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Shohei Imamura
Shoichi Ozawa, Sumiko Sakamoto, Masaomi Kondo, Keiko Sagawa, Ganjiro Nakamura, Chocho Miyako
Writing Credits:
Shohei Imamura, Akiyuki Nosaka (novel), Koji Numata

Subu makes pornographic films. He sees nothing wrong with it. They are an aid to a repressed society, and he uses the money to support his landlady, Haru, and her family. From time to time, Haru shares her bed with Subu, though she believes her dead husband, reincarnated as a carp, disapproves. Director Shohei Imamura has always delighted in the kinky exploits of lowlifes, and in this 1966 classic, he finds subversive humor in the bizarre dynamics of Haru, her Oedipal son, and her daughter, the true object of her pornographer-boyfriend's obsession.

Rated NR

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Japanese Monaural

Runtime: 127 min.
Price: $29.95
Release Date: 8/5/2003

• Trailer
• Booklet

Search Titles:

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The Pornographers (1966)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 18, 2003)

Anyone who comes to 1966ís The Pornographers with the expectation of titillating material will likely leave disappointed. Instead, the Japanese flick offers a moderately interesting character study of a man making a marginal living and trying to cope with his life.

I usually write my own plot synopses, but the one on the DVDís case sums it up pretty well, so I decided to use it. ďSubu (Soichi Ozawa) makes pornographic films. He sees nothing wrong with it. They are an aid to a repressed society, and he uses the money to support his landlady, Haru Masuda (Sumiko Sakamoto), and her family. Haru shares her bed with Subu, though she believes her dead husband, reincarnated as a carp, disapproves.Ē That doesnít totally sum up the story, as other matters complicate things. For one, Subu clearly lusts after Haruís schoolgirl daughter Keiko (Keiko Sakawa), and Haruís son Koichi (Masaomi Kondo) displays some Oedipal tendencies, though he mostly just seems like a spoiled simp.

However, the DVDís synopsis recaps the tale fairly well, mostly because The Pornographers doesnít provide a story-driven flick. It focuses on the characters, and does so reasonably well. Actually, I suppose my indication that the film includes little of a titillating nature seems somewhat off base. By that I meant that you wonít find any skin or other material of a graphic nature. However, the movie does present some rather shocking scenes as it delves into the seedier side of society.

Pornographers starts off as a fairly irreverent and comic flick in its early moments, but it develops a darker side as it progresses. Much of this emanates from the love triangle that involves Subu, Haru and Keiko. The Oedipal elements with Koichi donít really go anywhere; they remain subtext and fail to develop. The essentially incestuous relationship between Subu and Keiko takes a much more prominent role, however, and really becomes the focus of the film. We see how conflicted Subu feels, especially when the movie flashes back to shots of him with Keiko as a child. He seems to know his feelings are inappropriate but he canít help but pursue them anyway. Oddly, Haru becomes complicit in these desires.

Pornographers provides an interesting investigation of the seamier side of a repressed society. We find quite a few kinkier elements. Thereís the old man who pays Subu to find him a virgin for sex, and a father who not only uses his mentally retarded daughter as an actress in one of Subuís films, but also plans to be the one who has sex with her! Pornographers presents these elements in a fairly matter of fact way, and occasionally indulges in them with dark humor. Nonetheless, the cumulative effect of the degradation becomes apparent and gives us pause, especially since few really seem to think that anythingís wrong.

As shot, Pornographers illustrates its subjects in an effectively voyeuristic manner. Director dsjladjsal often shoots subjects through windows or various obstructions, and this gives us an odd viewpoint. It makes us feel slightly distant from the material but also allows it to seem more real, like weíre watching it from the outside. It also causes us to feel somewhat complicit in the action; after all, if weíre sneaking peeks at these sick sights, we must be just as messed up as the participants.

Given the issues on display during The Pornographers, thatís a stretch. Nonetheless, the method works very well, and the flick seems effective overall. It takes a while to get its footing, and it becomes a little melodramatic at times, but mostly it investigates the seedy side of life in a cool society with depth and without much sensationalism. Itís a unique and compelling document.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio C-/ Bonus D

The Pornographers appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though not without some small concerns, the film generally looked very positive.

Sharpness seemed solid. The movie consistently came across as nicely detailed and distinctive. A couple of very small instances of softness occurred, but these created no real distractions. I witnessed no issues related to jagged edges or shimmering, and the movie seemed free of edge enhancement.

Print flaws were a small problem at most. Occasional specks popped up, and the movie took on a wobbly and jumpy look on a few occasions. For the most part, however, the flick was quite clean. Blacks seemed nicely deep and rich, while low-light shots came across as well developed and concise. The movie exhibited smooth contrast that gave it a clean silvery appearance. Ultimately, this transfer of The Pornographers seemed satisfying.

While not terrible, the monaural soundtrack of The Pornographers appeared more problematic. The track maintained a very limited scope and concentrated mostly on dialogue. That was where it developed concerns, as the speech consistently demonstrated some light edginess. The quality didnít seem terrible, but too much distortion affected the dialogue. Music was a bit too bright but appeared acceptably distinct; the minimal score popped up so infrequently that it didnít matter much anyway. Effects played a minor part as well. They showed some modest distortion and seemed a little harsh, but they generally came across as acceptable. In the end, the audio of The Pornographers was somewhat below average for its era.

Criterion delivers The Pornographers as a pretty bare-bones release. Other than the movieís trailer, we only get a booklet with a short essay from Village Voice film critic J. Hoberman. Originally published in 1987, this offers a decent and fairly introspective look at the story. Itís not one of the better Criterion booklets, but it adds some value to the package.

As I went into The Pornographers, I didnít know quite what to expect. What I got was an alternately amusing and disturbing look at the darker side of sex, and it proved to be an effective examination of its topics. The DVD presents very good picture quality, but sound seems a little below average for the era, and the package comes without substantial extras. The Pornographers unquestionably will be too dark and quirky for most folks, and the fact itís all in Japanese makes it even less accessible for a big audience. However, those with an interest in a story such as this should definitely give it a look.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 11
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