When I interviewed Jasper Sharp, author of Behind the Pink Curtain, last year, I mentioned that I was visiting Tokyo soon and whether there were any pinku theatres still in operation that I could visit. Sharp mentioned Ueno’s Okura Theater; an OP Eiga owned theatre recently reopened and refurbished with a steady stream of clientele. My (luckily Japanese speaking) partner and I decided a pinku experience was a requirement for our holiday.
Only a few hundred metres from Ueno station, the giant lettering of ADULT MOVIES leads you down a small side street to Okura Theater. The exterior of the theatre is swamped in typical modern erotic imagery (that in no way represent the movies it shows). Half naked girls and posters for coming attractions litter the walls alongside the daily schedule. An odd cutout of a pinku actress with a jacket wrapped around it (I’m assuming a movie prop) sat outside the opening, much to the delight of the many grim old men circling it.
An appropriately sleazy facade, but behind Okura Theater you’ll find a rather lovely picturesque backdrop. Only a few steps away is a beautiful lake, usually filled with families enjoying the view…
With the lurid posters that didn’t look much different to AV video covers (and at this point being unaware of the name “Okura Theater” and expecting to read “OP Eiga” somewhere), we weren’t sure if we were in the right place. But as we walked in, dodged the small swarms of salivating men and saw the word “pinku” spattered about, we breathed a sigh of relief. We were shown by a sweet elderly (and very much out of place) lady how to buy tickets from the machine – a somewhat pricey 1600 yen – and after a quick trip to Okura’s stunningly clean toilet facilities, we were ready to be treated to three pinku films.
Now let me preface the remainder of this article with this: I have never entered any form of erotic or porno theatre in my life. I don’t say this to place myself on some sort of moral pedestal, rather I need to point out that I don’t really have a Western comparative to the pinku experience. I have no idea if porno theatres elsewhere are physically filthier, but when we entered the cinema, I was instantly impressed with how nice the screen and seats were. I expected cum-streaked seats. Instead, I got a modern and sleek cinema with a screen bigger than the mainstream Shinjuku cinema I watched The Toxic Avenger in. It was almost cozy – if you ignored the sweaty salarymen guzzling beer and toothless old guys.
The lights dimmed and the first feature flickered onto the screen. An ominously cheap title sequence of black text on white appeared with the title: スケベな住人 昼も夜も発情中 (Sukebe na jûnin: Hiru mo yoru mo hatsujô-chû) – roughly translated by my partner to Perverted Tenants – In Heat Both Day and Night, a pinku from 2010, directed by the prolific and award-winning Tetsuya Takehora. My Japanese is practically nonexistent, so I watched this film (and the two that followed) with limited understanding. The basics of the narratives were fairly easy to understand and a breakdown from my partner afterwards filled in the gaps.
Perverted Tenants opens with an idiotic duo (played by Kenji Iwatani and 毘舎利敬 – I can’t find a Romajified version of his name anywhere), who we later find out are brothers and ex-yakuzas, discussing their rent with their female landlord. With a bloodied tissue up her nose, she demands sex for their board. After a brief attempt at a threeway, they decide this is not the arrangement for them and they make their escape leading to a series of jokes involving characters running around without pants. The idiot brothers then move into a new place with a whole slew of silly housemates. There’s the landlord who spends all of his time in the garden (Tomohiro Okada), a slutty insurance agent (Yuria Hidaka), a stereotypical nerdy girl who studies all the time and threatens people with pencils (Riri Kôda) and a dark and brooding handsome guy (Atsushi Tsuda). Along the way, they discover a beautiful and unconscious woman (Chloe Fujisaki) washed up on a beach. (In a pretty funny moment, the idiot brothers are convinced she is a mermaid because of a fish biting onto her toe.) The beautiful woman moves into the house and, of course, pines after the brooding handsome guy. But brooding handsome guy has a dangerous past that is catching up with him.
Perverted Tenants was mostly entertaining. Clearly a lot of fun was had making the film and even a few of the uninterested old men in the theatre gurgled out a few chuckles. There were no real surprises: conveniently placed objects covering phalluses, goofy action and cheesy gags ran rampant. But surprisingly the film was dialogue heavy and low on sex scenes, so low that I was sure it wasn’t meeting its pinku sex scene quota. I was also shocked at the appearance of uncensored pubic hair, which I can’t remember ever seeing in a Japanese film.
For the bulk of the film’s running time, I found myself forgetting that I was in a pinku theatre. That is, until the appearance of particular salaryman who made the pinku experience that little bit more special. A shockingly normal looking guy who vaguely resembled Shinya Tsukamoto came into the cinema about halfway through Perverted Tenants. After searching through a few aisles, he took a seat an aisle in front of us to our left and on the edge of the walkway like us. He placed his suitcase over his crotch and spent a good ten minutes sneezing and coughing while taking loud slurps of a beer in-between. Then during the film’s intense final sex scene, he noticed my partner and I. I’m not sure if he wanted something from us or whether he was simply distracted from his cruising by the odd sight of a gajin and a girl in a pinku theatre, but he spent the last part of the film staring us down. He would glance over, very obviously, stare for a few moments, then return to the screen, then instantly back to us, then back again. This was repeated over and over until he suddenly stood up before the film ended – mid-sex scene even – and left. We assumed that would be the last of him. It wasn’t.
Anyway, the second feature fired up – a particularly hideous video transfer that looked like a multigenerational bootleg, but the Shintōhō logo mustered some anticipation. The film’s new title translated to something like Want the Body of the Housemaid, but after some internet research, I found that it was a film from 2000, originally titled 痴漢家政婦 すけべなエプロン (Chikan kaseifu: Sukebena epuron) – which roughly translates to Housekeeper Molestation – Sexy Apron. Directed by another pinku legend, Akira Fukamachi, Housekeeper Molestation contained a far more simple plot than the first feature, so much so that I barely needed any further clarification from my partner. To put it bluntly and stupidly, this is a tale of a man and his sexy fish. In Housekeeper Molestation, a salaryman husband (Hiroyuki Kawasaki) brings home a goldfish. His sex-starved wife (Mayuko Sasaki) is unimpressed, while his daughter (Shiori Kawamura) is more interested in getting intimate with her creepy boyfriend than a fish. The wife leaves her husband and his beloved fish disappears. All is not lost though: a sexy housekeeper (Yōko Satomi) arrives to help our heroic salaryman husband with housework (and to have sex with him, of course) in place of his wife. But there’s something strange about the housekeeper, especially her bright red goldfish-like dress and her strange bathtub behaviour.
Housekeeper Molestation was far more straight faced than Perverted Tenants and, mostly due to its simple plot, I enjoyed it a bit more. With its melodramatic family based plot and mayonnaise bottle masturbation scene, this was more what I’d expect from a pinku. The sex was far more regular and clearly the audience approved as the sounds of shuffling, grunting and coughing got louder during the skin scenes. However, Housekeeper Molestation did shock me by keeping a rape scene offscreen. I never thought I’d see that sort of restraint in a pinku eiga. I was also surprised to see, once again, uncensored pubes. Clearly Japan has come far in recent years.
With the second feature, the theatre had become more crowded. Each row contained at least one or two red-faced men. The men would routinely stalk around the cinema, doing entire loops of the whole room and desperately searching out every face in the dark. An early sex scene must have whipped one audience member in a serious frenzy, as a cinema worker came rushing to the row behind us, apologising profusely and spraying cleaning products over the seats. The rest of the film was complemented by an aroma of cleaning chemicals. As if drawn to the chemical stench, the staring salaryman from the first feature made his return halfway through Housekeeper Molestation. This time he sat in the row in front of us, right next to some poor woman (who eventually moved away from him) despite the rest of the seats being free. He cast a few glances our way before moving back to his original seat to stare at us so intensely that Taena ended up covering her face with the movie program until he, once again, made his exit.
Housekeeper Molestation wrapped up, ending on a melancholic note and the third and final presentation began. The third feature was to be 野外プレイ 覗きの濡れ場 (Gaiya purei nozoki no nureba): Playing Outdoors – A Peeper’s Wet Patch. It became apparent that this 2013 feature was somewhat of a sequel to Perverted Tenants. The ex-yakuza idiot brothers were, once again, the central characters, and other performers from the first were present playing different roles. The story of Playing Outdoors was far looser than its predecessor. The duo of the idiot brothers – who now, for some reason, are treasure hunters – split up and go on their own adventures. The main focus is on one of the brother’s relationship with a sexy badass chick (also a treasure hunter… I think… and played by Lina Kichise of Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead 2) who wants revenge for the death of her husband.
With heartwarming scenes of sumo wrestling life lessons and monkey sex, Playing Outdoors makes Perverted Tenants appear restrained. Funnily enough, I had a better time watching this sequel with its more dynamic visuals and maniacal action, whereas my partner, who could obviously understand the storyline in more detail, did not get into it because of its sloppy plotting. Shoddy writing or not, a lot of effort and passion had gone into Playing Outdoors, especially obvious when the highly personalised end credits rolled.
The audience became very animated in this final feature. The shuffling and stalking about that we’d witnessed through the first two features increased tenfold as old men and suits cruised around the theatre for a snuggling partner. Patrons switched seats left, right and centre, moving row to row and in and out of the cinema entrance. The mumbling got louder to the point that audible conversations were taking place. At one point, and this was probably the defining moment of our pinku visit, I looked at a row behind us and noticed that every seat was filled by an old man, all of them sitting awkwardly close with the rows in front and behind them entirely empty. A few times it felt as if they were closing in; every time my partner would cough, heads would pop up from their slump darting towards us.
The moment the curtain closed, my partner and I shot through the exit, through the hordes of men, out into the foyer, which was now filling with quite a different looking crowd. The new crowd were bunched together waiting for the new session to start, most of them puffing on cigarettes. They were a mixed bag of the patrons we’d already seen (salarymen and senior citizens) but, surprisingly, there were quite a few women too, both old and young. I left feeling satisfied that Okura Theater was popular enough to keep the pinku tradition alive, if only for a few more years.