Review for Pink Films Vol. 1 & 2
I’m stepping outside of my comfort zone again. I don’t review a lot of erotica, despite the never ending pile of check discs that seem to magically grow week on week. Let’s face it, if you want sexual content, you’ll know better than I what you want, and where to get it. My guidance in that area would be worse than irrelevant. But then again, this is Third Window Films, and if they are releasing something, it is worth watching. I didn’t hesitate when Pink Films Volumes 1 & 2 came up for review, two films on one Blu-ray disc (and one DVD in this combo release).
Pink Cinema is an interesting phenomenon, dating from that era when a degree of permissiveness was creeping into entertainment, but fleetingly so. Sex in entertainment existed, but it was restricted and moderated. In the UK in the sixties, that pretty much meant sex comedies (or health and fitness documentaries as lampooned in Carry on Camping). In Japan, with a stricter enforcement of censorship in film, that meant a lot more creativity had to be applied when making sexually provocative content. You get dramas, thrillers, and exploitation movies with a greater emphasis on story, even if there has to be a requisite proportion of nudity and sexual content. These films can be just as provocative intellectually and emotionally.
In their first release of Pink Films Third Window are releasing Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands (1967) 86 mins, and Gushing Prayer (1971) 74 mins. You get two discs in a BD Amaray case, one on each inner face, with the films repeated across DVD and BD. The inner sleeve offers film synopses and director biographies.
Introduction: Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands
Sho is a hitman who has been hired by a businessman to hunt down and kill the gang that kidnapped his girl. A film showing the girl being abused might be considered an object lesson in why retribution is needed, but the gang leader is a man named Ko, a former friend of Sho who killed Sho’s girlfriend years previously. But as Sho prepares for a confrontation with the gang, it seems his perceptions aren’t his own.
The A/V: Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands
Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands gets a 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p monochrome transfer on this disc, with DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo Japanese, with optional English and German subtitles (you’re prompted to choose between English and German static menus when you play the disc). The image is clear and sharp, and the image is stable with excellent contrast and detail, although there is some visual distortion at the edges of the anamorphic frame. The films have been restored for this release, but Inflatable Sex Doll still exhibits dirt on the print and the odd scratch, as well as a bit of flicker, and the occasional frame jump. It very much looks its fifty-three years. The audio is fine for the most part, barring the odd scene with background hum and distortion. The dialogue is clear, and the music makes its presence felt. The problem is with the subtitles, which needed another pass at proofreading. The odd sentence doesn’t scan properly, and there are the occasional missing words.
Conclusion: Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands
In a way, Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands was pretty much what I was expecting from a Pink Film, given my preconceptions of the genre, but in a way, it was unlike anything I had expected. It is a thriller with sexual content, in tone very much a film noir. The sex, what there is, is un-erotic, and usually in the context of abuse and violence, but any nudity is from the waist up, and it’s the static moments, the languorously posed reclining females that seem most liable to stir the blood.
The women are the victims in this story, the victims of abduction, abuse, and murder, and the hard-boiled hitman turned Sam Spade in this film, Sho is hardly the epitome of chivalry himself, protagonist though he may be. He casually watches the film of his client’s girl being abused by her kidnappers, proof of her continued existence and added torment, although his client has obviously seen it so often that he serves as narrator (he’s also shown it so often to the girl’s father that its driven him mad, and into the arms of a sex toy), and Sho doesn’t bat an eyelid. He wanders through the city’s underworld, preparing for a showdown with his former friend.
What I wasn’t expecting was how the film was structured. It’s disjointed and unsettling, told from the point of view of the protagonist. But as the film progresses, it becomes clear that Sho’s perspective isn’t all that reliable. What starts off as a gangster movie becomes this sort of detective story, only the mysteries lie in Sho’s memories, and it becomes this warped, nightmare journey into a flawed psyche.
I have to say that I didn’t enjoy Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands; it’s not quite my cup of tea, but I really did appreciate the technical aspects of the production. The cinematography and style of the film is very effective. I also do appreciate the creative and confrontational direction that the story takes, even if the dreamlike direction is almost as confusing for the viewer as it is for the main character.
Introduction: Gushing Prayer
Four high school students indulge in group sex as an expression of their alienation from the adult world, challenging each other to feel something. When one of their number, Yasuko announces that she is pregnant, and has had sex with her homeroom teacher, the others state it is a betrayal of their group, and urge her to become a prostitute to explore that side of her sexuality.
The A/V Gushing Prayer
Gushing Prayer too gets a 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, which this time is mostly monochrome with the odd flash of colour footage. The Japanese audio is in DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo format with optional English or German subtitles. The monochrome elements have come up a treat with careful restoration, and this certainly looks better than Inflatable Sex Doll. The image is clear and stable, detail levels are excellent, and print damage or dirt is a lot less prevalent. It helps make the cinematography pop, and there are some interesting locations used in the film. Having said all of that, the few colour elements in the film aren’t quite as crisp, with colours feeling faded and the image not quite as well defined. The audio is fine, the dialogue is clear, and there are no problems with distortion. However hearing the same guitar refrain over and over again in the music soundtrack was more tiresome than hypnotic. The problem with this film is the quality of the English subtitle translation, which in this case feels more like transliteration than translation. The words may be there, they may be legible, but you don’t always understand the context or the idiom, and after about half an hour of hearing the students wanting to “beat sex”, I gave up on trying to figure out what they meant.
Conclusion Gushing Prayer
I’m reminded of one of the first Japanese films I reviewed for this site, and not in a good way. Kichiku: Banquet of the Beasts was a tale of student disaffection that descended into expressions of violence. Gushing Prayer is in the same ballpark, only focusing on sex rather than violence. And while Gushing Prayer is a far more accomplished film, technically speaking, both are hamstrung by weak performances, the feeling of a student film, and a lot of navel-gazing pretention in the dialogue, not helped here by the subtitle translation.
The small piece in the Blu-ray sleeve helps put this film in its context, against the background of the student movements and protests of the nineteen-sixties, which helps explain the alienation and repudiation the four main characters feel for the adult world, escaping into group sex as a kind of a protest in itself, indulging in mutual gratification while at the same rejecting any feelings of gratification as capitulation to the adult world. This explains why the three others react so to Yasuko’s announcement that she is pregnant, and that she had sex with her teacher.
The idea is put forward that sex is some kind of exchange, that all sex is in some way prostitution, so the others urge Yasuko to become a prostitute in fact as well as in philosophy, to see if she would feel something that way. You have to follow that rabbit down a very deep and dark hole to buy into that kind of idea, and it makes investing in the characters, or finding a sense of reality in the story nigh on impossible. About all that I could accept in the film was that for all their protestations of being separate and above normal societal and adult conventions, the denouement of the story was as human as you can get, although played for the ultimate histrionic effect.
I think it’s clear at this point that the Pink cinema medium is not my forte, although I do recall enjoying and appreciating Sion Sono’s modern reinvention, Antiporno. I’m not quite as au fait when it comes to the original material from the sixties and seventies. Certainly I found little to appreciate in Gushing Prayer, other than the cinematography, but there’s certainly a lot more worthy of note in Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands. It plays with narrative and perception in a way that provokes thought and holds the attention. Of the two films in this collection, it’s definitely the one worth watching.