Following WW2, censorship laws were relaxed in Japan, and this along with an import of American culture led to an industry of sexually charged pulp magazines called “kasutori magazines” (kasutori was the name used for low-quality liquor, similar to moonshine, and became used to refer to all kinds of culture held in low regard). These magazines proved incredibly popular and hundreds of these were put out at their peak between 1946 and 1949. Paper was still being rationed at the time and these magazines were relegated to using only the poorest quality pulp. This paper was often an off-grey colour with a pinkish tint and these magazines were often referred to as “momoiro” (peach-color) magazines in reference to this. Whilst censorship laws may have been relaxed, they were far from abandoned, and early kasutori magazines were soon becoming notorious for being banned by censors. As kasutori magazines were forced to reduce their explicitness, “momoiro” soon became a slang term to refer to all things erotic but not outright explicit. In the 1950’s with the mixing of American culture and English slang terms being used amongst the youth, “momoiro” was soon replaced by its English counterpart “pinku”.
In the mid-1950’s, blue films were totally banned, so in the early 60s, Japanese film companies were quick to react to the gap in the market by making sexually-themed films that cut down on the overall explicitness of actual pornography. Naturally, the word “pinku” was used to refer to these new softcore films. Pinku has long been derided as plotless soft erotica, crafted for dingy backstreet cinemas where old men may seek a secret relief for their repressed needs; the culture of these venues is a subject we have explored. Directors would produce these in excess and on a remarkably brief deadline – emotive scenes were (ironically) only a superfluous means for the explicit moments. Naturally, however, some directors were not satisfied with the creative constraints and would not only experiment through such a pressured schedule, but they would also exhibit surprisingly effective filmmaking considering the restriction(s): they still regarded their craft seriously.
At the hands of these enthusiastic artists, pinku films went beyond their softcore roots and were being used to explore themes overlooked by mainstream films. Realising the opportunities of the genre beyond softcore porn, Japan’s two major studios Nikkatsu and Toei would create their own unique genres based on pinku. Nikkatsu created “Roman Porno” which focused on developing a compelling story and allowed higher budgets to elevate the production quality of these films. Toei on the other hand focused on the exploitation aspects and created “Pinky Violence” peppering more action-centred films with the sexuality of pinku films.
For more serious analysis of Pinku Eiga, which has a comprehensive history to enhance any interest, we highly recommend the academically inclined work of Jasper Sharp (who we had the fortune to interview here). Gradually, Pinku Eiga has been studied further and considered an integral development phase of Japanese cinema itself – not to mention attracting a cult following for these mostly contemptuous, overlooked movies. We took the time to curate a list of the best Japanese pink movies, and hope these Pinku Eiga recommendations will appeal to anybody wishing to explore a now cult genre. Pinky violence – a subgenre of pinku itself – is especially popular for bridging unashamed erotica into trends of exploitation cinema – combining to provide wonderfully uninhibited results. Now, please enjoy as we list our opinions on the best pinku movies!
Abnormal Family (1984)
From director Masayuki Suo (the man who gave us Shall We Dansu? and I Just Didn’t Do It) comes a movie that presents the social degradation of the Japanese family unit. The technical side of the film is basically a tongue-in-cheek parody of Yasujiro Ozu’s style of visual storytelling. From famous camera angles through conventional movements right down to monotonous enunciation of dialogue, Abnormal Family functions as a spiritual companion piece to Late Spring, Tokyo Story, and An Autumn Afternoon. The only difference is that we get steamy scenes every 10 minutes or so. Nevertheless, in spite of being very Freudian, it is a very touching movie. ~ Oliver Ebisuno (posted on Tom’s request; image can be changed if deemed insufficient)
Day Dream (1964)
One of the first ones yet one that still packs a punch. Tetsuji Takechi’s film is an astonishing, almost dialoqueless montage of dreamlike setpieces shot in luminous black and white, with an experimental soundtrack and a sudden burst of color half way thru during one of the key sequences. Based on a story by Junichiro Tanizaki no less, it begins in a dentist’s operating room where clients are treated next to each other. A nightclub singer called Chieko is led to her chair to be examined by a Kraftwerkian looking doctor and his equally coldly staring female assistant. The examination starts with huge closeups of Chieko’s mouth being prodded with sharp gleaming instruments and jets of water, while weird whizzing and hissing sounds assault the ears and crank up the tension. Exchanging meaningful looks, the duo proceed to anesthetize her with a massive syringe. Half sedated half awake, she now gets sucked into a nightmarish whirlpool in which she is subjected to extremities of pain and pleasure.
Another masterpiece based on a decadent Tanizaki novel, by Yasuzo Matsumura, the director of the infamous Blind Beast. Here the focus is on the married Sonoko (Kyoko Kishida) who falls in love with a woman named Mitsuko (Ayako Wakao) while drawing nudes in an art class. Scandal, melodrama, escalating madness and tastefully presented but extremely hot sex scenes ensue. The film is both well made exploitation and a study of individuals attempting to break free from the rules imposed by a repressive society so a good time is quaranteed for the sleazebag and the arthouse snob alike. Plus it’s simply gorgeous just to look at. Using an elegant, typically Japanese color palette, Matsumura creates an intoxicating sensual world you never want to escape.
Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion (1972)
Set within the injustices of a patriarchal system defined by lecherous men and corrupt officials, Toei Company’s Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion begins a prison saga with the fabulously charismatic Meiko Kaji as the lead: a dangerous women pursuing an understandable vendetta. Disarmed, humiliated and imprisoned, we observe her overcome repression to actualise into a personification of revenge: Lady Scorpion. Notable as representative of ‘Pinky violence’, where women are empowered instead of passive victims, the film contains all the related tropes of extravagant violence, experimental flourishes in the palette, clever camerawork and retribution for sexual exploitation. The plot is executed in a way for audiences to sympathetically anticipate a revenge as the craved climax and it ruthlessly delivers – a blighted heroine is formed as a consequence of the brutality depicted. Visually distinct, filmed stylishly and paced excitingly, Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion is a fun induction into ‘Pinku eiga’ as an undoubtedly quality production.
Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands (1967)
A surrealist treat written and directed by Atsushi Yamatoya set to a chaotic jazz score by famed pianist Yosuke Yamashita. The perfect companion piece to Seijun Suzuki’s beloved Branded to Kill, which Yamatoya shared a hand in writing. The gun-obsessed Sho (Yuichi Minato) is hired by a real estate investor to track down and kill the gang responsible for the violation and murder of his girlfriend. This pursuit sets him on the path to clash with Ko (Shohei Yamamoto), a man with whom he shares a bitter grudge. The film gives viewers a bleak world where men fetishize guns and women are treated as little more than objects, but this is the point: by the end, it is clear there is nothing glorious about these stock macho noir archetypes. Through wild camera angles, dream-like visuals, and non-linear storytelling, Sho descends into a Lynchian nightmare from which there may be no escape. This is pinku heavily filtered through arthouse sensibilities showcasing the creativity that the genre can offer.
Zoom Up: Rape Site (1979)
A lurid trip on the darker more extreme side of cinema that’s not for the faint of heart. The first in Nikkatsu’s “Zoom Up” series of Roman Porno flicks tied together not by the story but camera techniques prove just how often pink films can serve as the playground for creators to showcase their talent. The story follows troubled housewife Tomoko (Erina Miyai) stuck with a lukewarm marriage and strained relationship with her new step-daughter set against the backdrop of a black-gloved killer, who seems stripped directly from any number of Giallo, terrorizing the streets. While having an affair with her kid’s college-aged tutor, she bears witness to a murder that sets off a chain of paranoia and crazed acts that escalate out of control as things progress. Mean-spirited, misogynistic and cruel, our mystery killer could give even Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper a run for his money, but without the goofy duck voice for a bit of levity. A cold look at a bleak world that’s well-executed and economically told within its brief 67-minute runtime. A true slice of controversial cinema that’s as repulsive as it is hard to avert your gaze from.
Sex & Fury (1973)
Directed by the amazing Norifumi Suzuki, known for many other well known films in Pinku Eiga cinema, such as Girl Boss Blues: Queen Bee’s Challenge (1972) and Red Peony Gambler: Gambler’s Obligation (1968) as well as many others in the Sukeban genre. Sex & Fury tells the story of Ocho, played by one of the queens of pinku violence, Reiko Ike, a young gambler and pickpocket in Meiji-era Tokyo. Ocho takes revenge on three gangsters who murdered her father, shelters a wanted anarchist, and confronts a British spy.
Sex & Fury has a unique story to pinku, with the involvement of western actors including the beautiful Christina Lindberg in the start of her brief foray into Japanese sexploitation cinema. A story of love, treachery and revenge is very much the focus of the film rather then the usual sex and violence but that is not to say there are some amazing action sequences to sink your teeth into. Being beautifully delivered with its colourful presentation and being rather story-heavy, Sex & Fury is a great introduction to Pinku violence and Pinku Eiga itself.
Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs (1974)
The film that introduced me to pinku violence movies. Directed by Yukio Noda, known for directing the Furyo Bancho series, Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs stars another legend in Toei’s pinku cinema, Miki Sugimoto, as Rei, a special police agent released from prison to aid in tracking down a wealthy politician’s daughter who kidnapped by a ruthless gang.
Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs is an action-packed thriller filled with many scenes of gratuitous violence and r*pe but behind the films brutality is beautiful cinematography that accentuates the human cruelty portrayed throughout. Miki Sugimoto’s performance as the stone-faced Zero woman is superb as always, projecting an aura of detachment from the depravity she is witnessing. This film may not be for the weak-stomached, but let’s face it, if you are looking for pinku films, you probably aren’t, but is a very enjoyable action thriller with strong elements of pinku violence and a must-see for fans of the genre.
Girl Boss Revenge: Sukeban (1973)
Another film in Norifumi Suzuki’s numerous filmography, Girl Boss Revenge: Sukeban is the fourth in a seven-film sukeban series Starring both Miki Sugimoto and Reiko Ike as an almost inseparable pair in Toei pinku productions. A group of girls finds themselves immersed in an Osaka gangland war when they escape from a detention transport. They form their own gang called The Gypsies.
Though Girl Boss Revenge: Sukeban is part of a series, watching the previous entries isn’t necessary to fully enjoy the story. The film is a masterpiece of mob cinema with the female characters all being badasses who dish out as much punishment as they receive. The frantic, unsteady cinematography of the fight scenes supplements the break-neck speed of the story leading to a non-stop thrill ride of sex and violence.
The Erotomaniac Daimyo (1972)
Go, Go The Second Time Virgin
It seems like a disservice to not mention a production from Koji Wakamatsu and Masao Adachi, as the two emerged from outside of the studio system to help re-invent the genre. Their history and importance is best explored beyond a quick write-up here (I would highly recommend Beyond the Pink Curtain for reference), and there are many films that can be quoted as essential to the genre. However, I am going to take the easy route here and just go with my personal favorite in Go, Go The Second Time Virgin. Two teenagers, survivors of sexual assault, spend the evening on a roof reflecting on their treatment within a society they feel has failed them. Wonderfully bleak and with great insight into the problems facing youth during a turbulent period in Japanese society this one comes highly recommended.
Blind Beast (1969)
Based on the novel Moju: The Blind Beast, written by the influential Edo Rampo. Blind Beast is a surrealist pinku violence film, directed by one of the founders of Japanese new wave cinema, the phenomenal Yasuzō Masumura. A blind sculptor kidnaps an artist’s model and imprisons her in his warehouse studio – a shadowland of perverse monuments to the female form. Here a deranged passion play of sensual and sexual obsession is acted out in a world where sight is replaced by touch.
Blind Beast is an explicit glimpse into unequivocal individualism, unabashed by the taboo subject matter and artistically brutal in its depiction of a sadomasochistic relationship. The film is refreshing to the pinku violence genre to not rely on excessive gore or close-up shots to be controversially violent. Instead, blending stunning cinematography as well as effective use of sound to characterise its brutality, pushes the film forward into something that transcends this genre. In short, Blind Beast is an incredibly evocative piece of cinema.
Mermaid Legend (1984)
From Director Toshiharu Ikeda, known for such classics as Sukeban Mafia (1980), Scorpion Woman Prisoner: Death Threat (1991) and Evil Dead Trap (1988) comes an incredibly deep edition to the genre. Mermaid Legend is a supernatural drama thriller with Pinku Eiga elements starring the incredible Mari Shirato. After being framed for the death of her husband, a fisherman’s wife seeks bloody vengeance on the businessmen responsible.
Starting out rather slow, this poignant drama has a solid focus on unfolding its story. It is serene in its presentation, with beautifully composed cinematography that incorporates the sex scenes conscientiously (though horribly censored). A competent piece of Roman Porno through and through, this production really springs to life in its final act. Evolving into an extremely violent whirlwind of carnage, with breath-taking special effects and masterful use of one-shot cinematography. This film is simply a must-see for anyone, I would encourage fans of pinku or anyone outside of this fandom to take a gander and enjoy this powerful piece of cinema.
Konketsuji Rika (1972)
Based on the popular 1969-73 manga by tattoo artist-cum-author Taro Bonten (arguably one of the godfathers of pinky violence), “Konketsuji Rika” is the violent tale of a mixed race delinquent trying to get by in Japan’s underworld. Rika is the product of a r*pe by an American soldier stationed at a Japanese base during the Korean war and the film is as much an exploration of racism and anti-American sentiment in the early 70’s as it is about the sex and violence of a typical pinku film.
Whilst much of the story focuses on Rika and her upbringing- how a rather average teenage girl ends up becoming a criminal and eventually a sukeban gang leader, the main meat of the film revolves around girls being kidnapped and shipped overseas to be used as “comfort women” for American soldiers in Vietnam. Despite the manga being the basis for many of the themes used by Toei in their own pinky violence films, this film was perhaps mishandled by its choice of director and ends up feeling a little derivative compared to its counterparts from Toei. “Konketsuji Rika” is a very unique, yet flawed, entry into the genre that doesn’t shy away from controversial politics of the time and is worth a watch for this alone.
Play It Cool (1970)
Whilst not as explicit as most pinku films, “Play It Cool” very much tackles the reality of love-for-sale in 1970s Japan head-on. The glamorous Mari Atsumi stars as Yumi, the beautiful yet meek daughter of a brassy hostess. After being r*ped by her mother’s boyfriend, her mother takes matters into her own hands and stabs him to death with a kitchen knife. Faced with an incarcerated mother and legal bills to pay, Yumi gets a job at her mother’s old hostess club. The temptation of ever more money and external sexual pressure soon becomes too much and she eventually starts to prostitute herself.
Whilst the film contains few sex scenes, the unflinching look at exploitation, and prostitution of young women set this apart from other pinku films which use these themes as nothing more than an excuse to show flesh. The film follows Yumi throughout and makes a powerful character examination of a young woman as her personality slowly changes being exposed to a world of sex and greed. It can be a little melodramatic at times with much of the focus on her search for genuine love, but nevertheless packs a punch that makes this more than just your average pinku film centered around hostess clubs.