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The Criterion Collection presents
The Pornographers (1966)

"We all want to leave the human race. We want to be free. Our society's taboos prevent us."
- Ogata (Shoichi Ozawa)

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: November 10, 2003

Stars: Shoichi Ozawa, Sumiko Sakamoto, Masaomi Kondo, Keiko Sagawa
Other Stars: Ganjiro Nakamura, Chocho Miyako, Haruo Tanaka, Shinichi Nakano
Director: Shohei Imamura

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (suitable only for adults)
Run Time: 02h:07m:27s
Release Date: August 05, 2003
UPC: 037429178027
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BA-B+ D+

DVD Review

What emotions drive a culture to seek pornography in such a large quantity? Can strict legal regulations stem this urge and keep people from going this route? Mr. Ogata (Shoici Ozawa) maintains a solid business creating 8mm adult films while facing very stringent community rules against him. His movies seem cheaply made and provide very crudely designed situations, but Ogata believes there is a market for the product. His believes in the social need for his work because it provides assistance for humans facing difficult life situations. Ogata also conducts an even more disturbing side job by helping businessmen to connect with schoolgirls. It would seem impossible for this type of guy to have a domestic life, but he does have a family. However, this group's difficulties may overwhelm the problems of his illegal career.

The Pornographers delves into the seedy side of human nature, but it differs considerably from what you might expect from this title. The subject matter covered includes adult films, incest, and pedophilia, but nudity is almost completely nonexistent in this picture. Director Shohei Imamura focuses his films on the "low" end of society and its criminals, prostitutes, and deranged individuals. Yet his directing style varies dramatically from the dark alley, low-budget visions of typical Hollywood creations. We're almost constantly viewing scenes from strange angles that provide only a partial understanding of events. Shots exist from inside fish bowls, through windows outside of buildings, and from cracks near the feet of the speakers. These images generate a voyeuristic tone to the entire proceedings while keeping us isolated from the characters depicted. It becomes more difficult to exactly understand what is occurring, but we also feel uninvited from the conversations and activities viewed.

The central plot focuses on Ogata's relationships with his ailing wife Haru (Sumiko Sakamoto), his money-hungry step-son Koichi (Masoimi Kondo), and his Lolita-like teenage step-daughter Keiko (Keiko Sagawa). The wife is an especially odd figure who believes that her dead first husband has been reincarnated as a carp living in her bedroom. Ogata seems to love his wife, but also acts callously when she begins to grow sicker. Needing additional money to build his own film lab, he gets Haru to sign her business over to him, which creates new problems for him. Ogata's lust for his very young step-daughter is especially distressing, as he spies on her in creepy fashion. We never see the worst moments that might occur between them, but enough is implied to indicate his thoughts for their relationship.

Audiences hoping for a straightforward, linear plot and easily understandable characters should probably avoid The Pornographers. It tests even more open-minded cinephiles with unexplained flashbacks and random scenes that don't always connect with the rest of the tale. I often found myself unsure of the plot and had to read the included text to ensure that my thoughts were correct. Imamura tests our resolve but utilizes an intriguing style that will stick with you for a long time. The mature subject matter and unconventional tone is not for everyone, but it contains enough memorable aspects to warrant a recommendation.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The Pornographers utilizes an impressive 2.35:1 widescreen transfer created from an original print. The digital enhancement works superbly and leaves the picture devoid of any major defects or grainy moments. There are some limitations with this 1966 black-and-white transfer, but the images retain clarity not often seen from this age.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: This release provides an acceptable mono transfer that is understandable given the technological limitations of the time period. The remastered track avoids the humming and foggy sound that sometimes appears on older foreign transfers. The effects and dialogue spring well from the speakers and provide clarity while remaining extremely centralized. It's difficult to expect any more from this type of audio track.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 31 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: This disc's lone extra feature is the original theatrical trailers, which runs for more than three minutes and utilizes the film's 2.35:1 widescreen transfer. The eight-page fold-out booklet falls short of other Criterion offerings, but it still provides some worthwhile material. Its main inclusion is a 1987 article from Village Voice writer J. Hoberman. While it may lack any major supplements, this release remains noteworthy because of the new transfer and its mostly unknown status.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

Criterion deserves credit for releasing a difficult picture that should interest some younger film buffs. However, it fails by not including a more extensive collection of extra features. This story would benefit considerably from a commentary or additional text materials. Criterion generally excels in this area, but this release represents an unfortunate slipup.


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