If there is one thing the annual Shinsedai Cinema Festival is all about, it’s pushing boundaries. I recently spoke with the festival’s co-founder and co-director Chris MaGee, and he told me that this willingness to break the rules is what he loves about Japanese film. Perhaps most daring of all, however, is the festival’s first-ever screening of a double bill of erotic “pink films“.
Shinsedai, which is Japanese for “new generation”, was founded in 2009 by MaGee and Jasper Sharp, both “j-film” lovers who wanted to showcase talent from Japan’s indie film scene in North America, as well as expand Canadian viewers’ notions of what Japanese cinema is. A crucial and exciting part of that indie film scene is the pink film genre.
Bringing Pink Eiga to Toronto
Pink films, or Pink Eiga, are independently-produced, low-budget erotic films, usually an hour in length, and innovative in style. They put strong emphasis on erotica, though all of the onscreen sex is simulated.
MaGee and Sharp had wanted to include pink films in the festival since its inception, but they had to be sensitive to their audience’s tastes. “Our previous venue, and a portion of that audience, would have been pretty offended by some of the content in these films,” says MaGee. “There still may be people out there who could potentially be offended by these films, but we spoke at length with our new venue, The Revue Cinema, and they’re standing behind us in our programming choice.”
The pink eiga double-bill in question features two films very different in tone. “Sexy Battle Girls is totally tongue-in-cheek and very, very funny and campy in parts, and New Tokyo Decadence: The Slave, while it has no real connection with Ryu Murakami’s original film Tokyo Decadence, it is pretty entrancing.” The script of New Tokyo Decadence, MaGee adds, was based on the life of its lead actress, Rinako Hirasawa, and her introduction to the world of BDSM. “Imagine a more explicit version of Steven Shainberg‘s film Secretary and that will give you a good idea of what to expect,” says MaGee.
Meet Jasper Sharp
MaGee tells me the growing understanding and respect for this genre is largely thanks to the scholarship of Jasper Sharp. “Jasper has really schooled me in the genre, as he’s done with thousands of people around the globe. His book ‘Behind the Pink Curtain: The Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema‘ has become the bible for information on pink films.”
An early model for pink eiga stipulated that they must feature erotic scenes every ten minutes. Beyond that, the filmmakers are allowed enormous creative license. They can have plots dealing with just about anything, from radical politics to classic Japanese stories, MaGee explains. “A lot of filmmakers were, and are, attracted to the genre for that huge amount of creative latitude.”
One fascinating by-product of the pink film genre is how it has been producing some of Japan’s most talented filmmakers, including Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse, Tokyo Sonata), Masayuki Suo (Shall We Dance?), and Yojiro Takita, who went on to direct the Oscar-winning film Departures.
The Blurry Pink Line
MaGee understands how unorthodox this would seem to North Americans. He tells me the pink film genre emerged as a new place for filmmakers to hone their skills in the 1960s, after Japan’s studio system fell apart. He suggests there was also less stigma surrounding erotic cinema in Japan than in North America. “You would never have seen a guy like Gerard Damiano, the director of Deep Throat, go on to win an Oscar or a Grand Prix at Cannes…When I had the chance to interview Yojiro Takita after he’d won the Oscar and I asked him about his pink film past he simply replied that it was his job as a director to make the best films he could. If he made an erotic film, he would make the best erotic film he could make. The same goes for horror films, gangster films, etc. Get past the boobs and the bums and there is some ingenious filmmaking in the pink genre; most of it done on a razor thin budget.” MaGee says there is a very blurry line between the pink film and straight jishu eiga, or “indie film”, scenes, especially since the filmmaking talent moves freely between the genres. “Again, there’s not the stigma, so it’s almost better to think of pink films as indie films that include strong sexual content.”
Bring Your Open Mind
MaGee and Sharp approached the fetish clothier NorthBound Leather to be their community co-sponsor, feeling it was important to connect with Toronto’s sex-positive and fetish community. To make things even more interesting, any audience member that shows up to the screening in fetish-wear or adult fancy dress will get in for $8 instead of $12. “It’ll hopefully make for an interesting crowd. Add to that that there will be some burlesque thrown in the mix, and some action onscreen spilling off screen and it will be a pretty amazing night.” To that he adds the qualifier: “The action coming off screen will not be sexual. That’s an important point to stress.”
MaGee advises viewers to come to the screening with an open mind. “There are two scenarios. One in which everyone realizes and respects these pink films, get into the spirit of them and the double bill and leave the theatre having had a great time walking on the wild side. The other scenario would be that we stir up some controversy, a little bit of moral outrage, and that’s good too. People should get excited about film, and sometimes it should take you into territory that you wouldn’t normally go to. That’s the job of any good film event. To push those boundaries sometimes.”
The Shinsedai Cinema Festival runs July 12 to 15 at the Revue Cinema, and double-bill Sexy Battle Girls and New Tokyo Decadence: The Slave are screening on Saturday, July 14, starting at 9:30 pm. Visit the website for more details.
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