Norihiro Niwatsukino’s “Suffering of Ninko” is an erotic, ghost-filled Japanese folk fantasy

By on September 6, 2018

Set during Japan’s Edo period (1603 – 1868), filmmaker Norihiro Niwatsukino’s Suffering of Ninko, his first feature-length film, is an erotic, ghost-filled Japanese folk fantasy about “Ninko,” an earnest and devout Buddhist monk who becomes sexually irresistible, so much so that he struggles to remain virtuous, his days filled with wildly feverish lust-filled hallucinations.

Watch this strange softcore and decidedly NSFW film — which features live action sequences mixed with Ukiyo-e (浮世絵, /u.ki.yo.e/) (Japanese woodblock printing, which roughly translates into English as “picture[s] of the floating world”) and erotic Buddhist mandala animation— over on Night Flight Plus.

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Ninko’s occasionally lurid fairytale-ish fable (original title: Ninkô no junan) begins when the young Buddhist monk — who we’re told is a diligent and serious follower of Buddha’s teachings — goes into the forest to meditate, where he has a disturbing sexual encounter with a naked female spectre wearing a Noh mask (played by Reina Yukara).

When the spectre takes off the mask, the resulting affect is like one of René Magritte’s paintings with surrealist blank faces.

The director says this original character’s actions are meant to be interpreted is a manifestation of his rational fears and fodder for the further exploration of his desires.

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Since sexual intercourse is considered a sinful indulgence for a monk, Ninko (Masato Tsujioka) finds himself overwhelmed afterwards with feelings of guilt.

Ninko tries to go back to living his simple and pure life of abstinence in the Enmei-ji temple, but he begins to hallucinate and experience wildly feverish lust-filled daydreams.

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As a monk, he’s sworn to celibacy, and spends most of his days in intense periods of prayer, repeating mantras obsessively in the hopes of accessing some peaceful nirvana, but he finds it nearly impossible to remain chaste because he’s been cursed and is now apparently irresistible to women (and some men too, when his gay brother monks begin lusting after him).

Even though Ninko tries to avoid having sex, he continues to be haunted by lust-filled hallucinations, profane visions where he encounters a mysterious, faceless nymph in black yoga pants doing an interpretive dance to Ravel’s Bolero.

He’s also pursued by a posse of half-naked, crazed Japanese housewives.

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Ninko sets out on a journey of pilgrimage to purify himself of repressed sexual feelings and haunting onanistic fantasies that continue to disturb his peaceful Buddhist existence (his meditations actively invoke wonderful mandala-like animated sequences).

Our hero tries to cool off the carnal thoughts by plunging beneath the icy cold spray of a mountain waterfall in an attempt to subdue his ungodly thoughts, but even this doesn’t seem to work.

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Then, he encounters a ronin, a masterless wandering samurai named “Kanzo” (Hideta Iwahashi), who Ninko finds standing over a bloody corpse.

The samurai warrior claims he’s innocent of the murder, though, and quite suddenly the film veers into a more traditional Japanese Jidaigeki-type story.

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The ronin leads Ninko on a trail through the uplands to the near-deserted village of Akatsuki, which he finds has been destroyed by a goblin in blood red crimson-colored rags, “Yama-Onna” (meaning Mountain Woman, played by Miho Wakabayashi).

This succubus-like goddess has seduced and drained the vitality and life-force of nearly all the men of the valley.

The village chief implores him to join forces in order to defeat this rapacious sex monster, and let’s just say that everything comes to a head when Ninko finally meets up with her in the forest.

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Read more about Norihiro Niwatsukino and Suffering of Ninko below.

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Norihiro Niwatsukino (b. April 6, 1981) began his filmmaking career while studying at the Kyushu Institute of Design in Fukuoka, Japan.

After moving to Tokyo, he began working as a freelance director and screenwriter, directing video projects which featured live-action mixed with animation, which he developed into a highly personalized style in which he does nearly everything himself  (writer-director, producer, editor, animator, and visual effects supervisor).

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His short film Strawberry Jam (2010) was invited to screen at film festivals in Japan, and this project was followed by his first animation series, 2016’s Onizushi.

Suffering of Ninko‘s live-action sequences were shot over a period of a couple weeks in 2012, but it took another four years to complete the film, working with a production budget of just $100,000.

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The Ukiyo-e sequences — a popular 17th-19th century Japanese art genre easily identified by its subject matter, which includes erotic sexual scenes, as well as Kabuki-masked actors and sumo wrestlers, as well as its depictions of flora, fauna and other Japanese folk-tale landscapes, sometimes seen on Japanese shoji screens — are particularly nice, and influenced, we’ve read, by Hyakumonogatari, a collection of ghost stories evolved from a parlor game.

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Niwatsukino — who financed this film partially with crowd-funding — mixes the different stylized ways of telling his story to accentuate different aspects of the film’s taut 70-minute narrative (which is relatively short for a feature).

The film blends together bits of erotica, Japanese folklore and supernatural ghost story, with voice-over narration by Qyoko Kudo relating poor Ninko’s woes, adding to the morality-tale aspect of this sex-drenched saga.

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We found an interesting interview online with the director, during which Niwatsukino says he found it difficult to cast the movie because “most of the male cast had to shave their hair and all the female cast had to be naked.”

Suffering of Ninko proved to be quite popular on the international festival circuit, playing at a number of events around the world.

Watch Suffering of Ninko on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.