By Admin | October 12, 2004

Considering the reputation the Japanese have for over the top gory violence, the level of restrictions regarding sex in film may come as a surprise to many people. For instance, even in “hard core” pornography they actually have to blur out the genitalia. You can get all manner of depraved, fetish specific porno in Japan, you just don’t get the “the goods” as they say. Which may explain the development and persistence of a bizarre little sub genre known as “pink movies”: soft core sex movies shot independently for almost no money distributed to porn theaters. Around since the ‘60’s, “pink movies” started as sort of revolutionary art movies that happened to contain pervasive nudity and sex (usually rape). Despite censorship the films proved extremely popular and an industry was born.

Distinct from the “roman porno” films produced by major studio Nikkatsu, “pink movie” producers pride themselves in being the starting place for many popular Japanese directors, including Kiyoshi Kurosawa who is interviewed for this film; and they even have their own magazine which presents annual awards to the favourite films and actresses. Now reduced to a mere 100 theaters nationally, “pink movies” once made up over half of all the movies being shown in Japan. Three new titles are released every week, but it is revealed later in the film that about half of them are actually rereleases, old movies with a new title and a new poster.

Director Kenjiro Fujii certainly has his work cut out for him in attempting to relate the origins, history and pitfalls of working in “pink movies” and for the most part he succeeds in providing an insightful portrait of a genre generally ignored by film historians. His triumphs include candid and revealing (sometimes shockingly so) interviews with directors, including Kurosawa, legendary maverick Koji Wakamatsu (“Violated Angels”, “Go, Go, Second Time Virgin”), Adachi Masao (who actually disappeared to Lebanon for 28 years to hang out with Palestinian guerillas) and even female director Yoshiyuki Yumi. Also enlightening are his interviews with producers and distributors still in the industry. Particularly delightful are the anecdotes provided by an old school “pink movie” distributor who lets it slip that he was the guy that tipped Nikkatsu off that the door was open for the larger budgeted “roman porno”.

Unfortunately Fujii seems to get a little overwhelmed and the film really starts to lag about half way through. Far too much time spent with young director Meiki Mitsoru as he goes from disaster to disaster while shooting his newest film. We understand within the first 10 minutes that film making under the sorts of budget and time restrictions that apply to most “pink movies” is extremely difficult, yet Fujii keeps returning to Mitsoru, cutting back and forth from interviews, to film sets, to production offices, and back again. This meandering undercuts the sharp focus of the earlier half of the film and despite the use of thematic title cards things never come back to center for a satisfactory conclusion.

The biggest problem is that any aspect of the story of “pink films” (cultural, historical, political) and any one of the interview subjects would have made a great documentary subject in and of themselves. However, despite this, “Pink Ribbon” is a fascinating look at Japan, film history and yes, even porno.

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