One thing you can say about the pinku eiga genre is that its head and shoulders above any softcore porn films in the West. A plumber comes to fix a lonely housewife's sink or a bachelor party gets out of hand or if things get really ambitious a major Hollywood production gets a naughty lampooning, it's these kind of perfunctory plot lines that most softcore productions in the West slap together as an excuse to get to the T&A and with the advent of the hardcore home video market a lot of the times there isn't even a plot at all. Meanwhile in Japan a unique set of circumstances, from strict censorship of depictions of penetration and pubic hair to the absence of conservative Christian values, have resulted in many pink films (or at least the ones we're seeing released recently by such distributors as Pink Eiga, Switchblade Pictures, and Mondo Macabro) possessing a depth and sophistication that rival their mainstream theatrical counterparts. Of all the pink films that I've managed to see thus far the most ambitious, not in terms of budget or technique, but of narrative ingenuity and pure creativity, has to be Daisuke Goto's 2003 film "A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn".
Many of you may recognize director Daisuke Goto as the man behind two of the action/ exploitation "Zero Woman" series (1995's Zero Woman 2" and 1997's "Zero Woman: The Accused"), but here he moves about as far from those film's urban sleaze and sexy law enforcement as you can get. "A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn" takes place in rural Japan where an elderly farmer named Shukichi (Horyu Nakamura) is struggling against forces both within and without in an attempt to hold onto his simple way of life. With his son having recently passed away and no one to take over his small dairy farm, Shukichi fights through his grief and worsening dementia in order to keep up with the farm's daily operations. On top of that his daughter and a ruthless land broker repeatedly threaten Shukichi in an attempt to get him to sign over his farm so they can sell the land and turn a quick profit. The only two bright lights in Shukichi's life are his loyal daughter-in-law Noriko (Ryoko Asagi) and his favorite cow Bessie. The only problem is that both are one and the same. Every morning Noriko gets up and rushes to the barn where she strips down and kneels in place of Bessie, who we assume has died, and mimics as best she can her behaviour as the senile Shukichi tries to milk her. It's a very bizarre arrangement, but one that Noriko feels is her duty to take part in as Bessie represented her father-in-law's last link to some stability and happiness.
Although the central premise of a beautiful young women being milked by a senile old man may seem outlandishly surreal to some or just flat out offensive to others most Japanese film enthusiats will have to admit that Goto's intentions in depicting this very odd relationship between "Lonely Cow's" two leads are light years from many pinku eiga directors who relish in the repeated debasement, abuse and torture of women. Noriko's actions, while obviously taken to the extreme for better cinematic effect, are motivated by something that is frighteningly rare in any adult film, made either in Japan or elsewhere, and that is love. As we watch "A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn" we quickly realize that Noriko's and Shukichi's feelings for each other aren't simply that of a father and daughter-in-law, in fact we begin to question the old man's dementia and wonder if it and this strange daily ritual aren't just the result of the sublimation of this couple's surprisingly touching love and desire for each other.
Of course this is a scenario that would most likely never make its way into any kind of mainstream Western softcore film. Good old-fashioned sex sells much better than this kind of kinky and potentially disturbing set-up. Speaking personally though, the image of Noriko on her hands and knees next to Shukichi's livestock didn't shock me at all, in fact I could see cinematic precedents for Noriko and Shukichi's incestuous relationship in Shohei Imamura's "The Insect Woman" and "Vengeance is Mine". What I did find off-putting while watching "A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn" was what most people would watch a pink film for in the first place: the sex. My colleague Matt Hardstaff and many other fans of martial arts films may get a bit pissed off for me saying this, but watching Goto's film gave me the same feeling I get when I watch a Hong Kong action film. I find myself getting repeatedly yanked out of the story and characters by one expertly choreographed fight scene after another, or in "Lonely Cow's" case one expertly choreographed sex scene after another. Not to give away "Lonely Cow's" ending, but the final sex scene was the only one that made any sense to me.
If you're looking for titillation then I highly doubt that "A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn" will be the kind of film you're looking for, but if you're looking for a truly original and unorthodox love story then this fits the bill perfectly. That is if you can navigate through the sex.