Japan’s sex industry is huge, diverse and different. One oddity, at least to Western eyes, is the pinku eiga (pink film), a genre of soft porn made according to certain rules (the most important being the inclusion of a simulated sex scene every 10 minutes or so) and shown in specialized theaters. Pink films, which range from black comedies to serious (if porny) dramas, have gained a small but enthusiastic foreign following. One of the most enthusiastic — British critic, programmer and occasional Japan Times contributor Jasper Sharp — in 2008 published “Behind the Pink Curtain,” a wide-ranging history of not only pink films but sex cinema in Japan.
Absent from Sharp’s book, as well as from much foreign fan discussion, however, is the career of Tadashi Yoyogi, better known as Yoyochu, a pioneering, influential maker of adult videos (AVs) and the subject of Masato Ishioka’s fascinating, highly instructive documentary “Yoyochu: Sex to Yoyogi Tadashi no Sekai (Yoyochu in the Land of the Rising Sex).”
This is not surprising, since AVs are often thought of less as cinema than sex aids, while their makers get little respect from many in the mainstream film world. Some such straigh filmmakers, however, such as yakuza-movie maestro Rokuro Mochizuki and Ishioka himself, have AV experience.
I must admit that my own acquaintance with AV, including Yoyogi’s 536 films to date, is slight (insert eye rolls and skeptical smirks here) — which is why I found Ishioka’s brisk, thoroughly informed explication of Yoyogi’s fabled career and the history of the AV industry as a whole so enlightening.
Born in 1938 in Kokura, Kyushu as Teruo Watanabe, Yoyogi grew up tough and wild in the chaos of postwar Japan. After running with a local gang and getting into trouble with the police, he tried to go straight, becoming a flower arranger, of all things. But the pull of the mob was strong — and he left Kokura to escape it. Arriving in Tokyo, he finally discovered his metier at an early pink-film company.
Then in 1972, while working for a subcontractor for Nikkatsu — a formerly legit studio that was then a porn-industry leader — he found himself being prosecuted for obscenity, though he was only a line producer on the busted film. (The director, a family man, asked him to take the rap since Yoyogi already had a criminal record.) Though the trial dragged on until 1980, he was finally declared innocent and kept making films, by now as a director.
The big change in the industry — and Yoyogi’s fortunes — came with the start of the video boom in the early 1980s. Quickly grasping the potential of the new medium for more spontaneous and realistic portrayals of sex, he directed bold-eyed beauty (and later hardcore star) Kyoko Aizome in her first adult video, 1981′s “Inyoku no Uzuki (April of Lust),” in which she melted the brains of men throughout Japan with a performance in the futon that didn’t look like a performance at all.
Yoyogi followed up in 1982 with “Dokyumento za Onanie (The Onanie),” a documentary-style film that began with the director, off-screen, introducing a woman to her first vibrator and finished with a highly convincing orgasm. Sales were again explosive — and the industry followed where Yoyogi had led.
Over the next decade Yoyogi continued to push boundaries, but less in the direction of raw exploitation, more in a personal search for the psychological and spiritual realities of the erotic. Think Henry Miller with a camera. One crucial difference is that, where Miller’s sex writings were from his priapic male point of view, Yoyogi earnestly tried to understand the needs and fears of his actresses. In his unscripted dialogue with them he often sounds more like a counselor or therapist than a porn maker trying to juice the action (though that was undeniably his intent).
At the height of the bubble period, Yoyogi went further into uncharted — and strange — territory, including channeling and hypnotism, while making investments in a Micronesian resort project that, with the bursting of the bubble in the early 1990s, went spectacularly bad. Faced with crushing debt, Yoyogi fell into depression — but eventually returned to work with enthusiasm. Today he is still at it, still the social rebel, but with the craggy, white-haired look and calm, self-assured manner of a porno sage. Think Hugh Hefner minus the pretension.
Ishioka, whose 2000 fiction feature “Pain (Scout Man)” is one of the most honest films about the porn business, is obviously a Yoyogi fan and disciple — in fact, he apprenticed under the director. At the same time, he probes into the more controversial parts of Yoyogi’s career, including a popular series of brutal- looking (if carefully staged) rape videos, with a gentle persistence that makes his old teacher occasionally and rightfully squirm.
Moralistic, however, this film is not. But it made me want to learn more about Yoyogi — and the, ahem, art of AV. (Cue final eye roll.)