Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hosoyama's Amazing Sinema of Serious Nonsense

This is Tomoaki Hosoyama, the Japanese film director who whipped up a perfect storm with his cult hit, Weatherwoman, an adaptation of the popular manga Otenki Onasan.

Somehow, Mr. Hosoyama performed the impossible. This is what he did:

After making a movie destined for Japan's lucrative direct-to-video market for the princely sum of $500K, it was decided that the film would should play at several international film festivals while simultaneously arriving in Nippon video stores. The film socked it to the competition at the Arctic Light Film Festival in Sweden, the Oslo International Film Festival in Norway, Film Fest Hamburg, Gijon International Film Festival in Spain, and the Satire and Humor Film Festival in Italy.

So positive was the international response to Tomoaki's one-of-a-kind cinematic confection -- dubbed "The Wildest of Wild Cards" by Variety, and "a truly bizarre film that suggests a marriage between Russ Meyer and John Waters", by Rotten Tomatoes -- that the Japanese distributor decided to book it into Japanese theaters, despite the fact that it had already been released on video.

Guess what happened then?

It became one of Japan's top grossing films in 1996.

Keiko (Kei Mizutani), a tall, attractive woman with a libertine bent, joins a TV network whose ratings are in the doldrums. In an effort to lift them, Keiko decides to sign off on each evening's weather forecast by lifting her skirt and showing viewers her white, cotton panties.

Ratings go through the roof.

Although there are the expected protests by some of the network staff, the big boss gives Keiko the green light to carry on with her erotic weather report.

Unfortunately, the network boss's jealous daughter sets her sights on Keiko's destruction, and challenges her to a bizarre, meteorological duel, in which both women hurl bolts of lightning at one another in a contest to become the supreme network forecaster.

A subplot involving a devoted fan of Keiko is weaved into the proceedings, as are several detours into Keiko's healthy obsession with masturbation and penchant for light bondage.

As surreal as it all sounds, the film works beautifully thanks to Hosoyama's control of and affection for the material. The film is never sleazy or mean-spirited; it is, like a Russ Meyer movie, a celebration of sexuality and female power. It is also a tongue-in-cheek poem to the concept of "nonsense"

A direct-to-video sequel, Weatherwoman Returns, followed a year later.

Hosoyama defines his approach to both films thus:

"In Weatherwoman, the focus was on visual silliness, using people's realistic mentality as flavoring. The main theme running through both Weatherwoman films also happens to be my outlook on life. In nonsense, one finds sense."

Although Weatherwoman marked Mr. Hosoyama's theatrical debut, his bona fides as a filmmaker were already well established with a large body of fascinating work in Japan's pink film trenches.

His pink film baptism by fire was the '84 Family Hooker, a satirical look at a multi-generational family business. The film attracted wanted and unwanted attention because Hosoyama turned it into his graduating thesis for the University of Nippon.

Shot on 35mm, like all his pink films, it is a potent blend of social commentary and dark comedy.

Tomoaki Hosoyama directing Family Hooker

Next up for the director was the '86 Chaotic Love, a grim, mostly autobiographical tome about a man's fruitless search for love and companionship.

It has many surreal touches and manages to convey the desperation inherent in loneliness.

Certainly it is the most nihilistic of Hosoyama's movies.

1987's Big Milk Secreting won the director his first Pink Film Award -- Best New Director.

Starring Eri Kikuchi, who was a big porn star at the time, the film is based on Hosoyama's own personal experiences in the Japanese porn film business.

The theme, however, is not pornography, it is "platonic love", and it focuses on the relationship between a porn star and her agent, and questions whether platonic love is possible in such a strange business.

Yutaka Ikejima (Blind Love, 2005; Subway Serial Rape 4, '88; Lolita Vibrator Torture, '87) who played the agent, received much praise for his engaging, powerful performance.

Again, the film is filled with sadness and pain.

1986's gritty Sumo-Wrestling Girls was directly inspired by Robert Aldrich's equally gritty and highly underrated All The Marbles (aka The California Dolls, '81)

Obviously, Hosoyama swapped the pro-wrestling of Aldrich's action-drama for sumo wrestling.

The film is a good example of how pink film makers subverted genre expectations while still giving the distributor its pound of cinematic flesh.

What Hosoyama achieved with a tiny budget on a week long shoot is remarkable.

The '86 Big Milk Secreting 2 (below) only had its title in common with the first film.

A very different piece in every way, it focuses on the lives of three prostitutes...

...and the difficulties they encounter on a daily basis.

It blends social commentary into a loose, softcore scenario.

Lesbian Colony ('87) is Mr. Hosoyama's love letter to John Waters' Desperate Living ('77), a film that was a strong influence on his early filmmaking, and my early filmmaking, too.

The film differs slightly in its set-up. Instead of being about two female lawbreakers (skinny Mink Stole and mammoth Jean Hill) on the lam who discover Mortville, the town where criminals can live "scot free", Hosoyama's version zeroes in on two ostracized lesbians (social criminals?) who leave Tokyo in search for a world where their kind can live "scot free".

They find a town ruled by an androgynous despot who gives Edith Massey's Queen Carlotta a definite run for her money.

The scene in which a penis sprays fireworks has to be seen to be believed...

... as do several outrageous and audacious scenes of humiliation.

The film is a cavalcade of gleeful perversion...

...with the villain getting her just desserts.

The film's low rent but highly creative art direction would would have pleased John Waters and his ace art director Vincent Peranio

The '88 Love Affairs (above) asks: Why is love so complicated?

It doesn't provide a definitive answer, but it certainly explores why so many distractions ...

... are often mistaken for love.

The film is well shot and lit, and is one of Hosoyama's most tepid genre entries.

Dirty Girl ('89), starring Toyumaru, a Japanese porn star notorious for her "lewd" performances, marked the conclusion of Tomoaki Hosoyama's pink film career.

The actress played herself in the film, and the story drew from her celebrity and infamy.

By this time, Hosoyama had become frustrated by the limitations of the medium, and lack of resources.

The director is currently developing a number of projects including Kieba, a fascinating love story set in the world of horse racing.

One of Japan's unsung heroes of independent cinema, I met Tomoaki more than a decade ago when I was in production on The Masturbating Gunman (aka Masked Avenger...).

In addition to having shared the same amount of earth years, our tastes were virtually identical.

We became and have remained fast friends by mail, telephone, and in person, and are working on a number of co-ventures which we hope to unveil soon.

A compilation of Mr. Hosoyama's pink films is in the works


  1. Thank you for your profile of Mr. Hosoyama. I look forward to seeing more of his work beyond 'Weatherwoman'.

    I look forward also with great anticipation to your mentioned co-ventures. Any way you slice it, such ventures as generated by yourselves will be nothing short of hana-bi...(see the big pink penis above!)

  2. Amazing post. I was amazed to learn this SUBWAY RAPE director actually won an Academy Award from one of your posts a few weeks back and now I am in awe of the man's own repertoire, none of which I've seen. I've seen Big Boobs Buster, Survive Style 5+, Sumo Vixens, et al and never really appreciated the Waters and Meyers influences until now...

    (In the particular instances of aforementioned films I probably would still say 2/3 of the named suck...)

    Curious as to what you think of Kawasaki's (Executive Koala, Calamari Wrestler, Crab Goalkeeper, Rug Cop) absurd films as well as Iida's Battle Heater: Kotatsu. These are truly off the wall films--not necessarily great but certainly not boring. How do they stack up, if you;ve seen?

  3. d -- To clarify. "Sumo Vixens" is a Takao Nakano film, not one of Mr. Hosoyama's.
    "Survival Style 5" is by Gen Sekiguchi, not Mr. Hosoyama, either.
    Mr. Hosoyama's last pink film was produced in '89. It was "Dirty Girl".
    Most of Tomoaki Hosoyama's pink films are long out of print and not even listed on the so-called "movie database", IMDB.
    Regarding Yojiro Takita, the Academy-award winning director of Departures, he didn't direct the "Subway Serial Rape films (4 entries); they were all directed by Shuji Katoaka.
    Takita made many pink films, however, and the one I highlighted (because I love it) was "Renzoku Boko", the fierce '83 pink thriller. That's where I took almost all the still from.
    Re: Minoru Kawasaki's films -- I respect the guy's sincerity and inventiveness, but his films are just not my thing at all.
    I think you know what I like, and it isn't close to this.
    mandingo -- Tomoaki and I have got a few strong projects in the works.

  4. Yeah I was all sorts of drunk when I got online last night and was confusing Takita with your friend Hosoyama. A few of those films I've listed at the beginning of my previous post were merely named for the obvious Waters/Meyers/western exploitation influences I hadn't really noticed before. The SUBWAY RAPE label was just a typo/drunkenness.

    I like Kawasaki's inventiveness as well. Japan's comedies don't particularly do anything for me in general as the culture's just too different for me to appreciate them, but I like weird and Kawasaki's movies deliver weird in spades. It's ultimately sort of unsatisfying watching something you know you personally cannot appreciate on all the levels it supposedly works... Or perhaps they're just unfunny films. Regardless, I was just curious as to whether they bore any similarity to these Weatherwoman movies and the like.

    I had looked at Takita's entry on IMDb after reading your previous blog. It looks woefully incomplete.

  5. Takita's entry contains most of his films, but Hosoyama's imdb entry oage is missing about 5 titles.

    I even have some titles of my own that I can't get listed (the process is beyond painful).

  6. Sounds like it won't be long, Phantom, before IMDB will automatically list you and Hosoyama so you won't have to go through the pain.

    Sounds like the pain of delivery items and childbirth...

    Phantom, it occurs to me; you have seen a fuck of a lot of films!! Not only are you well versed in mainstream culture, but somehow you have found time to indulge in a wide variety of, shall we say, 'alternative cinema', with a particular regard to Asian cinema- no mean feat, given the depth and breadth- to the point where I would regard you an authority.

    Plus you have a body of work of your own, as well as a few adventures Conrad would be proud of, not to mention your fair share of pilgrimages to the nether regions of the feminine heart of darkness to boot.

    I won't ask how you do it- that question always struck me as idiotic; but I will say, don't be tempted to wade too deep into the waters of Bollywood- the dearth of that culture, as well as your other interests filmic and literary, we might never see or hear from you again!

    And 'd'; I know what you are talking about regarding the drinking and commenting. I have the same problem. I don't know where you are, but in Oz it's middle of the night when I surf, everyone in the house is asleep, the ales start to look pretty good and before long, I am tempted to get well ploughed Tennessee Williams style, and start typing like a drunk monkey with a couple of claw hammers.

    After a few poorly chosen words on this site, I thought of how important it is to be heard and understood in this brilliant medium, and I began to take it more seriously, and decided to ease up on the booze whilst writing- and pretend my words actually had some life, some meaning, some value.

    Initially I didn't think it mattered how much I drank or what I said- which accounts for many of the bullshit comments on IMDB. However, what I say, and the connections I make with people I have found are worth approaching much as in my 'real life'. I wouldn't get shitfaced if I cared what people thought about me in the course of my day- so I try to be the same here. That doesn't mean I censor myself to be liked, but I will say although I have never been one for 'pen pals', I have met some amazing like minded people through this medium, and I am certain it helped when I stopped guzzling and gibbering like an idiot.

    This is not about you- it is me I am talking about, really an account of my own realisations. What you do is your own business; your comments are always welcome drunk or not, and I always find something of interest in what you have to say.

    And you can always rely on Phantom to help with minor errors here and there in his typical generous way.

    I have simply come to find that a few solid hours on the net is good for the soul, by which time- around 4am- I am ready for some viewing and a few drinks to round the night off. Last night it was 'Swordkill' on VHS and 'Dead and Buried'- again- and it was a first rate evening of work and play.

    End of sermon, go in peace and for fuck sake keep having your say!

  7. Mark-I feel bad for your continuing issues on IMDb. On one hand, I really have enjoyed discussing film with like-minded people such as yourself on the forums and have likewise gotten an unhealthy kick taking the piss out of the unavoidable jackasses. Otoh, the difficulties you and others have described in getting films listed really detracts from what is supposedly a definitive database for film and television. That and the moderators who censor and delete threads and posts for even the slightest upset of some random twat's tender sensibilities keep it from being a great site.

    mandingo-It's true. "Better to remain silent..." yadda yadda yadda. Hopefully, I'm remembered more for my coherent posts than my idiotic drunken ones 'cos Christ know if my liver had its way I'd treat my body as a temple!

  8. Thanks for this panorama of Hosoyama's movies. I was only aware of the Weatherwoman movies. Now I really want to see that Lesbian Colony ('87), it really looks like a must of trashy-pinku!