Pinku Eiga, the World of Erotic and Engaged Japanese Cinema


WordsSolenn Cordroc'h

Pinku eiga, which translates literally as pink films, is a film genre that combines eroticism and violence and implicitly dissects the idiosyncrasies of Japanese society.

The genre emerged in the 1960s as a direct reaction to the failure of the Japanese film industry. At the time, Japanese cinemas were showing a record 545 films, but attendance figures were in freefall, due in part to the rapid spread of television in homes. In order to start filling seats again, independent cinema producers decided to make low-budget films. Each film, made in four to six days, which was quite an achievement, had to contain a large number of sex scenes and be no longer than 60 minutes.

Sex, the saviour of cinema

This mass production proved to be prolific, increasing from four films in 1962 to 58 in 1964, and reaching a peak of 250 in 1969. By the start of the 1970s, pinku eiga was considered a highly transgressive societal phenomenon. The Japanese government took advantage of the Olympic Games in 1964 to create a presentable image of Japan and decided to clean up the country in terms of decadent pursuits. Stripteases and strictly pornographic films were therefore banned, which led to a considerable rise in popularity for pinku eiga. The genre avoided censorship by including sex scenes but without entering the realms of pornography. This in-between state is also expressed in the films’ hidden message. The majority highlighted forbidden pleasures, but also expressed an implicit subversive critique of Japanese society, which was deemed stifling and hypocritical.

Beyond entertainment to engaged cinema

Far from simply being erotic films, pinku eiga also dare to express dissenting opinions between sex scenes. This is true of director Koji Wakamatsu, who denounces the American occupation in his renowned work The Embryo Hunts in Secret. He also doesn’t hesitate to give his opinion on the Japanese government’s poor management of the country. A pinku eiga classic, the film is also a powerful visual testimony to the reversal of roles. While the opening scene is generally known for being an example of pinku eiga, depicting a male boss who sexually assaults his female employee, the plot soon switches. The man is shown to be psychologically fragile, while the woman gains the upper hand and asserts herself.

This form of cinema that acted as an outlet in terms of its freedom of tone and production would not survive, however, and was quickly overtaken by the proliferation of pornographic films in video format in the 1980s. But the genre is now experiencing a revival. Director Hideo Nakata’s most recent feature film, White Lily, updates pinku eiga for the modern era. This scandalous story of lesbian love includes, of course, sexual tension at its peak, and there are a multitude of scenes of nudity.