Draconian Daze… SHOGUN’S JOY OF TORTURE Reviewed.

BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

From Toei studios and director Teruo Ishii, the guys who brought you (among countless others) the 1969 brace Horrors Of Malformed Men and Orgies Of Edo, comes this portmanteau survey of draconian judicial misogyny during Japan’s Edo / Tokugawa period (1603-1868). After a random pre-titles sampling of decapitation, evisceration, immolation and the ol’ “torn apart by rampaging bulls” chestnut, we’re into the first of three stories, that of lovely Mitsu (Masumi Tachibana). When her brother Shinzo (Teruo Yoshida) is seriously injured at work, she faces the prospect of destitution and accepts an offer from his big shot boss Minosuke (Kurosawa regular Kichijirõ Ueda) to finance the required medical treatment. Mean Mister Mino’s motivation is not at all altruistic, however and the only way for Mitsu to keep the funds flowing is to succumb to his sexual advances. When Shinzo learns what is happening, he’s so incensed by the blot on Mitsu’s honour that he initiates an incestuous relationship with her… I’m not entirely convinced of the logic behind this, but at least it suggests that Shinzo is recovering his strength. Ultimately Shinzo calls Minosuke out on his sexual blackmail, Mino exposes the incest and Mitsu injures him with a knife. Suspended and beaten until she confesses, Mitsu is brought to trial before an enlightened magistrate (also played by Yoshida) who tries to exercise clemency but she won’t renounce her forbidden love, hoping to be reunited with her dead brother / lover in Heaven. Unrepentant, she is crucified upside down over an incoming tide. The incest taboo is a basic tenet of any civilised society but Mitsu’s punishment is surely excessive, especially as Minosuke (who, it’s revealed, arranged Shinzo’s incapacitating injury) seems to get off scot free!

Cut to the linking device, in which a scholar peruses the annals of Edo period jurisprudence. All the events in this 1968 film (original title Tokugawa Onna Keibatsu-Shi / Tokugawa History Of Women Punishment) are allegedly based on authenticated historical occurrences, with the second story specifically concerning the notorious goings on at Juko Temple in 1666. Abbess Reihō (Yukie Kagawa) presides sternly over her Buddhist nuns but is secretly bedding her attendant Rintoku (Naomi Shiraishi). When they stumble upon one of their charges romping in the woods with Syunkai (Shin’ichirô Hayashi), an inhabitant of the neighbouring monastery, the Abbess is simultaneously outraged and aroused. The guilty nun is suspended and beaten, then bitten by leeches, followed by the application of chillis and ultimately a red hot poker to places where the sun don’t shine! Predictably these drastic measures, intended to transfer Syunkai’s affections to Reihō, have precisely the opposite effect. When the Shogun’s men turn up to investigate the reports they’ve been getting, they find the abbess carrying his severed head around with her. Reihō and her principal collaborators are crucified and stabbed with spears. That compassionate magistrate asks presiding magistrate Lord Nanbara if they aren’t going too far by executing the dead and the insane…

… to no avail. Nanbara (Fumio Watanabe) is a connoisseur of cruelty and in the concluding episode (whose thematic concerns anticipate those of Pupi Avati’s 1976 masterpiece The House With Laughing Windows) we find him sneering at the alleged masterpiece of famous tattoo artist Horichi (Asao Koike) when he sees it adorning the back of a top Geisha girl. He scoffs at its depiction of tormented souls in Hell for its lack of authenticity. Obsessed with perfecting his Art, Horichi scours the bath houses until he finds a woman with perfect skin and kidnaps her to provide the canvas for his next attempt. “After I’d tattooed her private parts, she became compliant and obedient” he muses (advising the new canvas to “think of it as though you were bitten by a mad dog”). He bugs Nanbara to allow him to attend the torture of captured Christian missionaries while he works and his request is granted.

“I would even go to Hell for the work I want to achieve…” rants Horichi: “… it will be the pinnacle of my life’s work!” Deciding that only Nanbara’s face is appropriate for the ogre in his new tableau, Horichi sets about giving his Lordship a sufficiently agonised expression, so at least the film ends on a note of poetic justice (recalling that in the contemporary Amicus portmanteaus efforts). This and stern voice over reminders that the only reason we’re seeing all these horrors is to illustrate man’s inhumanity to woman and as a warning against the consequences of draconian legal codes didn’t cut any ice with the Japanese critical establishment, which roundly condemned Tokugawa Onna Keibatsu-Shi. In its undeclared aim of dragging potential Japanese cinema ticket buyers away from their beloved TV sets, however, it proved wildly successful, spawning a series of official and bootleg sequels plus any amount of increasingly icky “eco-guru” efforts claiming inspiration from it. Unlike most of those, Ishii’s film is skilfully made (drawing its look from medieval Buddhist Hell Scrolls and the S/M visions of Oniroku Dan) and particularly beautifully shot by Motoya Washio…. and all the more disturbing for it. To help keep you glued to your own beloved TV set, the folks at Arrow have appended the following…

Extras: Audio commentary by Japanese cinema expert Tom Mes, an appreciation from author Patrick Macias of Teruo Ishii’s career and Jasper Sharp on the wider depiction of torture for titillation in Japanese exploitation cinema, an informative featurette that will prevent you from ever suffering the social faux pas of confusing Pinky Violence with Roman Porno. Also trailer, image gallery and reversible sleeve options (original / Jacob Phillips’s newly commissioned artwork). The first pressing only comes with a collectors’ booklet, featuring new writing on the film by Mark Schilling.

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