Market of Flesh and Pinku Eiga

Timelines: All, Japan Categories: 1960s, Country, Decade, Film, Japan, Media
Date: 1962


Market of Flesh (Nikutai no Ichiba; also Flesh Market, 1962) is widely regarded as the first of Japan’s “pinku eiga”, or pink films. It was directed by the prolific Satoru Kobayashi (1930-2001), who made over 400 pink films across four decades, and starred Tamaki Katori (1938-2015), who became known as the “pink princess” with over 600 pink film credits to her name between 1962 and 1972. In Market of Flesh, Katori plays a young woman who is captured by a Roppongi gang while investigating her sister’s suicide.

A week following the release of Market of Flesh, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police ceased its exhibition and confiscated the prints and original negative from the OP Eiga studio, on the grounds that it had potentially violated Article 175 of the Japanese Constitution. A new film was compiled from raw footage and cut scenes and was reissued with cuts advised by Eirin to significant commercial success (Sharp 2008). Pink films such as Market of Flesh were subject to the more definitive Eirin rating category “adult films” (seijin eiga), which had been revised from the relatively lenient “films geared toward adults” (Cather 2014). From Market of Flesh onwards, the fast expansion in the production of pink films produced a challenge for Eirin regulation. Kirsten Cather (2014) notes that in 1958 only 24 of the 626 feature films examined by Eirin received an adult rating, while in 1964 this had increased to 120 of 640 films examined. In fact, as the youth and family markets dwindled alongside the expanding popularity of television, the proportion of adult films increased from 3.8% in 1958 to 58.7% in 1973.

The term pinku eiga is attributed to journalist Minoru Murai in 1963 and, in the years immediately following Market of Flesh, it was broadly used to refer to films containing nudity or sex, and interchangeably with “erodakushan” (eroduction films). The first wave of pinku eiga is usually situated from Market of Flesh until about 1971, during which many small-scale, independent studios – OP Eiga, Kokuei, Shintōhō Eiga – produced this variety of soft-core, erotic sexploitation picture. Although the content of such films varied, they typically contained a minimum of four sex scenes, were shot on 16mm or 35mm film, for a duration of about one week to produce a film of about 60 minutes, to be screened in special cinemas in triple-bills with other adult-rated films (Domenig 2014) – Zenkoren, the theatre union, had begun prohibiting bills combining child and adult films from 1958 (Cather 2014). While focused on sex, filmmakers were still subject to Japanese obscenity law and thus restricted from showing genitalia and penetrative sex, and responded creatively through various techniques of staging, camera angles, and allusion. In the early 1970s, the large studio Nikkatsu (responsible for the taiyōzoku and Stray Cat Rock films) began focusing on pinku eiga production. With larger budgets, higher production values, studio shooting facilities, and its own distribution and theatre network, these films signalled a second wave of pink films, as the Nikkatsu “Roman porno” (romantic pornography) series. – Liam Grealy

Further reading:
– Cather, K. (2014). Policing the pinks. In A.M. Nornes (ed.) The pink book: The Japanese eroduction and its contexts, (pp. 93-148). Kinema Club: Tokyo.
– Domenig, R. (2014). The Market of Flesh and the rise of the pink film. In A.M. Nornes (ed.) The pink book: The Japanese eroduction and its contexts, (pp. 17-48). Kinema Club: Tokyo.
– Sharp, J. (2008). Behind the pink curtain: The complete history of Japanese sex cinema. Fab Press.

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