Japanese Title: 実録阿部定
Romaji: Jitsuroku Abe Sada
Release Date: February 08th, 1975
Running Time: 76 mins.
Director: Noboru Tanaka
Writer: Akio Ido (Screenplay),
Starring: Junko Miyashita, Hideaki Ezumi, Nagatoshi Sakamoto, Yoshi Kitsuda
A Woman Called Abe Sada is based on the infamous story of a real woman named Abe Sada¹ that took place in 1936. The case is so well-known it has been turned into film multiple times, the most famous being Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses (1976). A Woman Called Abe Sada was released the year before and was been largely overshadowed by Oshima’s title despite being voted one of the best ten films of 1975 by the high-brow movie institution Kinema Junpo. For me, this is the version I prefer and it comes down to Junko Miyashita’s beauty and emotive performance and Noboru Tanaka’s tight direction and Akio Ido’s intelligent script.
“Whatever happens to us, I don’t care.”
Abe Sada is a geisha who has been locked in a passionate affair with and Kichi, the owner of a hotel she works in. They have spent a month travelling between machiai (teahouses) where they stay for a few days of sex and drink while geisha sing. Sada is deeply in love with Kichi and asks him, “Will you give them up? Hotel, wife and children”
Kichi replies, “I’ll go to hell if you want me to. I’ve never known a woman like you.”
What Kichi doesn’t know is the intensity of Sada’s feelings. Perhaps he doesn’t take her seriously when she says, “Maybe I will kill you. I’ll cut off your manhood.”
If only Kichi did take her seriously, but then we wouldn’t have great tales like this.
Let me get the obvious out of the way. A Woman Named Abe Sada is sexy. This being a pink film made in Japan¹ no penetration or genitalia are shown but there are a lot of bouncing breasts, legs spread at all sorts of angles, lusty breathing, and increasingly strange sex games. What’s on screen is pretty erotic. Most of the running time is dedicated to showing Sada and Kichi in the act of coupling or pawing and play-acting and they both go at it with such verve that a world of passion is built up for the viewer. Sada and Kichi may exist in tiny rooms for short periods of time but they are lost in each other.
The way the film displays their passions makes every scene feel a lot longer and intense. Indeed there is a sense of freedom in their willing confinement, breaking social and moral boundaries.
Tanaka uses the small sets, long takes, close-ups and medium shots to capture the two when they are entwined and it is incredibly intimate and makes the emotions and physical actions all the more potent.
But there’s more to this than just sex. The script places flashbacks and the narration of Sada to build psychological complexity. We get a sense of why she acts the way she does. Having been a victim of a sexual assault by a student at the age of 16 she was cast out by her family and falls from being a geisha to a waitress to a mistress and a prostitute. By the time she works as a maid for Kichi’s hotel at the age of 31, she was addicted to sex and has experienced awful treatment at the hands of men.
These terrible moments have inspired more than just an addiction to sex. Again, the script and Tanaka’s direction highlight sequences of Sada being gripped by darker moments like playing with knives and voicing her melancholy and increasingly obsessive thoughts aloud. These moments are a gift because it illustrates how complex she is. Sada Abe is not a monster or a sex doll but a human who has been hurt.
As Sada, Junko Miyashita² is incredible. Originally discovered as a waitress in a coffee shop, she turned to acting in pink films and it is easy to see why she was hired because she is gorgeous and her acting is passionate.
She has a strength that is barely hidden by her beautiful façade. We initially perceive her to be an air-headed sexy woman clad in a red kimono with an insatiable passion but Tanaka’s close-ups and Miyashita’s acting reveal more. Miyahsita has an intense gaze when her emotions are running hot, a gaze that threatens to burn the object of desire. Tears fall down her face in quiet moments when the passion threatens to go cold and her fevered actions at the end, while gruesome (especially from a man’s perspective!!!) evoke sympathy so it is impossible to regard her as a monster. Miyashita embodies and displays the pleasures of the flesh but also embodies the effects of trauma.
I have reviewed zero pink films for this blog. I must admit I have only watched about four or five ever and it is usually by accident thinking I was getting erotic thrillers or sexy comedies. I am no expert on the genre but I know enough not to dismiss it entirely since great directors cut their teeth in the genre and went on to bigger things like Koji Wakamatsu, and Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Add to that list Noburu Tanaka who would go on to become one of Japan’s most celebrated directors before his untimely death in 2006. Based on the material alone I didn’t expect to be as moved as much as I was. Miyashita’s performance, Tanaka’s direction and Ido’s screenplay created quite a visceral experience that shows how skilled they are as performers and how much the Pink Film genre can give artistically.
¹Pink films were on the rise in the 1960’s due to the ability of companies to make them in a couple of weeks for cheap and turn a profit. Nikkatsu Studio, the company behind this film, was in financial trouble due to competition for audiences from western films, pink films, and television so Nikkatsu made the decision to make pink films and Roman Porno (romantic pornography) using its stable of directors and its production assets, including sets and crew. Pink films gave directors great artistic freedom so long as they fulfilled a quota of four nude/sex scenes per film and came in on budget. Due to censorship laws, genitals and pubic hairs are not shown on screen. They are usually blurred or covered up by props such as bottles and lamps so one can hardly compare pink films to western pornography. That written, on display are plenty of breasts and buttocks as can be seen here.
² Junko Miyashita worked with Noboru Tanaka in his Showa Trilogy, of which this and Watcher in the Attic are two titles. For her work, she was nominated for a number of awards and is still acting today and has had a number of features released this year.