A couple of weeks ago, I posted an interview with Jasper Sharp, author of Behind the Pink Curtain: The Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema and The Historical Dictionary of Japanese Cinema. Our conversation led me, among many other things, to Pink Eiga Inc. – a company briefly mentioned by Sharp as having released some pink films into the international market. Reading through Pink Eiga’s website and browsing their releases, I was instantly impressed with their obvious passion and effort. Their releases are an interesting mix of pinku eiga from different decades and directors. Pink Eiga cover everything from the genre’s most absurd and silly to more down to earth efforts. Wanting to find out more about this company, I got into contact with their president, Nadav Rechov.
Pink Eiga was founded around 5 years ago. Ayumu Oda, who works with me on these films, gave me a DVD of one of the films – Blind Love – to watch. When he was still living in Tokyo, he had met the film’s director, Mr. Daisuke Goto, one evening in a bar. They got to discussing films and film culture, and stayed in touch. Mr. Goto sent Ayumu a DVD screener of the film, and Ayumu spent a good few weeks of his spare time subtitling this film so I could watch it too.
As soon as I was done watching the film, I was thirsty for more! The acting was great, the camera work was inspiring the story extremely clever, and despite the obvious budgetary constraints I felt like the creators had accomplished so much with so little. From that point on, I had become a Pinku enthusiast, and began watching as many of them as I could! This led to the idea that we should distribute these films. I consider Pink Films a unique genre and rare subculture that combines well-crafted film-making with the independent spirit that is long gone anywhere else, and vowed to try and grant them the bigger, wider audience they deserved. When you see a great film, you tell all your friends to see it too, right? That, in a nutshell, is what we set off to do.
How do you source these films? What is your relationship with the pinku companies that produce these films?
We get the films directly from the Japanese production companies. We currently have a very good relationship with these companies, as we’ve been bringing over directors, actresses and crew to events in the United States in the past 3 years, and that has gained us much respect in the Pink “industry”. Many of these creative professionals have dedicated their lives and careers to Pink Films, and have literally received no recognition for their contribution to the genre. We’re slowly changing that…
Were pinku production companies surprised that someone in the United States wanted to release these films?
[laughs] That’s the understatement of the week. These production companies have been making these films for 50 years. During the most popular times of the Pink Film’s history, approximately 2/3 of all the films made in Japan each year were Pink Films. But, there was never any thought about preservation or actual marketing done for these films! And they were never seen abroad or distributed internationally! The films played in triple bills (3 Pink Films back-to-back-to-back) in specialized Pink theaters in Japan. A handful of prints were made for each film, and they travelled the country. Once their run faded out, they were forgotten, as new films were already there to replace them.
From a business perspective, this is a remarkable release strategy: Of the thousands of these type of films made, no Pink Film has ever lost money. Show me a big Hollywood producer that can match that type of record!!! But, for us it actually ended up being very challenging – the production companies were happy to sign a distribution contract with us, but none of these films has a trailer. Most of them have poster art, but that usually consists of a semi-naked woman over a color background, which has nothing to do with the film and is not something that has international appeal… and so on.
I can truly say the Japanese were very hesitant when we approached them – they did everything but ask us “why would anybody outside of Japan want these?” But, I have to hand them credit for believing in us and agreeing to play ball. If it wasn’t for their cooperation and help, none of this would have happened!
You’ve released some really interesting titles, including some very essential pinku films like entries from the Groper/Molester Train series and some excitingly odd stuff like A Lonely Cow Weeps At Dawn. How do you go about picking pink films to release? Do you specifically go after individual films?
That’s usually one of the bigger challenges for us. We literally have a library of 350 Pink Films that we have release rights to, and choosing the ones that get a release is a big responsibility. I consider this process similar to going to the dog shelter and picking out a dog (pardon me for the tasteless comparison). There are tens of dogs at the shelter. Some get taken to homes and will grow old in a loving environment, but the ones that don’t find a home… well… you know how that one ends. All of these Pink Films currently reside in a world of obscurity, and it’s only our releasing them that somehow elevates them from that and brings some sort of attention to their existence.
We factor in personal taste, the film’s genre and quality of the film. We’ve been trying to introduce a wide amount of genres, to show people that Pink Films aren’t just generic erotica films: we’ve done Ninja films, comedies, social dramas, a vampire film, art house titles, etc.
You mentioned A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn – that film was a personal favorite of mine, and we decided to release it despite thinking that its commercial potential was very limited. It was simply a film that I felt “had to be released” – even if we’d lose money on it. In all actuality, it surprised us all and became one of our best sellers, and a great ambassador for modern Pink Films and the social issues they present.
For someone new to pinku eiga, what films in your catalogue would you recommend as a good starting point?
Wow… that’s a tough one. Each and every one of our films is great. Of course, I’m biased so what do I know… the answer isn’t really simple. Imagine if someone asked “what’s your favorite film?” I have a good 50 films I can think of, in a variety of genres, that are my favorites, but it’s very hard to pick one to top the list. With that in mind, this would be my Pink list of favorites:
A great starter film is Blind Love. That’s the first one I saw and fell in love with, so it feels like it’s an easy “way in”.
Drama and social issues abound in A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn.
An art house film from Takahisa Zeze, a Pink director that went on to be a very influential filmmaker: Anarchy in Japan(ty).
I’m sorry if this is too long of a list. I honestly believe that all 20 of our releases fit this bill, and its always hard for me to recommend one over the rest.
What has the response been in terms of selling these DVDs? Have you built up a reliable customer base?
We’ve built a very loyal customer base. I think we were all surprised to discover how many people love Pink Films. We’ve seen customers buy one or two of our titles, and then contact us asking for all of the other ones. In a few short years, we’ve made a name for ourselves in the cult world!
I’m very proud of our DVD releases – we try to put interviews, directors commentaries and many extra materials on these DVDs. I recall when we created the surround sound 5.1 version for Tsumugi we were all very proud of this achievement. The films we get from Japan are all mono audio, and creating a surround 5.1 was not an easy task. We had sent a copy of this out to Japan and the production companies were very impressed with our work – we had enhanced their original film! We get fan mail from customers that has lots of praise for our extra materials, and that’s always very rewarding for us, and helps in expanding our customer base.
Your website offers films both as DVD and as VOD, which do you find sells better?
Currently, DVDs are still selling better. We’re in the middle of releasing 20 new titles that are VOD-only titles. It’s exciting to be one of the only distribution companies to use this “new” technology in this manner – although we’re scared that our DVD customer/fanbase might not love this idea… time will tell.
Pinku films were produced very quickly and, I suppose, were considered disposable films. I’d imagine that sourcing decent prints for these films would be near impossible. Have there been any films you’ve decided not to release due to unusable prints?
This is actually our biggest problem. Many of the transfers we get from Japan are, for lack of a better term, crummy. The levels are all over the place, the image is dirty, the sound is scratchy and the colors are washed out. Many of the film transfers were done to D2 tape in the ’90s, before the negatives were vaulted, and these are the masters we’re working off. Sigh. We have the digital means to enhance these films a bit, but the purist in me won’t allow it. It seems ironic to spend a month fixing up a film that was shot and edited in 2 weeks.
Most of our fans have learned to accept the fact that the quality of our films is not as good as the bigger Hollywood productions (that cost thousands of times more). I consider them to be true “Indy” productions – and that goes hand-in-hand with ‘roughness’ around the edges.
[Note: Since this interview, I’ve watched a few of Pink Eiga’s DVD releases and I found the video quality to be perfectly acceptable. It’s amazing that these films have DVD releases at all, and while the video quality is not stellar and often tape sourced, they are still perfectly watchable! Personally, I think the roughness suits them. Go in with the appropriate expectations and you’ll be satisfied.]
Pink films tend to be (not always, but usually) much more interesting than their Western softcore counterparts. What is it about pink films that elevates them above being “just porn”?
I think “just porn” has problem justifying why it is they’re doing what they’re doing. Pink films have a much stronger connection between the story and the sex acts. People don’t just do it: they do it as a plot point! Also, since Pink Films are considered “avant-garde” productions in Japan, the producers gave the directors lots of creative freedom. Some of these films are loaded with social commentary and criticism that you won’t find in regular Japanese productions, and surely in no American erotica. A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn deals with dementia, growing old and the personal sacrifice of dedication to loved ones. Is there any equivalent in Western erotica? Debbie Does Dallas?
I have a lot of respect for DVD distributors that go the extra mile with their releases by going out of their way to include interesting bonus material on the discs. That certainly seems the case with your releases. For example, the release of Anarchy in Japan(ty) has a commentary by the legendary Takahisa Zeze. Were the extras on your discs produced exclusively for your releases? If so, were directors and actors open in talking about their past work?
The creators are thrilled when we ask to interview them! For example, take Mister Pink (Yutaka Ikejima). He has been working in Pink Films for over 20 years now. He’s acted in over 500 films and directed over 120 of them. And yet- despite acting in more films than De Niro and Sean Connery put together, and directing more films than anyone in Hollywood – nobody knows him outside of his industry colleagues in Tokyo. His outlook on life and specifically about Pink Films is uplifting and creative. His answers to our questions are funny, sexy and professional. I think that the commentary he did with actress Yumi Yoshiyuki for Twilight Dinner was amazing! We shot that on a couch at the Pink Eiga offices in Hollywood. After the commentary recording was over, they had both came up to myself and the crew and thanked us for the interview. They both said that we are great, because we’re “pumping new life” into Pink Eiga.
I see creating extra materials content as a mission – we are the ONLY company releasing these films. They have one shot to get out of the Tokyo vaults and see an international release. Our objective is to create the best possible release that will accompany the film, out of respect for the film’s creators and the film. We know this takes a long time and cannot be quantified, but it’s extremely important to us. Going back to Twilight Dinner, which I mentioned earlier – as soon as I saw it, I knew Pink Eiga would release it. It took us about a year and a half to actually release the film – because it took us that long to gather the extra materials. The film was ready to go in 2 months, the rest of the time was spent on creating the extras.
Do you have a release that you’re particularly proud of? Or a pink film you particularly enjoy?
Like I said – they’re all my favorites! But Twilight Dinner is a great DVD release – the extras alone are worth the price of admission. S&M Hunter Begins is a great VOD release, especially for fans of the S&M Hunter series (and really, who isn’t?) and Blind Love is a great starting point. The bottom line – If you only see one Pink Film this winter, it should be… ALL OF THEM!
What is the future for Pink Eiga? What future releases are on the horizon?
We’re releasing another 16 films in the upcoming months. Some of these are truly amazing films!
Our next four releases are:
Mourning Wife (director Daisuke Goto’s The Postman Always Rings Twice story)
The Secret in the Attic (A time-period mystery directed by Genre “king” Akira Fukamachi)
Semen Demon (starring the hot-hot-hot Reiko Yamaguchi. I came up with the title, so feel free to consider it horribly tasteless)
Sexy S.W.A.T Team (a screwball comedic James Bond parody that takes itself very lightly. Directed by Mototsugu Watanabe, of Sexy Battle Girls and Whore Angels fame)
And there are 12 more films slated to be released as VOD-only titles throughout 2013.
To find out about Pink Eiga’s new releases, see their trailers, buy their DVDs, stream and download their films and even find out contextual information about the pink genre, visit www.PinkEiga.com.
For Pink Eiga’s Pink Theater site, visit www.PinkEiga.com/VOD.
For updates and active conversations with other Pink fans, Nadav recommends joining Pink Eiga’s social networks:
Facebook: PinkEigaInc (each film also has an individual fan page with active discussions, extra content and reviews)
Huge thanks to Nadav for the interview! I heartily recommend picking yourself up one of Pink Eiga’s fantastic releases. They are truly a passionate distributor worthy of your support. And in a world of soulless DVD and blu-ray releases, that means a lot!