What were the reasons for you to start producing “pink films”?
I had no interest in “pink film”, it just entered my life somehow. In 1964, I was working as an office lady at an electrical company called Hitachi Seisakusho. I was friends with the son of the president of the Kokuei film company, Kazuyuki Yamoto, who started to work at Kokuei straight after he graduated from university. The company had shown a short film from the USA called “Sexy Route 66”, which had led to more than 10 Kokuei employees and the president being arrested for obscenity. Only a few employees were left in the office. Four other friends and I used to go to Kokuei after our normal jobs and on weekends to help out. All five of us ended up working for Kokuei. The usual salary for a new graduate was 14,800 yen at that time and they said they’d pay us 20,000 yen, so we went for it.
When did the production of “pink films” start?
Kokuei initially produced educational films that were sold to primary schools. They didn’t start producing “pink films” until 1963. They weren’t called “pink films” then, but it was common to show short “sexy” films as part of film screenings in rural cinemas in Japan. It was a way of getting people to come to the cinemas. We wanted to produce a film like “Sexy Route 66” in Japan. The first “pink film” produced by Kokuei was Joyoku no dokutsu (1963), directed by Koji Seki. We weren’t allowed to show female nudity back then, but we decided to produce a female Tarzan film and to show a female body, except for the breasts and the hip area. Seki used to direct animal films and we needed some animals in our Tarzan film, so that’s why we offered him the job.
Can you explain the term “pink film”?
They used to call them “sexy films” or “novelty films” back then. Journalist Minoru Murai would often come to Kokuei, and he started calling them “pink film” in response to the Blue Ribbon Prize awarded for outstanding public achievements in Japan.
Were other production companies already producing “pink films” in those days?
Okura Eiga and some other former Kokuei employees founded a company called Nihon Cinema and started producing “pink films”. As soon as people realised money could be made from producing “pink films”, around 50 other companies started making them too. At the beginning, it was more than enough to produce and screen 5 or 6 films per year. Kokuei produced films at their main Tokyo branch and then sent them to the Osaka, Nagoya, Kyushu and Hokkaido branches. They were advertised and screened at local cinemas. We generated enough income to support 100 employees.
What was the first “pink film” you produced?
I was a good friend of Kaoru Umezawa, who was an assistant director to Koji Wakamatsu. Umezawa asked me to be his producer when he made his first film as a director. I was also good friends with Chusei Sone, who worked for Nikkatsu, so I asked him to write the script. In 1965, Umezawa directed 十代の呻吟 (Judai no umeki). That became my debut as a producer. In those days, we could spend a decent amount of time on production and there weren’t many restrictions. We stayed at a luxury ryokan to write the script. At the beginning of my time at Kokuei, I wasn’t a producer. Back then, I was responsible for the production management side. Later there were two other producers and me, but the name that appeared in all the production credits was “Daisuke Asakura”.
Where did the name Daisuke Asakura come from?
There were hardly any women in the industry in those days so we couldn’t use a female name. The three of us producers got together to discuss this. Daisuke Asakura is kind of a joke name, we just played around with words. Asakura comes from “asa kara”, meaning “from the morning”. Daisuke comes from “daisuki”, which means “to like very much”. So the name simply means “we love (sex) from the morning”. Moreover, when I was younger, I was really inspired by one of my school teachers and had thought of becoming a teacher myself someday. I didn’t want this teacher to see my real name credited, in case he came to watch “pink films”.
How many films have you produced?
About 500 to 600? I’ve never actually counted. I think Kokuei produced around 1,500 to 1,600 films all together.
What is your most memorable work?
I’ve often been asked which is my favourite work. I can only tell you that I don’t have one. On the other hand, I don’t dislike any of them either. I still work and produce films, so I can’t decide. My next film could become my favourite one.
What were the difficulties you faced as a female producer?
I think the directors had a harder time with the fact that I was a woman. I wasn’t an older woman like I am today, I was in my 20’s then, and every time I produced a film with one of the first generation of “pink film” directors such as Koji Wakamastu, Kan Mukai or Mamoru Watanabe, the other directors would get jealous. “Are you going out with him?” they’d ask me. So I thought I shouldn’t be with anyone in particular and should stay single. On the other hand, they really took good care of me. I was younger than them and didn’t know much. I can say it was a happy time. The second generation of directors were closer to my age group, like Atsushi Yamatoya, Kaoru Umezawa and Masao Adachi. The third generation of directors, Banmei Takahashi and Kazuo Komizu, are younger than me.
How did you go about deciding which films to produce?
First of all, we received a script. From there, we selected which works to produce together with the two other producers (Kazuyuki Yamoto and Shunsuke Nao). In those days we didn’t have computers, so whoever had nice handwriting had an advantage. Banmei Takahashi had nice handwriting. When we received many scripts I tended to choose my kind of films. I didn’t choose the scripts based on the idea that a “pink film” must have many sex scenes. The scripts had to be interesting. In Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands (1967) by Atsushi Yamatoya there are hardly any sex scenes. We used to cut up the discarded scripts to make memo paper. Some directors noticed their script had been used like this and got upset.
Weren’t there any complaints from viewers expecting more sex scenes?
In those days no one complained; until the 80’s, “pink films” had a large audience anyway. When adult videos entered the market, we were competing with them and the end results were often half-baked. We carry responsibility for the fact that “pink films” became boring. When shooting an adult video, all you need is a bed to shoot some sex scenes, but “pink films” had to have drama. I was the stubborn type, so from the late 80s onwards, Kokuei’s films began to have a reputation as being “difficult, dark and with no sex” and the cinemas started to dislike us.
Kokuei is known for the special relationship between directors and assistant directors.
Based on my instincts, I can tell which director will be able to work with which assistant director. I also use my instincts to decide the timing of a new director’s debut. Koji Wakamatsu teamed up with Banmei Takahashi, for example. I wouldn’t say my instincts are always correct, but if anyone asks me how I decide, that’s the answer I give. We respect individual characters, we have relationships and respect each other. This is a particular characteristic that only exists at Kokuei, not at other “pink film” companies. We have strong connections with the directors. I feel proud that some of our directors moved from “pink film” into the normal film industry and made it big. Kokuei made the effort and invested money to show our films in foreign film festivals.
During the production process, have you ever had a moment where you thought “I’m glad I am a female producer”?
People around me responded like that, but I never thought much about it myself. Some of the media found out about my being a female “pink film” producer and wanted to interview me, but I refused by saying “my school teacher comes to watch those films, so no” and never showed myself in public. At the “pink film” award ceremony, Kokuei’s films often received the 1st prize, so sometimes I had to go up on the stage as the producer. They called out the winner and would say, “Please come up to the stage, producer Mr. Daisuke Asakura” and a little old lady went up on the stage. Obviously people were surprised.
Are there any female staff in the “pink film” industry?
There are some working behind the camera, but none who are producers. Sometimes the director takes on the role of a producer at the shoot, but I think I am the only female producer in the “pink film” industry that has as much influence.
You screened “pink films” in ordinary cinemas.
When you screen a “pink film” in an ordinary cinema, it must already have been shown in “pink film” cinemas. There we take the original title, which is also the script title. On the other hand, when a film is showing in “pink film” cinemas, we use typical “pink film” titles. If a film was shown in a foreign film festival, it became easier to show it in ordinary cinemas in Japan.
Were there strict regulations in the early days of “pink film”?
In those days you were only allowed to show a female body from the breasts upwards. You could show breasts but nothing below the waist. It gradually changed, but we were subject to regulations passed by Eirin (Film Classification and Rating Organisation, Japan’s movie regulator) that you can’t show a bare bottom during a sex scene. Nowadays, even showing hair is ok, there are fewer regulations, but every year inspectors come to check and it keeps changing. It really depends on the inspectors too. Eirin not only checks “pink film” titles but regular ones titles too.
The films you produce appear to be more stimulating and challenging. Was it your intention to encourage young directors to take things further?
I only choose the scripts I like. I make the directors write a story when I think it’s time. First scripts are usually clumsy, because they’re not written by professional screenwriters, but if there is a core idea to the story and you can imagine it could turn into an interesting script, then I say ok. I can’t explain logically, but I trust my instincts and have created works with confidence. The way I think hasn’t changed even though I have obviously aged. My curiosity hasn’t changed either, maybe that’s the key to staying young at heart. I talk to young directors in totally normal fashion and I think no one seems to care about my age (77).
What are your memories of the three films showing at the Berlinale Forum this year?
Gushing Prayer (1971): Masao Adachi is one year older than me. I decided to work with him because I liked the sharp look in his eyes when we played mahjong. He was serious, but he wanted to be a bit of a bad boy. I liked that. We were allowed to do anything in those days. That’s why we could produce this film. It was a good time.
Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands (1967): It was shot outside in widescreen near Mt. Fuji. That’s why it’s unusual, simply amazing. I went to see them during the shoot. Atsushi Yamatoya himself is a strange guy, he’s not ordinary. The way he sees things is different from other people. 1+1 doesn’t become 2 for him, but could be 5, for example.
Abnormal Family(1984): When I asked Masayuki Suo to write a story, he came back with over 300 sheets of paper. I had to ask him “what are you going to do in a one hour film?” We shot in a place which was going to be destroyed, so we didn’t have a lot of time either. We reduced the script to 180 pages and started to shoot. It’s meant to be a “pink film”, but it is a family drama. When I saw that the credits were badly handwritten with a brush, I thought audiences won’t come to watch this film, but to my surprise it became a hit and we made a profit. Suo only ever shot this “pink film” and shortly after became internationally famous. He called me to tell me he’ll be shooting his next film in Hawaii. He promised me to bring back a pineapple.