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Japanese controversial movies and enjo kōsai

Before going into this delicate topic, which mainly has high school girls students as its protagonists, it is good to make a brief historical parenthesis.

From the early 1990s until the 2000s, Japan faced a period of economic uncertainty following the bursting of the speculative bubble in the late 1980s.

In those years, the Rising Sun tried to maintain the supremacy of world superpower trying to never lose its identity. At the same time, however, it received more and more Western influences (in terms of information and images), especially from USA.

During this generational change girls took inspiration from magazines, films, technology and music, mixing what was precisely their (such as J-Pop and the obsession with idols) with what was imported from abroad to create a new identity. Popularity in school (and in life) was something to be pursued at any cost, you absolutely had to be someone, otherwise you would fail. Standardization was no longer seen as a virtue to do better and better for one's country, but as a condemnation: anonymity was to be fought through clothing and glamorous lifestyle.

Taking a further step back in time, in the 70s those who stood against the strict rules of society in Japan were simply branded and isolated. Precisely in the school context, in those days there were sukeban (ス ケ バ ン), female gangs of failed students who engaged in theft, prostitution and fights (often using knives and chains).

Sukebans remained in vogue until the early 90s when they were totally supplanted by enjo kōsai (援助 交際). This term, used for the first time in 1995, indicates that phenomenon typical of contemporary Japan which envisaged the willingness of female students aged between 12 and 20 to secretly meet adult men (such as salarymen, businessmen ) in exchange for money or gifts. These were no longer hooligans from problematic families but students from good families.

Mass media were the first to focus attention on this delicate social problem: girls did not limit themselves to accompanying adult men to shop or to karaoke, many of these meetings ended in love hotels and requests for abortions from minors were increasing.

It was also customary to sell their clothes, physical education overalls or sailor uniforms (fuku), shoes and underwear in burusera shops (shops where used students' underwear was sold). This practice was so popular that men willing to spend money to satisfy their fetish by buying feces, saliva and urine were an incalculable number: in the city of Tokyo alone, dozens and dozens of such shops were counted.

The situation was so out of control that the police first arrested the owner of a burusera shop in Tokyo in 1994 for selling used underwear of a minor. The following year, the arrests of hundreds of girls who practiced enjo kōsai began and the government passed laws to drastically limit the operation of these shops, which over time they closed one after another.

To date, the only burusera shop officially still in business is Rope.

If in the 80s the meetings between students and men took place inside the clubs (especially in Shinjuku), in the 90s and early 00s we were in Shibuya. Here the girls could arrange appointments via computers, cell phones or telekura (テ レ ク ラ), rooms with switchboards where customers were waiting for the girls to call - in order not to be found by the police, the girls called the telekura via a toll-free number that bounced the call and its cost to the customer.

Shibuya was and is also the square where the boys are looking for the students, asking if they are willing to do "jobs" in exchange for money.

With the money "earned", students could buy designer bags and clothes, spend time with friends in trendy clubs and appear in magazines dedicated to popular girls in schools. In fact, there were many magazines that made reports and interviews on street-style and the latest trends. It can be said that there was a real obsession among the high school students, so much so as to "justify" this form of prostitution.

During those years it was very difficult for parents to leave their daughters money to spend on trivial objects or for fun. The future of each of them lay in the academic result, the negative grade in a subject could mean the lack of access to a prestigious university and the consequent impossibility of carrying out a well-paid and socially considered job. So many girls rebelled, some did it by transgressing only with clothing (such as kogal and ganguro), others coming to prostitution.

The foreign press has always been almost totally disinterested in all this phenomenon, while many Japanese artists have highlighted it with films and manga (first of all Mihona Fujii with Gals!, 1998).

So, here is a list of films dealing with Japanese society of that period and related themes: child prostitution, technology, isolation, suicide, social control and alienation.

Gals! cookingwiththehamster
Gals! | © Dynamic Italia

So, here are the most controversial Japanese movies!

A Snake of June

六月の蛇, Rokugatsu No Hebi by Shinya Tsukamoto (2002)

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A Snake of June | ©

The film, deliberately shot in black and white with a blue tone like hydrangeas and water (recurring elements in the film), develops during the month of June, in the middle of the rainy season in Japan.

Rinko, the protagonist, is a telephone psychiatric assistant married to a man much older than her who is blackmailed by a man with compromising photos. From this background, the woman will find the strength to break down her limits, just like her husband.


オーディション, Ōdishon by Takashi Miike (1999)

Audition cookingwiththehamster
Audition | ©

The title of the film refers to the audition that the protagonist Asami performs to be hired as an actress. In reality it is a fake casting because the director wants to give his friend Aoyama, a widower, the chance to meet new girls. The two seem to embark on a relationship that will actually turn into a real nightmare full of violence and ruthlessness.

Considered by critics both as a masterpiece and as one of the greatest examples of brutality on the big screen (even Marilyn Manson considered it too extreme for his style), Auditon is in fact the film that made Takashi Miike a world-famous director.

Battle Royale

バトル・ロワイヤル, Batoru Rowaiaru by Kinji Fukasaku (2000)

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Battle Royale | ©

In a Japan, where the economy is deeply in crisis and young people become thugs and the school does not offer any tool to give them a future, the government issues the Battle Royal Act by which each year a school class is drawn to be sent to a desert island in order to discipline them. No rules, just a weapon: it's a fight for survival, the only one who stays alive wins.

A film of arrogant denunciation of the Japanese society and school system that questions all the values that have always been praised at the base of Japanese society.

The film is inspired by the novel of the same name by Koushun Takami (1999) and, upon release, generated parliamentary discussions due to the excessive violence.

Furthermore, Hunger Games has been considered by a good part of the critics (rightly, in my opinion) a plagiarism of the Battle Royale.

Bounce Ko Gals

バウンス, ko GALS by Masato Harada (1997)

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Bounce Ko Gals | ©

Bounce Ko Gals fully centers the enjo kōsai issue: the protagonists in fact participate in appointments with men much older than themselves, until they are entangled in the dangerous circle of the yakuza.

The film also shows the burusera shops and deals with the theme of abortion.

Eat the schoolgirl

Eating Schoolgirls: Osaka Telephone Club by Naoyuki Tomomatsu (1997)

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Eat the schoolgirl | ©

A real b-movie revolving around the reality of telekura and yakuza that contains all the typical snuff features: highly disturbing rape and violence scenes and totally free splatter situations.

A product certainly not suitable for the most impressionable that still, among lovers of the genre, makes one think whether it is a masterpiece or a huge bluff.

Girl's life

ガールズライフ, Garuzu raifu by Yuki Otsuka (2009)

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Girl's Life | ©

Rina Sakurai (sakurina) is the protagonist of this autobiographical film. Originally from Osaka, Sakurina was a model for Ageha magazine starting in 2007 and J-Pop singer the following year.

The film shows her arrival in Tokyo and the difficulties she encountered in finding a job and achieving her independence after being thrown out of her home and disowned by her family.

Over time, Sakurina has become an aspirational model for many girls who are passionate about fashion and make-up: despite having left school and without a family to support her, Rina has become a testimonial for successful brands while maintaining a lifestyle based on the aesthetic canons of gyaru.

Kamikaze Girls

下妻物語, Shimotsuma monogatari (2004)

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Kamikaze Girls | ©

A film that immediately became a real cult, Kamikaze Girls represents the aesthetic and social conjunction between the sukeban and the lolita style - one of the most popular aesthetic and social references at the beginning of the 2000s in Japan and which had a huge success also in the West (especially in America but also in France, Italy and Germany).

Based on the light novel of the same name by Novala Takemoto, the film describes the friendship between two girls who are decidedly at the antipodes both in terms of character and clothing choices.

Rural settings are represented, very different from the glamor of the city and, above all, one of the most successful brands of the time in terms of lolita fashion is shown: Baby, The Stars Shine Bright.

Love & Pop

ラブ&ポップ, Rabu & Poppu by Hideaki Anno (1998)

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Love & Pop | ©

Love & Pop is the continuation of Tokyo Decadence, directed by Hideaki Anno following the huge success Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Set in Tokyo, it is in my opinion the film that best represents the reality of enjo kōsai. Through often alienating and confusing footage, the viewer is led into a spiral of situations related to child prostitution in Shibuya on July 19, 1997.

My Rainy Days

天使の恋, Tenshi no Koi by Yuri Kanchiku (2009)

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My Rainy Days | ©

My Rainy Days is based on the cell-phone novel of the same name which became extremely popular in 2009 (reaching 13 million readers in the same year) - this literary genre was born in Japan during the 90s and consists in the writing of a novel by writing numerous text messages of about 100 words; the main authors were mainly young girls who dealt with difficult subjects such as pregnancy, love triangles, rape and prostitution.

The film in question tells the story of the beautiful 17-year-old Rio Ozawa, dedicated to the practice of enjo-kōsai.

Nessuno lo sa

誰も知らない, Dare mo shiranai by Hirokazu Kore'eda (2004)

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Nessuno lo sa | ©

In this dramatic film one of the most recurring themes present in both novels and Japanese filmography is staged: the disintegration of the family.

The plot is inspired by a fact that really happened in 1988, when a mother abandoned her five children in an apartment in Tokyo.

The film portrays the enjo-kōsai as an expedient to survive poverty and abandonment.

Noriko's Dinner Table

紀子の食卓, Noriko no Shokutaku by Sion Sono (2005)

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Noriko's Dinner Table | ©

Noriko's Dinner Table is the continuation of the film Suicide Club (2002) also directed by Sion Sono and based on the novel Suicide Circle: The Complete Edition (2002), also made by the director.

The film develops through numerous flashbacks to clarify and explain the dynamics of Suicide Club. It explores the issues of loneliness and family.

Peach Girl

ピーチガール, Pīchigāru by Kōji Shintoku (2017)

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Peach Girl | ©

The film is based on the famous and homonymous manga by Miwa Ueda (1998).

Peach Girl takes its title from the name of the protagonist of this teenage and romantic story, Momo Adachi, often mistaken for an "easy" girl at school due to her eccentric appearance.

Perfect Blue

パーフェクトブルー, Pāfekuto burū by Satoshi Kon (1998)

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Perfect Blue | ©

Perfect Blue is an animated film loosely based on the novel of the same name by Yoshikazu Takeuchi, from which the live action Perfect Blue: yume nara samete (2002) was also taken.

Mima Kirigoe, the protagonist, is a very famous idol in Japan. She wants to leave the world of J-Pop to become an actress but, right in the phase of career change, she is constantly contacted by a stalker.

In an anxious climax, many uncomfortable aspects of Japanese society are touched, such as the fixation for famous people who are still extremely young, web-related crimes, the exploitation of young talents (especially women) by the majors and television.

Perfect Blue, intended both as a film and as a novel, is certainly a product of the highest level, which can be counted among the masterpieces of this genre.

Riri Chou-Chou No Subete

リリイ・シュシュのすべて, Ririi Shushu no subete, Tutto su Lily Chou-Chou, All About Lily Chou-Chou by Shunji Iwai (2001)

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All about Lily Chou-Chou | ©

The film is made following a social experiment carried out by the director: on April 1, 2000 he opened the Lilyholic website by putting inside a BBS to record the messages left by visiting users. Among the messages left there were some in response to the previous ones which, in reality, were written by the director himself to see how the real visitors of the site reacted. From this "virtual novel" comes the first part of the film which takes place in rural Japan.

Filmed with a 24p video camera (the same digital technology used by Hideaki Anno for his Love & Pop movie), All About Lily Chou-Chou deals with the theme of adolescence in the early 2000s, the frustrations of youth, child prostitution and crimes. As an escape from the horrible reality is the music of ethereal singer Lily Chou-Chou.

Shoujyo: An Adolescent

少女~ by Eiji Okuda (2001)

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Shoujyo: An Adolescent | ©

The film takes place in a small town during a summer where a middle-aged policeman seduces numerous local women. One day he meets Yoko, a girl dedicated to enjo kōsai.

From this first meeting a difficult relationship arises that will lead the couple to discover that they are closer and closer than they think.

Stop The Bitch Campaign

援助交際撲滅運動, Enjo-kōsai bokumetsu undō by Kōsuke Suzuki (2001)

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Stop The Bitch Campaign | ©

The first of a trilogy, Stop The Bitch Campaign is based on the manga Another one bites the dust by Tetsuya Koshiba and Hideo Yamamoto.

Enjo kōsai, prostitution, yazuka and crimes are the ingredients of this film, seasoned with horror and splatter moments.

Suicide Club

自殺サークル, Jisatsu Sākuru by Sion Sono (2002)

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Suicide Club | ©

Japan is shown as a micro-world characterized by alienation which envisages suicide as the only way of liberation. A life that is a grotesque spectacle that culminates with a surrealist ending.

The film deals with numerous themes including idols, internet and computers, school psychological pressure, television and subliminal messages.

The novel Suicide Circle: The Complete Edition (2002) and the manga written and illustrated by Usamaru Furuya were based on this film. The sequel was made by the director himself under the title Noriko's Dinner Table (2005).

Tokyo Decadence

トパーズ ,Topāzu by Ryū Murakami (1992)

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Tokyo Decadence | ©

Directed by Ryū Murakami and based on his novel, Tokyo Decadence is the most famous and well-known film about the "other side" of Japan. In my opinion it is essentially fundamental.

Ai is a very young prostitute who works for a call agency in Tokyo. Through the encounters with her clients, the true aspect of sadomasochism in the days of the bubble economy is shown.

A poignant story told through a naked and raw film, so much so that it is legally banned in South Korea and Australia.

The sequel, Topaz II, will be made by director Hideaki Anno under the name Love & Pop.

Visitor Q

ビジターQ, Bijitā Kyū, by Takashi Miike (2001)

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Visitor Q | ©

Visitor Q deals with the events of the Yamazaki family, whose routine is upset by the arrival of a "visitor" who will change their lives forever.

It is a particularly raw and complex film that highlights themes such as alienation, violence, bullying, drugs, prostitution and incest. Furthermore, for the subject dealt with, this film shows numerous similarities with the film Teorema by Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1968.

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