In Japan, the cinema was rapidly becoming more sexually graphic and violent, with the pinku eiga, or “pink” film, dominating the marketplace in the late 1960s. “Pink” films were near-pornographic conflations of sex and sadomasochistic violence, such as Kôji Wakamatsu’s Okasareta hakui (Violated Angels, 1967) and Yuke yuke nidome no shojo (Go, Go Second Time Virgin, 1969); these and the equally violent yakuza, or gangster films, attracted much of the nation’s film-going audience. The Japanese New Wave was unlike any other, often steeped in brutality and nihilism. Films such as Nagisa Oshima’s Seishun zankoku monogatari (Cruel Story of Youth, 1960) were stylistically audacious but treated sex as a bartered commodity and displayed a deep misogyny.
Cruel Story of Youth is typical of Japanese New Wave cinema of the period, depicting a world bereft of hope, ambition, or even a shred of compassion. Shohei Imamura’s Nippon konchuki (The Insect Woman, 1963) is a similarly bleak story of a prostitute surviving in an unforgiving world, while Sei-jun Suzuki’s aptly titled Tokyo nagaremono (Tokyo Drifter, 1966) and Imamura’s Jinruigaku nyumon: Erogotshi yori (The Pornographers, 1966) are equally matter-of-fact in their depiction of a universe in which all is violence, greed, and object-ification. Perhaps much of this despair and alienation stems from the bitterness of Japan’s war effort and subsequent defeat in 1945; one of the most famous films of the early 1960s in Japan was Masaki Kobayashi’s epic Ningen no joken I, II, III (The Human Condition, 1959-61), which used its nine hours-plus running time to examine the war and its aftermath for contemporary audiences.
At the same time, the Japanese cinema gave the world one authentically new monster to deal with, the prehistoric, radioactive dinosaur Gojira (Godzilla in the West), whose debut film, directed by Ishirô Honda in 1954, led to a wave of sequels and companion “behemoth” films also directed by Honda, such as Sora no daikaijû Radon (Rodan, 1956, a giant flying reptile), Mosura (Mothra, 1961, a huge flying moth), and Kingu Kongu tai Gojira (King Kong vs. Godzilla, 1962, in which Kong and Godzilla battle it out to the death: in Japan, Godzilla wins, while in the United States, King Kong gains the upper hand), the aptly titled Kaijû sôshingeki (Destroy All Monsters! 1968), and numerous others. So popular were Honda’s films with international audiences that for many years in the 1960s, a standing miniature set of Tokyo existed at Toho Studios in Japan, ready to be demolished at a moment’s notice. For many years, Honda also functioned as Akira Kurosawa’s second-unit or “action” director, working on the director’s more spectacular epic films.