Review by Ed Nguyen
Shoichi Ozawa, Sumiko Sakamoto, Masomi Kondo, Keiko Sagawa
Director: Shohei Imamura
Audio: Japanese Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Black & white, anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Criterion (Home Vision Entertainment)
Length: 127 minutes
Release Date: August 5, 2003
policemen. They've nothing better to do than worry about sex."
filmmaker Shohei Imamura is known for creating films of a provocative nature.
Early in his career, he had served as an assistant to the great Japanese
director Yasujiro Ozu before making his own directorial debut in 1958.
But whereas Ozu was a classical master of the minimalist style of
filmmaking, Imamura's style might reasonably be compared to the trippy works of
an imaginary distant Asian cousin of David Lynch. Imamura, in his own right, quickly developed a reputation as
one of the most creative, if idiosyncratic, filmmakers in Japan's post-war era.
(Jinruigako Nyumon or The
Amorists) was Imamura's first film for his new production company.
Based on Akiyuki Nozaka's best-selling novel, this 1966 film was an
abstract but wryly amusing tale about a common man, Subu Ogata, with an uncommon
(Ozawa), it turns out, is a maker of pornographic films.
Even as he acknowledges the immoral (not to mention illegal) implications
of his trade, he still proclaims that he provides a fundamental need to the
carnal and base desires of all Japanese men.
And if he can make a little money on the side, is there anything truly
wrong with that? Sure, Subu has a
few amusing run-ins with law enforcement and the mob (usually complete with
bumps and bruises, too) yet he always bounces back on his feet.
lives with what initially appears to be a normal Japanese family which soon
reveals itself as anything but. Initially
a boarder in the house, he has since married the landlady Haru (Sakamoto), who
keeps a large carp in a fish tank in their bedroom.
She insists that the fish is the reincarnation of her former dead husband
and firmly believes that he is displeased that she has not remained a widow.
Haru has two children, a son and a daughter. However, her college-aged son Koichi (Kondo) isn't terribly
interested in attending college and appears to have Oedipal issues of his own,
while her teen-age daughter Keiko (Sagawa) has Lolita-like aspirations for Subu.
And while no one is very pleased with Subu's secret profession when they
discover the truth, it doesn't prevent them from taking his money.
makes the world go round, after all. In
The Pornographers, it is the source of
a recurring joke for Subu. Always a
little short of cash, he is constantly hit on for monetary support by others who
assume him to be filthy-rich from his pornographic endeavors.
The mob steals his films. His
step-son steals his money. His
step-daughter sabotages his works. His
partner even runs off with the equipment. Yet
throughout, Subu maintains an upbeat outlook.
He is like a little man who doesn't know when he's beat but always pops
back up for more.
all makes for a discreetly funny film. One
wonders if Stanley Kubrick, in his own earlier Lolita, might not have aimed for a similar effect had the American
censors allowed it at the time. The
Pornographers, fortunately, doesn't get too carried away in pushing the
envelope. The audience never
actually sees blatant nudity or the porn footage itself, which is probably a
good thing, as it allows us to focus on the humor of Subu's plight rather than
the lurid nature of his profession.
its provocative title, The Pornographers
is really a black comedy. It is
really about the misadventures of Subu and his efforts to find happiness and a
niche for himself. The Pornographers is rather avant-garde as well, reflecting
sentiments which may have been hush-hush in the 1960's but which today run
rampant throughout society. While
the film's themes are somewhat racy, the execution is relatively tame by today's
standards and has an occasional self-mocking tone. In fact, there is even a supernatural undercurrent in the
film, symbolized through widow's dead husband, whether as the mysteriously
vanishing-reappearing carp or as a determined spirit resistant to exorcism from
the widow's home. Subu himself
appears somewhat ghostly and possessed in a number of scenes in which,
guilt-ridden, he eerily drapes himself with a cloth and rigorously rubs his
chose to frame his story in an interesting manner, almost as though it were a
cinematography further emphasizes the voyeuristic aspect of The Pornographers. Many
shots are constructed in such a manner that the audience views scenes under
window sills, across metal gratings or jail bars, through fish tanks and glass
panes, and so on. The audience is
always peering in on the action in some fashion (when one thinks about it, all
motion pictures are voyeuristic in some sense).
sequences, such as those involving an insane woman or an orgy, have a weird,
other-worldly quality to them. My
favorite scene involves a surreal moment in which the son introduces his
common-law wife as she slowly walks across a long, dark hallway, removing her
garments down to her black lingerie. Overhead,
the lights fade in and out, and the camera slowly tilts so that when she finally
arrives, the camera is actually peering up at her face from a perpendicular
angle, as though staring up from the floor.
It is weird, it is unexpected, and it is but one of many numerous shots
which keep the film lively. Imamura
even surprises on a few occasions with the introduction of catchy pop music into
his film. Matched with the quirky
visuals, it makes for many Fellini-esque moments indeed!
the mid-1960's, Japanese cinema was undergoing remarkable changes.
Influenced by world cinema, particularly the French New Wave (as in Hiroshima
Mon Amour), Japanese films were becoming more contemporary and more daring
in nature. Innovative films such as
Hiroshi Teshiqahara's Woman of the Dunes
or Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan were
appearing more regularly. Shohei
Imamura was near the forefront of this fresh burst of originality.
His name may not be as recognizable in western cultures as some of his
contemporaries, but his films were at the cutting edge for their time (yet
always remained rooted in Japanese culture and social mores).
The Pornographers is one of Imamura's earlier works, but it is
certainly one of his most engaging films and represents the director near the
height of his creativity.
is presented in a black & white, anamorphic widescreen format.
The image is remarkably crisp and sharp, devoid of dust or debris.
While the frame wobbles slightly on a few occasions (apparently around
reel changes), it is otherwise quite stable.
Contrast levels are excellent with deep blacks and sparkly whites, and
there is a strong sense of detail in the images.
Some scenes, particularly outdoor scenes, are slightly grainy, but this
is an inherent property of the original photography itself and not the transfer. Overall, this is another solid job by Criterion.
is presented in monoaural audio. It
is nothing flashy, but it is clean of background noise and sounds.
A solid and serviceable job for this dialogue-driven film.
isn't much here. The DVD's sole
extra feature is a trailer, although the package insert also contains an essay
written by J. Hoberman for the Village
Voice. Don't read it until after you see the film, as it is loaded with