Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Japanese Cinema: Sex and Fury (1973)

Anyone who knows me well, knows I have particular fondness for all things B-movie and the unsubtle delights of the very self-indulgent and over-the-top-load-of-nonsense movie experience. I've spent many late nights indulging in both terrible and wonderful films which: subvert, delight and horrify in equal measure. B-movies offer a fantastical, sometimes bizarre window into past underground fantasies which fostered within mainstream conservative societies. The western, white-male, cinematic fascination with; black culture, nuns, cars, cannibalism and sex all reveal much about the state of the rather embattled and confused male psyche. A more sordid time when everyone knew what was going on behind closed curtains, but everyone was still a little afraid to talk about it.

Speaking of confused male psyches. The truthful secret of Japanese cinema is that it's incredibly machismo and male-driven. That's not a criticism, but rather an observation that Japanese action cinema in particular often has an undue fascination with the powerful male figure, inflicting powerful, machismo violence onto fellow males. It borders on a bromantic fascination in a long running tradition of curious asexuality.

For a long time I've known about Japan's notoriously grubby, low-budget Pink films but never had much desire to delve into what seemed like a fairly predictable set of cheaply made films. I was slightly curious because Pink films were hugely popular in their time. In America, the exploitation film remained the bastion of the midnight movie double-bill. In Japan and in their heyday, the Pink film surprisingly entered into the highly profitable mainstream. These films provided a majorly lucrative source of revenue for some of Japan's largest studios: Toei, Shochiku and Nikkatsu all found great fortune in the easy to produce Pink film. Each studio churning out multiple profitable films a month. At the time, Japan had extremely strict rules on film censorship and so filmmakers had to develop interesting stories and characters to supplement the rather tame on-screen action. The idea of watching uninterested actors with their private parts hidden behind a bonsai tree never seemed liked something worth pursuing in my quest to watch great Japanese films. Even in non-Pink films, sex in Japanese cinema always stuck me as curiously bored and a bit pointless. Which is probably why Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses had such power to shock.

That said, sometimes I come across a film where the name is too enticing to ignore. More often than not these films easily disappoint - I'm looking at you, Surf Nazis Must Die. I finally decided to watch a Pink film or more specifically a Pinky Violence film (a sub-genre that eschews drama in favour of copious amounts of blood) because of it's great title.  Noribumi Suzuki's 1973 Sex and Fury is outrageously vivid in every sense of the word. 

You've probably seen it all before. The films stars Reiko Ike as the classic female archetype of good girl gone hard as nails - equipped sultry good looks and a real knack for killing foes with the expert use of a samurai sword. Along with the much less naked Lady Snowblood, it's the most obviously mimicked film in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill

Like every film in the female revenge genre, the story is of long sought vengeance against those who committed heinous wrongs against a loved one.  In Sex and Fury,  Ocho Inoshika (Reiko Ike) witnesses her police officer father brutally murdered at the hands of thuggish yakuza - ruining his hanafuda cards at the same time. Darn them! The only rightful solution it seems is to: kill, kill, kill and kill some more. Two wrongs always make a right in these sorts of situations.

The blood fountains read more like an ejaculation. For whatever distraction there is of having a stark naked women running about in the snow with a sword. The end result and forced satisfaction is inevitably of a male gangster, spurting vast amounts of bodily fluid all over the place. It seems odd that it would revel so much in the bloody death of every male figure in the film. It's something of a perverse fascination. For all the outrageously needless bare flesh on show, this is a film with oddly confused connotations and Freudian complexes aplenty. 

A very wonky sub-plot involves famed B-movie actress Christina Lindberg as a secret British agent doing certain things which don't make much sense. It's all part of the nonsensical surreal charm of the film.  Sex and Fury is like opening a bag of blood-stained Haribo. It looks extraordinary: expressionistic sets, vivid costume design and enough lurid bright red blood to make Dario Argento proud. 

It's hokey. It's poorly thought out. It's preposterous. It's badly acted. It's perverted. It's confused. It's got everything really. Like Seijun Suzuki's Branded to Kill, for all it's shlocky campness and titilating intention, Sex and Fury is a virtuoso piece of pop-candy filmmaking.