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March 29, 2012


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Hidehiro Ito - 1983
Impulse Pictures Region 1 DVD

Hidehiro Ito may have had an avant-garde sensibility that sometimes appears in Debauchery. One of the first shots is of a white wall, nothing but white on the screen. A small blue ball pops in and out of this field of white. Was Ito going for some abstract expressionism here? Could be. For me, this is what makes Roman Porno, the soft core Japanese films, interesting, is that as long as the filmmakers had the required amount of exposed body parts, and scenes of coupling or group sex, there was also the, er, insertion of artier moments, as if the filmmaker was notifying the more thoughtful viewers that they were capable of a loftier kind of cinema, given the opportunity.

For myself, I admit to some ambivalence about Roman Porno. I watch a few films here and there mostly to have some first hand familiarity with the genre. Jasper Sharp, probably the most knowledgeable writer on the subject provides some notes with the DVD. And yes, Debauchery does have a basic premise similar to that of Luis Bunuel's Belle de Jour. But there is more than the two films being about housewives who work part-time as prostitutes. Where Ito has also taken his queues from Bunuel is with a couple of scenes that may, or may not, be dreams. One, which can be read more its symbolism, is of a spider crawling up Ryoko Watanabe's shirt, up to her neck. Instead of brushing the spider away, Watanabe opens her shirt, and cups one of her breasts with her hand, beginning to pleasure herself. In Belle de Jour, Bunuel use the sound of cats mewing. Ito makes use sometimes of a kind of buzzing sound in some of the scenes of sex.

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How seriously one wants to examine a film like Debauchery depends on the individual viewer. The main character, Ami, seems at the mercy of the men in her life, be it her husband who is more absorbed with his work as a doctor, and the men who use Ami for their own sexual pleasure. I should also note that Debauchery is presented as was originally seen by Japanese audiences, with masking done to hide certain naughty bits. What we have here is mostly bondage, some rough sex, and a bit of sadomasochism, in short, something for the Japanese salary man to enjoy during his break from work.

Some of the greater visual pleasures are a shot of a crack in the ceiling, just moments after Ami is about to step out for her first dangerous liaison. Also, near the end, a silent shot, a view outside a window, of trees swaying in the breeze. Ito also likes to photograph feet, whether walking, dancing, or on a bed. Which is to say, that there is a bit more going on in Debauchery than the obvious allure of Ryoko Watanabe.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 29, 2012 08:22 AM