There were some good DVD re-releases this week such as the Special Collector’s Edition of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974) and a Deluxe Edition of Richard Lester’s Help! (1965). But my DVD pick of the week is the Kino/KimStim release of the Japanese Roman Porno film Tattooed Flower Vase (aka Kashin no Irezumi: Ureta Tsubo; 1976) directed by Masaru Konuma. Kino released four of Konuma’s Pink films in association with KimStim on Region-1 NTSC DVD this week. The other three Konuma films now available are Cloistered Nun: Runa’s Confession (aka Shudojo Runa no Kokuhaku, 1976), Wife to be Sacrificed (aka Ikenie Fujin; 1974) and Erotic Diary of an Office Lady (aka OL Kanno Nikki: Ah! Watashi no Naka de; 1977). Only Wife to be Sacrificed has been available in the U.S. on DVD before now.
I’ve only had the opportunity to see Tattooed Flower Vase, but it’s a beautiful piece of erotica with a dark sadistic edge. My experience with Konuma’s work is minimal at best, but I’ve found his early films to be visually impressive and smartly done even if they often lack the interesting social and political themes that can be found in more experimental pink films made by independent directors such as Koji Wakamatsu.
Masaru Konuma worked for the Nikkatsu studio system during the seventies and early eighties making Roman Porno films, which are a type of Pink film mainly concerned with eroticism and aesthetics. In particular Japanese eroticism and aesthetics that often confuse and confound western audiences and critics. Konuma still works for Nikkatsu making adult films but the “golden age” of Roman Porno has come and gone.
The director’s 1976 film Tattooed Flower Vase stars the lovely Naomi Tani (often referred to as one of the “queens” of Japanese erotica) as a widowed doll maker named Michiyo with a beautiful daughter Takako (Takako Kitagawa). The two women live together in a sort of quiet solitude and appear to have an unusual bond with sexual undertones. When Michiyo is drugged and taken advantage of by a doll shop owner, her erotic passions are aroused and she begins to obsess over her past sexual experiences with a deceased Kabuki actor. Things get more complicated after Michiyo’s daughter is involved in a car accident with a handsome young man named Hideo, who ends up being the son of her dead lover. Both mother and daughter begin to vie for Hideo’s attention and as the story unfolds Michiyo becomes more and more aroused by her memories. Michiyo’s erotic adventures include a passionate fling with a tattoo artist who covers her body in a beautiful traditional Japanese tattoo. Her elaborate tattoo design represents a classic Kabuki play about a woman who transforms into a snake so she can pursue her lover. In some ways Michiyo undergoes a similar transformation after she gets tattooed.
Masaru Konuma began working as an assistant director at Nikkatsu studios in the sixties and he has praised the work of the brilliant Japanese director Seijun Suzuki, who also worked at Nikkatsu. I don’t know if the two men ever worked together during the ’60s, but Konuma’s creative use of light, space and framing seems to echo Suzuki’s work at times. Tattooed Flower Vase is a lovely looking film that makes impressive use of its Kabuki themes and traditional music. I also enjoyed the way the director used traditional Japanese Washi paper dolls in Tattooed Flower Vase to reinforce particular themes.
As I mentioned above, Naomi Tani plays a doll maker in Tattooed Flower Vase and she is often photographed within the film making dolls or caressing them. She has a special talent for making Kabuki style Washi paper dolls, which obviously reference her passionate relationship with a dead Kabuki actor. The dolls also seem to symbolize the way that the women sometimes play and toy with the male characters in the movie
Masaru Konuma’s Roman Porno films are clearly designed to arouse a viewers mind and body, and if you’re bothered by explicit sexuality in films then you should probably avoid them. On the other hand, early Roman Porno films such as Tattooed Flower Vase are more erotic than pornographic, and they contain subtle nudity and censored genitalia. Having some understanding of Japanese erotica will help western viewers better appreciate the films erotic themes and the way Konuma presents various sexual acts, which could probably be seen as misogynistic or even bizarre to some shortsighted viewers.
The Tattooed Flower Vase is currently available at Amazon and it features a beautiful anamorphic (16:9) widescreen print of the film with optional English subtitles. Extras include a theaterical trailer and a brief text biography on director Masaru Konuma, which unfortunately is rather dull and uninformative. It only seems to echo the limited information about Konuma that can already be found at Wikipedia. This is a minor complaint though, and I’m grateful that Kino/KimStim are making these rare early Konuma films available on DVD.
You can find more images from the film in my Tattooed Flower Vase Flickr Gallery.