Synopsis: 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. Imamura’s comic treatment of such taboos as voyeurism and incest sparked controversy when the film was released, but The Pornographers has outlasted its critics, and now seems frankly ahead of its time.
eyelights: the subtle humour. the surrealistic imagery.
eyesores: the stepfather-stepdaughter relationship.
“My work may be immoral, but I treat everyone honestly, dammit!”
‘Erogotoshi-tachi yori: Jinruigaku nyûmon’ is the story of Subuyan Ogata, a Japanese man trying to make ends meet by shooting short porn films, finding girls for high-paying clients and holding orgies. Living with his widowed lover, who has a teenaged son and daughter, he finds himself dealing with various familial incidents, government officials, mob enforcers and even his own crew.
Naturally, every time that Subu thinks he’s making headway, something happens to complicate matters.
I didn’t realize that ‘Erogotoshi-tachi yori: Jinruigaku nyûmon’ was a comedy (albeit a black one) when I sat down to watch it the other night. I half-expected it to be a straight-forward drama, especially given its near-130 minute runtime. It took me a good 20 minutes before I started to clue in to the fact that what was mildly humourous was intentional, not incidental. Only then did I get into the spirit of things.
But it remained a challenging watch nonetheless. The humour could be very subtle, and the incidents were realistic enough that I had a difficult time separating myself from the drama unfolding. Subu, after all, was really living out a personal nightmare, and his financial desperation began to take on tragic airs. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in his shoes, to find myself stuck with a money pit operation like this.
Having said this, some of what he experienced was entirely his own fault. Emptying his joint bank account to buy equipment? It was entirely his doing, even if the consequences were unexpected. Being arrested by the police for illegal activities? It’s not his fault, but choosing to shoot porn was, and that meant risk. Lusting after his step-daughter? It’s certainly not his fault, but acting on it is.
And that’s an aspect that I couldn’t get over: Subu chooses to pursue Keiko, thereby causing conflict. Although her mother tries to convince him to marry Keiko, she loses her mind soon thereafter. Meanwhile, Keiko reacts to these advances in the only way she knows how to: by closing in on herself and rebelling against her parents. I don’t know if this was meant to be farcical, but I just couldn’t watch this and laugh.
The situation with Koichi, the older brother, was far more amusing, however. He’s constantly trying to get money for school and other activities, but squanders it on meaningless pursuits that he won’t disclose to his mother. It’s so realistic that I couldn’t help but chuckle. It’s frustrating, yes, especially since the mother kept giving in, but it’s absurdly funny – particularly since this impacted Ogata’s own efforts to round up funds.
Perhaps the humour was meant to be contentious, provocative. There is a sequence when the only girl they can find to do a porn scene is so intellectually deficient that she is unresponsive to even the slightest direction; the only thing she reacts to are lollypops, which she crunches into eagerly. This is clear exploitation, which is obviously not funny. And yet the resulting situation was amusing.
Should one laugh? I’m not 100% sure. Sometimes it’s okay to laugh even though something is inappropriate, but there are lines that are drawn in the sand, and I wonder if ‘Erogotoshi-tachi yori: Jinruigaku nyûmon’ crossed that line. In any case, it was actually controversial enough at the time of its release that it became writer-director Shohei Imamura’s only film best known outside of his homeland.
One thing I savoured about it, however, was its mild surrealism. One of the absurdist elements of the story is that Haru, Ogata’s lover, believes that her husband’s been reincarnated in a carp – which she keeps in an aquarium in her house. There are quite a few timely shots of the carp gaping at us with its eyes bulging. And there was this terrific shot where everything was distorted through the aquarium. Very nice.
I suspect that I will need to see ‘Erogotoshi-tachi yori: Jinruigaku nyûmon’ a few more times to truly appreciate it. I enjoyed it, there is no doubt about it, but I had other expectations and some of its intentions weren’t entirely clear to me at first viewing. I confused some actors, lost sight of the humour, and couldn’t savour it properly because of my confusion. But it’s well-worth seeing again – which, in and of itself, is telling.
Date of viewing: July 30, 2014