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The Pornographers

by James Hadfield

Special To The Japan Times

Akiyuki Nosaka’s “Grave of the Fireflies,” a harrowing, semi-autobiographical tale of two young siblings fending for survival in the aftermath of World War II, helped him win the prestigious Naoki Prize for literature in 1967.

The Pornographers, by Akiyuki Nozaka.
ALFRED A. KNOPF, Fiction.

The tale will be familiar to Western audiences thanks to Isao Takahata’s superb 1988 anime adaptation for Studio Ghibli, but readers who were enchanted by that film might get a shock when they seek out translations of the author’s work.

“The Pornographers,” originally published in 1963, is the only one of Nosaka’s books that’s available in English (where, confusingly, it’s credited to Akiyuki “Nozaka”). Set in the underbelly of Osaka, it follows the exploits of a band of porn makers attempting to scrape together a living in the days before “pink movies” became a legitimate form of entertainment. Their leader, Subuyan, is a bumbling impresario who spends his time covertly selling skin flicks and nude photos to corporate clients, while attempting to branch out into pimping and arranging orgies — oh, and staying one step ahead of the local police. We’re a long way from Ghibli territory here.

Good-naturedly smutty, “The Pornographers” is closer to the ribald comedy of the U.K.’s “Carry On” series than it is to the erotic fantasias of contemporaries such as novelist Oniroku Dan. And while Nosaka’s novel may lack the formal ingenuity of Shohei Imamura’s freely adapted 1966 film version, as a window into Japan’s kinky past, it’s still pretty darn titillating.

Each week “Essentials” introduces a work of fiction that should be on the bookshelf of any Japanophile.