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Japan 1966
Directed by
Shohei Imamura
128 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Pornographers

Don’t be misled by the title of Shôhei Imamura classic 1966 black and white art-house film about Subuyan “Subu” Ogata (Shoichi Ozawa) a low-rent Osaka pornographer who lives with widow Haru (Sumiko Sakamoto), her son, Koichi (Masaomi Kondo, and her teenage daughter, Keiko (Keiko Sagawa).  Also part of the household is a pet carp that according Haru is the reincarnation of her dead husband to whose memory she believes she is being unfaithful when she begins having an affair with Subu (on the other hand she has an Oedipal relationship with her teenage son that doesn’t appear to bother the carp at all).  As Subu and his cohorts crank out their cheap films with rudimentary 8mm equipment, Haru grows increasingly unwell with guilt, gangsters move in for a large slice of his operation and the police try to close him down whilst he find himself lusting after Keiko. 

Based on a novel by Akiyuki Nosaka the film is a mordant view of male-female sexual relations, with little time being spent on the making of the actual films and lot on reflecting on the compulsive copulatory tendencies that have resulted in the human race with men as having little more in mind than eating and f**king and women as only too happy to exploit them. Subu justifies his choice of profession as giving men an opportunity to escape from the social repression which denies this (one of his colleagues prefers masturbation to genital sex and when he does get a girlfriend it is his sister).

With little in the way of plot the dense film rambles on seemingly interminably with a sense of dead-pan black humour, an adventurous use of freeze frames, studied visual compositions and other striking formal devices and a shock value that I suspect was more impactful in its day, particularly for domestic audiences who would have appreciated the implicit and explicit social commentary much more than we can fifty years later.




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