Being born ugly is a sin only if you’re ashamed of it. It shows true character to be comfortable in your own skin and accept your shortcomings, regardless of your poor genetics. An attractive personality can go a long way towards salvaging an otherwise hopeless situation. With that said, From the Back From the Front is easily the ugliest Betty I’ve seen in recent years, and also the one I was least embarrassed—rather proud, actually—about taking home.
From the Back is the first of two movies in the recent Roman Porno Returns series that riffs on Nikkatsu’s art house softcore skin flicks from the 70’s and 80’s. Both it and Apartment Wife: Affair in the Afternoon share names with legendary Pink Films, though the similarities are superficial at best. The original From the Back caused quite the stir for its sultry title track performed by the film’s starlet turned harlot, Yoko Hatakanaka. On the other hand, no one raised an eyebrow at the star of the modern reimagining, the over-30 nudie model, Tomomi Miyauchi.
Our heroine Momoko works as a taxi driver who, after failing yet again to meet her monthly quota, stands to lose her job if she can’t bring her fares into the black. Drawing inspiration from the world’s oldest profession, her new business model has men lining up around the block for the ride of their life, giving new meaning to the phrase “yellow cab.” Everything seems peachy until the fuzz come crashing down hard and fast, and Momoko finds herself fleeing cross-country with a handsome stranger. And there’s something about his touch that brings back memories lost during the motorcycle crash that killed her boyfriend not so many years ago…
Just to clarify, the plot revolves around an amnesiac prostitute who works out of her taxi and has flashbacks when given proper stimulation. More thought has gone into the script than your average porno film, but this isn’t an average porno film—It’s a Roman Porno, or at least is branded as one, and as such it must adhere to genre conventions. In Nikkatsu’s case, this includes one nude scene every ten minutes (check), the concealment of genital by any means necessary (clever placement of potted plants, check), and total artistic freedom so long as the producers deliver the goods (questionable but negligible).
You see, there’s no way that a true Roman Porno revival could happen in today’s social climate. Joe Public isn’t ready for it, and the censorship laws that killed the films off in the mid-80’s still prowl the studio lots like watchdogs. But first-time director Shoichiro Masumoto (supporting character in every B-movie from the past 10 years) was smart . He and his crew resigned themselves to the fact that they wouldn’t be changing anyone’s lives on their budget. They had no message to sell or artistic egos to stroke. This left their hands free to handle more important issues, like gags and nipple placement. The result—An unintentional masterpiece.
Films shot digitally look cheap, and From the Back is no exception. Normally such shoddy productions take me out of the movie, but in rare instances such as this they play to its strengths. Too many B-movies try to overcompensate for what they are, either by being purposefully ugly (Machine Gun Girl) or trying to hide their pockmarked genetics with layers of glam (One-Chan Bara). From the Back makes no excuses for what it is.
Japanese audiences are notorious for turning into stone-faced statues as soon as the theater lights go down, but even they were couldn’t keep their composure in the face of the irreverent humor and ramshackle plot. The jokes build on themselves like a well-lubed cheer pyramid that climaxes in one last awful pun before tumbling down upon the audience. If you find super sexualized schlock like Flesh Gordan to be comedic gold, you need to wrangle the troops together and head down to Shinjuku’s Euro Space theater ASAP to see this gem before it gets put away in a museum.
In the meantime, enjoy the 1980 classic track that started it all: