Ikuo Sekimoto might not be a well-known name within Japanese cinema, but he was involved, as co-writer, in some narratives every Japanese Pinky Violence film fan surely most know: Terrifying Girls’ High School: Women’s Violent Classroom (1972) and Terrifying Girls’ High School: Delinquent Convulsion Group (1973). Fans might also know him from directed and writing the final part of the Sukeban series, Girl Boss: Crazy Ball Game (1974).
Natsu (Yuriko Hishimi), who works at a local Buddhist temple, has a secret relationship with Yonosuke (Akira Nakabayashi), the local kimono trader. She desires to marry him and Yonosuke promises to marry her. In order to escape the temple and the sexual advances from the priest which she had fulfilled up until then, she tells him that she’s pregnant. But then, one day, she hears that Yonosuke married another woman.
One day, Oshichi (Maki Tachibana), Natsu’s younger and more sexually conservative sister, is send by her husband to deliver a hairpin to a customer in a brothel-like establishment. The traumatic encounter she experiences there, changes her radically.
Natsu, as becomes evident in the narrative, uses her body in order to escape poverty, in order to rise up the social ladder. One could even say that Natsu understand the simplicity of men, that she has seen that men, before considering the subjectivity of a female partner, approaches a woman for her potential as object to self-satisfy them. It is by exploiting this desire for self-satisfaction or for masturbatory pleasure in the sexual act that she attempts to secure a better social position for herself. The playfulness by which she seduces Yonosuke illustrates this perfectly (Narra-note 1).
But while she succeeds in seducing Yonosuke, she fails to become his wife and rise the social ladder. Why? Firstly, we have a social reason. Within the Feudal system, Yonosuke’s father would never have allowed him to marry her. Secondly, Natsu mistakenly assumes Yonosuke has an interest in her subject beyond his sexual interest. She has, in other words, been duped herself by Yonosuke’s sexual willingness.
Oshichi is betrayed by her husband in very problematic way. Not only has he sold a hairpin which she is to deliver, he has also, without her consent, sold her body, which she unknowingly delivers. Oshichi’s husband has reduced her to a sexual trade object, a body to be enjoyed and to be economically exploited. Oshichi’s subjectivity is, in other words, of no importance – her husband is her master after all. It is this feudal idea of being dutiful to and subjected to one’s husband that leads Ochichi, as subtly instructed by the story by priest Saikei (Masanao Yamada), to atone for her unloyalty to her husband via her body, by becoming a sexual object for other men to ravish.
Story of a Nymphomaniac is marked by various emotional shifts. The first shift, a shift within Natsu’s character, is from her seductive playfulness to her anger by being betrayed by Yonosuke. The second shift, a shift already stated above, is Ochichi’s shift from being a dutiful wife to being an atoning whore/nymphomaniac. There is also a compositional shift, a shift from a highly comical squirting scene to serene scenes of (attempted) rape (Music note 1). While this latter shift could have problematized the narrative, it surprisingly works well. The pleasure ‘overflowing’ in one scene does not disturb the anguish present in the other scenes. One could even contend that this radical shift, makes the latter scenes more powerful.
Even though the narrative is told through the eyes of two sisters, the message of the narrative is, not surprisingly, male. One could indeed read Story of a Nymphomaniac as a tale of women embracing and utilizing their sexuality, such reading would empty Sekimoto’s story from its obvious eroticization of such embracing. Does the narrative not show that men find most pleasure in women who have embraced their sexuality and thus enjoy as well? (Narra-note 2)
Story of a Nymphomaniac is framed with a balanced mix of fixity and (following) movement (Cine-note 1). Compositionally speaking, Sekimoto offers a standard affair – not bad but not great either (Cine-note 2). The composition of erotic scenes, just like the rest of narrative to be honest, is characterized by a certain neutral distance. Following movement, which is used sporadically, as well as static moments put the spectator at a certain (voyeuristic) distance from the erotic interaction. The cinematographical composition of these scenes is, in other words, not focused on eroticizing the erotic acts, but on serving the erotic acts straightforwardly to the erotizing eye of the spectator. The fact that eroticizing is not the purpose of the director is, in fact, underlined by the highly comical squirting scene, but that the framed erotic acts can be erotic for the spectator is proven by the shocking but titillating finale.
Yuriko Hishimi is marvelous in her role of playful seductress. By making her playfulness so obviously acted, her performance does not fail to confront us with the ease by which men, those men who are primarily focused on sexual satisfaction, are duped. Maki Tachibana’s performance is great as well. It is her acting that makes the narrative shocking as well as titillating.
Even though Story of a Nymphomaniac does nothing to take the genre further, Ekimoto still delivers an enjoyable narrative. That the narrative is enjoyable is due to two elements: the great performances by Yuriko Hishimi and Maki Tachibana as well as the shocking but titillating finale. As for the message of the narrative, Story of a Nymphomaniac simply evokes, without any critical note, that a woman who has embraced her sexuality is most enjoyable for a man.
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Narra-note 1: The first erotic scene can be said to evoke the following statement: ‘I give you sex, you give me marriage’.
Music note 1: The difference between the first comical scene and the first rape scene is mainly due to a difference in accompanying music.
Narra-note 2: One could, with a lot of willingness and by ignoring the repeated reference to the importance of the male penis and semen, read Story of a Nymphomaniac as a narrative depicting women that find enjoyment in sex beyond the functioning of the male member. As we cannot ignore those references, we cannot accept such reading. Story of a Nymphomaniac clearly assume a complete equation between the enjoyment of the female subject and the act of penetration and ejaculation.
Cine-note 1: In rare cases, zoom-in movement, zoom-out movement, as well as spatial movement is applied as well.
Cine-note 2: One of the best and most artistic shots of the narrative is the obi-spinning shot. Nevertheless, this type of shot is not new as it was featured, even more artistically refined, in Sex and Fury (1973).