Review: ‘The Pornographers’

Aleksandra Koluvija reveals why ‘The Pornographers’ is a film that is well worth watching.
Directed by Shôhei Imamura, 128 min.

Mesmerising. Eccentric. A classical masterpiece with mesmerising eccentricity. Nothing more needs to be said about The Pornographers, but than again it would be a shame not to do so.

Directed by Shôhei Imamura in 1966 the plot is based on the novel by Akiyuki Nosaka. Its protagonist is Subuyan (Subu) Ogata – a small-scale merchant and producer of 8mm porn films in Osaka. Being Imamura’s first movie for his own production company, it is a disclosure of his passion for irrationalism, kinkiness and neurosis. In a cynical and mischievous way Imamura created a comedic drama and a masterpiece in conservative Japan.

While the film does not include nudity or adult content, it is free of the shame and constraints of conservatism. The film shows the human race behind the curtains of restraint. Each family has dirty secrets, and so do the people around Subu (Shoichi Ozawa). He lives with the widow Haru (Sumiko Sakamoto), her son Koichi (Masaomi Kondo), her teenage daughter Keiko (Keiko Sagawa), and her dead husband, who is reincarnated as the household pet carp. The family becomes disturbingly mesmerising when we learn that Subu is in love with Haru, but lusts after her daughter Keiko. Everything about this family seems idiosyncratic. Their relationships seem to be in no way abnormal for outsiders, but most of the kinkiness and neurosis is taking place right under the watchful eyes of the carp.


The Pornographers is a true classic that focuses on the intersection between normality and perversity. Mentioning subjects such as incest, orgies and prostitution, while at the same time showing the thin line between moral and amoral characters. The viewer will have to find out on their own if Subu is psychotic freak or not. Subu, considered a master of erotic filmmaking by his assistants, spends much time arguing about taboo topics with his team, while at the same time being much of a driving force of them. At the same time, he can be the dislikeable hero of the film. Pornographic films are banned, but demand is high. Through making porn films Subu financially supports his family, whilst always being in danger.

Beautifully shot, it shows vivid symbols of inner emotions of the characters. Through brilliant simplicity it reveals how people grow darker and stranger, when situations create enough room for it. As so much as everything and nothing happens, the characters change and become more neurotic.Imamura has so much to say in this film; it is masterpiece of a blunt family drama with nothing to hide.Showing subjects that are even taboo today, not to mention in 1966 or in Japan, the film was simply ahead of its time. Much of it is so subliminally and yet visibly provocative that this classic will remain interesting for many following generations.

Mesmerising. Eccentric. This film might take you on a black and white psychedelic trip into the darkest reality of our kinky world.


Tags from the story
berlin film society, japan, Shôhei Imamura, the pornographers
Aleksandra Koluvija
Written By
Aleksandra Koluvija
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