Long before he achieved international success with The Ring / Ringu (1998), Hideo Nakata began his career as an assistant director at Japan’s Nikkatsu, during the studio’s final years making Roman Porno [RP] films in which sex, S&M, drama, romance, and outright wrongness were amalgamated into frequently outrageous adult films.
Nakata served three times as an A.D. for Masaru Konuma, one of the top RP directors, and perhaps the studio's most prolific filmmaker, having made 47 films during the studio’s 18-year RP era. Sadistic and Masochistic is essentially a tribute to Konuma, with only marginal insight into Nikkatsu’s bizarre decision to switch production to softcore porn as a last-ditch effort to save itself after audiences and some of its talent pool switched allegiances to TV.
Nakata makes use of his relationship with former colleagues and mentors, and certainly in its first half, SM offers plenty of surreal anecdotes from writers, directors, cinematographers, A.D.s, wardrobe designers, editors, and actors & actresses reflecting on some classic erotic scenes (‘Why must we have sex here?’). Most of his colleagues are fairly candid, offering funny views on Konuma’s personality as an outwardly demure man but a ‘masochist’ once on set, pushing his crew to do better, or just pushing them due to a director's supreme power.
For those who chose to stay or ascend the career ladder within Nikkatsu’s prolific RP adult output (which seemed to average about 3 films per month), each movie had to contain at least 3 sex scenes; the films had to average 60-70 minutes; and circumscribed budgets had to be respected. Following those simple rules pretty much allowed filmmakers to make anything, which may explain the increasingly crazy fusion of legit storylines, adult sequences, and patently wrong material which largely fixated on rape – in dramatic, comedic, satirical storylines, or as a regular adjunct to any dramatic arc.
“Perhaps the overriding theme to his work is creating and making female excesses on film.”
“The most hate-filled man [I] ever worked with”
“He’s like a turtle.”
Konuma, characterized by one producer as “a blood-sucker,” embraced not only whatever ideas seemed to work with audiences, but pushed certain elements into more dark terrain, yet the extreme nature of Nikkatsu's RP films often transformed them into ridiculous works of bent fantasy. The ongoing ability of the RP catalogue to shock audiences decades after their theatrical release – Nikkatsu’s distribution network ensured an active slate of double and triple-bills – kind of transformed these once-disposable exploitation product as the ultimate in arty erotic film, if not a genuine kind of smutty forbidden fruit.
“I wanted to make films that focused on the woman’s story,” explains Konuma to an off-screen Nakata (who’s frequently heard holding back laughter as he clearly knows spin and bullshit). Yet even in clips from selected Konuma films – the enema-obsessed Wife to Be Sacrificed (1974), the locked-in-a-box nutjob Woman in a Box: Virgin Sacrifice (1985) – Konuma was no hack. The cinematography within his films – certainly in Wife – is gorgeous in their widescreen ratios, and as several remark in the documentary, Konuma knew how to choreograph elaborate S&M scenes to a point where they transgressed from the erotic to insane, and artistic. (One can even argue his meticulous detail and pacing can be seen in the work of torture master Takashi Miike.)
If an overabundance of freedom and a mandate to repeat extreme material year after year nullified his desire to wander outside of the RP realm and make a straight film now and then, it’s nevertheless remarkable he could satisfy audiences who probably became inured to Nikkatsu's extreme material, and probably regarded pioneering classics such as Wife as passé.
Konuma and his cohorts delivered the real goods, but Nakata’s doc only delves into Nikkatsu’s history as slight tangents, and after a decent first half SM becomes a tiresome endeavor: the use of film clips disappears for long stretches, and what largely makes up the doc’s second half are talking heads, often repeating the same views of Konuma’s persona. SM could easily have run 60 minutes with clips, and been a more satisfying experience.
This is still an important record of a bastard film genre, but missed out were perhaps more interviews with former actors & actresses, how the RP genre affected their initial career goals, their post RP lives, and whether anyone has any misgivings in staying at Nikkatsu while some managed to succeed in TV. These aspects could’ve been interwoven throughout the narrative, but one feels Nakata also used the doc as a means to deal with his own conflicts as a former (albeit minor) RP figure whose apprenticeship under Konuma did leave unexpected impressions. (Both Nakata and a colleague admit that their own on-set behaviour sometimes veers into the cruel tone of their mentor.)
There’s also Nakata’s own sense of humour which (quite healthily) keeps the film’s first half amusing, asking direct questions regarding the filming of some completely insane scenes. Saeko Kizuki recalls scenes where she was locked in a box for hours when not crawling through filthy sewers in her birthday suit, and Nakata himself recalls drawing a screen to mask a tethered assault sequence shot smack in the middle of a busy city intersection. Konuma and S&M queen Naomi Tan discuss the ‘glowing turd’ deposit over lunch wit Nakata, and Wife co-star Nagatoshi Sakamoto recalls his general unease in executing some of Konuma’s planned torment for the Wife heroine.
Sakamoto, a prolific actor in the RP genre, was frequently cast because of his hungry gaze / dead stare – arguably the definitive mug for a seething sexual predator of women, teens, and probably furniture if RP writers bothered to go there – yet in real life none of those affectations appear in his interview clips; he's extraordinarily normal, and very polite. He is, however, the only male actor to appear in the doc, which raises the question: Did Nakata seek out more male actors, or was his preference largely for the female stars? The omission of the male stars - several who similarly appeared in soft and hard entries - makes one curious as to whether the men are more embarrassed by their past work, and went to greater lengths to disappear from public view.
Besides Tani (Wife)and Kizuki (Box), Yuki Kazamatsuri (Akujo gundan, Tsuma-tachi no seitaiken: Otto no me no maede, ima...), Asami Ogawa (In the Realm of Sex) and Yuko Katagiri (In the Realm of Sex, Nagisa) are the main female stars interviewed by Nakata.
The doc does achieve one important goal: he shows the creative personnel who sustained careers within the naughty pink genre were not monsters, but technicians, artisans, and creative forces within their fields. Whether they used real or fake names, each of the interviewees maintain a relatively healthy sense of humour, and through anecdotes they remind viewers the RP films were staged, make-believe displays of madness. At least from the examples released in recent years on DVD by Impulse Pictures / Synapse Films, Nikkatsu's crazy stories have little basis in reality.
Nakata’s own respect for the genre’s icons is apparent when he escorts Tani into the Nikkatsu studio lot, and she’s greeted by several former colleagues before she sits down in a screening room with Nakata and Konuma to watch a print screening of Wife. As Konuma's career was launched with the success and infamy of Wife, it also ended with a softcore film, the little-seen Nagisa (2000), which is seen being filmed as Nakata gathers on-set interview material.
Sadistic and Masochistic likely stemmed from Konuma's continuing activity in film in 2000, and while not as expansive of the genre as it should've been, Nakata at least managed to make an important document on a darker, if not slightly insane period of Japan's cinema history. This film is thus far only available as a bonus feature on KimStim's reissue of Wife. Nakata's other documentary, the intriguing Joseph Losey: The Man with Four Names (1998), remains wholly unavailable for viewing.
A more recent effort to chronicle the pink genre, Yves Montmayeur's Pinku Eiga: Inside the Please Dome of Japanese Erotic Cinema, was released in 2011, but is currently unavailable on home video.
© 2013 Mark R. Hasan