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The Pornographers

An odd, compelling film about exploitation and voyeurism, 1966's The Pornographers uses an occasionally confusing film-within-a-film technique to examine the unusual life of a dirty-movie maker named Subu Ogata (Shoichi Ozawa). Having made the transition from upstairs lodger to lover of the widowed Haru (Sumiko Sakamoto), Ogata must deal with her spoiled college-age son, Koichi (Masaomi Kondo), who resents the man who took his father's place — and seems to have a few unresolved Oedipal issues of his own. Haru's daughter, Keiko (Keiko Sagawa), has far more kindly feelings towards Ogata — but his feelings for Keiko have started taking a decidedly carnal turn. His relationship with Haru is further complicated by her insistence that her late husband has been reincarnated as their pet carp — and the rest of his life is an endless stream of scheming and deception as he tries to stay one step ahead of both the law and some gangsters who want a piece of his action. Shohei Inamura's film takes a sly jab at his own career — the first picture made for his own production company, it's notable that the beleaguered protagonist is a director of naughty movies — and is a clever exercise in examining the voyeuristic nature of the film medium. Many scenes are shot utilizing frames within frames, through half-open windows, sliding doors, or from across the street — in one beautifully composed shot, Ogata wheels and deals with some businessmen who want to buy his 8mm porn while in the next room, through an identical window, we see a room full of the businessmen's unsuspecting female employees. These scenes create a sensation of "peeping" at the characters, who are in turn usually engaged in procuring pornography or surreptitiously spying on each other. A black comedy with broadly drawn characters, the film occasionally pushes the limit of comfort; hired for a lot of money by an aging businessman to film a "virgin" having sex with an older actor, the schoolgirl Ogata's acquired for the scene turns out to be retarded — the scene's punch line is that the actor having sex with her is actually her father. The film's final half hour is intriguingly bizarre, with Haru having a full-fledged breakdown (accompanied by music segueing from an operatic aria to surf guitar) and Ogata attempting to cure his resulting impotence at an orgy — then, failing that, building a mechanical sex doll fashioned after Haru. It's a strange, fascinating, beautiful, and creepy movie. Criterion's DVD release of The Pornographers offers a new, high-definition anamorphic transfer (2.35:1). As usual, Criterion has done an exemplary job restoring the film, and the result is clean and crisp with deep, rich blacks and a gorgeous range of grays. The Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack was mastered from an optical track then cleaned up digitally — and it's very clean, indeed. The film is presented in the original Japanese with a newly translated English soundtrack. The original theatrical trailer is included, plus an insert with an essay on the film by Village Voice scribe J. Hoberman. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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