Masao Adachi is perhaps pink cinema’s most intriguing person. Despite the excellent films he made with the late Kôji Wakamatsu, it’s not entirely to do with his body of work. The revolutionary themes of Adachi’s films carry over into his real life. He was part of the Japanese Red Army, spent a large portion of his life living in Lebanon as a radical activist, and has been in prison more than once. Adachi’s unique lifestyle means that there’s a sadly empty few decades in his filmography. But at least the few films of his available to us are fascinating.
original title: 堕胎 (Datai)
Japan, 1966, Masao Adachi
Postwar Japan saw an influx of basukon eiga: the sex education film. Much like the dubious American exploitation films of the 50s and early 60s, these were films that, in order to bypass censorship, purported to teach but were obviously only out to tantalise their horny audience. Another trait also seen in their American counterparts, these films would often, rather disturbingly, feature genuine birth footage as a way of forcing in educational nudity. Yuck.
Abortion, as you might guess from its title, is a parodic take on the exploitative birth film genre. According to Jasper Sharp’s Behind the Pink Curtain, Adachi was not the only filmmaker to parody the genre. In fact, a slew of abortion films appeared in the late 60s and early 70s. It essentially became a sub-genre of its own.
Abortion centres on an unstable gynecologist played by Mikio Terashima. His name is Marukido Sadao — a play on Marquis de Sade. Sadao is obsessed with birth control and the concept of separating sexual pleasure from reproduction. In his line of work, he’s performed countless abortions, and his frustrations at the men and women that screw without thought overwhelm him. One woman alone has come to him for eight abortions.
His answer to the separation of pleasure and reproduction comes in the form of an artificial womb. Sadao believes that the humans of the future should be grown in labs rather than in their mothers. This clinical approach then frees sex to become simply an act of love or lust. When Sadao steals a fertilised egg from a patient, he discovers that not everyone shares his vision of the future.
Abortion is an exceptionally strange film. It’s not nearly as grim and exploitative as its plot summary and title may suggest, but it’s still unnerving in its themes. Adachi uses a montage of birth footage to open the film and then bombards us with constant scenes of abortion. The abortion sequences are not graphic, but their sheer quantity helps us enter Sadao’s mindset.
In terms of its stylistic approach, Abortion is not as instantly impressive as the Wakamatsu directed pink films of the era. Adachi does not seem to have the same knack for squeezing beautiful visuals out of a tiny budget. But shots are framed nicely and the clinical point-and-shoot nature supports the film’s narrative. It is very much driven by narration and dialogue. Adachi’s main interest is most certainly Sadao’s rants and vision of the world.
This is compelling viewing, no doubt, but perhaps a little too perplexing for those seeking an introduction to the work of Adachi and the pink films of the 60s. For those already versed in this period of Japanese cinema and familiar with the films of Wakamatsu and Adachi, Abortion is a must see.
At this point, Abortion can only be found on VHS, and its release is extremely rare. It’s occasionally uploaded to YouTube and can be found on private trackers dedicated to ultra obscure movies.