Shohei Imamura's THE PORNOGRAPHERS is an outrageous black comedy that skewers Japanese attitudes towards sex and women, centering on a middle-class family man who makes stag films.
Yoshimoto Ogata (Shoichi Ozawa) sells medical instruments for a living, but earns money on the side by making cheap 8mm sex films, as well as supplying the occasional virgin for his clients. He feels that he's performing a beneficial public service by keeping his customers happy. Ogata lives with
a widow named Haru, who keeps a carp in a large fish tank in their house, believing it to be the reincarnation of her dead husband. Her son Koichi despises Ogata, but uses him to get money, and her 15-year-old daughter Keiko likes to flirt with Ogata and tease him. One day, Keiko tells Ogata that
she knows he wants her and allows him to kiss her. As he does, the police come in and arrest him for selling pornography.
Haru has a breakdown and goes to the hospital, where Keiko tells her that Ogata has been touching her. After a few days in jail, Ogata visits Haru, and she tells him that he should marry Keiko and take care of her. Meanwhile, Koichi steals some of the family's insurance money and runs away. When
Ogata goes home, some hoods break in and demand his films, then beat him up. Keiko tells him that she hired them and she refuses to go to school on his money. After catching Keiko in an orgy, he tells her that Haru wants them to marry. She agrees, but only if he pays her.
Ogata then becomes impotent and starts taking a special Hong Kong "vigor potion." When he goes to see Haru in the hospital, the doctor tells him that she's three months pregnant. Ogata goes to her room and is overcome by the potion's effects, and jumps on top of her. After making love, Haru starts
to rant and rave incoherently, then runs to the window, screams and collapses. After her funeral, Ogata dumps the carp into the water, then embarks on a series of orgies. Unable to find satisfaction, he decides that machines are better than humans and starts to build the perfect woman: an eternal
Five years later, Ogata is living on a houseboat and still working on his doll, lovingly sewing each strand of hair into place. As the boat drifts out to sea, he starts singing.
As befits a film about voyeurism, THE PORNOGRAPHERS begins and ends with a film being projected onto a movie screen, as unseen viewers comment upon the action. Imamura also frequently employs a long lens which is used to peek into scenes from great distances, peering through windows and doors,
making peeping toms of us all. Imamura is essentially an anthropological satirist whose targets are the psychological and sexual perversions of contemporary Japanese men. Although he was an assistant to Yasujiro Ozu on several films, the two directors couldn't be more different. Dysfunctional
Japanese families were often the subjects of both men's films, but where Ozu is soothing and compassionate, Imamura is caustic and comical. And unlike Ozu's ascetic style, Imamura uses every cinematic trick at his disposal, including a hand-held camera, freeze-frames, slow-motion fantasy
sequences, rock and roll music, and brilliant use of widescreen composition.
Exhibiting thematic concerns similiar to those of Luis Bunuel, Imamura consistently treads a fine line between exploitation and absurdism, particularly in a sequence where Ogata tries to film a scene that a doctor requested, consisting of a young girl in a school uniform who's attacked by an
intruder while studying, only to find that the "actress" is retarded.
As in several of his other films, such as THE INSECT WOMEN, UNHOLY DESIRE, and VENGEANCE IS MINE, Imamura is interested in the pathology of the human condition. In THE PORNOGRAPHERS, he's not making the simplistic assertion that it is pornography itself which leads to aberrant behavior, but
rather, that human nature is inherently animalistic--"life's only pleasures are eating and sex," says one character--and that its ultimate manifestation is sexual obsession and madness. (Nudity, sexual situations.)
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Shohei Imamura's THE PORNOGRAPHERS is an outrageous black comedy that skewers Japanese attitudes towards sex and women, centering on a middle-class family man who makes stag films. Yoshimoto Ogata (Shoichi Ozawa) sells medical instruments for a living, bu… (more)