TOKYO (TR) – On May 5, a full house inside the Ueno Okura Theater enthusiastically paid tribute to the form of soft-core pornography known as pinku eiga (pink films).
In its 25th year, the Pink Grand Prix, as hosted by industry publication PG, awards the top actors, actresses, directors, and personnel responsible for keeping the highly influential genre alive during 2012 — a challenging feat in the current marketplace.
“To be honest, there have been empty seats (at this event) the last couple years,” said editor Yoshiyuki Hayashida during the ceremonies held on the stage of the theater, which is located in Taito Ward. “But today it is filled. The energy and passion you feel today will drive pink films forward.”
Known for its short, low-budget, erotic films churned out mainly by independent studios, pink films reached their peak of popularity roughly four decades ago. At that time, more than 1,000 theaters screened the industry’s output of approximately 200 films. According to Hayashida, that figure had fallen to 41 films in 2012.
One of those films was “Hotel Hooker: Sumptuous Chest,” in which Yukiko Suo plays a call-girl who has an unexpected encounter with a young man in the street. Suo took home one of the three Best Actress awards, while Yutaka Ikejima, known in the industry as “Mr. Pink” for having helmed over 100 productions, collected the Best Director prize.
Usually running for less than one hour, the films are made by small companies and differ from conventional adult videos (AV) in that the stories are more broadly developed.
While the beginnings of pink films can usually be traced back to director Satoru Kobayashi’s 1962 black-and-white torture production “Flesh Market,” the first non-stag film in Japan to introduce nudity, Tetsuji Takechi’s fantastical trip to the dentist in “Daydream” from two years later, is often considered more inspirational due to its mainstream release and battle with government censors over visible female pubic hair.
Despite their quick-and-dirty nature, pink films are 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”) got his start in the pink field.
Times, however, have changed. According to Hayashida, since film budgets have not increased over the years many directors today are forced to supplement their work with projects in other genres or industries.
The Okura, which is one of the four theaters remaining in Tokyo, might be the industry’s true bright spot. In 2010, the theater abandoned its decrepit facility nearby and moved into a modern complex at a cost of a few hundred million yen, according to general manager Hidekazu Saito, who hopes better times lie ahead.
“Through real spirit we were able to carry out the ceremony today,” said Saito. “Even though people are saying that the industry is doomed, we will continue to make sure that it survives.”