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Film / The Pornographers

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The Pornographers is a 1966 film directed by Shohei Imamura.

Ogata is, as the title indicates, a pornographer. He makes distinctly scuzzy, low-grade 8mm films which he sells directly to his customers, mostly older businessmen perverts. He also sells dirty stories and does a little side business in pimping, getting prostitutes to pretend to be virgins for those same older businessman perverts. Despite trafficking in gross sleaze, he believes himself to performing a public service, helping frustrated, lonely people to satisfy their secret urges. Things are getting difficult, however; the cops are onto him, and worse, the Yakuza are extorting him out of a big chunk of his profits.

His personal life is even messier. Ogata is in a long-term common-law relationship with Haru, a 38-year-old widow who keeps a barber shop. Haru is under the impression that the soul of her dead husband is currently residing in a carp that she keeps in a fish tank, and her carp husband is not thrilled about his wife having a lover. Ogata is a quasi-stepfather to Haru's two children. Her son Koichi, now of college age, has an unnatural, quite Oedipal fixation on his mom. And worse, Ogata is deep in lust with his nubile 15-year-old stepdaughter Keiko, who is a very wild child.



  • Big Breast Pride: Ogata's buddy tells him that Keiko showed up to get her stuff. Then he says "She was showing off just like this," and he mimes thrusting out his chest.
  • Black Is Bigger in Bed: Or in this case, American is bigger in bed. The gang is screening one of Ogata's pornos. Someone asks "Is that a real American?" There's laughter, an obviously rude remark that doesn't get an English subtitle, and then someone says "You can see by the size."
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Ogata's partner in the porn business says women aren't worth it, and claims that "doing it yourself is much better."
  • Distant Finale: A five-year Time Skip reveals that Haru's children have done surprisingly well by themselves—they've restarted the family barbershop as a hair salon and Keiko the former orgiast and prostitute works there as a hairdresser. Ogata for his part has spent five years on a tiny little houseboat making a sexbot.
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  • Establishing Character Moment: In his first scene Koichi charges into the bedroom, says he's cold, and dives under the covers with his mother. He is a grown man.
  • Fan Disservice: Haru's robe opens, exposing her breasts. While she's having a total mental breakdown, screaming, raving, and hallucinating.
  • Foreshadowing: Koichi snarks that Ogata will wind up turning Keiko into a prostitute. She does become a prostitute, but it isn't his idea.
  • Incest Subtext: Koichi has a disturbing relationship with his mother. There is the incident mentioned above under Establishing Character Moment where he crawls into bed and snuggles with her when he's cold, despite the fact that he can't be younger than 18 or 19. (The actor was actually 24.) Then there's another scene where he complains of a stomach ache and Haru rubs his stomach, her hand under the covers, in a scene highly reminiscent of a handjob.
  • Jail Bait: 15-year-old and extremely sexually mature Keiko. Ogata wants sex with his stepdaughter. A bartender at the bar propositions her. By the end she's working as a hooker.
  • Japanese Delinquents: If the yakuza weren't bad enough Ogata is further plagued by Keiko's group of teenaged delinquents, whom she directs to rob her stepfather's operation. They get caught and sent to reform school.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: As Ogata loses everything—his lover dies, his stepdaughter rejects him, his films are seized by the cops, his career in porn is wrecked when his old friend steals all his equipment and joins the yakuza—he also becomes impotent. He goes to an orgy in an effort to get his motor running again but that fails. And to add insult to injury he sees Keiko there at the orgy having sex with someone else.
  • Mood Whiplash: It has already become obvious that Haru's mental state is deteriorating by the time of Ogata's last visit. But she seems well, and they talk about her getting released, and they wind up having sex on her hospital bed. The setting is weird but it's also oddly romantic, as they sit together affectionately after—until she takes the cigarette he gives her and puts it out in the palm of her hand. She then proceeds to have a wild-eyed, screaming, hallucinatory mental breakdown.
  • Nature Adores a Virgin: One of the slimier of the slimy pervert businessmen who purchase Ogata's wares demands that Ogata get him a virgin to deflower. He says that he's never been the first for any girl, not even his wife, and he wants to be. And if that isn't gross enough he says that if he doesn't get his wish he's going to attack a school girl. Ogata gives him a prostitute who specializes in "fake virgin" roleplay, as well as a fake doctor's certificate establishing her virginity.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Ends with Ogata's little houseboat, basically a shack on a raft, coming unmoored and drifting off into the open ocean, where presumably he will die.
  • Painting the Medium: The very last shot, as Ogata's houseboat drifts off into the ocean, has the film constricting from widescreen to the much smaller dimensions of an 8mm film like Ogata's pornos. The last dialogue are people apparently watching the movie, as if The Pornographers actually was one of Ogata's pornos. They say stuff like "Do you understand that guy?" and "I don't get it" before someone else says "Let's watch the next one" and the movie ends.
  • Parental Incest:
    • Easily the most disturbing scene comes when Ogata and his sad little crew are enacting a "schoolgirl rape" story. The actress playing the schoolgirl won't respond to any of their directions, and when they ask the man performing with her says that she's "a little slow." That's already creepy but it gets much much creepier when it turns out the man is her father. And he rewards his mentally challenged daughter with lollipops.
    • Then there's Ogata and his stepdaughter. Keiko loathes him but lets him kiss her a couple of times. Then, oddly, she offers to take Haru's spot as his wife and calls him "daddy" (flashbacks establish that he was her father figure since she was a little girl), and he's about to have sex with her...but then she asks for money. It turns out she's in a brothel and working as a prostitute. Ogata leaves.
  • The Peeping Tom: Ogata the creep peeps on Keiko while she's changing.
  • Reincarnation: Haru is convinced that her husband's soul resides in the carp she keeps in a fish tank, and it appears she is right. Multiple scenes with Ogata and Haru in bed are shot from the carp's POV. At one point an irritated Ogata chucks the carp in the river, and it somehow reappears in the fish tank. Bizarrely, Haru's death scene is shot with the carp somehow observing from above.
  • Running Gag: The carp that houses the spirit of Haru's husband. Ogata is annoyed by it. Haru leaves written prayers against the tank. The carp watches Haru and Ogata having sex. When Haru is hospitalized the carp is placed in her room. At her funeral, the carp is there, still swimming in its tank. As Haru's voiceover reads out the terms of her will (Ogata gets nothing, other than a wish that Keiko would marry him that won't happen), there are two carp relaxing together at the bottom of the river.
  • Sexbot: The end of the movie has Ogata coming up with a realization that a sexbot is far easier to deal with and more rewarding than a flesh-and-blood woman. So he sets out to make one, although the "machine" that he names Haru is still a work in progress as the movie ends.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Well, Ogata's porn doesn't seem very sexy. But in any case, we don't see any of it.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: It becomes obvious that Haru is losing her mind in a scene that seems to start out normally, with her son visiting her at the hospital. Then he introduces her to his girlfriend...who is at the far end of a very long hallway. As the girlfriend walks slowly down the long long hallway the lights blink off a couple of times, and when they come back on each time the girlfriend is wearing less clothing. By the time she's finally walked up to meet Haru she's wearing only bra and panties and hose. Haru is clearly hallucinating.
  • Victorian Novel Disease: It's not particularly clear what Haru dies of. There's a mention of her heart, but she's only 38 years old.
  • Yakuza: Ogata's business difficulties grow steadily worse over the course of the film. One big problem comes when the Crow Gang of yakuza show up and extort him for a huge amount of money.

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