Gushing Prayer, an article by Ren Scateni

Gushing Prayer: A 15-Year-Old Prostitute screens at HOME on Sat 3 Sep as part of an ongoing series of Cinema on the Edge: Japanese Film in the 1970s.

Adachi Masao’s practice abides by the principle that film and revolution – or film and art as much as politics and art – are inseparable. His life serves as a testament to this credo too. Born in 1939 in Kitakyushu, Adachi artistically emerged from the Nihon University Film Study Club, also known as Nichidai Eiken, before becoming one of the leading figures of the Japanese underground avant-garde scene of the 1960s. Alongside filmmaker Motoharu Jonouchi, another key figure of the avant-garde film movement, Adachi founded the VAN Film Science Research Centre where filmmakers and other media practitioners assembled. Out of such an environment came Adachi’s filmmaking debut, Wan (Bowl, 1961), a surrealist exercise invoking rituals of a Shinto burial, followed a couple of years later by Sa-in (Closed Vagina, 1963), which critic and scholar Gō Hirasawa describes as “symbolizing the blocked up times after the 1960 Security Treaty defeat through the image of a woman’s congenitally constricted vagina”. From the start, Adachi’s experimentalism was already deeply intertwined with the cultural and social turmoil of his time.

Perhaps more widely known are the filmmaker’s collaborations with Ōshima Nagisa, in whose Death by Hanging (1968) and Three Resurrected Drunkards (1968) he’s credited as an actor, and with Wakamatsu Kōji scripting many of his pink films (pinku eiga) – including Violated Angels (1967), Go, Go, Second Time Virgin (1969) and Ecstasy of the Angels (1972) – in which the duo combine gruesome sex scenes with radical politics. In 1971, on the way back from the Cannes Film Festival, Adachi and Wakamatsu travelled to Lebanon to shoot footage for their agitprop newsreel documentary Red Army/PFLP: Declaration of World War (1971).

Frustrated with the direction Japan’s commercial cinema was heading – the studio system started to decline in the 1970s forcing big studios on the brink of financial collapse to invest in money-making film series while, not being able to develop new talents, the film world started to call in television celebrities hence paving the way for the flourishing of the idol eiga in the 80s – Adachi returned to Beirut in 1974 and eventually joined the Japanese Red Army (a militant communist organisation active from 1971 to 2001) in aiding the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in their quest to liberate Israeli-occupied territories. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that Adachi returned to his home country and, consequently, to his filmmaking career.

Gushing Prayer (1971) is positioned at the intersection between Adachi’s early works, overripe with cryptic political allegories and often utilising sex as a potent tool to comment on a generation disillusioned with the status quo, and his most overt activist documentaries, like A.K.A Serial Killer (1969) and Prisoner/Terrorist (2007). The film chronicles a group of four teenagers debating sex and their respective stances towards it with dogmatic ardour and moral rigidity. It also exemplifies the wider possibilities of the pink film as a subversive genre initiated by Wakamatsu a few years prior and continued by Kokuei, one of the first production companies specialised in the field. Helmed by Sato Keiko, one of the few women working in an extremely male-dominated industry, Kokuei sought to exploit the potentiality of the genre, privileging films that would experiment with form and be artistically engaging while also doubling as social and political commentary. Adachi’s Gushing Prayer fits Sato’s mould (who is listed as the film’s producer under her male pseudonym, Asakura Daisuke) whilst manifesting Adachi’s disillusionment towards Japan as a place where his revolutionary ideals could be thoroughly pursued.

At its core, Gushing Prayer portrays nihilist youths trapped in a political left vacuum, which came in the wake of the university protests of 1968-69 and the failure of the Anpo struggle in 1970, when the Security Treaty between Japan and the United States (abbreviated as Anpo in Japanese) was eventually revised and renewed amidst widespread radical revolts. Echoes of the protests ooze from a brief sequence of a military parade midway through and contribute to the film’s documentary sensibility, which is additionally heightened by the many interspersed suicide notes.

Visually, Gushing Prayer adheres to the low-budget aesthetic of the pink film, with the majority of the film shot in black and white until scenes burst momentarily into colours before full-colour production began in the early 1970s. These coloured inserts accentuate pivotal moments in the protagonist’s introspective trajectory, rather than highlighting the most titillating scenes. After she is eventually talked into selling her own body, Yasuko (Sasaki Aki), who is also a few months pregnant, finds herself split between the rigid roles of “prostitute” and “mother” in which the cis-hetero patriarchal society inscribes women’s bodies. Turning sex into just an economic transaction, and Yasuko’s body into a commodity – a tool through which revolution may be achieved – Gushing Prayer at once gestures toward capitalist and patriarchal oppression, out of which there seems to be no escape, if not through utter defeat.

By Ren Scateni.

Ren Scateni is a writer and film curator based in Bristol.