It's Japanese, but it's not what you'd think from the title. It's a documentary about Masaru Konuma, one of Nikkatsu's Roman Porno directors.
It's also interesting, funny and even almost sweet, although of course it includes lots of clips from Konuma's films, to which very different words apply.
I've talked about Nikkatsu Roman Porno before, of course. The studio was in such trouble when the 1970s rolled around that they stopped making non-porn movies and were negotiating with the unions about how to save the studio. Eventually they settled on Roman Porno. These were softcore pornography, but made by Nikkatsu's regular staff (except for the people who quit) at Nikkatsu's higher production values. Konamu has said there was no difference except budget between these and regular pink films, mind you. The rules of a Roman Porno were as follows:
1. Sex scene every ten minutes (but I think this was flexible).
2. Budget of the equivalent of about 100,000 dollars.
3. 60-70 minutes long.
4. All dialogue and audio would be dubbed in post-production, allowing three films to shoot at once in the same studio and other financial savings. It's like going back to the silent era. Apparently it might be chaos when someone yelled "Action", so Konuma used to time his to start three seconds after the next production's "Action".
5. No artistic restrictions. If you hit your quota of sex scenes, Nikkatsu didn't care.
Anyway, we meet lots of directors, writers, actresses and other production people. They're all lovely. Konuma is downright cuddly, which makes it weird later on to see one of his actors saying that his eyes used to "shine like an animal's". "Like the eyes of a wolf that is about to attack." Everyone agrees that he had hate-filled eyes and one of his ex-wives (and his leading lady) cheerfully says that he'd be the same at home. An assistant director says he wanted to murder him three times, while there was apparently an actress on whom he was so tough that they expected her to commit suicide.
(Konuma tells a story about shooting a scene to indulge an armpit hair fetish, in which the cameraman was unhappy but the lighting director sympathetic. He thinks this kind of tension was creatively fruitful, saying that he doesn't think you necessarily get the best results if everyone's just obeying unquestioningly.)
However at the same time, he was loyal to his people and never asked anyone to give any level of commitment that he wasn't giving himself (i.e. total). He "never betrayed an assistant director". I don't know what that means, but apparently he never did it. His focus was on imagery, sound and tempo, with a fellow director saying he once studied Konuma's trailers to try to understand why they were so good. They'd be stronger than they would have been if he'd been concentrating on the story.
The clips are remarkable. Lots of nudity, of course, but more than that, this looks like startling cinema. They start with Woman in a Box, which is as dodgy as it sounds but nothing in comparison with the clip they've chosen from Woman in a Box 2: Wife Collector. Bloody hell. That had me cringing on the sofa. There's lots of bondage, because that was Konuma's trademark, although of course he wasn't the only one. Apparently Chusei Sone was hardcore dark sadism, Konuma was softer and Noboru Tanaka had a different aura of darkness. Um. Moving swiftly on...
Incidentally the documentary's title refers to what one's like inside, when shooting begins. Are you a secret masochist or a sadist? I won't give the verdict on Konuma, but someone does say that "he knows more about S&M than most directors."
...and then, after all that, we see him shooting Nagisa
. I've seen that. It's modestly charming, if a bit pointless. It's set in a seaside town, it stars young teenage girls and it's a low-key mainstream Japanese film with absolutely no sleaze or sex at all. We see Konuma acting out snippets of scenes so that his young star can imitate him. I still don't know why Konuma chose to make Nagisa
, but it's rather nice to see him behind the camera after we've been hearing about him for an hour and a half. He seems charming. He's this rumpled, gnome-like little man and one's main reaction to seeing him on the job is to reflect that he just seems normal.
It's easy and fun to get carried away with all the colourful stories and slightly disturbing fetishes of all those Roman Pornos, but at the end of the day, Konuma seems like a good and thoroughly professional director who gets on excellently with all the people with whom he's reunited from the old days. Some of the stories we hear are funny enough that even the camera crew start laughing. (When Konuma was a small boy, the nearest thing they had to erotic visual entertainment in his town was footage of a woman giving birth.) The actresses have some great tales, e.g. the maggots. Konuma gets compared with a turtle that lives somewhere foetid (eh?) and a vampire, but after talking to him here for an hour and a half, you'll like him. He's lovely.
Naked girl receiving cunnilingus to the accompaniment of jolly comedy music: "I'll be late for school!"