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.
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