The Japanese Film Festival (JFF) is one of the oldest country-based film festivals in Singapore, and this year marks the 55th anniversary of Singapore-Japan relations – aka “SJ55”. What better way to celebrate this friendship than with a unique line-up of contemporary and classic Japanese films?
The Panorama lineup – to be screened at Shaw Theatres Lido – showcase a wide variety of genres, from the futuristic sci-fi title Arc (2021) that explores the age-old conundrum of living forever to a light-hearted tale of time travel in Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (2020) and a thriller about the supernatural in The Night Beyond the Tricornered Window (2021). Fans of anime will get to see Satoshi Kon The Illusionist (2021) and Nishino Akihiro’s Poupelle of Chimney Town (2021).
JFF will also feature 7 director Q&A sessions, starting with the opening film, It’s a Summer Film! (2021) which is a coming-of-age story surrounding a group of budding teenage filmmakers. Rounding out the offering is a showcase of films by director Ryusuke Hamaguchi – including Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (2021) and the 5-hour-long film Happy Hour (2015) – to be screened at the Oldham Theatre.
One of the more unusual lineups this year are two Roman Porno films, selected to highlight the risqué genre of “pornos” that were a big part of a moviegoer’s journey in Japan in the 1970s.
What is “Roman Porno”?
While it’s often referred to as a “pink film” because it’s a theatrical film that includes nudity (hence ‘pink’) or deals with sex, Roman Porno retains an emphasis on soft-core narrative. The term “Roman Porno” is said to be a combo of “romance” and “porno”, so in essence, it has a plot or storyline.
Pink films, with its nudity, naturally dominated domestic cinema from the 60s to the 80s. During the 70s, a major movie studio called Nikkatsu was on the brink of bankruptcy, so it started jumping in on the pink film trend by focusing almost exclusively on pumping out Roman Porno films.
Nikkatsu’s first Roman Porno series release was Apartment Wife: Affair In the Afternoon (1971) which became a huge hit that inspired 20 sequels within 7 years, setting the standard for the genre for the next decade.
The genre allowed directors a wide latitude if they included a certain number of sex scenes – with important bits censored as per Japanese broadcast rules – in their films. While they sound crass on the surface, these risque films merit value as nostalgia, genuine art form, and a unique style of retro kinkiness in storytelling. They also launched the careers of many now-respected arthouse directors, including Hideo Nakata of Japanese horror classic The Ring (1998), and Yojiro Takita, director of the Oscar winner Departures (2008).
These Roman Porno films were low-budget, approximately 80-minute-long films often shot in a week. The visual style and storytelling make them a unique part of Japanese film culture. Nikkatsu pumped out almost 1,100 titles until May 1988 – it was overpowered by the highly popular straight-to-video adult films.
Back in 2016, Nikkatsu kick-started the Roman Porno Reboot Project, commissioning five of Japan’s top filmmakers — including Sion Sono (director of the cult classic Suicide Club) and Hideo Nakata — to make short features in the classic “Nikkatsu Roman Porno” format for theatrical release.
Watch Roman Porno titles in Singapore
This year, the JFF presents a rare chance for audiences in Singapore to catch two of Nikkatsu’s original titles: Lovers Are Wet (1973) and Night of the Felines (1972). Obviously, the films are rated R21 for mature content; they’ll be screened at Shaw Theatres Lido (tickets available from the cinema’s website).
Lovers Are Wet (Sat, 16 Oct; 8.30pm)
Director Tatsumi Kumashiro is the undisputed king of Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno, and Lovers Are Wet fits the ‘angry young man’ narrative about the destructiveness of male sexual opportunism. Kumashiro’s bleak vision is punctured by humour and depravity, serving as an angry swipe against Japanese censorship. In certain scenes, black boxes cover explicit nudity as an intentional artistic choice by the filmmaker.
Synopsis: Upon returning to his hometown, Katsu – on the run for yakuza and laying low – starts working in a local theatre specialising in soft porn. He starts an affair with the theatre owner’s wife Yuko, but soon wanders away and meets a young couple – the man invites Katsu for a foursome. Throughout the film, nihilistic Katsu spends much of his time trying to dissociate himself from his past and his connection to his town as he indulges in the pleasures of the flesh.
Night of the Felines (Tue, 12 Oct; 7.00pm)
The is the second Roman Porno work by Tanaka Noboru, considered one of the masters of Roman Porno who fully exploited the social and psychological possibilities of the genre. This film explores the problematic field conditioned by sexuality and money.
Synopsis: This film focuses on Masako and two other “felines” who work at a bathhouse with prostitution service in downtown Tokyo called “The Turkish Paradise”. The felines are pawns for the Yakuza pimps, and they start losing control over their own existences as they’re passed from one client to the next. The film deals with an interesting love triangle. Masako has a sexual relationship with her bisexual neighbour Honda, whose other lover happens to be a male prostitute called Makoto who has recently fallen in love with a young woman.
Shaw Theatres is also running a JFF Bundle Sale, available for rent at $25 for 14 days via Kinolounge, which consists of Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, Satoshi Kon The Illusionist, Lovers are Wet, and Night of the Felines.
This year’s edition of JFF Singapore (7 – 31 October) is a hybrid of Physical and Virtual Screenings, with online Q&As with directors and a Masterclass. Tickets and more info are available at https://jff.sg.