A Pink Tribute to Keiko Sato
Masayuki Suo, 1984, 63 min
Masao Adachi, 1971, 74 min
Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands
Atsushi Yamatoya, 1967, 86 min
Keiko Sato and the Japanese Pink Film
Asakura Daisuke is the male pseudonym used by the current president of the production company Kokuei, Keiko Sato (born 1939), to disguise the fact that she is a woman working in the male-dominated industry of ‘pinku eiga’, or pink films. The name contains a pun on the words ‘Asa kara daisuki’, meaning ‘big love from the morning’.
Though the term pinku eiga is often used mistakenly to encompass all Japanese erotic films, strictly speaking it refers specifically to the field of independently produced, low-budget, theatrical soft-core pornography that has been in existence since the early 1960s and still exists to this day. The films are produced primarily for theatrical exhibition throughout a specialist network of adult cinemas. Until the recent switch to digital exhibition around 2010, they were shot (silently, with the sound post-dubbed) and projected from 35-mm-film.
Unlike video, there’s no fast-forward button in the cinema, so the pink film has to maintain interest between the sex or nude scenes by other means: namely, a plot. With the main guideline being to deliver a set number of such highlights within a running time that has become standardised to anywhere between an hour and ninety minutes, the format allows a certain degree of flexibility for directors willing to experiment, while the demands of screen censorship in Japan (until fairly recently, even pubic hair was forbidden) preclude the films from being viewed as out-and-out pornography.
Bursting into colour
The birth of pinku eiga can be traced back to the release of Satoru Kobayashi’s NIKUTAI NO ICHIBA (FLESH MARKET, 1962) by the independent company Okura Eiga which, under its new name of OP Eiga, to this day remains the most prolific of the few surviving production outfits active in the field. When police raided the theatre where the film was playing and confiscated all prints, the resulting scandal was enough to cause an explosion of low-budget films of similarly salacious content. From the meagre handful of four titles released in 1962, its popularity peaked in 1965 with a staggering 213 films. Even at the turn of the millennium, the number of pink films produced annually was around the one hundred mark, although the figure has declined considerably since then.
The term pinku eiga was first coined by the journalist Minoru Murai of the “Naigai Times” when in 1963 he playfully advocated a ‘Pink Ribbon Award’ for these new films in place of the Blue Ribbon Award given by the popular press to mainstream pictures. During the industry’s formative years, such films were also referred to by a variety of terms, including ‘eroductions’ (a contraction of ‘erotic production’), or ‘sanbyakuman eiga’ (‘three million-yen films’), due to their shoestring budgets of approximately $30,000-$40,000. The term for ‘independent film’, ‘dokuritsu eiga’, was also used euphemistically to describe low-budget films produced outside of the studio system in which bare female flesh was the main lure. These low budgets gave rise to one of pinku eiga’s first stylistic anomalies. While the films were initially produced in black and white, the part-colour format was introduced after five years with the screen bursting into colour during the most exciting scenes. Full colour production of pink films began in the early 1970s.
First ‘female Tarzan’ movie
Kokuei was among the first of the companies that specialised in producing films for this new market. It was founded in 1955 by Teruo Yamato, initially to make documentaries for the Ministry of Education. Sato joined the company, of which her father was one of the three co-owners, in 1962, during a crisis when a number of its employees were arrested on obscenity charges after it started importing foreign striptease films while bypassing the national censorship body Eirin. The company’s first production was the ‘female Tarzan’ movie directed by Seki Koji, JÔYOKU NO TANIMA (VALLEY OF LUST, 1963), and it soon established itself as one of the main players in the nascent industry.
During the 1960s, pink cinema adopted an adversarial stance towards mainstream cinema, often with subversive or overtly political elements contained in the films’ narratives, particularly those produced and directed by Koji Wakamatsu. Wakamatsu provided the pink film genre with its first major international exposure, when his KABE NO NAKA NO HIMEGOTO (SECRET ACTS BEHIND WALLS, 1965) was shown at the Berlin Film Festival without official authorisation by the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan. The film was labelled a ‘national disgrace’ in the Japanese press. However, the director and the screenwriter, Masao Adachi, who joined his company Wakamatsu Pro the following year, soon found themselves attracting the interest of the luminary of Japanese New Wave Cinema, Nagisa Oshima, with whom they travelled to present SEIZOKU: SEKKUSU JAKKU (SEX JACK, 1970) and OKASARETA BYAKUI (VIOLATED ANGELS, 1967) at Cannes in 1971.
A new generation
Despite the threat of the ‘Roman Porno’ line of glossy mainstream erotica produced by the major studio Nikkatsu in the 1970s and the emergence of adult video ten years later, the pink film endured. During the 1980s, it provided an important training ground for a number of directors who went on to establish successful careers in mainstream filmmaking, including Ryuichi Hiroki, Rokuro Mochizuki, Masayuki Suo, and Yojiro Takita, who in 2009 won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film with DEPARTURES.
Keiko Sato, who first became a producer in 1965 with the debut film of Kaoru Umezawa, JUDAI NO SHINGIN (MOAN OF A TEENAGER), took over the running of Kokuei from Kazuyoshi Yamato, its then president and son of its founder, when he passed away due to cancer in 1982. Until this time, the name Daisuke Asakura had been used by a number of Kokuei’s producers, but at this moment it became exclusively used by Sato.
Sato soon began actively championing directors who wished to make more individualistic, artistic works within the pinku eiga format, producing such titles as Masayuki Suo’s HENTAI KAZOKU: ANIKI NO YOMESAN (ABNORMAL FAMILY, 1984). In the early 1990s, she was responsible for promoting the group of directors comprised of Kazuhiro Sano, Hisayasu Sato, Toshiki Sato and Takahisa Zeze, collectively referred to as the ‘shitenno’ (‘The Four Devils’ or ‘The Four Kings of Pink’), who emerged to challenge assumptions about the genre with a blend of formal experimentation, politics, and avant-garde narratives. Their works played widely at international film festivals such as Rotterdam, and they have been succeeded by a younger generation with their own distinctively personal style, most notably Shinji Imaoka, Yuji Tajiri and Mitsuru Meike. In 2005, Meike’s satire of the US invasion of Iraq, HANAI SACHIKO KAREI NA SHOGAI (THE GLAMOROUS LIFE OF SACHIKO HANAI, 2004), was distributed theatrically in America, while Imaoka directed the German co-production UNDERWATER LOVE.