Abnormal Family (Japan, 1984) [JAPAN CUTS 2018]

Suo Masayuki became known to international audiences with his delightful sumo drama Sumo Do, Sumo Don’t (1992) and his hit drama Shall We Dance? (1996), the latter of which received the Hollywood remake treatment. Less well known, however, are his previous pinku eiga works. Suo was not the only one working within the genre: Kiyoshi Kurosawa and others, who later contributed to what was called the 1980s and 1990s ‘New New Wave’ of Japanese cinema (to differ from the 1960s New Wave), started their careers within pinku eiga as well. The rule for Nikkatsu softcore and other softcore film producers was that the directors were free to do whatever they wanted with the story and style of the film, as long as it had a sex scene every 10 minutes. Sex scenes were quite hot, but did not show the actual penetration, and displaying pubic hair on camera was not allowed. Pinku eiga provided many fledgling young filmmakers with the means to support themselves, and a useful opportunity to get acquainted with filmmaking techniques. The best examples of the genre from this period are interesting, often humorous experiments with proper plots and fairly rounded characters that offer the actors room for some real acting.

Abnormal Family is all of this. It is even more – a pastiche in Yasujiro Ozu style. The story, about a daughter-in-law within her husband’s family, and the father’s alienation from his children is pure Ozu, whose films were all a variation of the same themes. The story follows especially closely Ozu’s Late Spring (1949). Complications for the middle-class Mamiya family start when older brother Koichi (Shiro Shimomoto) brings home his sexually voracious bride Yuriko (Kaoru Kaze). Younger brother Kazuo (Kei Shuto) sexually longs for Yuriko as well. When Ozu’s young women were office workers, family’s daughter Akiko (Miki Yamaji) has quit the office and now works in a bathing facility. Meanwhle the alcoholic father lusts after a barkeeper, like the fathers do in so many Ozu films. Ren Osugi, who passed away in February 2018, and is familiar to many from Takeshi Kitano’s films, does a delightful imitation of Chishu Ryu playing the father figure in Ozu’s films. The actors perform in typical unnatural Ozu style, with eternal smiling and stiff poses, often two figures turned to the same direction in similar poses. The camera is positioned to shoot from a low angle, and the setting is a typical traditional house, with carefully selected objects on sight.

The opening settles into the Ozu mood: the haiku type written depiction of the daughter-in-law, the title page and credits of the film against the handmade Japanese paper. Next follows ‘empty’ shots of the Tokyo Tower, with the typical summer clouds in the background. The family home is established to be downtown Tokyo, with people walking, and we are inside the traditional wooden house, with the family members sitting around the low table on the tatami mat, dressed in summer yukatas.

Suo’s film can be situated within the 1980s and 1990s popular sub-genre of family dramas, which were satirical and ironic depictions of Japanese family. The rapid industrialization broke the traditional large family structures, where several generations lived under the same roof. Younger generations had to head to big cities for work. This change to American style nuclear family structure produced satires, but also nostalgic longing for the traditional family, like in the Tora-san series (1969–1995). Suo’s contribution was to continue satirically in the Ozu style, with Ozu being the ultimate family drama director of Japan while also fulfilling the needs of a typical pinku eiga audience.

Abnormal Family is showing on July 27 at JAPAN CUTS.