By the late 1960s the Japanese were in the throes of a collective love affair with their TV sets and it was clearly going to take more than another cycle of yakuza epics to tempt them back into movie theatres. The ruthlessly commercial Toei Studio was ready for a change and so was director Teruo Ishii (who had directed no less than ten episodes of the Abashiri Prison series in two years!) So was born the “pinky violence” / “abnormal love” series, inaugurated with Ishii’s The Joy Of Torture / Shogun’s Joy Of Torture in 1968. Prohibited from depicting explicit sex or even full frontal female nudity, these films doubled… nay, tripled down on BDSM imagery, to increasingly delirious effect.
The überprolific Ishii’s fourth entry in the series, Orgies Of Edo (1969), like its predecessors, examines the Edo (Tokugawa) era of Japanese history (1603-1868), continuing to explore the proposition that a world of psychosexual malaise underlay that ostensibly serene and prosperous period. It’s not entirely inconceivable that criticisms of contemporary Japanese society were being implied and inferred… whatever, the film’s gleeful “News Of The Screws” style moralistic condemnation of “abnormal love” enabled its makers to have their cake and eat it, a framing device involving the idealistic doctor Gentatsu (Teruo Yoshida), who encounters the casualties of assorted carnal excesses, enhancing its credentials as some kind of cautionary “sexual hygiene” film.
The first segment of this infernal triptych involves Oito (Masumi Tachibana), a naive girl who is lured into a life of prostitution by smarmy conman Hanji (Toyozō Yamamoto). Her Hogarthian harlot’s progress terminates when, having become pregnant, she is beaten by a Madame in an attempt to induce a miscarriage. Her dying plea is that Hanji and her callous sister (with whom he was conducting an affair behind her back) be looked after. Gentatsu wishes he could have saved her life by removing the dead foetus via the Western method of Caesarian section … hold on there doc, you’ll get your chance.
The second episode introduces us to Ochise (Mitsuko Aoi), a respectable merchant’s daughter who rides her devoted servant Chôkichi (Akira Ishihama) around like a horse and enlists his aid in recruiting deformed and disfigured men for her to enjoy rough sex with. Dwarves… the disabled… none of this is particularly PC but when Ochies’s Jonesing for “repulsive” men drives her into the arms of a black guy… well, they don’t make ’em like this any more and it’s probably just as well. When Dr G hypnotises Ochie, the root of all this perving is revealed… as a young woman she was kidnapped and abused by a man with burn marks on his face. Before she can derive any benefit from this insight, Chôkichi scars his own face in the hope of bedding his mistress but while attempting to monopolise her affections by scarring her, too, he inadvertently administers a fatal wound to her throat. Ochie forgives him as she dies… don’t you just love a happy ending?
Finally, a depraved lord (Asao Koike) who thinks nothing of dragging women behind his horse and setting charging bulls on them draws the line when he finds out that one of his concubines has been involved in a sexual liaison with her dog! He expresses his disapproval of this by having her painted gold so that she’ll expire, Shirley Eaton style, but before this can be completed she reveals to him that his favourite mistress Omitsu (Miki Obana), whose debauched enthusiasm for rope bondage and cutting matches his own and who’s pregnant with his child, is actually his own daughter. As his Lordship succumbs to madness and the place burns down, House Of Usher style, Doctor Gentatsu gets to do his C-section (a scene that’s both risible and rather icky) and bears the child away, advising it as they (literally) head off into the sunset: “You must live, despite your burden. Resist madness and put all your strength into this precious life”.
Despite its hypocritical moralistic veneer, Orgies of Edo is a truly Sadean film, extolling the joys of individual sexual satisfaction, whatever its consequences, over a life of stifling social conformity. Obviously a pointer towards such increasingly delirious and surreal Ishii offerings as Horrors Of Malformed Men (1969) and Blind Woman’s Curse (1970) it’s also a down-market predecessor of e.g. Oshima’s Ai No Corrida (1976).
Patrick Macias contributes a video appreciation, as well as liner notes (I haven’t yet seen the booklet accompanying this release) and you also get an amazing trailer that never knowingly understates this film’s salacious selling points: “Surpassing the unique The Joy Of Torture… uproarious scenes of sado-masochism… in the chaos of this world, madness and derangement… a tale of cruelty and perversion… a must see for all adults… a perfect study in debauchery in this highly controversial piece of work… once seen, never forgotten… women’s bodies in sexual ecstasy… sweet perversion… one hour and fifty minutes of trying not to look at theses numerous ancient forms of torture… new face of Playboy 1968 – Masumi Tachibana… with her 40 inch bust – Reiko Misaka… plus over 200 nude stars… only Toei could make this unusual yet stimulating film… more than 30 minutes is life-threatening… the agonising torture of being lacquered in gold… a magnificent spectacle!”
Hold the fucking phone… “one hour and fifty minutes of trying not to look”? The version I just watched clocked in at barely more than an hour-and-a-half. Is there more of this in somebody’s vault somewhere? Saints preserve us!