Arts & Culture » Calendar

Film Notes: from Japanese porn to the real world

by

comment

Until very recently you wouldn't find film director Sachi Hamano in the reference books: Japan's mainstream film industry has historically been more than a little reluctant to allow women behind the camera. The Directors Guild of Japan, for example, counts only 20 women among its 547 members. And in the expanded 1982 edition of their influential 1959 survey The Japanese Film: Art and Industry, writers Joseph L. Anderson and Donald Richie don't list a single woman in their chapter on directors.

Yet Hamano, whose 2001 Lily Festival concludes this month's Gene Siskel Film Center series "Films by Japanese Women," has more than 300 films to her name. When she started making movies in the late 1960s there were no film schools to funnel talent into the industry, and her attempts to land a job with established companies were thwarted, since, according to Hamano, two qualifications for employment were that candidates be both male and college graduates. Eager to direct--largely because she was unhappy with the limits of female stereotypes such as "mother," "wife," "daughter," and "prostitute"--she decided to enter through the back door, via the independent pinku eiga, or "pink films," the Japanese term for soft-core porn.

For Hamano, the genre represented "a battlefield against male-centered sexual value." Her life's work, she says, has been "to take female sexuality back to women," and her erotic films have attracted a huge following. Her box office success has given her economic clout rare for a Japanese woman, and with the production company she established in 1988 she's been able to raise money to fund her own work.

Despite her success, however, Hamano found herself wondering what she should do next. Then, six years ago at a women's film festival in Tokyo, she read a program note that referred to Kinuyo Tanaka as Japan's most prolific woman director. Tanaka, a veteran actress best known in the West for her role in the classic Ugetsu, became Japan's first female director in 1953, but in her career she made only three films. Hamano was stunned. "I resolved to do films other than pinku eiga," she says, "so my existence would be acknowledged."

Hamano's "entertainment feature" debut, Midori, was about a neglected woman writer. Over 12,000 women donated generously to help fund its production, and wherever it was screened she met women who'd seen her pinku eiga work and wanted to talk about their sexual experiences. Their frankness inspired Lily Festival, a subversive comedy whose theme is sex and older women and whose cast members range in age from 69 to 91. When Hamano broached the idea with male producers, they said, "Who likes to watch old ladies having sex?" She turned again to alternative sources of funding for the $600,000 project.

Unlike male directors such as Takeshi Kitano and Takashi Miike, who revel in grotesque or escapist portrayals of the yakuza and other fringe dwellers, Hamano and other filmmakers featured in the series look at life in Japan with an unblinking realist eye. Relationships between generations is one principal theme in the series, as is friendship--sexual and otherwise--between women. Men don't understand or care about these themes, says Hamano. "That's why it's necessary for women directors to work in solidarity to change their status drastically."

"Films by Japanese Women" started Wednesday, September 3, and runs through September at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State. Falling Into the Evening, by Naoe Gozu, shows Friday, September 5, and Thursday, September 11, at 6:15; Naomi Kawase's Suzaku plays Saturday, September 6, at 5:45. The series concludes September 27 and 29 with screenings of Lily Festival. Both showings are at 7:45, and there'll be a Q and A with Hamano and screenwriter Kuninori Yamazaki following the film each night. Tickets are $8; call 312-846-2800 or see Movies in Section Two for more information.

Add a comment