AKA ZANKOKU IJO GYAKUTAI MONOGATARI: GENROLU ONA KEIZA
AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY: 19th November, from ARROW VIDEO
RUNNING TIME: 93 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Gentatsu, a doctor, tells three stories of moral corruption and the mistreatment of women during the Genroku Era of Japan’s Edo period.
1/ Oito is rescued from pestering moneylenders by Hanji who lends her some money, but he’s in debt himself and she has to become a prostitute.
2/ Ochise likes to be raped by men with abnormal bodies and her besotted manservant Chokichi approaches Gentatsu for a cure for Ochise’s affliction.
3/ Sadistic shogun Asao gets pleasure from torturing and killing his own geishas. He spots Omitsu and he finallly seeems to have found a masochist extreme enough for his own tastes.
Is Orgies Of Edo a glorious example of the golden age of exploitation cinema where filmmakers worldwide didn’t care two hoots whom they offended [I don’t think the term “political correctness” was even around then] and tried to outdo each other in terms of pushing the boundaries of what could be shown in a film? Or is it little more than an hour and a half of women being raped, tortured and generally mistreated thinly presented as a depiction of the cruelty of a particularly prosperous bygone age with maybe parallels to our own? It’s not often that I find myself offended by a film, and even if I am I try to work out what the filmmakers were trying to say, if indeed they were trying to say anything. But I personally found Orgies Of Edo a rather unpleasant experience that seemed to present some very questionable ideas. Director Teruo Ishii certainly has a good visual sense and seems to be a decent director of actors. He’s also good at hiding the groin areas of people so it doesn’t seem Austin Powers-like ridiculous. Despite having virtually no censorship whatsoever in terms of violence, Japanese cinema isn’t allowed to show very explicit sex or genitalia, and blurs shots of naughty bits when they’re they’re in foreign films. Of course toplessness is fine, and Orgies Of Edo is full of shots of women’s breasts, often en masse, though there are so many breasts that I was reminded of the late critic Roger Ebert’s priceless comment [in a career of priceless comments] on his review of Showgirls, which he said “contains so much nudity that the sexy parts are when the girls put on their clothes”.
In his look at the film on this Blu-ray, Patrick Maccias says that there’s hardly any information on the production of Orgies Of Edo. It’s is the fourth of a group of films Ishii made for Toei Studios called his ‘ ero-guro’ [basically meaning a combination of eroticism and grotesquery] series. He also made something called the Joys Of Torture series [I guess that’s not much weirder than the Saw franchise really if you think about it] which formed part of a wave of ‘pinky violence” pictures [pink basically meaning sex film] that for a while was very popular in Japan. All of the ero-guro films were set during the Edo era of Japanese history [1603-1868], exploring the idea that a world of corruption and sickness existed beneath the supposed calm and wealth of the period. I do wonder if I should have sampled some other Japanese films of a similar nature before tackling Orgies Of Edo, my sole previous experience of Japanese erotic cinema being In The Realm Of The Senses [even though that’s of course pretty extreme itself], which was actually a co-production with France so may not entirely count. But jumping straight in can often bring its own rewards, and actually this film does have an opening that really grabs you, as a man running carrying a baby cuts to a close-up of an eye which is shown to belong to a man getting excited at the sight [the Marquis de Sade meets Monty Python] of several human puppets standing in parts of a large cupboard including a man who seems to have a chicken in his mouth, two lesbians fondling – and a dog. One of them then jumps down and does a dance next to the cupboard against a red background. I was most intrigued already, but sadly this soon turned into irritation and worse.
Gentatsu sometimes narrates as he tends to the female victims of male violence in two of the three short stories that make up the film. The first one has a moving performance from Masumi Tachibana which is restrained in comparison with some of the others but probably the best in the film. This achievement is all the more remarkable considering how unbelievable and pathetic her character is. Oito is raped by Hanji in a scene which, though fairly unexplicit like all the sex in the film, is really quite staggeringly ‘wrong’ if you think about it as it seems to romanticise the occasion, setting it amidst a gorgeous setting consisting of many long strips of differently patterned cloth while sweet music plays on the soundtrack. Despite her initial struggles, Oito seems to enjoy the experience considering that she then falls in love with Hanji and prostitutes herself for him so he can have money. This isn’t the only occasion when Ishii seems to be telling us that women enjoy rape, and I’m sorry that, while I have no objection to filmmakers portraying sexual assault [as my defence of at least two film shows], this just crosses the line especially when shown so crassly – at least in 2016’s Elle a situation with some similarities was handled with some intelligence and was slightly more believable even though I still find it a mystery that that film got good reviews. In any case things predictably get worse and worse for the continually lovestruck Oito who just wants to please her rapist, and it ends with some bloody violence and seemingly a moral, though it didn’t seem to be any more than “don’t treat women badly” or maybe “women, be careful”. It’s all quite miserable and bleak, but it doesn’t really hit you the way that it probably should because Oito is such a ridiculous character.
A lengthy camera track down some corridors into a room begins the second story where we immediately see its heroine Oichise being raped by two little people. Actually it might not be ‘total’ rape, because Oichise asked them to do this to her earlier. It’s hard to know what to get more offended by [and this is coming from someone who hates today’s PC culture and those armies of keyboard warrior snowflakes who seem to get offended by almost anything] – the explanatory flashback that supposedly explains Ochise’s condition [surprise surprise, it involves a rape – actually no come to think of it two rapes, unless we’re supposed to think that it doesn’t count when the victim is asleep], or when Chokichi,who sometimes lets Ochise ride her like a horse, is asked to find somebody who resembles her badly deformed attacker and brings back – a black man. At least the sex scene with the black man seems totally consensual and even tender – the only one in the film. The relationship between Ochise and Chokichi is certainly an interesting one and does seem to proceed to its logical conclusion. Bloody death ends this one too, but it’s the third tale which really brings on the red stuff, most memorably in an bonkers set piece when loads of women dressed in red are herded into an arena where they’re attacked by bulls and have to strip off if they have any chance of survival. This story had the most potential, a power battle between the cruel shogun [Asao Koike, who will be familiar to fans of yakuza movies, is the most hateful villain you will have seen in a movie in some time] and the victim who will take anything he throws at her, but it can’t seem to decide whether Omitsu enjoys torture or not [we’re told she does but it sure doesn’t look like it], while the outrageous climactic shocker of a scene is seriously hampered by poor special effects. There’s a big twist in this one, which also contains a touch of bestiality. And again the film puts forward the idea that being subjected to something nasty in your younger years will make you like it when you’re older, while the second and third stories also seem to contain the same absurdly obvious and simplistic morals to them.
The good doctor Genatsu becomes more and more involved with events and his final scene, which is the final one in the film, is rather touching. For the most part though, it’s hard to care much despite the terrible things that happen to the women [and sometimes men, but it’s mainly women]. There’s some intriguing psychology to some of the relationships, but the obsession with rape and torture [which in Ishii’s defence is no doubt more down to Toei and what they wanted in these films which were very popular for a while] tends to get in the way and eventually becomes numbing, while little attempt is made to make all the BDSM imagery actually – you know – sexy. Also, some important scenes seem to be missing. The plots of the three stories are rushed through so much that one wonders [I can’t believe I’m saying this] if they would have been better off as feature-length films. At least Ishii has a good eye and his film looks good, with its brown, red and gold-based colour schemes and good use of the camera with some nice high-angle shots. And if you’re a James Bond liker than you’ll never watch Goldfinger the same way again. Perhaps the hardest to watch [even though it’s bloodless] scene in the whole film is an agonising look at a woman being painted in gold. It’s followed by a terrific shot of the girl reflected in a hall of mirrors.
I try to go into films with an open mind and have no objection to viewing a piece of erotica or even some extreme nastiness. And I don’t consider myself to be easily offended. But I sadly found Orgies Of Edo, despite being quite well made and showcasing a vivid imagination, to be a rather uncomfortable viewing experience in the wrong way with a worrying view of man/woman relationships and the fairer sex in general. That said, I do think it’s great that films like this which may not even have got a certificate in the UK 30 or even 20 years ago are coming out in pristine editions from the likes of Arrow these days so viewers can decide for themselves. And I have little doubt that much of what I found so distasteful about it is normal for the genre it belongs in.
Arrow bring Orgies Of Edo to UK Blu-ray in a typically fine film-like transfer bringing out the often carefully worked out colour schemes and with just the right level of grain. The video appreciation by Patrick Macias [who also writes the liner notes in the booklet that goes with this release] did help put the film in context for me, as well as giving a good oversight of the career of a filmmaker who seems to have done every genre in Japan and was astoundingly prolific – well, at least until one thinks of Takashi Miike! The trailer is also worth a view, full of amusingly over the top hyperbole. Does the line “one hour and fifty minutes of trying not to look at these numerous ancient forms of torture” suggest that there was originally a longer version?
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
*High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
*Original uncompressed mono PCM audio
*Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
*The Orgies of Ishii – an exclusive, newly filmed interview with author Patrick Maccias
*Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matt Griffin
*FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by author Tom Mes