Judge William Lee worries he'll develop pink eye from watching Nikkatsu films non-stop.
Between 1971 and 1988, Japan's oldest major movie studio released more than one thousand erotic films.
Nikkatsu, Japan's oldest film company, was officially established in 1912 when several entertainment companies merged. The company had a reputation for its period films of the silent era and its action films of the 1950s and 1960s, recently collected on Criterion's Nikkatsu Noir set. However, the company is now better remembered for its output during the 1970s. To make ends meet, the studio shifted all of its resources to the production of Roman Porno (short for romantic pornography) soft-core sex films.
Roman Porno differed from other Pink films of the era because Nikkatsu threw its full studio resources behind them. "One can barely imagine a company of comparable size and historical significance elsewhere in the world so eagerly embracing eroticism, churning out films made in a diverse range of styles and genres aimed squarely at the adult market," writes UK film curator Jasper Sharp. Nikkatsu produced around 850 films in-house for the genre and contracted more from independent studios.
Impulse Pictures plans to release over 25 of Nikkatsu's sexploitation films to DVD and in advance of that we have Nikkatsu Roman Porno Trailer Collection. Original Japanese trailers for thirty-eight films make up about one hour of the disc's running time. The movies are listed in alphabetical order on the back of the DVD cover art but on the disc they're grouped according to story themes or settings. For instance, Female Teacher: Dirty Afternoon and other school-themed films are shown in succession. There is a lot of variety across genres and some, like Affair in the Early Afternoon: Kyoto Tapestry, defy easy description. What is really striking about these films is the prevalence of rape and bondage in the stories. To be fair, these are the trailers only and each 75-second sell is deliberately crammed with shocking scenes to attract viewers to a market with plenty of choices. The few examples that suggest comedy, such as Nurse Diary: Mischievous Fingers or the superhero spoofing Sex Fiend, offer welcome respite from the eroticized violence.
The video quality of the trailer collection is quite good. We see only short clips and many scenes are partially obscured by graphics. There is minimal dust and stray pops, a small amount of grain and the black levels are shallow. Still, you can see these films were produced with professional consideration to lighting and composition. The audio is more than adequate.
Ryoko's Lesbian Flight is the bonus short film that accounts for another 30 minutes of the DVD running time. Though it opens with the Nikkatsu name, the film doesn't resemble anything that the trailers suggest. Ryoko, a veteran flight attendant, offers some advice to a nervous co-worker. When the novice turns up unexpectedly at her apartment, they become more than workmates very quickly. However, their intimacy is interrupted by the arrival of Ryoko's boyfriend. The film isn't exactly in keeping with what is touted as the unique Nikkatsu brand. The slim storyline resembles any uninspired sex film scenario without anything to distinguish the characters. Shot on video and presented 1.33 full frame, it looks dull and cheap. The lighting, however, has an interesting quality owing to its use of dappled shadows. Annoyingly, mosaic and optical blurring are used to obscure nudity in the pubic region. My objection is not based on a desire to see genitalia; rather it's the obnoxious manner of censoring that obscures a large portion of the screen. If filmmakers are not allowed to show those parts of the body, they should shoot from another angle instead of just covering it up after the fact in a very inelegant way.
An insert contains a two-page liner note by Jasper Sharp, co-editor of the specialist Japanese film website Midnight Eye, that nicely sums up the history of Nikkatsu and Roman Porno. It's a handy way to remind yourself that you picked up this DVD for the historical significance of this sex film sub-genre. This DVD is a sly way for Impulse Pictures to introduce its upcoming series of Nikkatsu releases. Fans of world cinema looking for an introduction to Roman Porno—based solely on the films' trailers—will get the general idea.
Oh, so very guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Impulse Pictures
• Short Film
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