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Culture

Netflix’s The Naked Director: A Dodgy Dive into Japanese Porn and “Real” Sex

This semi-biographical ode to Japanese AV does little more than maintain the status quo—but it makes us think while doing so.

By 9 min read

This article contains spoilers for season one of The Naked Director.

The Naked Director is obsessed with real sex.

The Netflix series, released worldwide in August, is a fictionalized biography of adult video director Toru Muranishi and his rise to fame during Japan’s Bubble era in the 1980s. Mainly set in Sapporo, Hokkaido, and Tokyo’s Kabukicho, the eight-episode show follows Muranishi and his AV crew as they rub shoulders with yakuza and try to outmaneuver both porn industry giants and the police.

But the Japanese underworld is little more than a backdrop for The Naked Director’s main focus: Muranishi’s quest to push boundaries in porn. His works were among the first adult videos in Japan to involve unsimulated sex. Together with AV actress Kaoru Kuroki, Muranishi’s unflinching depiction of human sexuality even helped spark a sexual revolution in Japanese society.

Or so The Naked Director would have us believe.

Despite paying lip service to empowerment and giving viewers a peek at the dark side of the adult video industry, the show has difficulty rising above pornographic fantasies and tropes—though perhaps it never intended to.

Much like the media it glorifies, The Naked Director is more entertainment than revolutionary manifesto.

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Netflix has greenlighted a second season of The Naked Director.

Masturbating in the basement

Episode 1 “The Hidden Side” Recap: Muranishi masters salesmanship, loses his job and his wife, and decides he wants to “sell desire.”

At first glance, episode one of The Naked Director paints pre-AV-career Muranishi as a hapless salesman with an unsatisfying sex life—a bid to make him relatable, perhaps. But from the very beginning, the show reveals that there is a porn director (star, in fact) within Muranishi waiting to be awoken.

Much like the media it glorifies, The Naked Director is more entertainment than revolutionary manifesto.

After a short prologue, we meet our hero in a grimy basement, where he is jerking off to a copy of porn magazine Hustler. The scene’s first shots show Muranishi as somewhat pathetic: he’s blowing on the pages to keep them open because he doesn’t have a spare hand.

Next instant, we’re in Muranishi’s fantasy as he pounds an anonymous blonde from behind. It’s a far cry from the not-so-great sex he’s having at home, where his wife, Sachiko, tells him to hush up so as not to wake their two kids.

The first episode offers a fleeting, realistic depiction of porn as masturbation aid and wish fulfillment. For a short time, the audience sees from the perspective of a porn consumer (which, in all likelihood, they are) rather than porn creator, and it’s not an entirely comfortable position to be in.

But for better or worse, fantasy quickly becomes reality in the world of The Naked Director.

A peek behind the scenes

At the end of the episode, Muranishi’s obsession with real (i.e. actually enjoyable) sex begins when gangster-lite Toshi introduces him to love hotel voyeurism. Toshi calls it “the real deal, […] a peek behind the scenes of sex.”

Although the scene Muranishi witnesses takes place in real life, it’s shot as porn.

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Kawada, played by Tetsuji Tamayama, joins Muranishi in launching their porn film production company Sapphire Pictures.

Muranishi’s peephole, a prelude to the camera viewfinders he will later use, faces a couple enjoying some energetic doggy style. The woman, who manages to praise her partner’s prowess between gasps and moans, is the focus of the shot. A mirror in the background offers another view of the action. As Muranishi starts getting into it, the woman’s tits bounce along to the soundtrack in slow-mo.

In his eyes, real sex and porn are one and the same. He believes it is possible for real-life sex to achieve the wild inhibition of porn, and for porn—a product curated for a specific market—to accurately reflect human nature.

And yet, The Naked Director later shows us that Muranishi’s vision may be misguided.

Sometimes, as in the scene described above, the show’s camerawork represents Muranishi’s point of view. However, other scenes are filmed from a detached perspective that leaves him and his work in a more ambiguous light.

He believes it is possible for real-life sex to achieve the wild inhibition of porn, and for porn—a product curated for a specific market—to accurately reflect human nature.

Does The Naked Director take itself seriously?

Episode 3, “Shake Things Up” and Episode 4, “The Real Thing” Recap: Muranishi assembles his AV crew; his first video depicts a high school baseball player holding a tour guide at gunpoint and having (simulated) sex with her on a baseball field. Muranishi makes an unsimulated porno based on a real sexual encounter.

The contrast between Muranishi’s night with lonely widow Yoko and his porno inspired by the encounter is jarring, despite the video being his first to use “real” sex. Although Muranishi let himself be seduced by the widow, in his AV version she is suddenly jumped at her husband’s funeral. She protests feebly (remember, guys, no means yes) before succumbing to passion.

The real widow prefers standing sex because it reminds her of her dead husband; the scene walks a razor-thin line between poignancy and ridiculousness. However, the porn version dives headlong into farce, with standing sex taken to an illogical extreme as Muranishi’s actors race down Tokyo’s streets in flagrante delicto.

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Shinnosuke Mitsushima plays small-time crook Toshi Arai who, after witnessing a grizzly murder, ends the season being initiated into the yakuza.

Two other porn shoots in other episodes, the baseball rape fantasy and the Hawaiian sky-fuck, are similarly and inexplicably bad, full of violence and tropes. They seem almost a spoof on porn rather than an expression of Muranishi’s artistic vision.

Yet The Naked Director appears to take these scenes seriously. After the baseball shoot, the lead actress, Naoko, says she wants to work with Muranishi again. Split screens contrast Muranishi’s crew with that of rival porn mogul Ikezawa—the scrappy artists are going to take on the industry and change the world.

But with what, exactly?

“An assertive vagina”

Episode 5, “Blossoming” and Episode 7, “Don’t Dream It’s Over” Recap: Kaoru Kuroki joins Muranishi’s crew; they shoot a porno but don’t release it due to Kuroki’s mother’s objections. Kuroki decides to release her porno to help bail Muranishi out of jail; it’s a hit.

In fact, the world changes while Muranishi languishes in American prison for two years after a shoot in Hawaii doesn’t quite go to plan. (A prison rape scene, never mentioned again, is the show’s biggest WTF moment.)

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Muranishi, played by Takayuki Yamada, gets arrested in Hawaii.

Leading the change is Kaoru Kuroki, who, in her own words, “gained [her] freedom and became an assertive vagina” (again, are we sure this isn’t satire?) through shooting a video with Muranishi.

And indeed, The Naked Director shows as much pubic hair as it does cunnilingus. None.

Her video—and it does feel like hers, as this is the only shoot where Muranishi doesn’t add a story or farcical elements—makes waves for its groundbreaking depiction of ravenous female desire. Kuroki goes on to become a media darling and spokesperson for sex-positivity.

But rather than ravenous desire, it is Kuroki’s line, “First make me feel safe” that feels fresh. Sexual pleasure, especially for women, is context-dependent, meaning its not as fun if you feel embarrassed, stressed, or in danger. The inclusion of this simple but often-overlooked request is a highlight of The Naked Director’s pursuit of real sex.

Provocateur made safe for mass consumption

Episode 8, “A Sexual Revolution” Recap: Kuroki has become a media darling and actively speaks about sex-positivity.

Like Muranishi, Kuroki’s character is semi-biographical. But after reading a little about the real Kuroki, the show’s version feels slightly de-fanged.

In The Naked Director, Kuroki refuses to shave her armpit hair because it’s “the real her.” However, according to writer Nicholas Bornoff, the real Kuroki did so “as a symbolic protest against Japan’s long-standing censorship of the depiction of pubic hair in print or film.” Her argument against censorship is given a two-line nod in the final episode but is never elaborated on.

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Misato Morita plays legendary pornstar Kaoru Kuroki.

And indeed, The Naked Director shows as much pubic hair as it does cunnilingus. None. The missing pubes aren’t entirely surprising. After all, The Naked Director was made for a global audience in the age of the bikini wax.

Bornoff also noted that the real Kuroki’s S&M tendencies were “almost frightening” to some viewers, to the extent that they couldn’t feel aroused by her videos. But in The Naked Director, Kuroki’s sexuality is almost universally embraced. As such, her depiction on the show sometimes feels like just another fantasy for male consumption, rather than someone who fundamentally challenges men’s perceptions of sex.

The end is coming

One of the season’s final scenes shows Naoko, the baseball video star, shooting a condom ad. She brightly says, “Hey girl! You’ve no need to be ashamed. We women can want sex too! But make sure you use a condom!”

Condoms?! Where have they been this whole time? In an interview with AsianBoss, former AV actor Taka Kato, who began his career during the time The Naked Director is set, says he used condoms in 100% of his shoots. All evidence of them was simply cut from the final product.

For the many people who learn about sex primarily from porn, that omission could have serious consequences. But consequences be damned, condoms just aren’t sexy. They may be an indispensable part of real-life lovemaking, just not in The Naked Director.

As such, [Kuroki’s] depiction on the show sometimes feels like just another fantasy for male consumption, rather than someone who fundamentally challenges men’s perceptions of sex.

A show about filming sex

As a work of fiction, The Naked Director has both thrilling highs and head-scratching lows. More than any tit or dickprint, this contrast is what makes the show intriguing.

I’m still on the fence as to whether Muranishi is a visionary or a hack. Although the show often seems to idolize him, we almost never see him create anything truly impressive.

The show’s characterization of the adult video industry is similarly noncommittal. I can’t decide whether The Naked Director’s creators view porn as inherently misogynistic, a point of no return for most of the young women who get caught up in it, or as a place of empowerment for those wishing to be truly free.

Trapped by the conventions of two genres—TV drama and adult video—The Naked Director never has a convincing message about real sex, no matter how many times the theme is harped upon.

Although the show had a wider variety of sex scenes than the average drama, it still felt male-gazy, one-note (good lord, so much PIV), and entertainment-oriented.

The Naked Director may not inspire audiences to think about sex or porn in a new way, but as a meticulously planned and edited product, it is fascinating. Both in-show and from a meta-perspective, The Naked Director is about filming sex and how the real gets lost along the way.

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