Japan Cinematography from 1970’s to the Latest Trends
One of the most relevant data of the cinema scene of the seventies and eighties is the great growth of a particular sector of cinema which for twenty years represented the backbone of the Japanese entertainment industry: erotic themed cinema (pinku eiga, pink film) and the more properly porno (roman porno). The Nikkatsu production house invested in this genre which had caused a scandal and proved to be economically profitable since the 1960s (with the first works by directors Wakamatsu Kōji and Takechi Tetsuji). The particular system of censorship in force in Japan, which forbids showing hair (both pubic and axillary) as well as framing the sexual organs, even in adult films, has not made it possible to develop porn similar to that of the West. The roman porno and pinku eiga have therefore remained in the context of an indirect eroticism, often with a sado-masochistic background, exceeding in the representation of bodies and extreme and perverse situations, rather than in that of the sexual action itself. The most significant filmmakers who practiced Roman pornography in the 1970s with great freedom of invention were Kumashiro Tatsumi and Tanaka Noboru, who produced works no less intense than those of Ōshima Nagisa and Imamura Shōhei, characterized by radicalism of visual choices and extraordinary female figures.
According to Sourcemakeup, Japan saw the flourishing, between the eighties and nineties, a new generation of filmmakers who participated in various capacities (as directors, assistants or screenwriters) in the production of pinku eiga (i.e. more than a third of the films produced in Japan), to then follow individual paths outside the genre; among these we should mention Ishii Takashi, Sōmai Shinji, Kurosawa Kiyoshi, Sakamoto Junji, Ōki Hiroyuki, Aoyama Shinji, Mochizuki Rokurō and in particular Zeze Takahisa who, in his disenchanted experimentalism, represents one of the most eccentric figures in the Japanese scene. A filmmaker like Murakami Ryū, also known as a novelist outside of Japan, then sealed the cinematic eroticism with Topazu – Tō-kyō dekadensu, also known as Tokyo decadence (1991), glacial metropolitan fresco on the gloomy drift of a city seen in its sexual obsessions and depravities. Starting from June 1988 Nikkatsu abandoned the production of feature films in favor of video, later restoring the variegated system of genres (yakuza, pinku, comedies, horror); a system that, after the crisis of the 1970s, risked losing supremacy in a market increasingly populated by independent production companies (such as the Director’s Company, founded in 1982 by Hasegawa Kazuhiko). One of the few genres that survived the crisis of the seventies was comedy, in which Itami Jūzō (TV star, son of one of the pioneers of Japanese cinema, Itami Mansaku, who became a director after many acting experiences,
Since the 1980s, thanks to the expansion of small and medium production companies and the opening of a new market represented by videos, a system of genres has been reformulated, within which filmmakers who have made their debut moved with notable personal accents within the pre-established codes of commercial cinema. Pinku eiga rediscovered a season of fertile invention and the so-called v-cinema (film for exclusive exploitation on videotape) was born, a real alternative circuit from which prolific filmmakers such as Miike Takashi or Kurosawa Kiyoshi took their moves. An interesting line of horror films has also developed, anticipated by the low-budget works of Ishii Sōgo, the great inventor of disturbing and iconoclastic climates: from the punk excitement of Kōkō dai panikku (1976, Panico nel liceo) to the rarefaction of Tenshi no kuzu (1994, also known as Angel dust) or Yume no ginga (1997, also known as Labirinth of dream). Mochizuki Rokurō is another filmmaker who has broken the mold, making many porn, several yakuza films, up to more detached works from genres such as the beautiful Chinpira (2001).
If in the seventies the genre of yakuza eiga, a film about the gangs of the Japanese underworld, appeared charged with frenetic violence through the exasperation of rules and language codes (as in Jingi naki tatakai, 1973, Lotta senza code of honor, by Fukasaku Kinji), Kitano Takeshi’s debut in the 1980s (a director who was soon acclaimed in the West and also famous at home as a television entertainer) with Sono otoko, kyōbō ni tsuki (1989, Attention this man is dangerous, also known as Violent cop), marked the unfolding, within this genre, of a very personal poetics of great stylistic strength, which was imposed and then developed in an original way throughout the nineties.
An important phenomenon was also represented by animated films, closely linked to the figurative universe and the public of comics (manga). Among the numerous figures of directors, of particular importance were: Miyazaki Hayao, who with Mononoke hime (1997; Princess Mononoke) reached world popularity, confirmed by Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi (2001; The enchanted city), winner in the 2002 of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, cartoon where Japanese folkloric elements are recreated; Ōtomo Katsuhiro, author of the post-apocalyptic Akira (1988); Kon Satoshi, who with Perfect blue (1998), based on drawings by Eguchi Hisashi and animations by Hamazu Hideki, made a film of extraordinary complexity on the delusion of control.