In the Realm of the Censors

It’s “explicit, powerful, stylish and impressive”. It’s “like LAST TANGO IN PARIS, a breakthrough film”. It’s “a guarded celebration of erotic union and a critique on all forms of sexual repression”. With a rare display of unity, the critics have swung solidly behind a Japanese film denied a certificate in Britain since it was made, and declared it an erotic masterpiece.


In a secret kept for years, the film is now revealed as having been directed under a pseudonym by Nagisa Oshima, perhaps best known for MERRY CHRISTMAS MR. LAWRENCE, a film in which a Japanese rock musician (Ryuichi Sakamoto) is cruel to an English rock musician (David Bowie). This tells us that Mr. Oshima does not like British music.

It is not surprising that it took so long for the revelation to be made. The directors of Traci Lords’ films have an alarming habit of changing their names, undergoing plastic surgery and moving to Rio because directing her films has never won anyone anything except a long period of research into prison life. However, now that it’s revealed that one of the most renowned Japanese directors was responsible, TRACI TAKES TOKYO has acquired a new lustre, a BBFC certificate, and has been playing to packed art-houses. It also allows us to examine the film in a new light, especially under the original, planned title of AI NO CORRIDA II.

Some critics think TRACI TAKES TOKYO is one of the classic erotic films of the last twenty years. These people have missed the point—TRACI TAKES TOKYO is not “about” sex—in fact, careful viewing of the film shows it to be a cunningly constructed criticism of the Americanisation of Japan after World War II.

Oshima carefully takes the conventions of the pornographic film and transforms them to give us a deep and meaningful insight into the Oriental psyche. As the movie explores the subtle and complex relationship between the sexes which by implcation represent the East and West, the picture becomes a damning indictment of the way that the insatiable Occident, perfectly represented by Ms. Lords, manipulated the Orient physically (and by implication, mentally) after VJ-Day. This is best demonstrated by the point-of-view shot from within Traci’s mouth as she, metaphorically, sucks the East dry. And what better simile for the emigration to the West of the flower of Eastern youth than Ms.Lords sighing deeply, her breasts covered in semen?

This attitude contrasts markedly with sordid films like 91/2 WEEKS where the makers attempt to conceal sexuality beneath plot, acting and direction, when everyone knows the main purpose is too see Kim Basinger (or Mickey Rourke) with no clothes on. TRACI TAKES TOKYO displays a refreshing honesty and openness to it’s subject matter in comparison, dispensing with the irrelevancies of storyline (the title says it all—Traci Lords chews and sucks her way through Tokyo and it’s inhabitants like a latter-day Godzilla), replacing them with scenes which leave the viewer certain that, if nothing else, Ms. Lords is gynaecologically sound.

She gives the impression throughout the movie that she’s from another planet; NOT OF THIS EARTH, as it were. It is now clear that this was a subtle ploy to counterpoint the alien nature of the Japanese culture, rather than because she was out of her tree on some illicit pharmaceutical.

Oshima is obviously “mad as hell” at the way Western influence has corrupted the purity of Japanese culture and turned much of it into a pastiche of 50’s America. This can be the only conclusion drawn from a film where the opening section has Ms. Lords seducing a virgin boy, rapidly reducing him to a dribbling fool—understandably so, losing your virginity on camera to Traci Lords must be about equivalent to debuting against Liverpool in the FA Cup Final. Certain cynical reviewers have suggested that he may have been an actor, and not a ‘proper’ virgin, but this isn’t credible to anyone who has studied Oshima’s oeuvre—his uncompromising honesty is visible in the rest of the movie and we have no reason to doubt it here.

By having the participants enjoy the experience, Oshima suggests that part of the blame for their cultural contamination must be placed at the door of those Japanese who embraced the American ideals with open arms, or indeed open everything else. And by making one of the supporting cast a German (plus a use of close-ups reminiscent of Italian New Wave director Fellini), he also criticises Japan’s former allies for failing to provide support after the war.

The rumours that DEBBIE DOES DAllAS was directed by Steven Spielberg, or that David Lean was responsible for DEEP THROAT are unconfirmed as yet but all in all, TRACI TAKES TOKYO is a joy to watch, a rare, raw film which some will find hard to understand, many will condemn but as a subtle mix of political comment and historical satire, it is truly an ‘adult’ movie that need not be ashamed of the label.