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, 1986Present." 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. Sent to a private school where "bad" students are sold to politicians as sex slaves and ballpoint pens are shot like deadly arrows, she combats perils including one highly exotic dildo you won't find at Good Vibrations.
Shuji Kataoka's same-year S+M Hunter features a titular character outfitted spaghetti westernstyle with cowboy boots, priest's collar, a skull's-head eyepatch, Morricone-type musical theme, and extraordinary erotic-lassoing abilities. But he and fellow "Pleasure Dungeon" habitués meet their match in the Bombers, a man-hating (and gay-man molesting) girl gang à la H.G. Lewis' She-Devils on Wheels (1968). If you've yearned for a battle of the sexes encompassing gratuitous Nazi regalia and pervasive retro disco woo! woo! well, prepare to be satiated.
SAN FRANCISCO INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL
Feb. 522, most shows $11
Roxie, 3117 16th St., SF; Victoria, 2961 16th St., SF; and Shattuck, 2230 Shattuck, Berk.