I love that pink cinema can be a place where careers begin rather than end. More specifically, I love that pink cinema can be a place where Yasujirô Ozu is lovingly paid tribute.
OLDER BROTHER’S BRIDE
original title: 変態家族兄貴の嫁さん
(Hentai kazoku: Aniki no yomesan)
Japan, 1984, Masayuki Suo
1. Abnormal Family is the first film, and only pink film, directed by Masayuki Suo. Suo would go on to direct the hugely popular Shall We Dance? (1996) — which would go on to be remade as a Richard Gere vehicle.
2. Abnormal Family stars the legendary and prolific Ren Ōsugi. In his long and varied career, Ōsugi has collaborated with everyone from Takeshi Kitano to Takashi Miike. He even stars in a feel good kitten movie.
Happily, Abnormal Family turned out to be more than just a career curio.
The story centres on the Mamiya family. On the surface, the Mamiyas seem like an average, even dull, family. Shukichi (Ren Ōsugi) is a middle-aged widower who still pines for his wife. His oldest son, Koichi (pink legend Shirô Shimomoto), has just married Shuzo (Haruhiko Fukano). The young couple have loud sex, which is listened in on by Koichi’s siblings, Kazuo (Kei Shuto) and Akiko (Miki Yamaji). Akiko is furious about her future — where she will be expected to marry some boring guy. Kazuo likes to eye off his sister’s panties.
Shukichi regularly visits a local saloon where he gets wasted and tells the mama-san (Usagi Asô) of her likeness to his dead wife. This is nothing remarkable, as he seems to see this resemblance in practically every woman he comes across. The cold Koichi lives a salaryman life. Shuzo tends to him and puts up with his odd sexual leanings. Akiko gets a job at a massage parlour. In an odd aside, her first customer is Koichi, her brother.
Though it gently pokes fun at the Ozu aesthetic, Abnormal Family‘s deconstruction of stagnant family life moves beyond parody and is, at times, genuine and complex. This is not the grimy, mean-spirited filth I’m used to discussing in Nihon Nihilism articles, but Abnormal Family can be legitimately bleak at times. And there’s also some weird bondage stuff and piss play.
Masayuki Suo directs the film with incredible restraint. With a narrative that is a mixed bag of Ozu’s most famous stories, Suo allows scenes to linger and his actors to underplay every line of dialogue. Cinematographer Yûichi Nagata recreates Ozu’s long, unmoving and carefully constructed shots with near perfection, and Yoshikazu Suo’s score is uncomfortably sentimental, which works wonders in a jarring kind of way with what is actually happening on screen. It’s easy to forget this is a pink film — until you get the requisite blowjob-through-undies shot.
Even without a familiarity with Ozu’s work, I’d imagine that Abnormal Family would be an engaging viewing. This is a rock solid pinku with a level of artistry that only the best of the genre manage to achieve. Films like this are the reason pink cinema is so fascinating and rewarding. It’s a chance for directors to do essentially whatever they want with no fear of audience reprisal. Sure, the budget is nothing impressive and they have to throw in a certain number of sex scenes, but the creative freedom is still much more substantial than mainstream cinema. If you dig your films pink, try and track this one down.
Abnormal Family has sadly not been made available on DVD outside of Japan. Your options: a Japanese DVD with no subtitles and, if you’re lucky enough to find it, a Hong Kong VCD with subs (and likely horrific video quality).