An english translation of this interview.
JP-B : You said you used to be a gangster before becoming a filmmaker. Why did you choose to leave behind the world of gangsters and started making films?
Wakamatsu : One day I was caught and put to jail. There I discovered how the power is applied – with violence and brutality – and decided to denounce this reality, writing books or making films. I chose films.
JP-B : All your films are both erotic and political. Do you think a political awareness goes together with eroticism?
Wakamatsu : When I started making films, only one condition was set forth – to include a number of sex scenes in each one. In the beginning, eroticism was a strategic decision to allow me to make films I wanted. But I soon realized it could be used as an important tool for developing my point of view, and what had been just an obligation became useful to me. That’s how I became the first Japanese director specialized in eroticism.
How do you finance your films?
Most of my early works were commissioned films, produced by specialized distributors. I was their employee to direct the films. From “Affairs Within Walls” in 1965, which made a scandal at the Berlin Film Festival, I’ve become my own producer, in order to be totally free.
Do you work from an elaborate script, or improvise during the shooting?
I always do precise cutting, but I change a lot of things during the shooting. It’s not really improvisation, but there’s that too.
What’s the relation between your political life and the politics in your films?
The reason my films are political is that I haven’t made the decision to go and start throwing grenades. Through cinema I’m trying, despite everything, to be politically active – by showing to the spectator that the government is putting a gun to his heads. Also, I’ve been very influenced by Masao Adachi, who has written the scripts for many of my films. Before 1968 he was much more political than I.
How do you choose your actresses?
I’m hardly drawn to a woman. Your question is quite embarrassing to me… I love women who have a strong presence, both physical and intellectual, and my personal preference is for mature women. I haven’t found the ideal actress, at least not yet. I just have to work with actresses who don’t share my views, a thing I deplore.
Do your think of the censorship during the shooting and the cutting?
Do you make several version of a film, for example, include more graphic scenes for the foreign market as pornography is prohibited in Japan?
No, so far I have never shot explicitly pornographic scenes, but I do have plans to do that soon.
Judging by your films, you seem to believe that violence and sex match together…
I have absolutely no theory about the link between sex and violence, and I don’t think of that when I’m shooting. I put them together spontaneously, instinctively. For example, I wake up one morning and imagine a sequence – and, in the film, this sequence will be both violent and erotic.
One of your latest film “History of the Japanese Torture” looks promising!
The first part of the film is set in a time when Christians were hunted down and tortured. The second one is set in the 1920s, when communists were persecuted. The third part shows the unbelievable tortures that the Japanese inflicted on the Chinese during the war. And the last part is about present-day torture.
What do you think of a “commercial” director like Teruo Ishii?
I’m not really interested in the films of other people!
In “Sex Jack”, you seem to denounce a false sexual liberation, leading to new territories and the new fascism.
It’s obvious that characters of Sex Jack are sexually insane, and that their liberty is purely an illusion, but that’s not the point of the film. I wanted to show how the revolutionary movements are always infiltrated by the moles working for the government.
We’ve seen “Black Narcissus” in Belgium, under the title “Love Robots”…
Oh? I’ve sold this film to the USA market, but not to European countries! You may have seen a bootleg version.
Yes, actually it was a version dubbed in english. It’s an erotic sci-fi film. Have you done others like that?
My intention was to show that power has transformed us into robots, but the film was more a political allegory than just a sci-fi flick. I haven’t done other films like that… I’m not really interested in that… Not yet!
What’s the actual situation of an independent filmmaker working in Japan?
There are no more independent filmmakers the way there used to be. Japanese cinema is in a crisis and an independent can’t find distributors for his films, even if he can shoot them. I just see Oshima or Ogawa [Shinsuke Ogawa] and Shimoto [Noriaki Tsuchimoto] managing do their great documentaries…
What do you think of Tatsumi Kumashiro?
I haven’t seen a lot of his films, but I loved “World of Geisha”, Kumashiro himself thinks it’s his best. The aim of Kumashiro isn’t to analyse sexuality through politics, but rather to show the sexual condition of women.
In some of your films, you use scope or a change from black and white to color as a dramatic tool.
Every Japanese film is in scope, so the ones made by me also have to be like that for commercial reasons. The mix between black-and-white and color was imposed by the distributor who financed the films. As he didn’t have enough money to shoot everything in color, he figured we should do so at least with some sequences. This way, he can market the film as in color. But the decision which sequences should be in color is up to the director.
You make a lot of films each year, you must shoot very fast?
Yes, my shortest shooting period was for “Violated Angels”, done in three days. But these days I don’t make more than 4 or 5 films a year.
Do you have bigger budgets now?
They are smaller than ever! I’ve shot “History of Japanese Torture” in 5 days.
Is the reason you don’t work for big companies retaining your freedom?
A filmmaker like Suzuki, someone I like personally and also his films, is forced to work for big companies -– when independent, he wouldn’t be able to shoot. Indirectly, I’ve worked for an important company which has distributed “Six Wives of Ching”, that’s all. I’ve got such a bad reputation that no studio wants to give me work. Still, I’ve done a film for Toei… another for Toho… none for Nikkatsu. Anyway, I’ve approached some big companies with a number of ideas for films, but all of them have been rejected. The giant studios have to take into account a powerful syndicate, belonging to the Japanese Communist Party, that has really hounded me.
What’s your relations with communist filmmakers?
They consider me a dangerous anarchist!
Have you ever user a pseudonym?
Only once, on a film co-directed by Kazuo Komizu, an actor I directed in “Sex Jack” and he’s also worked as my assistant. Under the name of Tora Ostri we made a video film about a couple on their honeymoon, it wasn’t like a “normal” shooting. The film was called “Shinko Nokokoroei” which translates “What you need to know to get married”. It was back in 1969, when I had no work.
“Embryo” became a terrible scandal at the Knokke’s Festival in 1967. It was said to be “gratuitously sadistic”…
This scandal made me realize that Europe is all rotten, and that there was nothing new to be expected from Occidental cinema. But I think people are going to understand my films… in some years.
In “Six Wives of Ching” you don’t use the Japanese traditional eroticism. Why?
The interesting thing for me about “Six Wives of Ching” was to show the hero attacked from two different directions, by the army and by the sexuality of women. The distributor forced me to shoot a lot of erotic sequences. Moreover, I don’t think there’s a classical eroticism and an “other” eroticism, I don’t see the difference.
You’ve been credited as the director of production on Oshima’s “In the Realm of the Senses”. What was your part in the making of that film?
First, I accepted to work on the film because of my friendship with Oshima, but also because the production was interesting: the shooting was to take place in Japan, while the film was mainly a French production. I wasn’t involved in directing the film, but I did participate in making the casting and also, when Oshima was writing the script, we had many conversations about it. Oshima says he wanted me in the credits for this particular film as a sort of homage to my work of making eroticism known in Japan.
What’s is your favourite film you’ve directed?
They’re all my children, and I love them all – but there are some scoundrels amongst them, too. I particularly like “Embryo”, “Affairs Within the Walls” and “Violent Virgin”.
Your next projects?
When I’m back in Japan, I’ll write a script about a rich and powerful man, who collects women and treats them like dogs, he’s domesticating them. One of them refuses and revolts, in the end destroying him. This has nothing to do with “The Story of O” – Jaeckin’s film is terrible.
Interview by Jean-Pierre Bouyxou (Helped by John Walsh), translation by Kazuko Shibata.
Published in Sex Star System n°14 (1976)