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The Pornographers - Criterion Collection
The Pornographers - Criterion Collection
Actors: Shoichi Ozawa, Sumiko Sakamoto, Masaomi Kondo, Keiko Sagawa, Ganjiro Nakamura
Director: Sh˘hei Imamura
Genres: Indie & Art House, Comedy, Drama
UR     2003     2hr 0min

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, ...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Shoichi Ozawa, Sumiko Sakamoto, Masaomi Kondo, Keiko Sagawa, Ganjiro Nakamura
Director: Sh˘hei Imamura
Creators: Shinsaku Himeda, Sh˘hei Imamura, Matsuo Tanji, Jiro Tomoda, Akiyuki Nosaka, Koji Numata
Genres: Indie & Art House, Comedy, Drama
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Comedy, Drama
Studio: Home Vision Entertainment
Format: DVD - Black and White,Widescreen,Anamorphic - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 08/05/2003
Release Year: 2003
Run Time: 2hr 0min
Screens: Black and White,Widescreen,Anamorphic
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 13
Edition: Criterion Collection
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: Japanese
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

Another great from Imamura
Tiffany Ann Okubo | NYC | 05/09/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)

"I would not recommend this movie if you are not a fan of either Imamura or Japanese new wave. Like most Imamura films this movie is so completely bizarre that it keeps your interest through utter fascination. Imamura says "I am interested in the lower structure of society and the lower part of the human body." This is a good summary of this movie. The lead, a pornographer believes that he is doing a favor to society by creating 16mm B&W black market porns. The most incredible scene I have ever seen on film is in this movie, a dream like sequence with surf music and a insane woman in a mental hospital are a brief description. To see this one scene is reason enough to buy this."
Classic Imamura which surpasses his most well-known works.
Tiffany Ann Okubo | 01/03/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Before Todd Solondz and Tarantino, there was Shohei Imamura. Of course, much of the taboo material is implied rather than shown, but the comedy is indeed just as black. But perhaps the most precious aspect of this film is Imamura's style. Jump cuts, freeze frames, and other New Wave cliches missing in his later works are here in full force, contributing to the eerie beauty resulting from some interesting lighting schemes (this is a black and white film). The story concerns a middle-aged barber(think of The Eel,1997)who makes 8mm pornos. Not surprisingly, his homelife is as unconventional as his artistic endeavors, and much of the comedy stems from the follies of the latter component while tension builds form the former(his wife slowly goes insane). It is Imamura's great talent to shuttle between the two, and his later works never achieved the same level of deftness."
Pickled Pork
Daitokuji31 | Black Glass | 09/09/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Subu believes himself to be a philanthropist. Through his painstaking work, Subu, Pickled Pork, aides the suffering of middle-aged me who well in the urban sprawls of Japan by offering them things that soothe their weary minds and bodies. Subu is not a spiritual leader or a doctor but a creator of pornography. 8mm film, audio recordings of lovers having sex, cut and paste photos of young starlet having sex with sumo wrestlers, stimulants from Hong Kong, erotic literature, etc. Subu has a hand in all levels of pornography. As a filmmaker, he hires prostitutes and men who work in such locations as bathhouses to star in his films. He even custom makes films for his climates such as one depicting a doctor raping a schoolgirl. The film was requested by a man who was unable to perform the act himself. As a go-between, Subu helps older, respectable gentlemen to meet women such as when he aides an old businessman who wants to have sex with a virgin because he is bitter that he was not the first man to sleep with his wife. Subu aides this man by hiring a woman who plays a "professional virgin," but who in fact has just birthed a child. Besides a few encounters with the yakuza who want a cut of his profits, Subu seems to be on top of his profession, however, Subu faces a few problems as well.

Living with his common-law wife, Haru, and her two children: Koichi and Keiko, Subu struggles to keep order within the household. Although she adores Subu, Haru believes that her dead husband's soul resides within a carp that she keeps within a tank inside the family home. Consumed with guilt that she lives with another man, she promised her husband that she would remain unmarried; Haru believes that when the carp jumps in its tank it is displaying her husband's discontentedness with her decisions. Koichi continuously demands money from his mother and Subu and rarely shows thankfulness when he does receive the money. However, the fifteen-year-old Keiko is Subu's biggest thorn in his side. Although Keiko continuously ditches school, drinks large quantities of alcohol, and sleeps with a number of men, these are not the reasons why Subu has issues with the girl. His problem stems from the fact that he has sexual desire for the girl which he displays by smelling the girl's soiled underwear and groping her when she is almost unconscious from drink. With Haru suffering from a heart ailment, what will happen to this family if something was to happen to her?

Like in a number of his earlier films, such as Pigs and Battleships (1961) and My Second Brother (1959), Imamura in The Pornographers does a wonderful job of depicting the lives of Japan's subsistence level citizens. While quite toned down in comparison to its source material, Nozaka Akiyuki's novel which details the film-making process and its hazards, such as when a woman gets an infection from paint chips after using a tengu mask as a dildo and the making of a Rape of Nanking fantasy film, The Pornographers has a few eyebrow raising moments such as the father/retarded daughter porn duo and the three filmmakers discussing what is wrong with a father having sex with his own daughter. An interesting film to add to your Japanese film collection, hopefully we will see the release of more of Imamura's early films in the near future.
A queasy tale of degradation, evokes gloomy thoughts.
Angry Mofo | 03/01/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)

"Just describing the story of any one of Shohei Imamura's films won't be enough to convey its oddity. Imamura's films are the misfits of Japanese cinema. They deal with bizarre, marginal characters in grotesque and unusual situations. Don't expect Kurosawa's epic sweep or Ozu's understatement. Imamura's films are flamboyantly crude and bizarre. His closest analogue in Japanese literature might be Kenzaburo Oe -- Oe's short story collection Teach Us To Outgrow Our Madness has a very similar tone. (And Imamura's more recent film Warm Water Under A Red Bridge is nicer than his early work, much like Oe's A Quiet Life.)

This film is about a frumpy middle-aged man named Subu who makes money by filming and selling illegal pornography. But he runs a small operation, which makes him vulnerable to just about everything. He needs to conceal his work from larger, more organized gangs, so they don't extort money from him. But of course, his work is illegal, so he can't exactly ask the law for help, either.

It's a sleazy story. The film is not the least bit titillating -- the actual pornography is never shown. Most of the plot is concerned with Subu running around trying to keep his operation afloat. He has to deal with lots of small details, like where to buy film, where to get women, how to sell the product without the mob knowing about it, and so on. It's such a mundane, slate-gray routine that it isn't even shocking.

One might be tempted to read the film as a justification of Subu -- not necessarily of Subu's work, but of Subu himself, an attempt to humanize him, in other words. Something along the lines of, "hey, this guy is engaged in illegal activities on the fringes of society, but after all he's just another poor hard-working slob, same as all of us." But I personally think that the film does precisely the opposite. And this is a bit of a subtle point, since Imamura does put a great deal of effort into making Subu as "ordinary" as possible. He's not involved with more "serious" crime, and he's not really any more malicious than the average person. And he doesn't take any prurient interest in his product -- his main reason for doing this work is to make enough money to support a family.

That family consists of a woman and her son and daughter, both children by another man. The children despise Subu from the beginning, but after they find out about his line of work, their hostility becomes open. At the same time, they continue to live on his money. They understand that he's supporting them, and this makes them hate him even more. There is a subplot in which Subu appears to feel desire for the daughter -- at the very least, he desperately wants her to like him. But the more he grovels before her, the more she humiliates him. She tells him to his face that she hates him, and at times, it seems like she's deliberately leading him on and raising his hopes, solely to extract money from him.

Subu has more luck with the woman, who really does seem to like him sometimes. But she feels guilty for coming to consort with such a man after her husband's death. She constantly imagines that her dead husband is angry at her, and fears some kind of divine retribution. Which ultimately arrives -- the final scene with her in the hospital is terrifying, because it's so jarring and unexpected.

This is why the film is not really a comedy, even a "black" one. It's just not funny to watch the man be degraded and used over and over and over by everyone and everything. He has no dignity. Even his appearance is vaguely repellent. There's something reptilian about the way Subu slinks around in his secret studio. And, of course, as a final humiliation, it turns out that he's impotent. He does miserable things and lives a miserable life. It might elicit some compassion on the part of the viewer, but even that compassion comes mixed with contempt. Subu makes several defiant speeches in defense of his vocation, but his words have a whinging, self-justifying tone that, while perhaps mildly humorous, is still distasteful.

And this is also why Subu emerges as an object of scorn rather than sympathy. It would seem that pornography has dehumanized him totally, beyond all hope. It perverts all his good intentions in advance. He wants to be a responsible father, but his "dirty money" makes the children hate him, and his very attempts to endear himself to them have the exact opposite effect. And so on, and so forth -- he took up this work to be happy, but it's the work itself, more than anything else, that forever condemns him to wretchedness.

I guess that's a really depressing message, so there's a drawn-out scene at the very end that is a little less intense (though still distasteful). The last shot has the effect of slightly softening the inevitable conclusion about Subu, by portraying him as a lost soul out in a vast ocean. But that's also why the whole scene seems unconvincing. The hospital scene writes off Subu's life, completely and finally; that's where his story really ends.

It's an engrossing film, in its own way. There are lots of oddities throughout, like how the woman imagines that her husband was reincarnated as a fish and is now watching her from his bowl across the room. But the overall tone is unpleasantly grotesque. I prefer Warm Water Under A Red Bridge -- at least there Imamura allowed his harried protagonist to regain his dignity."