Japanese eiga pinku, or pink films, can differ substantially from Western concepts of the pornographic movie. Indeed it is worth separating the concept of the pink film from that of Japanese porno which, whatever the quirks and bizarre fetishes, is analogous to the Western model in its need to ‘get on with it’. However, rather than a peg on which to hang a series of couplings, many pink films actually care about plot, style and even character motivation (that is, motivation beyond carnal ones). In many respects, despite their raison d’etre as sex films, they have a wider interest as narrative cinema. This is as true in accepted art-house pink like Ai No Corrida or Violated Angels as it is in the more underground pink cinema of Tandem or Go Go Second Time Virgin. Raigyo, like the best of its genre, combines independent cinema sensibilities with ‘naughty bits’. If this is a taste of what Salvation’s Sacrament range of contemporary pink cinema is going to be like, there’s some interesting stuff heading our way!
First things first – Raigyo isn’t a film that sets out to titillate. Yes, there are numerous sex scenes and copious nudity abounds, but the film’s bleak themes of protracted and bloody murder linked with pondering longueurs go straight for the arthouse approach. The cinematography changes from moody half lighting to extreme colour palettes reminiscent of Wong Kar-Wai’s Fallen Angels with its harsh green and reds contrasting with cold scenes of blue. Red is also, naturally, much on show in the film’s murder sequences, the most accomplished of which sees our heroine (for want of a better word!) stabbing her lover in the bathroom, his profusely bleeding, pleading body sliding around as she mounts his back and finishes his agonies by throttling him with a shower attachment.
In this one scene the film displays its themes of death, sex and futility in the bathroom, the social and family sanctity of Japanese culture. Indeed the whole film aims to debunk the wholesome and natural aspects of Japanese life. The love of angling shown in the opening sets the tone – the raigyo is a kind of eel, we learn, but one not popular with restauranteurs because they tend to be prone to worms. It serves to represent the tasteful outside and the rancour beneath the surface – the first raigyo we see in any close-up twitches in its death-throes, alight from the flames of oil-polluted water. The next is unceremoniously thrown onto a garage forecourt only to be run over by a customer’s car. The characters, the film seems to be arguing, are no different – the harmony of man with nature is contrasted with pollution, and monogamy with casual, loveless sex.
The film is set in Japan’s industrial heartlands, a far cry from the neon metropolis that often typifies Japanese urban settings. It is the commuter world of salarymen cheating on their attentive wives, of telephone sex dating and casual encounters. Our sub-titular heroine (the "Woman in Black Underwear") Takahara Noriko is a nurse who seeks out a long-lost flame, Mr Tanabe, when her current marriage is on the verge of breaking up. He leaps at the chance but pays her for their afternoon of passion at a love hotel, something that naturally insults Noriko, who had the foresight to pack a long, and very sharp, knife in her handbag. The subsequent police investigation can’t quite piece together the facts and a lot rests on the testament of a local petrol station worker who appears to be willing to stay quiet for certain ‘favours’.
This will not be to everyone’s taste (indeed, probably not many at all!) – but if you want an intelligent, beautifully shot and thoughtful film and can handle the depressing sex and squalid violence, you have an excellent opportunity to spend 75 minutes in the company of Raigyo. DVD extras include a naughty music video and a short film The Japanese Box.