Noboru Tanaka

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Noboru Tanaka
BornAugust 15, 1937
DiedOctober 4, 2006(2006-10-04) (aged 69)
OccupationFilm director and screenwriter
Years active19721988
AwardsBest New Director, Japan Society of Film Directors: 1973

Noboru Tanaka (田中登, Tanaka Noboru, (August 15, 1937 – October 4, 2006)) was a Japanese film director known for his Roman Porno films, including three critically respected films known as the Showa trilogy: A Woman Called Sada Abe (aka Sada Abe: Docu-Drama) (1975), Watcher in the Attic (1976), and Beauty's Exotic Dance: Torture! (1977), all three starring Nikkatsu Roman porno queen Junko Miyashita. The first film in this trilogy recounted the story of Sada Abe a year before Nagisa Oshima's internationally released In the Realm of the Senses (1976), which told the same story. Though at the time he was working, his career was overshadowed by directors such as Tatsumi Kumashiro and Chūsei Sone, many critics today judge Tanaka the best of Nikkatsu's Roman porno directors.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Early life[edit]

Tanaka was born in Hakuba in Nagano prefecture on August 15, 1937. He majored in French literature at Meiji University in Tokyo.[2][3] Tanaka said that his interest in the cinema came about through a circuitous route. Early in life he wanted to be a novelist.[2] His interest in writing shifted to poetry. Tanaka remembered, "I wrote a lot of poems. Each expression in a poem may contain countless meanings, otherwise it wouldn't be a good poem. In other words, each expression provides a lot of imagery. Then I thought that in reverse, I could use images to express my poetic world. I thought the image world of film-making might be what I should explore."[4]

While working on his thesis, dealing with this interest in the relationship between imagery and literature, Tanaka took a part-time job at a movie studio to gain first-hand knowledge of film production. He served as a production assistant on Kurosawa's Yojimbo (1961), an experience which created Tanaka's enthusiasm for the film industry.[2][4] After graduation, he applied to Nikkatsu studios for a job as an assistant director and passed their entrance exam.[2] In this capacity, he worked under some of the studio's best directors of the time, including Seijun Suzuki and Shōhei Imamura.[5] Among the films on which Tanaka worked at this time was Imamura's The Pornographers.[6]

Roman porno[edit]

"I think Nikkatsu's position in the industry is unique. It's a large company, but we worked on one single concept, sex, for 18 years, and made a very large number of films. Having sex is an activity where we clearly show our true natures. Examining the relationships between men and women is one of the best ways to show the essence of human beings. So we thought that by working with the theme of sex, we could explore ourselves more deeply and express the very core of the world."
Noboru Tanaka[7]

In the late 1960s, Nikkatsu began having severe financial trouble due to audiences lost to television and an influx of Western films. In order to avoid bankruptcy, Takashi Itamochi, president of Nikkatsu, made the decision to put the company's high production values and professional talent into the adult, or pink film industry as a way of attracting a new audience. Nikkatsu called its line of pink films "Roman Porno", and started the series in November 1971.[8] Rather than work in sex films, many directors left the studio at this time, opening up positions for younger directors in their wake.[9] Tanaka remembers his attitude about Nikkatsu's decision, "I was excited and positive about the changes, and was very eager to work in this new genre as a director."[7]

The studio gave its Roman porno directors a great deal of artistic freedom. Beyond budgetary and time restraints, the only rule was that the film meet the official minimum quota of four nude or sex scenes per hour.[10] Patrick Macias notes the diversity of styles this format allowed. Director Chūsei Sone "specialized in ribald tales from the past", Yasuharu Hasebe, "delivered frightening, raw, and violent images", and Tanaka created films which were "as sophisticated as they were erotic."[8] In later years, reflecting on his work in the genre, Tanaka pointed out, "We can look at the core of human beings without disguising anything and can express ourselves very honestly. That's why working on Roman porno is such an enjoyable experience."[11]

Tanaka was given his first chance to direct in 1972 with the early Roman porno, Beads From a Petal. Originally called I Am Burning Up (Moeagaru Watashi), a title Tanaka always preferred, the story deals with the sexual awakening of a frigid woman. Tanaka meant the film to be an allegorical depiction of Japanese society in the post-war years, later saying, "After the war, Japan suffered from frigidity and the film described how the psychological bruises Japan suffered from would gradually be cured as time passed, through a young woman's life."[12] Though criticized for some heavy-handed symbolism, this first film showed Tanaka's ability to give a movie a strikingly interesting look.[13]

The same year, Tanaka directed Night of the Felines, an unusually realistic look at the lives of a group of prostitutes. This is considered one of Tanaka's early major films.[14] Also in 1972, he gained critical approval for his Woman on the Night Train. Even in this early work Tanaka's direction is called, "some of the best in any pink film."[15]

As his career progressed, Tanaka's films became known for their imaginative, sometimes surreal, use of color and poetic imagery within the setting of a harsh, brutal world.[16] In 1973, Tanaka directed the second entry in the Secret Chronicle trilogy, Secret Chronicle: Torture Hell. In contrast to the first entry in the trilogy, a satirical depiction of a 19th-century brothel, Tanaka's film was a serious look at religious-sexual ceremonies at a temple.[17] For this effort, Tanaka won the Directors Guild of Japan New Directors Citation in 1973.[18][19] The last film of this trilogy, Secret Chronicle: She Beast Market (1974) returned to the satirical style of the first film. The cast included the popular poet Sakumi Hagiwara playing the memorable role of a man who simultaneously commits suicide and wipes out a gang of yakuza when he explodes a gas-filled inflatable sex-doll.[17]

Tanaka's visual flair raised Private Life of a School Mistress (1973) above its lackluster story of a female teacher and her romantic relationship with a male student. The mainstream film journal Eiga Geijutsu put the film at eighth place on its list of the top ten films of the year.[2] While employed at Nikkatsu, Tanaka also made a few films outside of the pink genre for other studios. For Toei, he filmed Kobe International Gang (1975) and Escape of Gangster Ando Noboru, starring the yakuza-turned-actor Noboru Ando himself.[2]

A black-and-white film employing handheld camera and a fragmented, impressionistic narrative structure, Tanaka's Confidential Report: Sex Market (1974) is among the most unusual-looking films in the Roman Porno series.[2] The first film in Tanaka's Showa Trilogy, A Woman Called Sada Abe is more conventional than most of his films, but highly regarded by critics.[19] Tanaka was proud of his ability to produce a high-quality film on a minimal budget. Nikkatsu allotted 7,500,000 yen (approximately US$65,000) for their Roman porno films, but Tanaka used only about 6,600,000 yen to make A Woman Called Sada Abe. Tanaka later explained, "I managed to make it for about 900,000 yen under budget. I believe it depends on the initial concept. I was confident that as long as the concept was good, it would become a great film and beat any of those films made for 10,000,000 yen. I think that's the most interesting thing about film-making: it's so unpredictable. 'Abe Sada's' simple lip movement could say more and be more appealing to an audience than thousands of horses running around a field. It's possible that lip movement could be more effective than thousands of horses and that's why film-making is very creative and incredibly interesting."[20]

The second entry Tanaka's Showa Trilogy, Watcher in the Attic (1976), also starring Sada Abe's Junko Miyashita, was a breakthrough for Tanaka. Magill's Survey of Cinema calls this adaptation of a Rampo Edogawa novel "a frenzied fantasy treat."[19] In 1970 the story had been given a straight pink film treatment by actress Rumi Tama's husband, director Akitaka Kimata, founder of Pro Taka and Million Film.[21] Mainstream critics recognized that Tanaka's work in this film made it stand out from its modest pink film origins. The Peer Cinema Club Annual, a conservative publication which did not normally concern itself with Pink films, judged it "a perfect marriage of decadence and art."[22] Tanaka's depictions of Edogawa's ero guro nansensu style, voyeurism and the Taishō period were influential on later films such as Kazuyoshi Okuyama's Mystery of Rampo (1994), Akio Jissōji's Rampo films, including The D-Slope Murder Case (1998), and Rampo Noir (2005).[23]

The third film in the Showa Trilogy, Beauty's Exotic Dance: Torture! (1977) while still a box-office hit,[24] was not as well-received by the critics of the time as the two preceding entries, perhaps because of its more extreme, sado-masochistic theme.[25]

Rape and Death of a Housewife (1978), despite its sensationalistic title, is considered one of Tanaka's masterpieces, and was his major mainstream critical break-through. Kinema Jumpo gave the film their "Best Film" award for 1979,[26] and Tanaka was nominated for Best Director at the second Japanese Academy of Films and Motion Pictures ceremony for this film and Pink Salon: Five Lewd Women (also 1978).[27][28] Pink Salon: Five Lewd Women was praised for its sympathetic view to the women characters, somewhat unusual for a Roman porno. Some critics have commented on the story's similarity to Ridley Scott's 1991 Thelma & Louise.[29]

Later years[edit]

After a few lean years, Tanaka made a come-back effort with the third entry in the Angel Guts series, the critical and box-office success, Angel Guts: Nami (1980).[30] Jasper Sharp writes that, from the point of character, plotting and construction, Tanaka's film is the most satisfying entry in the series, based on an adult manga by Takashi Ishii. He notes, however, that Tanaka's visuals are over-active make the film a difficult one for most viewers.[31] Tanaka recalled, "I was determined to make a film which was much more impressive than the comic. One image of a film has to be much more impressive than one frame of the comic. That's what film is all about. For the scene in which we see Nami's eye in close-up on the screen, I shot about 3,000 feet of film just to show the details of her eye and [its] movement, including the pulsing of a blood vessel."[32]

After making nearly 25 films for Nikkatsu,[2] Tanaka left the studio to try his hand at directing mainstream films for other studios. He directed several hits including the 1983 Shochiku film, Village of Doom.[33] He returned to Nikkatsu to direct Monster Woman '88 (1988) and then retired from the film industry.[34] Allmovie writes that Tanaka was a director of films "so adventurous and bizarre that he soon became one of Japan's most celebrated directors,"[3] while Jasper Sharp judges him, "[t]he most visually-gifted of Nikkatsu's directors of the period."[2] Just as international recognition was beginning to come to Tanaka, he died of a brain aneurysm on October 4, 2006.[35][36]


Title[37] Cast Release date
Beads From a Petal
Kaben no Shizuku
Rie Nakagawa
Keiko Maki
Kazuko Shirakawa
Night of the Cats
Mesunekotachi no Yoru
Tomoko Katsura
Hidemi Hara
Ken Yoshizawa
Woman on the Night Train
Yogisha no Onna
Mari Tanaka
Keiko Tsuzuki
Toshihiko Oda
The Amorous Family: The Fox and the Badger
好色家族 狐と狸
Koshoku Kazoku: Kitsune to Tanuki
Mari Tanaka
Mikiko Sakai
Hidemi Hara
Excitement Class: Love Techniques
官能教室 愛のテクニック
Kanno Kyoshitsu: Ai no Technique
Mari Tanaka
Nobutaka Masutomi
Ryoji Nakamura
Love in the Afternoon: Metamorphosis
昼下りの情事 変身
Hirusagari no Joji: Henshin
Miyoko Aoyama
Keiko Aikawa
Akira Takahashi
Confidential: The Hell of Tortured Prostitutes
Maruhi: Jorozeme Jigoku
Rie Nakagawa
Yuri Yamashina
Hijiri Abe
Strange Feelings During the Night
Mayonaka no Yosei
Yuri Yamashina
Morio Kazama
Setsuko Ohyama
Private Life of a School Mistress
女教師 私生活
Onna Kyoshi: Shiseikatsu}]
Ayako Ichikawa
Morio Kazama
Hitomi Kozue
Confidential: Sexual Market
Maruhi: Shikijo Mesu Ichiba
Meika Seri
Genshu Hanayagi
Junko Miyashita
A Woman Called Sada Abe
Jitsuroku: Abe Sada
Junko Miyashita
Hideaki Ezumi
Nagatoshi Sakamoto
International Gang in Kobe
Kobe Kokusai Gang
Watcher in the Attic
江戸川乱歩猟奇館 屋根裏の散歩者
Edogawa Rampo Ryoki-kan: Yaneura no Sanposha
Junko Miyashita
Renji Ishibashi
Tokuko Watanabe
Sex Life and Escape of the Gangster Ando Noboru
Ando Noboru no Waga Toto to Sex no Kiroku
Beauty's Exotic Dance: Torture!
Hakkinbon Bijin Ranbu Yori: Semeru!
Junko Miyashita
Hatsuo Yamaya
Maya Kudo
School Mistress
Onna Kyoshi
Eiko Nagashima
Yasuo Furoya
Rape And Death Of A Housewife
Hitozuma Shudan Boko Chishi Jiken
Hideo Murota
Noriko Kurosawa
Akira Sakai
Pink Salon: Five Amorous Women
ピンクサロン 好色五人女
Pink Salon: Koshoku Gonin Onna
Erina Miyai
Kyoko Aoyama
Miyako Yamaguchi
Angel Guts: Nami
天使のはらわた 名美
Tenshi no Harawata: Nami
Eri Kanuma
Takeo Chii
Minako Minushima
Target of Lust
Aiyoku no Hyoteki
Erina Miyai
Minako Mizushima
Shin Nakamaru
Hard Scandal: Drifter of Sex
ハードスキャンダル 性の漂流者
Hard Scandal: Sei no Hyoryu-sha
Rie Kitahara
Yudo Yoshikawa
"Love Me Strong... Love Me Hard"
Motto Hageshiku Motto Tsuyoku
Maki Kawamura
Izumi Shima
Tatsuo Yamada
Village of Doom
Ushimitsu no Mura
View of the Bud
Tsubomi no Nagame
Yōko Kon
Mitsuru Hirata
Kōichi Satō
Monster Woman '88
Yojo Densetsu '88


  1. ^ Weisser, Thomas; Yuko Mihara Weisser (1998). Japanese Cinema Encyclopedia: The Sex Films. Miami: Vital Books : Asian Cult Cinema Publications. pp. 323, 359. ISBN 1-889288-52-7.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Sharp, Jasper (2008). Behind the Pink Curtain: The Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema. Guildford: FAB Press. p. 134. ISBN 978-1-903254-54-7.
  3. ^ a b Crow, Jonathan. "Noboru Tanaka (Biography)". at Allmovie. Archived from the original on 2006-04-26. Retrieved 2007-03-14.
  4. ^ a b Tanaka, Noboru quoted in Sharp, Jasper (interviewer); Sharon Hayashi (interpreter) (2005). Noboru Tanaka Interview (included with Angel Guts - The Nikkatsu Series - 5 Disc Collector's Edition; Disc Three: Angel Guts: Nami) (Motion Picture/DVD). Nikkatsu / ATU 017. Event occurs at Chapter 7; 00:00.
  5. ^ Thompson, Bill (1985). "Jitsuroko [sic] Abe Sada". In Frank N. Magill (ed.). Magill's Survey of Cinema: Foreign Language Films; Volume 4. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Salem Press. p. 1572. ISBN 0-89356-247-5.
  6. ^ Tanaka, Noburo interviewed by Jasper Sharp. Chapter 7; 02:50.
  7. ^ a b Tanaka, Noburo interviewed by Jasper Sharp. Chapter 7; 08:30.
  8. ^ a b Macias, Patrick (2001). "Nikkatsu's Roman Porno". TokyoScope: The Japanese Cult Film Companion. San Francisco: Cadence Books. pp. 187–188. ISBN 1-56931-681-3.
  9. ^ Johnson, William (2003). "A New View of Porn: The Films of Tatsumi Kumashiro" (PDF). Film Quarterly, vol. 57, no.1, Fall 2003. University of California Press. p. 12. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-03-04. Retrieved 2007-03-06.
  10. ^ Weisser, p.204.
  11. ^ Tanaka, Noburo interviewed by Jasper Sharp. Chapter 7; 24:55.
  12. ^ Tanaka, Noburo interviewed by Jasper Sharp. Chapter 7; 12:15.
  13. ^ Weisser, p.58.
  14. ^ Weisser, pp.292-293.
  15. ^ Weisser, p.511-512.
  16. ^ Thompson, p.1569.
  17. ^ a b Weisser, p.376.
  18. ^ "Nihon Eiga Kantoku Kyōkai Shinjinshō" (in Japanese). Directors Guild of Japan. Archived from the original on 22 November 2010. Retrieved 11 December 2010.
  19. ^ a b c Thompson, p.1573.
  20. ^ Tanaka, Noburo interviewed by Jasper Sharp. Chapter 7; 14:45-16:00.
  21. ^ Sharp, pp. 135, 296.
  22. ^ Weisser, p.454.
  23. ^ Sharp, pp. 135-136.
  24. ^ Weisser, p.273-274.
  25. ^ Weisser, p.61.
  26. ^ Weisser, p.323-323.
  27. ^ "Awards for Noboru Tanaka". IMDb. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
  28. ^ "最優秀監督賞 - Director of the Year" (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 2008-01-17. Retrieved 2008-02-19. 田中 登: 人妻集団暴行致死事件/好色五人女
  29. ^ Weisser, pp.311-312.
  30. ^ Weisser, p.44.
  31. ^ Sharp, p. 233.
  32. ^ Tanaka, Noburo interviewed by Jasper Sharp. Chapter 7; 22:30.
  33. ^ Weisser, p.400. and Thompson, p.1573.
  34. ^ "Noboru Tanaka -Director". 2005. in Angel Guts - The Nikkatsu Series - 5 Disc Collector's Edition. ATU 017. Disc three: Angel Guts: Nami. Biographies.
  35. ^ "映画監督の田中登さん死去 ("Film director, Mr. Noboru Tanaka dies")" (in Japanese). Asahi Shimbun. 2006-10-04. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
  36. ^ Sharp, Jasper (2008). Behind the Pink Curtain: The Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema. Guildford: FAB Press. p. 134. ISBN 978-1-903254-54-7.
  37. ^ Filmography from "小沼勝 (Konuma Masaru)". Japanese Movie Database (in Japanese). Retrieved 2007-03-04.


See also[edit]