The Tokyo Reporter

Tokyo’s ‘pink’ Ueno Okura Theater goes out in style

The original Ueno Okura Theater

TOKYO (TR) – The Ueno Okura Theater held closing ceremonies last Saturday to commemorate its nearly five-decade run as Japan’s most highly regarded venue for soft-core “pink” pornographic cinema.

Management cited safety concerns and aesthetic problems resulting from its aged interiors as the reason for the closing. A new theater opened across the alley this week.

On its last day, a gathering of industry talent discussed the role the two-screen theater, located in Tokyo’s Taito Ward, played in shaping the legacy of pinku eiga, or pink films.

“I debuted at the age of 24,” said 54-year-old-actress Moe Sakura. “That is not really young in this business but it shows that I have been working for a long time. So I know the history of pink eiga. My life is the pink eiga life, and today’s closing of this theater is a substantial point in history.”

The Okura originally opened under the Toei film company in 1951. A decade later it screened “Flesh Market,” a tale of bondage and torture directed by Satoru Kobayashi that is typically considered to be Japan’s first pink film. By 1971, it was entirely dedicated to the pink genre.

Pinku eiga dates back to the 1960s. Usually running for 60 minutes, the films are made by small companies like Okura Eiga, which operated the Okura, and differ from conventional porn fare in that the stories are more broadly developed.

Okura Eiga supplied the theater with the latest films, which were screened under the motto “everyday and all night,” on a frequent basis — a key to developing its fan base.

Despite its quick-and-dirty nature, the genre is not looked down upon by mainstream Japanese cinema. Aspiring directors, who are unable to break into one of the major studios, will often look to pink eiga for their start. In the 1960s, Koji Wakamatsu (“The Pink Godfather”), whose period war film “Caterpillar” opens today, got his start in the pink field.

“Pink eiga has few requirements, which allows the director individual freedom to develop his craft,” explains Chika Minagawa, an author and film critic. “Conversely, adult videos will allow for almost no freedom at all for the directors, as almost every scene requires some form of sex.”

In recent years, the decline of the Okura was obvious. The uneven floors were cracked and patched, and the concrete walls had been left raw and only covered with tattered posters announcing upcoming features.

The new building offers three screens and the latest cinema interiors, including comfortable seating and access for the handicapped.

Director Kinya Ogawa, 76, who was an assistant on “Flesh Market,” believes that with the large number of promising directors currently in the field the industry is in good hands, yet he is not ready to step down. “I’ve made 412 films in my career,” said Ogawa. “But I still have it in me to make more.”

The event also featured an autograph session with the assembled luminaries and the screening of two works by Ogawa, including 1968’s “The Dismembered Ghost,” the story of a husband who is haunted by the ghost of his first wife.

General manager Hidekazu Saito was only slightly nostalgic about the closing, instead preferring to face forward. “It’s been a nice run,” he said. “But now it is important that we look into the future and begin a new era.”

The original Ueno Okura Theater

(Photo by Tokyo Reporter, July 17, 2010)

The original Ueno Okura Theater

(Photo by Tokyo Reporter, July 31, 2010)

The original Ueno Okura Theater

(Photo by Tokyo Reporter, July 31, 2010)

The original Ueno Okura Theater

(Photo by Tokyo Reporter, July 31, 2010)

Facebook Comments