Subu Ogata (Shoichi Ozawa) is an unscrupulous man who lives with a woman (Sumiko Sakamoto) named Haru and her two children. He earns money and provides for them in the most seemly manner; mostly through making cheap 8mm pornographic films and pimping various "virginal" women to rich Japanese businessmen.
The Pornographers, released in 1966, provides an ample amount of absurdist humor and edgy comedy that was undoubtedly controversial in its day. One of Ogata's moral conundrums is the fact that he has a thing for Haru's teenage daughter, which causes all kinds of issues since the girl reciprocates his advances. The film also comes mighty close to restricted territory; in one controversial scene Ogata recruits the services of a retarded underage teen to play a student who has sex with her teacher - who is played by her father. The very idea is completely offensive but Imamura plays it for laughs (believe it or not), and there is no nudity.
All goes pretty well for Subu until Haru goes stark raving mad in an asylum, at which point the dysfunctional family splits up and Subu loses his will to create porn. With no where to turn he goes into hiding on a houseboat and embarks on a five year project to create a porn doll.
Imamura - who has made films for five decades -- often deals with lowlifes and losers and The Pornographers -- epitomizes his overriding theme, which is the way outcasts in society try to fit in despite their eccentricities and faults. Stylistically it has many artsy film-for-film's-sake moments that are visually interesting but don't lend much to the overall narrative.
Imamura is also known for having diffuse narratives, and The Pornographers is no exception. In the film's first 20 minutes he establishes the characters and the settings so quickly you may feel the need to go back and start the film again. The story too is rather convoluted and confusing for its first half because the narrative leaps around from scene to scene in a disjointed manner. But, in time, the film begins to reveal its idiosyncratic structure and odd characters and becomes an effective - and affecting - black comedy.
The Criterion DVD is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and has a very good-looking black & white high definition transfer, which seems to have been restored. The only extra is a vintage theatrical trailer. Sorry to say that for all you porn fans out there, The Pornographers will be a letdown, but it is recommended for those of you into art house cinema.
Aka Jinruigaku nyumon.
Run time: 120 mins
In Theaters: Monday 1st August 1966
Distributed by: Criterion Collection
Production compaines: Nikkatsu, Imamura Productions
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
IMDB: 7.5 / 10
Director: Shohei Imamura
Producer: Jiro Romado
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