By José Sarmiento Hinojosa
One can (…) judge man’s whole level of development…the relationship of man to woman is the most natural relation of human being to human being. It therefore reveals the extent to which man’s natural behavior has become human.
Linking Marx with Japanese soft-core pornography may be a long stretch, enclosed in a single framed space of mind, where class social revolts have nothing to do with the human experience of sexuality. But there was a point of intersection between Marx’s ideas and the socialist feminist discussions of the era, and the further exploration of sexuality by obscure Pinku Eiga filmmakers, an equivalent of the American sexploitation film genre, which was in itself a response to decades of repression: The uncovered flesh as an analogy of class uprising. If Marx himself never explained per se the concepts of sexual alienation, he was clear on what “exploitation of the capitalist society” was, and how it operated in the sexual lives and attitudes of people.
Maybe two films can dispute the ownership of this unique genre: Market Flesh (Nikutai no Ichiba, 1962), which is the first proper pink film, and Daydream, a film directed by Tetsuji Takechi, which helped invigorate the genre in those years. The first one, which had its distribution halted by the Japanese police on charges of obscenity, was premiered roughly re-edited, and became a huge success in the Japanese cinema circuit. The storyline of the film was simple enough: three women kidnapped by a sadistic crazy man, and forced to entertain his co-workers and friends. Daydream was a whole film constructed on an artist’s elaborated fantasy with a woman in a dentist office, in which the dentist performs different kinds of abuse on her.
How can one begin to portray a starting arrangement between what happened in Japan in the early 60’s and Marx’s revolutionary thoughts? Japanese society was awakening (or an underground portion of it) aggressively due to the distinct forms of control by the government. This led to several struggle structures in the whole society. Wounds were wide open: Anti-imperialist military actions by the Japanese Red Army (some of them documented in Masao Adachi’s fantastic film JRA/PFLP Declaration of World War (1971) would become a point of spear for the communist and anti-imperialist global struggles of the 60’s and the 70’s.
In that context, the Manifesto of the Communist Party argued that the bourgeoisie wanted to impose controls on women’s sexuality – for women of all classes. In addition, it argued against idealization of any pre-bourgeois family either. Capitalism, they averred, had revealed the pure cash nexus1. It isn’t far-fetched then, to create the link which unites the arrival of a new “pornographic” cinema, to the general uprising of a population that, as well as the rest of the world, was revolting against a preconceived view of mankind.
In early socialism, the importance of free expression of sexuality was proposed by early thinkers, which argued that free love was necessary for a free society. All mechanisms of control were questioned. Charles Fourier, for example, argued that conventional morality was an instrument to control human sexuality. After that, women themselves took up the ideas. Three women should be mentioned in this context –Frances Wright, Anna Wheeler and Frances Morrison. Wright in her lectures talked about equality for women, emancipation for slaves, the political rights of working men, freedom of religious thought, free public education for all, and advocated birth control and equal treatment of illegitimate children.2
Pinku Eiga was the fruit of a generation of revolutionaries, its reach goes beyond the explicit and exploitative, it was first and foremost a document of sexual liberation against repression, and also, it served as some kind of Meta language about the capitalist exploitation. As such, it was interesting to watch how the filmmakers of that era created different methods of escaping the censorship in japan, which prohibits (and still does), the display of genitalia on screen. Much of the techniques that would develop after and would be distinct of the genre came from this necessity to show the forbidden. In that sense, the craftsmanship worked against the censorship, and won.
The birth of Pinku Eiga, in contrast to a movement which owes its creation to a rebellion started against the reach of capitalism, was also a reaction of the failure of the Japanese film industry, a search of new ways of watching cinema. In resume, an economic phenomenon.
Roland Domenig writes:
“The history of pink eiga started in the early 1960s, when the Japanese film industry underwent some major changes. In 1960, Japan produced a record 545 films. But cinema attendance was falling, and by 1962, attendance had dropped to half of 1958’s one billion visits. Attendance continued to falter, spurred by the rapid spread of television and the development of the leisure industry. This plunged the dominant major film studios into a crisis.
In 1962, production by the big studios dropped by 30%. But low-budget movies made by newly established independent production companies proliferated. Most of these movies were sexploitation films, shown in small cinemas which could no longer afford the high rental fees of the studio films. Instead, they turned to the independent production companies, which mushroomed during the 1960s. The number of independently produced erotic films rose from 4 in 1962, to 58 in 1964, to 250 in 1969. Since the mid-1960s, pink eiga have been the biggest Japanese film genre.”3
Mainly independent, low-budget productions arose from the ashes of big industry, studios such as Nihon Cinema and World Eiga, and the later Wakamatsu Studios, formed by famous Japanese maverick Koji Wakamatsu, whose films linked extreme violence, sex, and political turmoil. Other mainstream studios failed to foray into pink territory: Seijun Suzuki’s Gate of Flesh (1964) was the first mainstream film to contain nudity.
The formula of pinku eiga was decided by the industry: The director had full control over the movie, as long as he maintained the following requirements; that the movie 1) had to feature an abundance of sex scenes, 2) had to have an average length of about 60 minutes, 3) had to be shot in 4-6 days on 16 mm or 35 mm and, most importantly, had to be made on a budget of approximately 35.000 $4. This fabulous oxymoron still permeates over what pinku eiga would finally become, far from the revolutionary ideas of the decade. If it was indeed the revolution that ignited the phenomenon, this revolution wasn’t alone: the whole idea of capitalism which it rejected was taking place to give space to this new form of cinema. The inescapable idea of money was everywhere.
But unlike common pornographic movies, the pinku eiga genre started as a fantastic mix of new ideas and techniques which are still influential in today’s cinema. Avant garde, surrealism, extreme violence, s&m, pop culture and art guild cinema were all part of the same genre, all mixed in the same bowl, a recipient which would provide some of the best cinema that exists nowadays (The Embryo Hunts in Secret & Go Go Second Time Virgin (Wakamatsu, 1966), Daydream (Takechi, 1964)) and which was a school for a whole band of almost legendary filmmakers to come (Wakamatsu, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Norifumi Suzuki, Ikera, and the prolific Satoru Kobayashi).
The uniqueness of pink cinema is, from a strictly historical point of view, that the industry indirectly supported avant-garde, filmmaking and cinema in general, and helped internationally renowned directors as Kurosawa Kiyoshi, Suo Masayuki, Sono Sion and Oki Hiroyuki to grow and develop their cinematic skills. There is probably no other country in the world where sexploitation film can claim the same years of cultural and artistic influence on film and filmmaking.4
Overall, we’re talking about an oxymoron, and how the genre escaped it.
0 Karl Marx Philosophical Manuscripts. Third Manuscript.
1 Marx and Engels Collected work, vol 6 Moscow, 1976, p. 487
2 Miriam Gurko, The Ladies of Seneca Falls: The Birth of the Woman’s Rights Movement, New York, 1976, especially pp. 32-3.
3 Ronal Domenig: The Vital Flesh of Pinku Eiga.
4 Pia D. Harritz: • Årgang 1 • Nr. 2