JAPANESE SWORDSWOMEN VII:
Titles such as Sex & Fury (Furyo anego den: Inoshika Ocho) & Female Yakuza Tale: Inquisition & Torture (Yasagure anego den: sokatsu rinchi) do not imply serious or well-made yakuza films, & I perhaps shouldn't have been so disappointed in these two films about the woman avenger, gambler, & pickpocket Ocho Inoshika.
ANGER WITHOUT RESTRAINT
But fact is, Japanese sexploitation "pink" films from the early 1970s are very occasionally fair to good films rising above the level of softcore porn. So I honestly had some hope that this pair of "women's vengeance" pink films would have a few saving graces.
"Pink" or "Pinku" films are such softcore porn they can evade censorship laws. They promise lots of nudity whether or not it makes any sense within the story. So in Sex & Fury Ocho is attacked in her bath so that she can hop up dripping wet & naked & grab the first sword flashes her direction, with which to wound or kill all her attackers, who are of course fully clothed men.
Bobbly boobies & streaks of blood on Ocho's pale skin has a sleezy appeal, but saying this is one of the best scenes in the film isn't saying anything positive.
Female Yakuza Tale goes one further, ending in a bathhouse full of naked women swordfighting with clothed men in gang vs gang climax in which the men are unrealistically vanquished, this "pay off" for sitting through the damned show being totally ridiculous, & extremely badly choreographed to boot, with fast-edits where in good yakuza films the camera lingers longer on vastly more convincing action.
The director of Sex & Fury had directed one of the classic Red Peony Gambler films, such as were the finest of the chivalrous female yakuza films, void of the sexploitation element, so I might be forgiven for expecting the action sequences between the softcore bits to be as well done as in the Red Peony series. Alas, I expected too much.
Similarly, the director of Female Yakuza Tale pretty much launched the career of the great gangster actor Ken Takakura with the Abashiri Prison series of the 1960s. So my expectation for both of the female avenger pink films was that the sexploitation might be sexist or boring, or might not, but there'd still be a couple of gangster tales with fight scenes that could be as good as any other B-yakuza film. Alas, I twice expected too much.
Reiko Ike stars as the skillful gambler Ocho of the Meiji Era when traditional Japan first began to emulate the West. As a child she saw her father slain by three gangsters.
In Sex & Fury when Ocho grows up to be a famous gambler, she must track down & kill three men (& as many others who dare get in the way) as a matter of family vengeance. Co-starring with Reiko is a Swedish exploitation star of the period, Christina Lindberg unconvincingly playing an English secret agent. She is likewise a gambler, & there are set-pieces of gambling between the two women playing western cards, not as interesting as when Ocho is playing traditional Japanese games of chance with Hanafuda cards.
The subplot about the English spy & her Japanese lover attempts to give the film some depth & period-political content with a tragic climax of its own, but they are such dim-bulb characters it's hard to care. Ocho is more interesting, if only barely, as she tracks down the three men whose faces she had not seen, but who have marked themselves with tattoos of Hanafuda cards. While tracking them down she gets physically & sexually abused, is periodically unclothed, but eventually finds & kills them, as if there was any question about that. Nothing particularly original or novel happens in the interim, & it is one long string of padding sequences stretching ten minutes worth of movie to eighty-odd minutes.
The second film lacks the avenger angle since Ocho fulfilled her mission first time around. This time she's more like Zatoichi or any number of chivalrous gamblers, who will impress then assist some very badly exploited women in a story that delights in the ideal of female drug-mules who carry drugs in their vaginas, & a serial killer who specializes in cutting open those same vaginas. The misogyny is so over the top it can be forgiven as satire or absurdism, but the story is otherwise so incredibly boring, badly acted, & poorly staged as to merit no forgiveness at all.
In the 1960s yakuza films no matter how cheap always had good action choreography, but during the desperation of the 1970s when Japanese cinema was just about dead, cheap films got worse & worse, promising nothing but a bit of sadistic nooky-action which couldn't be gotten on television. The great action choreographers were busy making period mini-series for television & couldn't waste their talents on crappo sexploitation.
Some have imagined that the two films about Ocho influenced Kill Bill because Ocho is a sexy swordswoman & there's an action scene in Sex & Fury that takes place in the snow similar to a key scene in Kill Bill. But I'd have to hear it from Tarantino himself to believe it. The scenes that some few have alleged were inspired by the inferior Sex & Fury are much more overtly swiped from the superior Lady Snowblood, from which Tarantino even borrowed the splendid girl-yakuza folksongs sung by Kaji Meiko herself.
Though some few regard the two Ocho films as masterpieces of their kind, I found them barely watchable, whereas Lady Snowblood is absolutely stunning for its beauty & carnage. Where Reiko Ike is a nice-enough looking girl with blood splashed on her naked body, Kaji Meiko is one of the most beautiful women who ever walked the face of the earth. And where Reiko is not actually terrible at swinging a sword, she always seems a pallid imitation or Junko Fuji whose ballets of violence have strength, dignity, & beauty where Reiko is badly undermined by the cheeziness of the productions.
Mostly the nudity consists of ass-shots & tit-shots because full frontal nudity was about the only thing censored at the time. Thus there's a rape sequence in Sex & Fury where the rapist is preparing to hump the girl against her will, but doesn't even take her unsexy black boxer shorts off of her -- until he flips her over to do it doggy style. Only then would the censors allow the undies to come off. It's eye-rollingly stupid even if a viewer leaves one's feminist sensibilities outside in a dustbin.
Women's vengeance films were essentially yakuza gangster tales with a female hero & the best ones objectified male heroes or female heroes equally as sexy stars. The aesthetic of the yakuza film of the era ranged from mindless violence of various series starring Bunta Sugawara, to tradition-minded & chivalrous series starring such moody downcast chaps as Koji Tsuruta or Ken Takakura.
Those few series that starred "lady gamblers" were generally of the chivalrous type through the 1960s. Typically the lady bosses or wandering female gamblers had a beautiful boyfriend in the story, though their love affair was usually thwarted by issues of honor, duty, or vengeance. This is true of both Red Peony (commonly in love with a character played by the drop-dead gorgeous Ken Takakura) & Lady Snowblood (who is tragically unable to achieve her final vengeance without killing the man she loves with the same strike).
The male leads who provided the love-interest in the two films about Ocho, however, were not star material; they're of average looks, lack charisma, & are totally devoid of physical grace for the action sequences. And they are curiously left out of the "pink" element which does not involve lovers but only adversarial sex or torture.
While in the Red Peony films there's someone sexy for both men & women to appreciate, Ocho's two films seem to be much more wholeheartedly for guys, & not for most guys but only for the sorts who can never get a date.
Mixing the two genres of pinku & female vengeance is called by its small devoted fandom "Pinky Violence" & it's surprising how often films of this type from the early 1970s do retain enough seriousness & filmmaking verve to rise a bit above the level of mere sexploitation. Ocho's stories do not rise to any such moderate quality.
The Lady Snowblood series is dead-serious & bloody as all hell, & sexy enough that it verges on pinky violence but isn't quite. A lesser series featured the Crimson Bat blind woman gambler. The star who played the Crimson Bat was almost too wholesome & vastly less beautiful than Fuji Junko or Kaji Meiko & her fight scenes were prissy & not as convincingly staged; they are children's films compared to Sex & Fury & its one sequel.
Sex & Fury & Female Yakuza Tale simply lack the kind of superior fight choreography required of such films & which make it so exciting to see Lady Snowblood or Red Peony or Quick-draw Okatsu in their one-against-all swordfights of revenge & honor.
Apart from very minor action & skin-action, there are only two significant fight sequences per film, & mainly only the climaxes. While this was true of many more seriously done yakuza films as well, it's not enough to keep Ocho's stories interesting.
Whether or not the two Ocho films are viewed as ultra-sexist, there is something mesmerizing about the image of a woman killer splattered with her swordfighting opponent's blood, & since this film aspires to little else, there should've been rather more focus on just such action.
With poor choreographer & an attitude that girls should swordfight naked, but not do so too often, the eventual action scenes in Ocho's tales are mainly laughable, & seem all the worse in comparison to just about any other woman gambler series.
As softcore porn per se I can't say why anyone would like it, but obviously it has a market, same as does harsher porn such as is rarely if ever well made. It's more about humiliation than sex. I mean, sure, it's aimed at the male libido & perhaps it's true most women including us dykes would not usually be qualified to assess its horndog value for boys.
But when all the men who get laid in the film are butt-ass ugly geezers, in addition to being sadistic rapists who make hate to women but never love, who exactly is the horny male viewer who relates to that? Are boys watching it imagining they're the butt-ugly geezers abusing & humiliating pretty girls?
Or are they masochistic boys who relate to the girl protagonist & are essentially fantasizing they're getting porked by all those ugly feebs?
Well, for both men & women of masochistic leaning, it is a standard sadomasochistic fantasy to be brave during torture (foreplay) then get revenge (orgasm).
But I'd think the fantasy would be more effective if the sadistic men were sexy too. And most anyone who actually regards sex as mutual & beautiful will have to fast-forward through the rapes & whippings looking for the scenes of gambling & action & girls getting tough & getting even, which can be enough to save a film if it's done well, which here it is not.
Given such bad fight choreography & ugly sex, neither the sex nor the fury is much to boast about in these two films. As the sadomasochistic bits go, they're mediocre too; when they get 'round to the girl-on-girl bullwhip action, for instance, it's merely corny, unlike, say, Tatsuya Nakadai tortured in the antiwar saga The Human Condition.
The climactic battle between Ocho & all the bad guys isn't too bad in Sex & Fury, with Ocho multiply wounded & still staggering about killing everybody who deserves death. But the climactic battle is totally ridiculous in Female Yakuza Tale, with busty girls mugging for the camera more than actually fighting. The final image in the second film, of brave Ocho walking into the sunset while she sings a heroic yakuza folksong on the soundtrack, is straight out of the more serious chivalrous gambler films, but all this really does is underscore the fact that neither film has much in it that is worthy of comparison to Red Peony's or Lady Snowblood's adventures.
Everything about Ocho is a pale shadow of better films. Even the tattoos suck. When Red Peony bares her shoulder in order to fight with sword, one sees a stunning yakuza tattoo of peony blossoms wrapped around her shoulder. Red Peony is so polite & good-hearted until the moment her shoulder is bared, but when that peony tattoo is finally revealed, the viewer knows the bad guys have gone too far this time, & are really & truly done for.
But when Ocho bares her three tiny tattoos, & none at all on her back, it's just not on any level cool. Apparently the producers would not pay the price of either a qualified fight choreographer or an artist who could create yakuza tattoos worthy of being seen.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl