From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Though the company has made films in numerous genres, they are best known for their softcore pornography; indeed, for most of the 1980s, they strictly produced what they termed "roman porn" (short for "romance") films. Unlike the pinku eiga, Nikkatsu's films were produced with relatively high budgets and production values, as well as featuring mainstream actresses, many of whom also starred in network television and nationally released film dramas.
Nikkatsu was founded in 1912 when several production companies and theater chains consolidated under a trust. The company enjoyed it's share of success. It employed such notable film directors as Shozo Makino and his son Masahiro Makino. Most notably, Akira Kurosawa began his career there in the 1930s as an assistant director.
In the course of World War II the government ordered the 10 film companies that had formed by 1941 consolidate into two. Daiei founder Masaichi Nagata, a former Nikkatsu employee, counter-proposed that 4 companies be formed and the suggestion was approved. Nikkitsu, set to merge with the two weakest companies, Shinko and Daito, were verbally displeased. The committee formed to establish the value of each company retaliated by purposefully undervaluing Nikkatsu which lead to Shinko becoming the dominate head of productions. The reformed Nikkatsu continued to prosper but all film production ceased.
The postwar film industry expanded rapidly and, in 1951, Nikkatsu president Kyusaku Hori began construction of a new production studio. The company began making movies again in 1954. Many assistant directors from other studios, including Shohei Imamura and Seijun Suzuki from Shochiku, moved to Nikkatsu with the promise of advancement to full director status within one or two years.
The company made a few samurai films and historical dramas but by 1960 had decided to devote its resources to the production of urban youth dramas, comedy, action and gangster films. From the late 1950s to 1971 they were renowned for their big budget yakuza action movies designed for the youth market. They employed such stars as Yujiro Ishihara, Akira Kobayashi, Joe Shishido, Tetsuya Watari, Ruriko Asaoka, Chieko Matsubara and, later, Meiko Kaji and Tatsuya Fuji. Director Shohei Imamura began his career there and between 1958 and 1966 made for them such films as Pigs and Battleships (1961), The Insect Woman (1963) and The Pornographers (1966).
By 1971 the increased popularity of television had taken a heavy toll on the film industry and in order to remain profitable Nikkatsu turned to the production of roman porn and pink films, which focus on sex, violence, S&M and romance. Many stars and directors left the company but a few stayed, including the film directors Yasuharu Hasebe, Keiichi Ozawa, Shugoro Nishimura, and Koreyoshi Kurahara. It also witnessed the emergence of such new directors as Tatsumi Kumashiro, Masaru Konuma and Chusei Sone.