The good, the bad and the weird of Pink Eiga Cinema.
The Japanese softcore sex film – known globally as Pink Film (or Pink Eiga) – is a curious beast, unlike the erotica of anywhere else in the world. While some of this is down to the curious rules of Japanese censorship – no genitalia and until recently no public hair, but all manner of kinky perversion, body fluids and violence allowed – that can’t be the whole reason why these films are so weird. After all, Britain laboured under similar sexual restraints until 2000, and rarely produced anything as whacked out as some of these films. No, beyond the inability to show hardcore, there’s something very, very strange about a lot of Japanese smut. The filmmakers seemed to take advantage of the fact that as long as the films contained the required amount of nudity and simulated sex, then anything went – the sex brought in the cash and the weirdness brought in a wider cult audience. And at around 60 minutes long each, the films rarely overstay their welcome.
Not that all the films are good, and the four films that Salvation Films offshoot Sacrament have released are definitely a mixed bag. For a start, they are all modern Pink Film – by which I mean shot between 1997 and 2015, on video rather than the 35mm film of the past. Video is an unforgiving format that goes badly – yesterday’s state of the art is today’s barely watchable. So ironically, some of the films here look less fresh than many a 1970s production. It should be noted that the painfully bad titles are not direct translations, or indeed Salvation’s own – they seem to have come from US editions of the film, as have the subtitles, which only rarely seem to be accurate interpretations of what is being said.
Of the four films here, Whore Hospital (Pin-saro byôin: Nô-pan hakui) is the most throwaway. It’s also – not coincidentally – the most conventionally pornographic of the four, playing out essentially like an edited version of any low rent porn film that you might find across the world. The film is pretty much non-stop sex scenes that push the envelope of softcore – there’s a curious morality at work that says a woman can lick a very visible erection as long as there is thin underwear between mouth and cock to give the impression that actual sex is not happening, a baffling censorial standard that British softcore viewers in the pre-hardcore days would be very familiar with – though some of the content here would probably have been too much for British censors of that time.
The plot, what there is of it, follows the arrival of a new nurse at a hospital where sex is seen as the cure to all ailments. She has sexual hangups, though they are nothing that regular blow jobs and orgies won’t cure. This paper-thin narrative established, the film moves from sex scene to sex scene, not explicit enough to satisfy porn viewers yet too long and too continual to make the film interesting as anything other than porn. Director Chise Matoba throws in lightweight BDSM and other mild kinks to liven things up, but the film feels very ordinary – even as hardcore, this would be distinctly forgettable and generic, and without those explicit scenes, it seems entirely worthless. Of course, we should never underestimate the appeal of the naughty nurse, especially in the UK where everything from Carry On films to Come Play With Me has benefitted from the fantasy – and undemanding viewers with that particular fetish (and a taste for Japanese girls – another selling point to many Western viewers that can’t be understated) might be suitably excited by this – there’s every chance that this is the most popular of the all Salvation’s J-smut releases. Viewers in search of substance with their sexual entertainment should look elsewhere though.
The series that began with Whore Hospital continues with Whore Angels (Pin-saro byôin 3: Nô-pan Shinsatsushitsu / Pink Salon Hospital 3: No-Pants Exams Room), directed by Motosugo Watanabe – but don’t expect more of the same. Rather, this is a weird sex comedy-fantasy from the man behind such classics as Sexy Battle Girls. A cheerfully low-rent and deliberately silly effort, it’s based around the mystical Monroe (Saito Nao), who has a heart-shaped pussy and the magical ability to restore health through blow jobs. Soon, her friend Kosama (Siori Kuroda) has secured her a job at the Hot Lips brothel, where her skills prove especially popular, turning the brothel into the world’s number one medical facility. It turns out that Monroe is a bona fide angel, and the demon Rock’N’Roll (yes, really) is out to get her in order to bring about the apocalypse. Only the man from the Vatican Secret Service and Kosama can save her.
So, your standard sex film in other words. With cheap sets and costumes, ludicrous characters and a nonsensical plot, the film is very Japanese and how well it travels will be a matter of opinion, and just how forgiving the viewer is in their desire to see cute Asian girls with their tits on display. The short sex scenes are more comedic than erotic, and the whole film is oddly wholesome despite all the nudity and simulated humping. I’m not sure it’s any good, and the video quality is unexpectedly poor, but it’s certainly strange, and that’s always a plus point.
Watanabe is back with 2011 production The Succulent Succubus (Kairaku no sekai: Miradashimasho!), which turns out to be a much better film than Whore Angels. This is a much less slapstick affair – though hardly less odd, as the first sex scene is followed by heroine Momo (Sho Nishino) casually telling her asshole boyfriend that she has six months to live. What the film really has to make it stand out is Asami, the greatest star that Pink Cinema has ever spawned, playing Ms. Devil Girl Succubus, VP of Sales and Marketing for Hell – a part made for her, you might think. She offers our heroine one wish in exchange for her soul (austerity clearly hitting Hell as well), proving her point by making her boyfriend the head of – ahem – Microhard software. The problem is, the terminally unlucky Momo is pretty indecisive when it comes to final wishes.
This play on Bedazzled (the remake, not the original I fear) is surprisingly good fun. She Sishino is a genuinely cute and charming lead, and Asami, all dolled up like a Goth queen, is on top form, sexy and with great comic timing. The sex scenes are more slickly erotic here too – the impressive climactic girl-girl scene between the two leads is evidence of just what you can do with softcore, as explicit as Japanese censorship allows – which leads to another curiously unique aspect of that nation’s cinema, the fogging of scenes too explicit to be otherwise shown. As with many a film, the fogging is too light to actually stop anything being seen, but strong enough to be irritating. Luckily, there’s only a small amount of it in this film, and it’s fairly unobtrusive.
In the end, The Succulent Succubus is a great example of making something out of nothing – a film that is better than the sum of its parts, and benefitting from two stars at the top of their game.
Naked Desire (Onanie Sister Tagiru Nikutsubo) is also a cut above the average. An epic by Pink Movie standards at 77 minutes, this is a collision of home invasion, nunsploitation and weird sex drama, laced with inappropriate comedy and the sort of gleeful offensiveness that might leave Western audiences aghast. A nun looking after an almost-comatose elderly man finds three visitors arriving at their home – a nymphomaniac girl and a schoolteacher and her teenage pupil who are on the run after their affair was uncovered. All sorts of psychosexual interactions ensue, with the sex crazed girl stimulating the old man and the nun being driven crazy with forbidden desires. Meanwhile, two lecherous and comedy policemen are in not so hot pursuit of the runaways.
This is a strange film that can’t quite decide what it wants to be – at times it’s a lightweight sex comedy, at others a serious drama, and sometimes it feels almost like an art film. There are elements of Mishima (in the batshit crazy final fifteen minutes of the movie that throw everything up in the air for no reason beyond the fun of it) and Eurosleaze, and there’s plenty to offend – the cops who routinely grope their female colleague and are an unnecessary slapstick element, the sex maniac girl molesting the wheelchair bound and barely conscious old man, the teacher having sex with her pupil… these are not elements you’ll find in any American film made in the last few years. But Hideo Sakaki’s film is impressively slick, never boring and has an interesting cast, not least Sho Nishino once again proving why she is one of the biggest stars of the the Japanese erotic film world.
And that’s the thing. With the demise of the US erotic thriller as a force – I mean, when did you last see one of those? – the softcore movie seems to be pretty much dead in the water – apart from in Japan. If erotic movies as interesting and weird as this one can still be made, then there’s hope for the format yet. I’m not sure that Salvation/Sacrament’s uniform packaging does the films any favours – they might be better served as stand alone product, given how wildly different the films are. But all four of these are worth a look, and both The Succulent Succubus and Naked Desire – despite the titles, which are ludicrous and generic in turn – are well worth seeking out.