Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Hakujitsumu (1964)

... aka: Daydream
... aka: Day-dream
... aka: Träume im Zwielicht (Twilight Dream)

Directed by:
Tetsuji Takechi

In 1962, director Satoru Kobayashi made Nikutai no Ichiba ("Flesh Market"); the first official Japanese film featuring both sex and nudity and made decidedly for adult audiences, and thus the "eroduction" genre (or as it would later be called, the "pink film" or "pinku eiga") was born. Kobayashi's film became a huge hit playing in more underground venues. Made for another independent production company, Koji Seki's erotic adventure Jôyoku no dôkutsu (called "Desire in Cavern" on the original poster and also known as Cave of Lust) soon followed. Then came Tetsuji Takechi's Onna onna onna monogatari (1963), a nudie pseudo-documentary featuring strippers, geisha and the all-important female wrestlers, which became the third pink film and was also the first of such films to get a release in America (under the title Women... Oh, Women!). Under whatever title, the film was another moneymaker. Takechi was then allowed to make a follow-up. Though it came two years after the inaugural pink, Hakujitsumu ("Day-Dream") was the first of its kind made on a big budget and the first of its kind to receive an extensive marketing campaign. The production company went all out; wide-releasing it in its homeland, getting it a screening at the Venice Film Festival and issuing it theatrically in numerous other countries, including here in America. In fact, it ended up doing so well on the sexploitation market in the U.S. that it was re-issued a second time with new color dream sequences added by distributor Joseph Green (of THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE fame).

Things open with statements from both the writer of the source story and the director, who notes the political nature of the film and justifies the unclothed scenes by explaining "... nudity stands as much for man's extreme situation as it does for human alienation." The credits feature white paint oozing down and being squirted onto a wall, accompanied by a female's moans. We're then in a dentist's office for more unsubtle sexual imagery like the sounds of drilling, gurgling, spitting and people being probed in the mouth with fingers and phallic dental instruments as the camera tilts this way and that way and shoots everything from odd angles and large circular lights and fans are positioned around like giant eyeballs gazing upon all the action. In the waiting room, Mr. Kurahashi (Akira Ishihama) is waiting with an infected tooth when Cheiko Hamuro (Kanako Michi) comes in. He's intrigued by the quiet young beauty and can barely keep his eyes off of her. Both he and Cheiko are then called back to the dentist (Chojuro Hanakawa) and his nurse (Yasuko Matsui) at the same exact time. In preparation for getting his tooth yanked out, Mr. Kurahashi is given a shot of anesthesia and drifts off into la-la land for a bizarre fantasy.

Kurahashi envisions the dentist biting Cheiko and drinking her blood. Next she is a meek nightclub cabaret singer at the whim of her dominating and abusive manager / lover (played by the same guy who plays the dentist). He takes her home, ties her up, slaps her around, removes her shirt and bra with a scalpel and scissors and then plays a game of "electricity" with her by wrapping wires around her arms and shocking her. Kurahashi has to sit and watch the whole thing play out from outside the window. In a brief color interlude, the mean lover rubs blood on her chest. Next, Kurahashi is on the playground and Cheiko is a monkey on a leash that he confess his love to before she vanishes. The mean lover rips her clothes off numerous times, she turns into a mannequin after sex, throws a pillow at a black cat drinking milk off the floor and runs through a department store naked. I'm sure it all has something deep and profound to say about sex or love or gender roles or male insecurity or obsession or something. Or maybe it's just an excuse just to show tits and ass. It's rather difficult to tell.

Like many other experimental / surreal films, I found this pretty tedious to sit through. The soundtrack (frequently incorporating distorted sounds, echoing sinister laughter, string plucking, weird sci-fi beats and a shrill dentist's drill) is annoying in the extreme. There are lots of long unbroken shots of the same repetitive actions; some lasting minutes at a time for no apparent reason. It's all nicely photographed and there's some good imagery in here from time to time, but it's wasn't enough to hold my interest. But hey, if you're the type who likes to watch numerous 30-second shots of someone having water squirted on their face with a water pick, 1-minute shots of blank screens, a minute of an anguished face barely visible in the darkness and over three minutes of someone trying to run down an escalator going up, then this may be the movie for you. The new color scenes added by Green for the U.S. release - which were spliced in throughout the film - featured full frontal nudity and more explicit soft-core sex starring extras wearing masks, probably to disguise the fact they're not Japanese. For the record, I viewed the original version as intended minus that footage.

Hakujitsumu is notable also as the very first sex film to fall victim to Japanese censorship. As most exploitation connoisseurs know, the Japanese have no issue allowing all manner of twisted perversions and oddball fetishes to pass into their popular entertainment, but for the longest time had a law forbidding showing genitalia or even pubic hair  That began right here when a brief glimpse of down-there-hair was censored with a white dot. For decades afterward, filmmakers had two options in regard to full frontal nudity: either film it as they wanted and have the censors either pixilate or fog out the offending areas, or try to shoot around it. Numerous films opted for the latter but then tried to make up for that by showing basically everything but the private parts and / or upping the perversion to insane levels.

Takechi followed this success up with Kōkeimu (or, "Dreams of the Red Chamber") the same year, which was attacked by the censors, stripped of over 20 percent of footage and made incoherent in the process (the removed footage has since been lost). The following year, he made the highly-political Kuroi yuki ("Black Snow," 1965), which stirred up a ton of controversy in its homeland after Takechi was arrested and tried on obscenity charges, which were later dropped after other artists came to his defense. Takechi would continue to make sporadic pink films through the late 60s, disappeared for much of the 70s and reemerged in 1981 with a more explicit remake of Hakujitsumu, which became the first theatrical release in Japan with hardcore sex. His final film; also blending graphic sex with horror, was yet another partial remake: Hakujitsumu 2 (called either "Captured for Sex" or "Daydream 2" in the U.S.); which was his final film. He passed away in 1988, but certainly left an indelible mark on Japanese cinema while he was around.

All of Takechi's Hakujitsumu films were based on a short story (written in 1926) by Jun'ichirô Tanizaki, who supposedly did not like Takechi's adaptation of his work and didn't live to see the others (he died the following year). In 1965, the same story was filmed in South Korea under the title Chunmong ("Empty Dream"). Brief nude scenes (which were removed prior to release) led to the arrest of that film's director, Yu Hyun-Monk, as well.


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