This essay considers how ideas about liberation flourished in Japanese sex films in the 1970s by exploring the genre of the housewife film as it traverses industrial contexts. Liberation was abandoned by melancholic male intellectuals after the 1970 failure to halt Japan's military treaty with the US and the crisis of a 1972 hostage incident. These early 1970s events were seen by denizens of mass media as well as intellectuals to signal the end of radical politics. However, treatments of liberation viewed through the lenses of gender, sexuality, and complicity thrived in sex films, especially films that featured the popular trope of the housewife. Both low-budget “pink films” and more lushly produced, experimental roman poruno narrative films by Nikkatsu, Japan's oldest studio, put the housewife at the center of their stories and used the housewife's dwelling in modernist architecture to advance their critique of “managed life” during postwar economic growth. My readings focus on films by pink auteur Wakamatsu Kōji as well as roman poruno directors that feature residents of danchi — Japanese high-rise apartment complexes built to solve the postwar housing shortage. Wakamatsu maps the danchi landscape as something that regiments and confines human life and conceals illicit activities despite its pretensions to rationalization. In contrast, the Nikkatsu productions depict a critique of managed life that includes both sexes and implicates the built environment through dependence and complicity, not rebellion or resistance. Both, however, use the danchi wife to frame their broader social critiques. This essay argues that far from being the end of politics, sex films see liberation in intimate formal relation to postwar political and economic realities. Finally, I argue that sex films display surprising common ground with radical feminist discourses and discourses on landscape that emerged in an era otherwise known for political fatigue.
Anne McKnight; The Wages of Affluence: The High-Rise Housewife in Japanese Sex Films. Camera Obscura 1 May 2012; 27 (1 (79)): 1–29. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-1533430
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