Film | Wide Angle

With 'The Naked Director,' Japan scores a global Netflix hit

by Mark Schilling

Contributing Writer

Since its launch on Aug. 8, the Netflix series “The Naked Director” has become a certifiable hit. Its audience score on the Rotten Tomatoes ratings site is 97 percent, and on the series’ IMDB page, positive user reviews (“Truly amazing, realistic and captivating,” “You will find tears, laughter, passion”) far outnumber the negative.

Netflix does not release audience numbers, so the show’s exact reception in the 190 countries the streaming service covers is something of a question mark. But there is proof Netflix is pleased: It has decided to underwrite a second season.

In Japan, critics and journalists have penned lengthy analyses of the series’ success. A common observation is that “The Naked Director,” which traces the career of 1980s porn director and entrepreneur Toru Muranishi (Takayuki Yamada) and his star actress, Kaoru Kuroki (Misato Morita), could have never been made as a network show here.

For one thing, the explicit sex scenes, many shot with Muranishi directing or participating in the action — in his trademark white briefs, no less — would never pass network censors. The show’s heavily fictionalized story, based on Nobuhiro Motohashi’s book on Muranishi, could have conceivably been made into a film, but the inevitable R-18 rating would have likely meant a smaller release and budget.

But with Netflix, the conventional standards and strictures of the Japanese entertainment business go out the window. Supported by a generous (but undisclosed) budget, a team of writers spent nearly a year crafting a script, with Jason George, a producer on the 2015 hit Netflix series “Narcos,” serving as a consultant.

Supervising director Masaharu Take and episode directors Hayato Kawai and Eiji Uchida had access to a top-flight cast, led by A-lister Takayuki Yamada, as well as the use of an open set that re-created bubble era Shinjuku in meticulous detail. Noting the series’ “high quality,” Hayato Otsuki of IGN Japan says, “‘The Naked Director’ shows Japanese dramas can still compete at a world level.”

However, not all reviewers were enthralled. While calling the series “a raucous, gritty tale of Japan’s pornographic revolution” that “swings between cable comedy and prestige drama,” critic Brenden Gallagher of The Daily Dot noted that “some of the material … would be taboo or even misogynistic by American standards.”

But by Japanese standards, especially in the series’ pre-#MeToo setting, the real-life Kaoru Kuroki, who chose to be a porn actress of her own volition and defended her work as a sex-positive feminist statement, was a one-of-a-kind rebel. Call her version of a sexual revolution wrong-headed, but she defended it stoutly to the national media until her retirement from show business in 1994.

“I believe that Japanese films have to change,” Uchida posted on Facebook shortly after the series’ August debut. “They have to look outward and overseas. This series was made with just that thought in mind. If you haven’t seen it yet, take a look!”

“The Naked Director” is currently streaming on Netflix.