"Gushing Prayer-A 15 Year Old Prostitute", Dir Masao Adachi, 1971
Updated: Apr 13, 2021
I had doubts about posting a review of a film that is, on the face of it, a piece of soft-core pornography in the Japanese "Pink Film" genre, partly because it makes for uncomfortable viewing of a frank treatment of controversial and disturbing subjects : teenage sex and sexual abuse.
However, Masao Adachi's approach is, as for a Pink Film, characteristically groundbreaking, unflinchingly direct and importantly, intelligent, even if the climax of the film is melodramatic on some levels.
I watched it without doing any prior research, as is the case with all the films I've been watching over lockdown, since critics tend to view films through a particular lens to makes sense of what they are watching, for political context, for example.
In light of current concerns over incidences of sexual abuse, by students on other students and by teachers, in schools in the U.K, it would seem to be a very prescient subject and all the more remarkable because the film was made in 1971, possibly as a response to the incidence of unexplained suicides by school pupils in Japan at the time, though some critics interpret it as a veiled metaphor for the U.S occupation of Japan during WWII and the creep of Westernization in the immediate post-war period, something I find hard to accept having watched it, though undoubtedly Western permissive attitudes to sex at the time may have caused concern.
The film opens with Yasuko, a school girl, in a threesome with two of her classmates while her friend looks, on goading them - all four are naked. Yasuko's blank expression, with her face turned away from the two young men, suggests boredom, or at any rate a total lack of passion or interest.
We discover in this rather disturbingly close-up sequence that this is an experiment by the students in "beating sex" as they describe it, though it appears in reality to be an excuse for the boys to exploit Yasuko with the other female friend as an uninvolved participant.
It later transpired that Yasuko has been seduced by a teacher who pesters her for sex and her classmates use this to blackmail her and suggest that she is on her way to becoming a teenaged prostitute, while at the same time exploiting her themselves. Yasuko for her part seems open to admitting that she was a willing participant to the teacher's advances but at no time enjoyed sex.
This revelation prompts the four to discuss whether or not prostitutes enjoy sex or that it is even an enjoyable activity for women in particular and they use Yasuko to find this out by goading her in a particular direction for their own amusement.
Gradually in the course of this experiment, one of the boys starts to experience guilt and develops an affection for Yasuko, though it is more a case of brotherly concern for her rather than anything romantic.
Yasuko is reduced to a state of wretchedness as a result of the abuse and exhibits self-destructive behaviour that reaches a climax when she checks into a seedy suburban hotel for a rendezvous with the married teacher. However, this is part of a plan to end her life and that of her abuser, the teacher, by allowing gas to escape into the apartment.
The boy who has feelings for her manages to enter the apartment after following her, and grapples with the teacher, who fills him with disgust, but by then it is too late and Yasuko ignites the escaping gas, causing an explosion that kills all three.
Despite the melodramatic ending, the film is interesting for the dispassionate and articulate way in which the four students discuss and analyze their motivations, although you sense that this is merely a group of older students excusing their own abusive behavior towards someone younger and less experienced than themselves.
Similar themes were explored in films like "Wish You Were Here", based on the memoirs of the "Luncheon Vouchers" madame, Cynthia Payne, though in typical British fashion the serious subject of abuse is trivialized into being the equivalent of a seaside "naughty postcard" with the only similarity being that the central character was a willing participant, whilst ignoring the toll on the person's mental well-being and sense of self-worth.
It would be hard to imagine a film like "Gushing Prayer" being made now and yet it seems very ahead of its' time both narratively and stylistically and like many "Pink Films" it is both experimental and transgressive in a way that lifts it beyond being simply pornographic.