Pink Theaters

Gay and Straight — Pink Cinema in Osaka

Johannes Schonherr

In the U.S. and in most Western European countries, home video and urban clean-up campaigns had put most erotic movie theaters out of business by the late 1990’s.

In Japan, however, you can still find old-style pink cinemas, running real celluloid through their projectors in classic 35mm format. Though not as numerous as there were in the 1970’s and 80’s, there are about 130 theaters still in operation in Japan today.

Pink Movie Poster
Pink Movie Poster
Pink Movie Poster
Pink Movie Poster

On the busy corner of Shin Midosuchi and Miyakojima Dori in Osaka’s Umeda district you can easily spot one of them — the Higashi Umeda Nikkatsu. At first glance it looks rather mysterious: A big, dead, neon sign spells out Poruno Chika (Porno Underground) but the stairway to the theater leads upstairs, not downstairs as one would expect. Of course, there is a story behind that but let’s first enter the building, known locally as the Poruno biru (Porno Building), and have a look around.

A ticket seller sits in a booth on the second floor. To his left is the actual Higashi Umeda Nikkatsu Cinema, a 78 seat theater which shows Japanese pink movies non-stop from about 11am to 5am. It’s always 4 films in a row, with the schedule changing weekly. Some of the films are premieres, some are rather vintage.

In terms of the latter, the management is open to suggestions from customers. You can enter at any time and stay as long as you want once you lay down 1,500 Yen for a ticket. In the daytime, silent, old men while away their time there, vacantly staring at the naked breasts up on the screen.

At night, a more raucous crowd moves in, ranging from groups of sex-curious youngsters to sometimes rather awkward loners. Later at night, however, things turn quiet again. Those in need of a cheap place to crash doze the hours away in their seats. “Some people sleep in an internet cafe,” says Komada Shinji, the current owner of the theater, “We get the ones who can’t handle computers.”

The third floor houses the 54 seat Umeda Rosu Gekijo, which translates to Umeda Rose Theater. It also belongs to Mr. Komada and it is one of only 5 gay porn houses in Japan.

For 1700 Yen, you can see 2 movies, over and over again from 11 in the morning till 5 in the morning. Nobody sits still. Men of all ages constantly change seats — well, as you would expect, it’s a gay cruising spot.

In the early 1970’s, Nikkatsu, Japan’s oldest film studio, opened a four-screen movie house at this address.

Back then the company had just switched to roman porno (couple-oriented “romantic porn”) to secure its survival and only Nikkatsu films were screened.

The location soon became known as the Porno Building, with erotic movies endlessly grinding away on all floors.

Pink Theater, OsakaPink Theater, Osaka, Japan

In 1982, Nikkatsu sold the building. The ghost of the company, however, survived in the name of the second floor cinema. The two cinemas upstairs were bought by Komada’s father, Komada Tatsuro; the two downstairs theaters passed to the pink movie companies Shintoho and Okura, respectively. The “Porno Underground” neon sign, still prominent today, once pointed to the two theaters down below.

Both closed in the early 2000’s and the entrance to the underground has been closed off by a big, rusty shutter ever since. The switch for the neon light is down there somewhere — that’s why the neon is always dark.

Right after taking over the upstairs’ theaters, Komada Tatsuro presented his first movie event: the screening of a foreign film. The place was mobbed by a crowd so huge that the doors couldn’t be closed, as people without tickets peered in from the hallway.

Doyama-cho, as the area behind the theater is known, is Osaka’s “gay village,” an area of small lanes, full of gay bars and love hotels. Screening a homosexual movie here, though, was a first.

Pink Theater, Osaka, Kansai, JapanPink Theater, Osaka

The key to further success was immediately clear to Komada. He opened the Umeda Rose as a purely gay cinema. The only problem? There were no domestically produced gay porn movies at the time. Consequently, he founded a company called ENK Promotion and began producing his own.

The release of ENK’s Legend of the Big Penis: Beautiful Mystery in 1983, essentially marked the beginning of the Japanese gay porno industry. With the 1989 Kurruta Butokai, directed by pink legend Sato Hisayasu and produced by Komada, ENK created an international cult hit, known variously as Lunatic Theater or Muscle to English-speaking audiences.

Komada Shinji closely followed in his father’s footsteps. Not only has he been running the theater for many years, he has also produced more than a hundred gay movies over the years, some of them becoming worldwide hits. His most famous being I Like You, I like You Very Much(1994).

Meanwhile, the upstairs projectors at the Porno Building never stop turning, day after day, night after night.

Cinema and program info:
Higashi Umeda Nikkatsu cinema (Japanese only) link no longer active
Umeda Rose (Japanese only)

UPDATE: these theaters have now closed as their lease was not renewed by the owner of the building (2012)

Cinema in OsakaPink posters

Books on Japanese Culture