Pink Films Vol. 1 & 2: Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands (Japan, 1967) & Gushing Prayer (Japan, 1971)

In their continued effort to bring more quality Asian film titles to the west, Third Window Films is making a foray into the “pink film” genre with a new multi-volume series out this year in Blu-Ray and DVD format. The first two titles in this release are Atsushi Yamatoya’s Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands and Masao Adachi’s Gushing Prayer, two of the most idiosyncratic and radical films in the genre.

The first film, Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands, revolves around Sho (Yuichi Minato), an infamous hitman/detective who is hired by a wealthy real estate agent (Masayoshi Nogami) to rescue his kidnapped girlfriend from a local Yakuza gang. Sho promises to bring her back before the next day is over. He quickly discovers the man in charge of the kidnapping is Ko (Shohei Yamamoto), Sho’s old nemesis and the man who killed his girlfriend many years ago. Sho has sworn revenge on Ko and is determined to get it, one way or another. What follows is a dream-like and surreal cat-and-mouse confrontation between the two that involves a bizarre warehouse and drugged-up women that look like sex dolls. In the end, nothing is like what it appears to be.

Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands is atypical for a pink film in that it contains much less nudity and sex than one would expect of the genre. In fact, it is much more consistent with the yakuza genre, a category that itself has no shortage of nudity and sex. This is hardly surprising, as in addition to his involvement in many other pink films, writer-director Atsushi Yamatoya was a cowriter in Seijun Suzuki’s seminal masterpiece Branded to Kill, released just a few months before. Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands features the same absurdist and dream-like sensibilities, bringing the film’s entire reality into question. It is certainly as daring in its exploration of the form of cinema as Branded to Kill was, even if the direction lacks Suzuki’s expert hand at the helm.

The second film in the box, Gushing Prayer, is a slower, more meditative piece about a disturbed young woman exploring her life and damaged sexuality. Yasuko Aoyagi (Aki Sasaki) is a sexually active 15-year old girl who’s lost the ability to feel sexual pleasure after sleeping with her middle-aged teacher. She and her friends embark on an internal journey to try and understand her troubling malaise, and hopefully overcome it. Unfortunately, nothing she or her friends try seems to work, and in the end, she’s left entirely desensitized without much hope for her future.

Co-directed by Masao Adachi and Haruhiko Arai, Gushing Prayer is much like the first film, atypical for the genre in its depiction of sex and nudity. There isn’t much in the way of plot either, except for the seemingly philosophical meandering of the characters from one spot to another without any rhyme or reason other than a generic sense “rebellion” against the adult world. The film’s message, if it has one, is uncertain and fails to make much of a dent. Just like the young protagonists it depicts, Gushing Prayer lacks the necessary polish or maturity to make an effective strong statement that it so clearly yearns for. The performances are weak and stilted, while the dialogue most of the time resembles a poorly crafted spoken word poem, making the whole thing seem like a student film. Nevertheless, the film does possess a kernel of interesting ideas within its puzzling narrative, especially when put in the context of its time – i.e. the student protests of the late sixties.

Despite their apparent differences on the surface, both films released in this boxset share a common desire to transcend the genre in which they belong and attempt to offer something relevant for their time, be it political or artistic. Though not entirely successful, in my opinion, they remain important cinematic remnants of a movement that still resonates deeply into the zeitgeist. All in all, a worthy addition to any Japanese cinephile’s collection.

Pink Films Vol. 1 & 2 is now available from Third Window Films.