English name of Maruhi Shikijyo Mesu Shijyo マル秘色情めす市場
The film is confusingly referred to by several different English titles, including “The Oldest Profession”, “Secret Chronicle: She-Beast Market” and “Confidential Report: Sex Market”. To compare these to the original Japanese:
マル秘 maruhi Confidential
色情 Shikiyo Sexual feelings
めす female animal (or bitch)
If I was to add my own contribution to possible translations of the title I might go with: “Confidential: The Market of Lustful Bitches”.
Maruhi Shikijyo Mesu Shijyo Synopsis
Yone and Tome are mother and daughter sex workers. Tome randomly approaches men on the street, asking if they want to have some fun. Yone works on her sugar daddy, trading pleasure for security. The working girl mother and daughter come to blows when Tome obliges a request from Yone’s benefactor. They fight again when one of Yone’s customers places a mid-job call to request a younger worker and daughter Tome attends. This isn’t what is usually meant when people talk about Asian style Confusion filial piety.
Meanwhile the younger of the family is a young man with a mental disability experiencing his own sexual awakening. He approaches the ones available to him for guidance – mother and daughter.
A man that looks suspiciously like one of the criminals on the “wanted” posters around town takes a somewhat detached interest in Tome. But somehow Tome just can’t seem to find it in herself to break out of the Osaka slums.
About Maruhi Shikijyo Mesu Shijyo
Maruhi Shikijyo Mesu Shijyo, directed by Noboru Tanaka, shows a side of Japan that you don’t see on streaming TV puff pieces. It’s a Japan that is sweaty, garbage-strewn and desperate.
The world of the Maruhi could be that of a Tom Waits ballad, transported to Asia. It depicts the people of the night, and of the street. Specifically, it depicts the people on the street at night.
To steal a line from Tom himself, it’s about the people that “hide on the stairway, hang in the curtain and sleep in your hat”.
But it’s not the 9th and Hennepen of a Waitsian world. It’s the strangely-unJapanese sounding Airinchiku district, just south of downtown Osaka. It’s a place renowned as a Doyacho, a flop-house town. Formerly known as Kamagasaki, a much more traditionally Japanese sounding name, Airinchiku was designated its present name in 1966 and translates literally as “The area beside love”.
Whether the authorities in charge of the place-naming project had any pangs of irony or injustice at assigning the area a name that seemingly places the people within it forever tantalizingly just this side of the very feeling that every human craves, is not clear.
From a Western perspective, you kind of get the feeling that someone was humming the tune to “Goodnight Irene” and katakanized it, perhaps over one too many swigs of One Cup Sake.
The film is from the genre known as Roman Porno – Romance Porn. The word “porn” doesn’t really conjure up so much romance in the English language.
In Japan, sexuality is not so strictly cordoned off from the rest of culture as it is in the west. Lust and art a porous. Romance Porn actors and actresses come and go more or less freely between more “pink” productions and mainstream media. People tend to talk more openly about sex, and sexual urges than they do in the English speaking world. Anime has pretty well established norms of mixing “fan service” titillation with drama, by providing a highly sexualised view of the female form. And, yes, porn mixes with art.
The “Romance Porn” genre was set up as flailing film company Nikkatsu’s answer to the successful “Pink Films” being made by other companies. The company embarked on making these films in the late 1960s. They faced an existential threat from both television, and American films intruding into the domestic Japanese market. Many directors that considered themselves above the creation of rank tit and arse flicks jumped ship from the company. This left the path clear for a crop of young directors with fewer qualms about selling the proverbial lump of flesh to join the fray.
One of the new directors was Noburu Tanaka. Tanaka was 35 years old, so he wasn’t exactly young when he got his first chance to direct. He had studied French Literature at the prestigious Meiji University. Whatever the cliche of a porn film director is (mustache, tight clothes over an overweight frame perhaps?) Tanaka was not it.
The cast is not what our preconceptions might suggest either. The main characters in the film of Tome and Yone (names that have an old-fashioned feel in Japan, enforcing the image of people existing in a realm that society has forgotten) are played by Kenshuu Hanayagi and Seri Meika respectively.
Kenshuu Hanayagi is one of those force-of-nature type people who was a writer, traditional Japanese dancer, actress, feminist and activist. She was famous enough to have a non-Japanese produced documentary made about her life, Eat The Kimono.
She achieved the rank of “Master” in the Hanayagi Style of traditional Japanese Dance. Hanayagi-ryu (school) boasts 20,000 students in Japan.
But Kenshuu would go on to very publicly reject the hierarchical “iemoto” nature of the school, and go on to stab the head sensei/leader of the movement. It was an act that earned her both public scorn and jail time.
Later, she would gain further notoriety for setting off firecrackers in protest at the inauguration of the incoming Japanese Emperor.
Leading lady Seri Meika is a little closer to what a lot of people may have guessed would be the path to porn stardom. A high school dropout Seri and done nude modelling worked in strip clubs before being scouted into the world of Pink Films by Araki Ichiro. She would go on to have a long career in the industry that crossed over into mainstream film and television. She appeared in perhaps the most notoriously famous Japanese film ever made, Ai no Korida In The Realm Of The Senses.
The main requisite element of a “Romance Porno” is that there be at least one “wet scene”, to use the Japanese parlance, every ten minutes. Maruhi Shikijyo Mesu Shijyo duly sticks to the formula.
But it sticks in a way that focuses on all the “dirtier” elements of human corporeality. In particular, the camera goes to every effort to emphasize the body sweat. Not gleaming, lustrous body shimmer sweat, but a gritty, pungent stickiness that makes you vicariously feel the heat and the summer smog.
The first half of the film is shot in an arthouse, or documentary, style black and white. Indeed, much of the attraction of the film is being transported deep into the real life world and backdrop of the Airin slums.
The film contrasts the beat-up streets with the ever-present Tsutenkaku tower in the distance. Like all towers, it stands as a monument to modernity, ambition and wealth. In the context of Maruhi Shikijyo Mesu Shijyo, it also stands as an ever phallic symbol. The tower is a constant reminder of the primacy of men in a patriarchal Japanese society – as is strikingly illustrated by a scene where Tome is violently set upon by a pimp as the Tsutenkaku hovers, blinking and fluorescent above.
Indeed, the tower gets its own up close and central scene later in the film, after a striking transition from black and white to color in the film stock. Tome’s disabled brother climbs the tower in what appears to be some kind of vain attempt to launch a live chicken into flight from it’s tops. Somehow this strange experiment signals the start of a tragedy that will touch the main characters of the film.
Add to this some peculiar sub stories involving hustlers, sex workers and lovers, and you have a portrait of a time and place in Japanese that presents an intriguing mix of social critique and carnal gratification. It’s certainly not a film that deserves to be thrown onto the scrap heap of the Airin district streets.
The film can be watched on via Apple here https://tv.apple.com/jp/movie/%E7%A7%98%E8%89%B2%E6%83%85%E3%82%81%E3%81%99%E5%B8%82%E5%A0%B4/umc.cmc.4a88gh1fjv06f0te3fk9y0tc9