In a declining economy, businesses quickly become desperate for a trend to latch onto, and few industries love the trend as much as the movie industry. From Hollywood's onslaught of superhero films to The Asylum's "whatever's big right now" mockbusters, the only bad trend is an ending one. In 1970s Japan, the trend was the "pink" film: softcore dramas that played in theaters. With television sapping their revenue stream, the Nikkatsu company decided to start producing their own line of pink films, including Debauchery.
Ami (Ry˘ko Watanabe) is the perfect example of a Japanese housewife: her husband is a businessman, seemingly doing quite well, she's got a couple of friends that are as much work acquaintances as they are personal acquaintances, and she's sexually unfulfilled by her husband's busy lifestyle. Ami's friend drunkenly tells her that it's a growing trend among young housewives to get secret work as prostitutes during the day while their husbands are away. Ashamed but intrigued, she tries it out, and quickly finds herself addicted to the violent, thrilling encounters.
Director/writer Hidehiro Ito is a true film director, depicting Ami's descent with a shocking openness, without so much of the seediness that other films would reflexively include. Each of the film's encounters are shown in remarkably explicit detail, although some Japanese censorship laws are awkwardly adhered to: Ito cuts around women's crotches, even when characters have their faces buried in them, and one sequence involving a naked man actually has giant, white circles obscuring the image -- showing the male buttocks was once illegal. (The more you know...)
At the same time, the film's duties as a pink film seem to get in the way of Ito's intentions as a character piece. Despite plenty of focus on Ami's reactions to the physical abuse her suitors put her through, Ito never settles on a clear perspective from which the viewer should consider the events. Debauchery could be viewed as a criticism of the closed-off nature of Japanese men, of the untapped desires of Japanese housewives, a comment on the lengths to which any women have to go to experience sexual freedom, but in not picking any of these it sort of ends up being none of them. It would help if we knew what Ami wanted out of the encounters: the freedom, the sex, or the thrills. Instead, the ending almost criticizes Ami, both in the way the film punishes her but also the way her decisions affect a bizarre side character, a homeless man who turns into a rapist after seeing Ami naked.
Debauchery has the germ of an idea in it and someone willing to set up that idea with a patience and tenderness usually ignored in these types of films, but when push comes to shove, exploitation wins out over character drama. I was intrigued by Ami's actions but never compelled or sympathetic as Ito drifts away from motivation and meaning and closer towards the title's bottom line.
Impulse provides Debauchery in art that doesn't pull any punches regarding the film's brutal sexual nature. Adorned with banners promoting the "Nikkatsu Erotic Films Collection" (or the "Nikkatsu Roman Porno Collection," if you watch the bumpers on the disc itself), the just-short-of-nudity screengrab is pretty attention-grabbing. Inside the case, there is a booklet with an essay by Jasper Sharp.
The Video and Audio
This 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation of Debauchery is pretty strong given the film's age and the likelihood that it wasn't preserved with the same kind of optimal conditions as one of the studio's more prestigious titles. Although the picture displays a noticeable softness and a lack of fine detail, color is nice and stable, with reds resisting the urge to bloom from the sheets and walls onto the people lying on them. I did not detect any compression artifacts or edge enhancement.
Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 sounds a little canned, with a softness akin to the picture and a dated mix that is more about pure, straightforward clarity than trying to create a realistic aural experience. Case in point, the, uh, "juicier" noises on this track are elevated and somewhat exaggerated in a way that is almost unintentionally comedic. Optional English subtitles are provided.
None, other than an original theatrical trailer. A promo spot for the "Erotic Films/Roman Porno" line plays before the menu.
Although I didn't like Debauchery, others may enjoy the film as a high-class softcore film or perhaps simply a piece of Nikkatsu's long and varied history. Rent it.
Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.