Tuesday, January 3, 2012

6. BLACK SNOW (KUROI YUKI, 1965)

In the latter weeks of 2011, before initiating this blog, I became fascinated by the pinku eiga ("pink films" or erotic cinema) of the late Japanese director Tetsuji Takechi, notably his genre-forging Hakujitsumu (DAYDREAM, 1964) and his still more dazzling, same-titled remake of 1981 which, in addition to being a great piece of surrealist and erotic filmmaking, was also the first example of hardcore cinema produced in Japan. Seeing this highly imaginative work interested me in seeing more of his sadly few features, particularly his DREAM OF THE RED CHAMBER (1964, reputedly censored to the point of incoherence) and this film, which was banned in its home country for several years on an obscenity charge (dismissed in 1969) that had more to do with its political content than its erotic sequences. This import DVD has no English subtitle option, but there is little dialogue in the film and the story can be followed fairly easily on a purely visual level.

As noted by Jasper Sharp in BEHIND THE PINK CURTAIN, his authoritative history of the Japanese sex film, BLACK SNOW's real offense was political: "the way in which it drew attention to the presence of American soldiers on Japanese soil." The film's main character, Jiro, is the young adult son of a madam whose brothel neighbors a US Army base in Yokota. The story opens with a powerful metaphor for Sharp's observation, as we see the mother relaxing post-coitally with a black Army sergeant, flaunting her plush underarm hair to the annoyance of the Japanese censors, as Jiro spies on them ruefully from above -- an image recalling Edogawa Rampo's "Watcher in the Attic." Jiro's only hope of a normal life is the love he feels for Shizue, the meek and virginal daughter of an elderly driver for the brothel, but his hateful obsession with Americans triggers violence within him. He knifes the sergeant to death and performs other killings as well, including that of a prostitute who turns capitalist; on the afternoon following his first murder, he takes Shizue to the movies, where they both find themselves so aroused by the gunplay in an (apparently) American western that he raises her skirt and fondles her to head-tossing orgasm in the nearly-empty cinema. This scene (33:46), and one other in which one of Jiro's communist cronies tumbles bare-assed off the side of a bed (59:17) after raping a girl offscreen, feature some blunt scissoring even in this print.

The title refers to the memory of radioactive fallout in the wake of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the film's entire attitude toward America is understandably rueful. The brothel is situated inside a cheap hotel on the other side of a fence surrounding an Army airbase; the signs of all the businesses in the vicinity are bilingual and the images of American pop stars (including the cover of Elvis Presley's GIRLS! GIRLS! GIRLS! album) adorn the walls of the ladies' rooms; the soundtrack is shriekingly invaded twice a minute by the sounds of jet aircraft, and only slightly less often by the groaning of the whores under the weight of their US soldier tricks -- as seen through Jiro's eyes, the American possession of Japanese women only personifies and intensifies the corruption brought about by their territorial and cultural arrogance. Though perhaps not as technically impressive as Takechi's later work in color, this is a gripping film with any number of scenes with the power to haunt. The most potent may be the virtually documentary scene of Shizue escaping the brothel from an attempted rape, running naked out-of-doors, across a street, and along the length of the airbase fence for what seems like several minutes. When the actress finally falls to the ground, her breath shows the air to be freezing cold. The film contains some nudity, but in such contexts as these, it's hardly arousing, though its equation of sex with psychological violence explains why this film is considered a pivotal example of its often wicked genre.

Viewed on Hummingbird DVD (Japanese import).

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