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Sex, cyborgs and videotape: An introduction to Japanese V-cinema

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  1. AugustusFerdinand

    In the 90s, Japan’s direct-to-video film industry – a world filled with sex, action, and cheap, titillating crime – was booming. Two decades on, we select the unlikely cult classics it left behind
    As Japan’s economy boomed in the late 80s, its film industry faced a crisis. Box office sales were plummeting towards an all-time low of 122.9 million in 1996, with major studio Nikkatsu declaring bankruptcy by 1993. As home video devices became increasingly affordable, nationwide video rentals from some 16,000 stores would total 840 million in 1989. The solution was obvious: instead of pouring megabucks into big-screen productions, the big studios would focus on cheap, eye-grabbing straight-to-video films to pose on rental store shelves. In 1989, with the release of Toei’s Crime Hunter, a wild and revolutionary new arena of production and distribution was confirmed: so-called ‘V-Cinema’.

    It would transform the industry in the decade thereafter. Male consumers lapped up promises of big guns and (often) even bigger boobs advertised on video box covers, as low-budget B-movies were churned out en masse. Within a year of launching its V-Cinema label, Toei was making 22 per cent of its annual income from video releases. In the process, all kinds of talented young actors and filmmakers suddenly found themselves with a new platform to showcase their talents. Some of the biggest names in Japanese cinema today – from Venice Silver Lion winner Kiyoshi Kurosawa to Cannes 2023 Best Actor winner Koji Yakusho (Cure) – all cut their teeth working on direct-to-video (DTV) productions in the 90s.

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