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  • Warning: Spoilers
    THE PORNOGRAPHERS is a paradox unto itself. You try and take the plot in, something about a group of underground porn filmmakers trying to make a buck and support crazy family members, pay off yakuza extortionists, cater to the specific requirements of a kinky clientele, and you discover that it's not really getting anywhere. The same points are repeated again and again - men are sleazeballs, women are greedy, teenagers are selfish and unstable. A dysfunctional society in all its demented glory revelling in the most base human instincts. The story feels sprawling and disjointed, too many characters vie for attention each with his particular brand of peculiarities, the eliptical storytelling taking us from one place to the next in a syncopated manner that makes every scene a bit of a struggle for orientation.

    And then out of nowhere Imamura pulls an amazing shot, an unexpected moment of technical bravado, the movie suddenly becomes creepy and absurd and darkly hilarious, and you can feel sparks flying. Despite what the title might suggest, the focus here is not on the underground porn rings of the 60's. It certainly has nothing on BOOGIE NIGHTS in terms of sleaze or affinity for that kind of culture. Pornography here is used as just another facet of a recurring motif: voyeurism. Indeed, Imamura's camera peers at the characters through half-closed curtains, door openings, windows. Like the pornographers viewing the footage they shot on their 8mm Bolex camera, we're called to take an intimate look at the characters' lives through a keyhole.

    Not so much about actual pornography then, but the domestic trials and tribulations of Mr. Ogata, leader of this bunch of guerilla hedonists. The halfcrazy widowed mother he has an affair with tries to pimp her 15 year old daughter to him. The older son steals his money and runs off. He's in and out of prison. The widow goes completely crazy. Near the end he has an epiphany - to build a machine girl. No more worries, fast and cheap sex for everyone who wants it. And then we have the whole film within a film idea that makes for a great ending. The thing with the pornographers is that, no matter how confusing or meandering the story can be, it's so ahead of its time in almost every aspect (especially compared to American cinema of the time), not in the flamboyant manner of CITIZEN KANE in '42 but in a way that still feels fresh and modern 30 years later, that you simply can't ignore it. Bold and audacious, it commands attention simply because of the talent involved in the making of it. To go back to the pornography angle, if PT Anderson had to ape Robert Altman's style to make Boogie Nights, Imamura was an original voice.
  • hedricj19 August 2001
    Saw this film in a wonderful class on Japanese new wave cinema (thanks, Jyotsna). Along with Imamura's "Ballad of Narayama," some of the finest Japanese work I've seen. This film is brilliant in its portrayal of modern voyeurism and its psychological implications. Beyond that though, it stands out as a film preparing us for things to come in the cinema of the 90's. It took pt Anderson's "magnolia" to finally bring full circle some of the innovative qualities of this truly amazing film. Note the merging of the wonderful score and the main character's consciousness at the end of the film. Shocking, sad, and beautiful.
  • Meganeguard8 September 2005
    Warning: Spoilers
    Subu believes himself to be a philanthropist. Through his painstaking work, Subu, Pickled Pork, aides the suffering of middle-aged me who well in the urban sprawls of Japan by offering them things that soothe their weary minds and bodies. Subu is not a spiritual leader or a doctor but a creator of pornography. 8mm film, audio recordings of lovers having sex, cut and paste photos of young starlet having sex with sumo wrestlers, stimulants from Hong Kong, erotic literature, etc. Subu has a hand in all levels of pornography. As a filmmaker, he hires prostitutes and men who work in such locations as bathhouses to star in his films. He even custom makes films for his climates such as one depicting a doctor raping a schoolgirl. The film was requested by a man who was unable to perform the act himself. As a go-between, Subu helps older, respectable gentlemen to meet women such as when he aides an old businessman who wants to have sex with a virgin because he is bitter that he was not the first man to sleep with his wife. Subu aides this man by hiring a woman who plays a "professional virgin," but who in fact has just birthed a child. Besides a few encounters with the yakuza who want a cut of his profits, Subu seems to be on top of his profession, however, Subu faces a few problems as well.

    Living with his common-law wife, Haru, and her two children: Koichi and Keiko, Subu struggles to keep order within the household. Although she adores Subu, Haru believes that her dead husband's soul resides within a carp that she keeps within a tank inside the family home. Consumed with guilt that she lives with another man, she promised her husband that she would remain unmarried; Haru believes that when the carp jumps in its tank it is displaying her husband's discontentedness with her decisions. Koichi continuously demands money from his mother and Subu and rarely shows thankfulness when he does receive the money. However, the fifteen-year-old Keiko is Subu's biggest thorn in his side. Although Keiko continuously ditches school, drinks large quantities of alcohol, and sleeps with a number of men, these are not the reasons why Subu has issues with the girl. His problem stems from the fact that he has sexual desire for the girl which he displays by smelling the girl's soiled underwear and groping her when she is almost unconscious from drink. With Haru suffering from a heart ailment, what will happen to this family if something was to happen to her? Like in a number of his earlier films, such as Pigs and Battleships (1961) and My Second Brother (1959), Imamura in The Pornographers does a wonderful job of depicting the lives of Japan's subsistence level citizens. While quite toned down in comparison to its source material, Nozaka Akiyuki's novel which details the film-making process and its hazards, such as when a woman gets an infection from paint chips after using a tengu mask as a dildo and the making of a Rape of Nanking fantasy film, The Pornographers has a few eyebrow raising moments such as the father/retarded daughter porn duo and the three filmmakers discussing what is wrong with a father having sex with his own daughter. An interesting film to add to your Japanese film collection, hopefully we will see the release of more of Imamura's early films in the near future.
  • This is a black comedy about an underground pornographer who has to deal with government follies and yakuza extortionists; he's attracted to his step-daughter and lives with his wife, who's convinced that her ex- husband is reincarnated as a carp who watches her every move from the living room aquarium, and jumps out of the water when disapproving of her actions. There's also a sub-plot about an incestuous father trying to star in one of protagonist's films by having sex with his own retarded daughter. As if this onslaught of strange ideas isn't enough, the movie is directed by Shohei Imamura, whose films are usually excellent by default.

    So what went wrong? Well, first, off, the movie is very boring, despite all those strange ideas. It has a simple plot, but goes on for too long and a lot of situations get repetitive and boring quickly. The narrative is very disorienting; without any exposition whatsoever, broken into short, talky vignettes which are interrupted by spontaneous flashbacks and dream sequences which end on a still image. To top it off, the movie ends up being a movie within a movie, as indicated by the beginning and the end of it. It's an interesting way of leading the plot, but is overall annoying to follow and the story gets old fast.

    The Pornographers (original title actually translates to An Introduction to Anthropology Through the Pornographers) is based on Akiyuki Nosaka's novel, which is more in-depth because it apparently discusses tengu- dildos and the making of a fantasy film about the rape of Nanking. Imamura's movie is very harsh and satirical, poking fun at the aimless youth and the sleazy filmmakers who think their job is philanthropic. It has a couple of humorous scenes (and Buddhist references), but the majority of the movie isn't much engaging.

    The cinematography is pretty interesting; much like the works of some other New Wave Japanese directors (most notably Teshigahara and Yoshida), Imamura's movie has a voyeuristic tone to its visuals (which is pretty fitting considering the plot) - characters are seen through keyholes, greasy windows and glass doors. The mise-en-scene is always completely cluttered, with a lot of random household objects occupying the frame. Some shots are seen through the aquarium, which serves for a nice effect here and there. Also, there are many long takes. It's really an interesting visual approach, combined with Fellini-esque oniric sequences, which work in a strange way.
  • Imamura is younger, and less well known, than those Japanese directors who came to international attention in the 1950's. He was for a while a trainee of Ozu's, though there are few stylistic indicators of that in "The Pornographer". This is quite clearly a new-wave film with hints of Godard and Fellini. Freeze frames, fantasy and a habit of framing scenes through windows means that this looks unlike the earlier classic Japanese films. Subu the eponymous pornographer initially believes that he is a public servant, providing for the less salubrious needs of his customers - photos, films and potions. He has a bizarre home life with a widowed hairdresser and her two children. Both the making of pornography and his odd home life provide some moments of rich black comedy. Other elements, such as the interaction with local gangsters, appear less central to the film and don't always fit in easily. This is not the sort of film where acting is of great importance, here it varies from good to acceptable. The main fault of the film is the length. 127 minutes is not necessarily long, it's just that it feels too long here by about 30 minutes (around midway there are some tedious patches). To sum up an interesting film by a director still little known, if it does not reach the heights of Kurosawa, Ozu, Kobayashi or Ichikawa at their peaks, the truth is that no post 1960's Japanese film has. It is certainly better than the three films by Oshima (the only other Japanese new-wave director with any international reputation - possibly more for the "pornograhic" nature of his films than any real quality) I have seen.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Similar to THE INSECT WOMAN in that, apart from its emphasis on sexual perversions (all too clear from the title itself), it features multiple characters whose story (even less clear, and more convoluted, this time around!) unfolds over a number of years - but it's also a more accomplished movie overall, showing Imamura's growth as a film-maker when compared to the generally rough quality of his earlier picture. Once again, the director here equates human beings with insects: in fact, this movie's full title is THE PORNOGRAPHERS: INTRODUCTION TO ANTROPOLOGY! The "film-within-a-film" motif (a couple of the main characters getting together from time to time to watch the amateurish skin-flicks they've shot themselves) accentuates the picture's essential theme of voyeurism, all the while making the audience a knowing accomplice in it; the very last shot, then, suggesting that the film we've just watched has itself been a mere "projection", recalls a unique subplot found in Hiroshi Teshigahara's contemporaneous THE FACE OF ANOTHER (1966; which I've just viewed for the first time myself). Also notable is a hilarious scene involving a retarded girl whose lecherous, incestuous father tries to pass off as a porno actress and an equally amusing subplot in which the main character's wife believes her late first husband to have been reincarnated in a fish, and Imamura occasionally indulges us by showing the unfolding drama from its blurred perspective inside an aquarium!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Audiences in the States had to have been mystified when they went to see this film because of the title, expecting a sexploitation movie, and got a very well-made "theater of the absurd" art film with no skin and only a superficial exploration of the mechanics of porn film-making. Mr. Imamura and his associates succeeded in making a "pink" film without the pink and they've done a brilliant job. Still, it took me four nights to get through The Pornographers. The film is done in long shot in a highly theatrical composition for the most part with very few close-ups or camera movement. As other posters here have mentioned, windows and doorways are used as compositional framing devices. This technique gets to be boring for a film that runs almost two hours and defuses the emotional energy of the story. There are two amazing shots that break up the visual tedium. One is a surrealistic scene of the mother clinging to window bars at the hospital which cut to her clinging to bars in some flat terrain that looks like the landscape of an alien planet while the camera speeds back. The other shot, very Twilight Zone-like in style, is the son visiting his mother in the hospital while in the background, the son's new, gorgeous wife walks towards them from the other end of the corridor. Both brilliant pieces of film. Jasper Sharp's book about Japanese sex cinema, Behind The Pink Curtain, gives The Pornographers very little ink. That leads to me to wonder how much impact the film had in Japan and worldwide. The themes and events depicted implicitly (thankfully not explicitly) by Imamura are often disturbing and repulsive to watch. Ogata craves his promiscuous teen step-daughter and eventually possesses, then marries her. The son and the mentally ill mother are drawn to each other in perverse, quasi-sexual ways. The mother and daughter are sexual rivals for Ogata. Ogata makes a film with an older man and the man's severely mentally and physically retarded teen daughter in the movie's ultimate creepy moment. Ogata's associate, formerly not interested in women, describes his new "relationship" with his own sister. A film's success with me is whether I could sit and watch it again, and, with The Pornographers,the answer is no.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Here's a modern idea. The movie starts with someone sitting down to watch a porn film.

    Then those same folks end up in the film. The bridge between the two, the film and the film within, is the eye of a carp, what we would call a large goldfish.

    It is here, I think, that Kusturica got his observing goldfish that drives this film with Depp: "Arizona Dream."

    That film within is about a filmmaker and his various troubles, including with his adopted family. This inner film has yet another inner film, twinned, about a man having sex with his daughter.

    Then it ends with the film within ending and the watchers remarking on it.

    Its of interest because it is the earliest Japanese film I know that has this overtly folded construction. But I will recommend a far more engaging, slightly later film: "Hatsukoi: Jigoku- hen." It has a more subtle construction and far more engaging emotional content. It matters, this doesn't.

    Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    A surrogate father and dedicated family man supports himself by selling blue movies, but don't be misled by the blunt title: all the unsavory details of the skin trade are left (almost) entirely to the viewer's imagination. Likewise the film itself unfolds with indirect subtlety, using dramatic wide-screen compositions, strong black and white photography, and more than one oblique narrative trick (flashbacks, startling jump cuts) to suggest the fragile disposition of its protagonist: a decent man struggling to reconcile his almost puritan morality with an overactive libido (to disastrous effect). Under the typically intelligent direction of Shohei Imamura the story becomes intense, unusual, and occasionally powerful, moving gracefully from humor to horror and back again, by way of some striking fantasy dream sequences. The final shot, in particular, goes straight to the core of the hapless title character, last seen adrift and oblivious in his unmoored houseboat, floating away over the distant horizon.
  • In The Pornographers, 1966, Shôhei Imamura manages to juggle intelligently with universal taboos (pornography, prostitution, incest, fetishism, orgies) challenging the viewer to think than just to consume the visual product by using minimum of nudity; the provocative situations are discretely suggested and not viscerally exposed, and it works because it is impossible to accuse of cheapness or exploitation such an interesting smart cinematographic approach on the subject of sex in a Japanese society full of contrasts, caught in-between the conservative ways of the past and the effervescence of the corrupt morals of the modern era; sex and money are the spinning wheels of the human convoy routing and sinking it into moral and physical decay; the film abounds in visual oddities, bizarre shooting angles providing its aesthetic a brisk geometry, intriguing spontaneous flashbacks, inspired touches of black comedy, and finds an equilibrate formula to wisely highlight subjects considered dirty and shameful in a very clean, frank, witty and somehow cheerful manner