Hot pink

IndieFest takes a peek inside Japanese sex cinema
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Sexy Battle Girls

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Filmmakers like Jonathan Demme who worked for Roger Corman in the early 1970s were delighted by their freedom to include just about anything — radical political issues, wild tonal shifts, etc. — as long as the basic drive-in requirements of gratuitous T&A and violence were shoehorned in. That moment was brief. But something similar has lasted decades in Japan's "pink film" milieu, where often youthful talent cut teeth on low-budget softcore features typically an hour in length.

With genital display and graphic sex illegal — we've all seen Japanese private parts obscured by a digital fogblot — "pink" makers must exercise a little more imagination than Western pornmeisters. No doubt there's been much unwatchable dross among the diminished but still-active genre's thousands of titles to date. But there's also been inspired, sometimes just-plain-weird stuff, like Godardian Go, Go Second Time Virgin (1969), extreme nunsploitation School of the Holy Beast (1974) and 2003's Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai (a.k.a. Horny Home Tutor: Teacher's Love Juice), which played the San Francisco International Film Festival.

In a rare moment of retrospection, this year's San Francisco Independent Film Festival sidebars "I am Curious (Pink): The Second Wave of Japanese Sex Cinema, 1986–Present." Offering two double bills at a sum length barely more than that of one bloated Hollywood prestige flick, this sampler ranges from the goofy to the gloomy. There are some constants — ironic use of Western classical music, variably consensual abuse of women, vigorously mimed sex acts — but these singular films aren't much like each other, let alone most adult entertainment you'd see here. Even their misogyny often feels like an in-joke at men's expense.

Not so in The Bedroom (also known, rather misleadingly, as Unfaithful Wife: Shameful Torture), a 1992 feature by Hisayasu Sato of gay "pink" Muscle — a dismemberment fantasia that set the gold standard for walkouts when bizarrely chosen as 1990's San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival opening nighter. This cold, morbid, semi-abstract objet d'art queasily mixes identity blur, voyeurism, tranquilizer excess, marital ennui, homicide, and lewd consumption of chopped lettuce. It's notorious for giving a small role to one Issei Sagawa, who'd committed real-life murder and cannibalism — only to be just briefly institutionalized before becoming a still-popular multimedia "celebrity" back home. Ick.

On a less appalling note, the other three IndieFest "pinks" take themselves less seriously. Osamu Sato's New Tokyo Decadence: The Slave from 2007 is supposedly based on the experiences of star Rinako Hirasawa, who discovered early on that she was into masochism — though not averse to playing professional dominatrix. She finds fulfillment under the thumb of her eventual office boss, only to discover he's a wuss in sadist's clothing. Often funny, New Tokyo Decadence views its heroine not as victim but a sometimes ambivalent power bottom who actually pulls the strings.

For full-on silliness there's Motosugu Watanabe's 1986 Sexy Battle Girls, whose schoolgirl protagonist has an anatomical irregularity her father is hell-bent on using to avenge a long-ago wrong. "The Venus Crush is your secret weapon! Love is not an option!" he insists.

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