“Pink Films”, we parted good tatami

If the history of cinema often disdains the pink, associated with eroticism soft, watering clouds of standardized and juicy productions in Japan, this color, which is that of powdery flesh and offered nudity, finds its place in an underground and deviant history, where the pinku eiga (cinema pink in Japanese), although ultracodified, will give rise, from the 60s, to an explosion of formal experiments and will serve as a playground for many contemporary filmmakers, from Kiyoshi Kurosawa to Sono Sion via Nobuhiro Suwa. And above all the most rabid of all, Kōji Wakamatsu, who produced a phenomenal quantity but was also a fruitful producer, becoming the leading figure of this hybrid genre, crossing sexploitation, avant-garde, political radicalism and spirit of rebellion.

Because apart from the production conditions that define the outlines of the pink circuit (short films, shot in a few days for a handful of yen), its singularity is due to this lability of forms: the strict constraints – simulated sexual intercourse, hairiness and genitals cleverly concealed – also authorize a bubbling creative freedom, where sex is sometimes the seditious vector of political protest, pinpointing the shortcomings of a Japan under American supervision, and of a sclerotic society, doomed to galloping capitalism. With consumerism as its only horizon, of which the very birth of pink and the reasons which conditioned its emergence seem to be an illustration.

Underground. The genre was born on the edge of the sixties and the decay of the big studios (Nikkatsu, Shochiku, Daiei, Toho, Shintoho and Toei) which then showed sharp losses in the face of the tidal wave of television inviting itself more and more into homes. To bring the public back to the theaters, the response will come from independent productions, in particular Okura Eiga, which favor touting B series where sex and violence go hand in hand. And from 1962, the flesh market by Satoru Kobayashi, with the luscious Tamaki Katori, inaugurates a genre whose devastating success will shake the industry on its foundations – to thwart this pink tsunami, Nikkatsu will also launch into the production of erotic films under the name “Porn novel” in the 70s, but with significantly more funding.

However, the pink productions were able to take advantage of a poor economy by redoubling their inventiveness, as evidenced by the box set published by Carlotta, bringing together five films unseen in France, accompanied by a fascinating booklet by Dimitri Ianni relating a brief history of cinema. Japanese erotic. Works with a fragmented aesthetic, including An inflatable doll in the desert (1967) d’Atsushi Yamatoya et Ecstatic prayer (1971) by Masao Adachi offer the most subversive forms of the lot – the two filmmakers, gravitating in the stable of the iconoclast Wakamatsu, with whom they share a same desperate and gloomy vision of Japan and connections with the political fringes. Blossoming on a soil flirting with the underground of a Matsumoto or a Seijun Suzuki (he was the screenwriter of killer’s mark), Yamatoya, borrowing from film noir the figure of the tortured private and yakuza eiga the dazzling action scenes, delivers a mental and labyrinthine maelstrom, where present, past, dream, reality, women loved, raped, disappeared, found, merge in an absolutely fascinating proleptic dilation.

Less surreal in its form, and more anchored in the daily life of depressed youth, in a foggy, melancholy and devitalized Japan, Ecstatic prayer poses head-on the question of sexuality (pleasure, prostitution, procreation), perceived as the extension of capitalism, shaping bodies to the dimensions of a normative society, as the latter muzzles individuals. A disenchanted vision echoing the revolutionary commitment of its author – Masao Adachi was a member of the Japanese Red Army, fighting for the Palestinian cause in Lebanon for thirty years.

Psychedelics. Song for a woman’s hell (1970) de Mamoru Watanabe et A misguided family (1984) by Masayuki Suo, on the other hand, explores two mannerist sides of the genre, drawing on the compulsive cinephilia of their authors. Rare foray of pink into jidai-geki (film in costumes), the first revives, in a polished and sensual black and white, with the magical dreaminess of the great Japanese dramas (Mizoguchi is not far), the two heroes, incarnations of antagonistic god and goddess, being attracted towards each other by the sheer force of the tattoos marked on their backs … A misguided family, on the other hand, is a tribute to Ozu’s cinema, the grammar of which he uses (domestic setting, still shots, static game, dull voices, camera flush with the tatami mat). An exercise in style playing on the contrast between the hieratic style of the style and the crudeness of the sex scenes, offering a deviant rereading of the family according to Ozu.

Finally Two Women in the Hell of Vice (1969) by Kan Mukai, one of the most prolific pioneers of pink, who signs here the only truly erotic and exciting work, magnifying in an explosion of psychedelic colors the body of his sublime heroine. Close to giallo in its formalist approach, only the baroque staging matters (languid superimpositions and intelligent use of repetition as a figure of speech echoing the mechanics of prostitution to which the young girl indulges). A sumptuous discovery.


Nathalie Dray

5 Pink Films Blu-ray or DVD box, Carlotta, € 40.

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