Toru Muranishi is back: The adult-video auteur with the outsized underpants and monstrous ego on a mission to liberate the world from prudishness.
Netflix’s “The Naked Director,” a fictionalized biopic of Japan’s most outrageous porn provocateur, caused a minor sensation with local audiences when it debuted in 2019. Scabrous and outrageously explicit, the show also boasted production values that left most homegrown network TV offerings looking amateurish in comparison.
It was the first time the streaming giant’s original Japanese content had felt like a genuine alternative, yet it proved to be a cheap thrill. Once the initial frisson had worn off, “The Naked Director” played mostly like an inferior retread of earlier paeans to the American porn industry. It was “Boogie Nights” without the pathos, “The People vs. Larry Flynt” without the higher sense of purpose, and enough of a hit for Netflix to commission a second season.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||8 episodes|
|Language||Japanese with English subtitles|
The story picks up in 1990, just as Japan’s economic bubble is about to pop. Toru (Takayuki Yamada) and his Sapphire Pictures production company have risen to the top of the adult entertainment world, while star actress Kaoru Kuroki (Misato Morita) — she of the aristocratic diction and unshaven armpits — has made an unlikely transition to mainstream celebrity. Meanwhile, former right-hand man Toshi (Shinnosuke Mitsushima) is trying to adjust to his new life in the criminal underworld, after being coerced into joining the yakuza.
Following an unsuccessful run for political office, Toru sets his sights on something grander: satellite TV, a new technology that promises a future in which “sex will rain down from the sky.” But as he ramps up his already prodigious output while making increasingly reckless investment gambles, he starts to alienate those around him, including business partner Kawada (Tetsuji Tamayama).
Kaoru, meanwhile, is frustrated at having to play poster girl for Toru’s operation when she’d rather be getting in front of his camera (the director, you see, also stars in many of his own movies). It’s only a matter of time before she vacates her throne, and new recruit Mariko Nogi (Yuri Tsunematsu) looks like a worthy successor.
As with the first season, the characters mostly take a back seat to Toru’s clashes with the establishment, which is repeatedly shown to be populated by venal, self-interested hypocrites. But the satire is as crude as Sapphire Pictures’ films; it’s hard to imagine any of Japan’s moral guardians squirming at the way they’re depicted here.
There’s still fun to be had in the details, like the insights into how a porn company handles accounting, or the moment an inexperienced actor accidentally gives rise to the “face shower” subgenre (say no more). It’s a pity the attention to period minutiae didn’t extend to the soundtrack, which was crying out for a few J-pop hits from the era, rather than Primal Scream and The Chemical Brothers.
The show’s rampaging comic tone deflects deeper engagement, and it breezes past the more problematic aspects of the adult entertainment industry (Toru’s use of an underage actress is laughed off, when in reality it sent him to jail). To complain that a drama about the porn world was crass and exploitative would be missing the point, but “The Naked Director” never seems to aspire to anything more than that. The director’s clothes aren’t the only thing that’s missing. He’s empty inside.
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