Organized Panel Session
The relaxation of government film censorship in post-Occupation Japan gave rise to a new kind of celebrity in late-1950s Japanese cinema, the “all-nude” star. Studios like Shintoho and Daiei heavily promoted unknown actresses as sensational new finds whose star personas were crafted almost entirely around their willingness to bare it all for the camera. Although their fleeting on-camera displays of nudity seem modest compared to the more explicit “pink films” of subsequent decades, the all-nude actresses of the 1950s were the first Japanese film stars whose fame depended on an overtly sexualized objectification of the unclothed female form.
Perhaps the most transgressive and transformative of the all-nude stars was Mōri Ikuko, dubbed the “snake actress” for her willingness to let live snakes slither over her bare body. Mōri starred in a trilogy of snake-themed horror films for Daiei, combining sexuality and monstrosity in a paradigm shift of Japanese horror film conventions. Previous horror-film actresses’ depictions of sexuality and monstrosity had been bifurcated into Jekyll-and-Hyde depictions of beautiful women transformed into grotesque ghosts and demons onscreen; however, I will demonstrate that Daiei constructed Mōri’s monstrosity concurrent to her sexuality in morbidly lascivious ad campaigns that depicted her nude form casually covered in snakes. The phenomenon of the all-nude star resulted in Mōri herself being construed as a hypersexual woman with a perverse affinity for the macabre, with tragic consequences when she was convicted of murdering her lover in 1970.