7/22/21

&: A brief note on The Naked Director, salvage ideology

The Naked Director charts over two scenes the story of Muranishi Toru 村西とおる and his rise from selling porn magazines in Hokkaido to making VHS tapes in Tokyo and discovering Kuroki Kaoru 黒木香. He builds an empire in the Bubble Era, eventually pissing it all away on a satellite deal. When asset prices imploded in the early 1990s and a crackdown began on organized crime involvement in legitimate businesses, Muranishi was cast adrift, ending up homeless, with debts he could never pay off. He eventually reunites with and marries an actress that used to to shoot for her, moving into a career as a B-list tarento タレント and cultural commentator.
This is not what happened, exactly—it’s not even close, for the most part. That could be fine, but The Naked Director is a porn plot shot as a two season miniseries. It buys completely into the myths of pornography.

The fictionalized Kuroki Kaoru (Morita Misato 森田望智) is the daughter of a strict Catholic single mother attracted to porn because she finally had a place to express her repressed sexuality; she achieves fame for her genuine expressions of the joys of sexual liberation; the real Kuroki Kaoru was the rebellious scion of a wealthy family, who did porn to finance a trip to study and Europe, and who painstakingly developed the character of a liberated woman that would appeal to a deeply conservative television audience. The first story is not interesting and the second story is fascinating.

The fictionalized Muranishi Toru (Yamada Takayuki 山田孝之) is seemingly a true believer in his own project of sexual liberation, as well. He talks women into starring in his films by discovering their raw, latent sexuality. He’s a tough customer that makes deals with organized crime and corrupt police. But in reality, he was one of those hucksters that would have sold whatever it was he could; he saw a business opportunity in pornography. The Naked Director accurately depicts Muranishi going places that other AV producers wouldn’t go, but it leaves out all but the most tenuous touching-upon of his multiple arrests for violating the Child Welfare Act.

The series is infected with the same “salvage ideology” (Heung-wah Wong, Hoi-yan Yau use this in The Japanese Adult Video Industry): the idea of male sexual domination and violence as a way to save women that cannot save themselves.

Men, therefore, are women’s saviour because only men can bring women to a climax. This leads to the second way through which the salvage ideology is expressed in sex: men’s sexual domination over women, inasmuch as women’s sexual pleasure is totally dependent on men. It is interesting to note that women’s lack of sexual agency and men’s sexual domination over women are mutually constituted and reciprocally defined. Women have to rely on men for their sexual pleasure because they are deprived of sexual agency; while men sexually dominate women because women rely on men for their sexual pleasure.

Muranishi is invested in the salvage ideology, with his emphasis on the realism of his films (showing real rather than simulated sex, uncensored images, unsimulated orgasms) “a discursive practice that ... naturalizes the salvage ideology as the only one possible, in the course of which the specific definition of the sexual being of man and woman—woman is equivalent to lack of sexual agency and man to woman’s sexual saviour—is authenticated.”

If you’ve ever seen a mainstream Japanese porn film, you can see the idea in motion: the female talent is usually resistant to some extent, then forced to have an orgasm, after which she is ushered into a new sexual liberation.
The ideas of exploitation and coercion are never brought up. We can assume coercion is rampant, but a background shot of a recruiter talking to a high school girl in Dogenzaka is the only hint of how women really got into the industry. We never hear the stories of the underage girls talked into shooting porn, for example.

The actresses in The Naked Director join industry because of their initiation by men into a love for sex and to take part in a sexual liberation, and financial compensation only becomes pressing when Muranishi eventually fails to pay them. Nogi Mariko 乃木真梨子 (Tsunematsu Yuri 恒松祐里) becomes a porn actress seemingly only because she is fascinated by an AV VHS cover showing an early facial video.

Despite the sexual liberation of his actresses, the series leans heavily on their shame. Kuroki Kaoru ends the series in a taxi, headed back home, hoping to escape the shame of her lifestyle.

It’s made particularly explicit in a subplot about an organized crime enforcer (Mitsushima Shinnosuke 満島真之介) shooting his boss to save the good name of his girlfriend (Nishiuchi Mariya 西内まりや), a worker in the sex industry. He sacrifices his life to rescue her from the shame of prostitution.
At the same time, the social chaos of postwar Japan is never addressed—how postwar wealth was created, what led to the Bubble Economy and why it was maintained and then deflated… We see a lot of organized crime, without any explanation of their role in the sex industry. Fuzoku 風俗, the legal prostitution industry dominated by organized crime is mentioned only in passing, despite it exploding during the Bubble Era and serving later as a social safety net for women. Contemporary sexual politics are elided almost completely. The women are eventually saved by marriage or returning to their families—Nogi Mariko shown in happy domesticity at the end, Kuroki reuniting with her mother, Yamamoto Naoko 山本奈緒子 (Tomite Ami 冨手麻妙) getting hitched to a banker. (I'll put more in a parenthetical.

Usually, I might be tempted to hint at the need to go beyond a feminist critique, but it stands out for being completely absent. We're starting from zero here. It's stripped of all critique or even the slightest amount of critical thought, essentially propaganda for the porn industry and its salvage ideology, a paean to a twisted postwar vision of gender roles already breaking down as the economy liberalized and then went into stagnation, and a celebration of the men that made Japan temporary a source of avant-garde middlebrow culture before the middle class consumer was swept out in favor of the otaku.

It's also, as a TV show, not very good. There are no surprises. But I will say: Morita Misato as Kuroki Kaoru is excellent, and so is Yamada Takayuki as Muranishi. Some of the actresses are very beautiful, too. If you put enough nude women on screen, I will sit through it. The evocation of Bubble Era Tokyo in the second season is quite good, as well, I thought, when the budget had climbed high enough to achieve it.