, a heavyweight on the Tokyo sleaze scene through his numerous cut-price straight-to-video oddities produced by Total Media Corporation. Nakano's works - Shogun's Secret Castle, Queen Honey Bee, two films featuring Sawariman Kintaro (an unofficial soft-porn rip-off of the popular manga character Salaryman Kintaro) and an all-girl wrestling version of Battle Royale - are notable for their rock-bottom production values, extremely campy sense of humour and surfeit of girl-on-girl cat-fighting scenes. Fortunately Kokuei director Mitsuru Meike (Snow/Woman) manages to bring a much-needed degree of technical proficiency to Nakano's whacked out vision, and the results, though occasionally a little bit all over the place, should have enough raunch, humour and overall weirdness to please most. The depiction of the current incumbent at the White House is one particularly to be savoured.

Mansion of the Senses: Wife's Ascension

Original Title: Kanno No Yakata: Hitodsuma Shoten
Director: Takaaki HASHIGUCHI
Cast: Hotaru HAZUKI, Ayu MIZUNO, Kyoko KAZAMA, Azusa SAKAI, Kikujiro HONDA
Running time: 59 mins.
Year: 2004

picture: scenes from 'Mansion of the Senses: Wife's Ascension'Not long after disgraced doctor Asagiri (Honda) moves into a new house with former nurse Yoko (Hazuki, one of Shintoho's longest-serving performers and one of the actresses of choice of director Toshiki Sato), a creepy antique doll is discovered in one of the bedrooms. As Asagiri's attempts at searching for a new position at a hospital are thwarted by his reputation as adulterer and cheat, increasingly strange things begin happening in the couple's new home.

Upping the ante in the weirdness stakes for Shintoho is this bizarre sex-horror hybrid, which comes riding on the back of the recent successful wave of Japanese ghost stories now gaining serious commercial clout overseas. Hashiguchi's attempt at sending shivers down the spine of his audience whilst simultaneously trying to get them hot under the collar just about manages to rise above the level of gimmick.

Lacking the obvious post-production gloss of its most obvious model, Takashi Shimizu's Juon (subject to a Hollywood remake as The Grudge by its original director), it could hardly do much worse in terms of story and characterisation, however. Its invocation of sexual guilt as a catalyst for all the bumps and groans adds a dramatic weight conspicuous by its absence from Shimizu's tale. At the same time, it also boasts its fair share of creepy, disconcerting moments, which are no less effective for being realised on a shoestring budget and don't detract too much from the obligatory nude coupling scenes: Asagiri suffers from an alarming mid-coital out-of-body experience; a ghastly ghostly female figure peers out behind her mask of straggly hair from the bedroom closet as Yoko reaches orgasm during a bout of love-making; a terrifying figure of matted hair takes shape to rise from the bath tub. But while the film's supernatural and erotic elements works well enough individually, they still don't quite seem to sit entirely comfortably alongside each other.

Pervert in the Attic: Peeping Lewd Beast

Original Title: Tenjoura No Chikan: Inju Nozoki Ma
Director: Akira FUKAMACHI
Running time: 58 mins.
Year: 2003

picture: scenes from 'Pervert in the Attic: Peeping Lewd Beast'The year is 1950, and life in the traditional home of the distinguished Sawatari family revolves around the sickly mistress of the house, Tamayo (Kawase). Bed-bound with an incurable disease, she is tended by her husband Sadayuki (Nakamitsu), cousin Satoko (Mizuhara) and her adoring personal maid, Shino (Satomi), a young girl taken into Sadayuki's household after fleeing from her former adopted home due to sexual ill-treatment. As Tamayo writhes feverishly on her futon, Shino proves remarkably handy at giving bed baths and devotedly curling up in the bed of her mistress to keep her warm. Meanwhile Sadayuki finds himself falling for the dark charms of Satoko. But just who is the Peeping Tom prowling the rafters who knows all the family secrets?

Diminishing budgets have meant that the number of period costume pink movies released since directors Banmei Takahashi and Mamoru Watanabe contributed so heavily to this sub-genre in the 80s has declined to virtually nothing, with most modern offerings staged in contemporary settings, not too far from the everyday reality of the viewer. Pervert in the Attic, directed by industry veteran Fukamachi, therefore makes for a welcome attempt to bring back a much-missed strain of old-fashioned eroticism.

A mystery in the vein of the works of the celebrated ero-guro fantasy writer Edogawa Rampo, it is particularly reminiscent of Nikkatsu's adaptation of Watcher in the Attic. Of course, Nikkatsu had much more in the way of resources at their disposal for their opulent Roman Porno movies during the 70s compared with modern pink productions, but by keeping the action limited within a couple of rooms, Pervert in the Attic never feels particularly compromised, benefiting from a tight script, a fine sense of period details and enough highly charged encounters to satisfy even the most jaded of tastes.

Pink Film Resources
[Prudish People Beware! This feature is about sex films, and these websites are about sex films. Donít come running to us to complain if you see things that make you blush.]

In English

Salvation Films

Screen Edge

Vital flesh: the mysterious world of Pink Eiga
An informative introduction to the subject by Roland Domenig written for the pink focus of the Udine Far East Festival in 2002.

In French

Pink Screen
A great resource for information about pink films.

And in Japanese

Many of the films mentioned in this article are available for download here, though unless you can read Japanese, this site may prove very difficult to navigate. Please don't email us to ask how it is done - you won't get a reply.

The website of the best magazine devoted to the field.

Pink Film Event

August 24 - September 2

A New School of Pink Movies
Athenee Francais, Tokyo, Japan
A rare chance to see whatís fresh and new in the world of pink film within the sophisticated environment of the Athenee Francais in Tokyo.