The Pornographers (Jinruigaku nyumon) [DVD]
Director : Shohei Imamura
Screenplay : Shohei Imamura & Koji Numata
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1966
Stars : Shoichi Ozawa (Yoshimoto “Subu” Ogata), Sumiko Sakamoto (Haru Masuda), Masaomi Kondo (Koichi), Keiko Sakawa (Keiko)
Director Shohei Imamura loved outcast characters, so it’s no surprise that he made a film like The Pornographers (Jinruigaku nyumon), which is about a man who makes illegal 8mm stag films for a living, but uses the money to support a widow and her weird family. Imamura’s films are often dark, but funny, and he is fond of shining lights in the darkest corners of postwar Japanese society.
The protagonist of The Pornographers is Yoshimoto “Subu” Ogata (Shoichi Ozawa). Ogata has made porn films for many years, and in the process he has developed all kinds of rationalizations for his trade, particularly the idea that traditionally rigid Japanese society is sexually repressed and his films act as a much needed valve to let out those pent-up emotions. He works with a small and loyal crew (they call him “sensei”), and most of his “actors” are prostitutes. In Ogata’s eyes, there is nothing wrong with what he does, even though the society in which he lives not only looks down on his profession, but classifies it as a form criminality. One of the film’s most ironic and funny scenes finds Ogata being arrested by the police while he is in the middle of lecturing a teenage girl about not reading dirty books (which, by the way, he produced).
The Pornographers, however, despite its title, is not about pornography. That is merely the backdrop—and the film’s underlying joke. Rather, it is about the idea of family. Ogata has spent many years taking care of Haru (Sumiko Sakamoto), a widow who owns the ramshackle Osaka apartment building in which he lives. Ogata and Haru clearly love each other, but Haru can never fully commit to him because she believes her late husband has been reincarnated as a carp that she keeps in an aquarium in her apartment. Whenever the carp thrashes about, she believes her husband is unhappy (not surprisingly, the carp tends to thrash quite a bit when Ogata and Haru are sleeping together). Ogata also takes care of Haru’s offspring: a college-age son Koichi (Masaomi Kondo) and teenage daughter, Keiko (Keiko Sakawa).
Of course, because this is an Imamura film, Haru’s family is hardly conventional in any sense, particularly in sexual terms. Koichi has an uncomfortably intense attachment to his mother, at some points reverting to almost childlike status (as when he comes and gets into bed between her and Ogata and cowers under the sheets). Keiko, on the other hand, is developing into a strong, independent young woman, which catches Ogata’s eye. Voyeurism is a consistent theme in Imamura’s work, and, in one of The Pornographers’ most startlingly effective compositions, Imamura inverts the ’Scope widescreen frame to show Ogata watching Keiko get dressed through a crack in a door. By turning the image on its side, he allows us the full view of what Ogata is watching while also visually suggesting its inherent perversity.
The Pornographers was Imamura’s first film as an independent filmmaker, and it bears all the hallmarks of his auteur status. It is a wildly uneven film, veering from bizarre comedy to genuinely effective drama to social satire. Legend has it that Imamura proposed the idea of the film as a joke, and it’s not hard to see the entire enterprise as a sly put-on. The mixing of family solidarity with a socially reprehensible profession like pornography is almost too easy a set-up, but Imamura’s clever visual strategies and insight into his characters make this a strange trip worth taking.
|The Pornographers: Criterion Collection DVD|
|Audio||Japanese Dolby 1.0 Monaural|
|Supplements||Original theatrical trailer|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection / Home Vision Entertainment|
|Release Date||August 5, 2003|
|The anamorphic widescreen image (2.35:1) on this disc was transferred from a 35mm composite print. The black-and-white image is sharp and clear, with excellent detail even in the darkest sequences, although the print used wasn’t in pristine condition as there are some slight instances of scratches and damage here and there, despite having been digitally restored with the MTI Digital Restoration System. Overall, though, the film looks great.|
|The original monaural soundtrack is clean and clear throughout.|
|The only supplement included is the film’s original theatrical trailer, presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1).|
©2003 James Kendrick