Koji Wakamatsu Obituary

Posted: October 20, 2012 in Film
Koji Wakamatsu films available to buy – CaterpillarUnited Red ArmyEcstasy of the AngelsGo Go Second Time VirginBooks about WakamatsuPolitics, Porn and Protest: Japanese Avant-Garde Cinema in the 1960s and 1970s – Isolde StandishEros in Hell – Jack HunterBehind the Pink Curtain – Jaspar Sharp
Koji Wakamatsu came to fame in the 60’s working within the Japanese Pink film movement. Japanese Pink Films were cheaply produced sex films which came to dominate Japanese film production in the 70’s. Contrary to the implication of the title Japanese sex film, though often bizarre and violent in content were actually subject to a great deal of censorship. The Japanese did not allow full nudity or shots of pubic hair, unlike European films of the time. Those Japanese films which avoided such censorship were either co-productions with other countries or specially edited films for viewing overseas.

Although Wakamatsu made pink films he was heavily involved in the radical politics of Japan in the sixties and his movies reflect this. Pink film studios insisted that their directors include a certain number of sex scenes but frequently left the story and subject matter to the Director.

This freedom allowed to mix radical opinion and politics with the sexual elements – often with bizarre results. The success of this combination was variable as each element threatened to overwhelm the other. Often, despite these messages, audiences would see them as bad sex films. Equally he was lionised at European film festivals in the sixties.

When the films worked they worked very well, despite the cheapness of production. Violated Angels is a very claustrophobic translation of the Richard Speck case to Japan. The protagonist murders 8 nurses, letting the last nurse live as Speck did. But Wakamatsu tries to suggest that these murders are somehow the result of the political situation by showing police storming the nurses home at the end. It doesn’t hold water as an idea but the film is impressive nonetheless.

Go Go Second Time Virgin is set on the rooftop of a block of flats where rape and murder are enacted several times over the one hour running time. In the intervals between the two young would be lovers carry out a fractured conversation like something in a Pinter play.

Later Wakamatsu became more mainstream. Caterpillar is like a Japanese version of When Johnny Came Marching Home. In Wakamatsu’s film the armless, legless and speechless soldier is feted as a hero in his village but is a burden to the wife who has to feed, clean and service him behind closed doors.

United Red Army is an epic examination of the radical student movement leading to the United Red Army (URA) hiding in the Japanese Alps, killing its own members as part of a re-education purge and culminating in a real life siege at a hunting lodge which lasted 10 days.

If detractors doubted Wakamatsu’s political conviction in the past Caterpillar and United Red Army would appear that it was, at least in part, genuine.


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