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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Pornographers

Nozaka Akiyuki

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To purchase The Pornographers

Title: The Pornographers
Author: Nozaka Akiyuki
Genre: Novel
Written: 1966 (Eng. 1968)
Length: 243 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Pornographers - US
The Pornographers - UK
The Pornographers - Canada
Les Pornographes - France
Japanische Freuden - Deutschland
. .
DVD: The Pornographers - US
  • Japanese title: エロ事師たち
  • Translated by Michael Gallagher
  • The Pornographers was made into a film by directed by Shohei Imamura in 1966

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Our Assessment:

B : an odd but entertaining period-piece

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Japan Times . 15/2/2014 James Hadfield
The NY Rev. of Books . 10/10/1968 D.J.Enright
The NY Times Book Rev. . 24/11/1968 Shane Stevens

  From the Reviews:
  • "Good-naturedly smutty, The Pornographers is closer to the ribald comedy of the U.K.'s Carry On series than it is to the erotic fantasias of contemporaries such as novelist Oniroku Dan. And while Nosaka's novel may lack the formal ingenuity of Shohei Imamura's freely adapted 1966 film version, as a window into Japan's kinky past, it's still pretty darn titillating." - James Hadfield, The Japan Times

  • "Its title is apt and accurate, and no purchaser can claim to have been swindled. Subuyan and his colleagues are professional pornographers with a list of over three thousand clients. (...) (T)his novel lacks Saikaku's historical interest and, more to the point, it lacks his verve. Before long the comic invention flags: the total modes of intercourse, as George Steiner has put it, are fundamentally finite. Before long the slapstick humor of the book, arising out of the trials and tribulations of an honest hard-working pornographer, wears thin -- and then it wears away altogether." - D.J.Enright, The New York Review of Books

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Pornographers centres on Subuyan, a man in his late 30s who is a dealer in pornography in Osaka. When the book opens he's still a fairly small-time operator, selling photographs more or less door to door, and now branching out into selling tape-recordings (!) of couples having sex. Part of the fun of the novel is the focus on the technical details and complications involved in producing pornography, beginning with descriptions of trying to bug the neighbours' apartments -- even (or especially) in thin-walled Japanese structures -- so you can record them having sex, which proves to be a considerable challenge.
       Subuyan has a common-law wife, Oharu, and their teenage daughter, Keiko, lives with them. While Subuyan has sincere feelings towards Oharu, Keiko proves something of a temptation as well, and when Oharu conveniently dies Subuyan is left with a curious and randy teenage girl on his hands. A liberal father-figure, he's nevertheless out of his league with the younger generation, and when he has his chance with her he can't rise to the occasion (even though: "He tried twisting it as one would a cork. He tried pulling it as one would bubble gum.") -- but Keiko is philosophical about it: "I guess I just don't have it. You can't forget Mom."
       Keiko conveniently disappears, but Subuyan still lusts after her, and goes so far as to eventually purchase a plug-in blow-up substitute (that he dresses up in her clothes). But he can't even get very far with that (though he does manage to blow the fuses in the house ...) and in one of the more hilarious scenes in the book his dolled-up doll is defiled by one of his colleagues.
       With his more technically adept sidekick, Banteki, Subuyan moves up to the bigger times by selling pornographic films, and then making his own. Again, it's the mundane and technical aspects of making the films that prove more interesting than the content, and Nozaka describes all the difficulties, from finding the actors to adding the sound. A live commentator they hire for an early showing of a silent film goes terribly wrong, for example, when he has practically nothing to say, but with time they figure most of these things out.
       There's also always the danger of getting raided, and Subuyan is arrested at one point. As the head of the operation he is also the fall guy, but, for now at least, he manages to avoid any serious punishment.
       Subuyan and his various associates also occasionally arrange to get the girl for the guy, from arranging the deflowering of virgins (a big-ticket item -- and a carefully staged show, since it rarely involves actual virgins) to pretty conventional prostitution.
       The colorful cast of characters Subuyan deals with -- his associates, his customers, and those who put on the shows -- is actually quite impressive, Nozaka showing more nuance (and imagination) than in most sexual fantasies. Occasionally it gets disturbing -- and the father who performs with his mentally retarded daughter pretty much crosses the line -- but a lot is also very funny. So, for example, porn-writer Hack who they hire to write their film-scripts, who gets so excited by his own work that he has to take care of business right there and then ("He'd write a book, read it, masturbate, write another -- there was no end to it") -- and ultimately does himself to death. Subuyan and his colleagues are impressed by his ... dedication:

     "I don't know, but doesn't it sort of remind you of the human torpedoes during the war ?"
     "Yeah, that's it ! Grab yourself tight, go plunging ahead in a world all your own, and with a burst of semen you blow yourself up."
     "We ought to put up a statue: his pen firm in his right hand, his tool in his left !"
       Unlike Hack, Subuyan doesn't lose himself in his product; indeed, his sex-life is pretty sorry. Pornography is a business for him -- but it's also more than a business:
True, he had gotten into pornography for the sake of the money; but more recently he had begun to see his profession as a means of alleviating human suffering.
       Reflecting in part his own loneliness and inability to find fulfillment (with Keiko, for example), he sees that everyone suffers similarly:
     "The reason I'm in this business is because of the sadness of the human condition -- especially men."
     "The sadness of the human condition, huh ? What's that ?"
     "If you're a pornographer for any length of time, you'll eventually see what I mean. There's no man that can escape it. It gets every last one of them."
       But Nozaka doesn't overdo the philosophical-sentimental speculation -- and he more or less makes his point with the action and stories along the way.
       The Pornographers is a quirky, somewhat dated novel, but it gives decent insight into 1960s Japan, and offers a surprisingly entertaining and often amusing story of the travails of the pornography-business. Pretty soft-core (though a bit heavy on the incest-angle), it's not quite harmless fun, but hardly very shocking -- and a welcome difference from modern trends is the almost complete absence of violence and brutality. Little more than a curiosity, but certainly readable -- and less cringe-inducing than most of what passes for erotica nowadays.

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The Pornographers: Reviews: The Pornographers - the film: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Nosaka Akiyuki (野坂昭如) was born in 1930.

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