Ratings Key



★★★★
= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
★★★
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Tokugawa onna keibatsu-emaki: Ushi-zaki no kei (1976)

... aka: Joy of Torture 2: Oxen Split Torturing, The
... aka: Oxen Split Torture
... aka: Shogun's Sadism

Directed by:
Yûji Makiguchi

The subtitle itself should clue you in to what kind of film this follow-up to 1968's THE JOY OF TORTURE (1968) is: a cash in. "Oxen Split Torturing" alludes to one of the more gruesome moments in the original film, where a woman is tied to two oxen and pulled apart and that's the kind of gross out this film wallows in. While the first had a distinct point of view and worked its various tortures into the message it was trying to convey, this one goes the exploitation route while feigning being a message movie. Mean-spirited, tasteless and very, very nasty, this isn't made with anywhere near the skill Teruo Ishii's original was, has continuity issues galore, some major overacting and ill-conceived attempts at comedy. Things open with black-and-white "mondo" stills of real dead or dying people (charred corpses, Holocaust victims, etc.) to make us start feeling icky right out of the gate, a quote to feed us the supposed moral of the story (" 'The weak become the victim of the strong' is a rule of mankind") and then three brief faked executions (a woman dunked in boiling water, a man hung and then cut in two and a woman burned at the stake). Unlike the first film, which was divided into three stories with linking segments, this is just two stories.




Our first tale is set in Nagasaki in 1628. Handsome young samurai Iori (Yûsuke Kazato) is bitten by a snake and a young beauty named Toyo (Rena Uchimura) comes to the rescue and sucks out the venom, then invites him back to her families home to recover. Meanwhile, in the main village, a sadistic, corrupt Lord is busy having people branded to try to get them to renounce their Christian faith. Since this doesn't work and he's bored watching it, he instructs one of his men to create new, more effective and more entertaining tortures for his to cackle at. And that he does! A woman is put in a large aquarium and has dozens of poisonous snakes dumped on her, a man has his foot crushed by a giant mallet and another is cooked alive in a giant pot. To quickly move up the ladder in the village, Iori allows a cross to be planted on Toyo's families farm and then becomes the Lord's personal assistant. The virginal Toyo is brought in and tied up. The Lord informs her "You will soon forget your God and cling to me like a bitch!" before raping her and making her become his concubine. He then tries to force her to out other Christians in the area. Since this film is so poorly structed (or possibly because the English subs are poorly done), it's never quite clear whether Toyo or anyone else for that matter really are Christian or if it's all just an excuse for the Lord to get his warped jollies.





Toyo basically goes through hell while Iori sits around pouting in shame. Toyo's kid sister is beat over the head with a cane and then has her eyes burnt out with a fire poker before being thrown out of the village. Toyo's parents are tied to crosses, speared and then burned alive right in front of their daughter. Immediately afterward, the Lord rapes Toyo again and she has her very first orgasm. Hey, I told you this was sick. Iori has his samurai status stripped away and is banished from the kingdom for refusing to cooperate with the Lord. A year passes, Iori returns to rescue Toyo but they are captured again. He's filled full of aarows and speared and she gets ripped apart by bulls. The narrator then tries to inject some irony into the proceedings by informing us that later the evil Lord (who actually eats live lizards on screen) got promoted to feudal lord and then became the "Minister of Religion."




The second portion (set in Fukagawa Edo in 1821) is an incredibly stupid tale which centers are a whorehouse and (I think) is supposed to be funny. Sutezo (Takuzô Kawatani), a loud, extremely obnoxious pathological liar who claims to be from a rich family but isn't, runs up a bill on boarding, booze, food and prostitutes that he cannot pay. For punishment, the owner of the whorehouse forces him to work there for an entire year. We then get to see the various trials and tribulations of the hookers. When one of them steals another's customer the girls hold her down, cover her with some gunk and let a bunch of dogs lick it off... and the "victim" seems to enjoy every second of it. Another hooker named Tami gets pregnant and for punishment a bunch of men kick and knee her in the crotch and then an old woman fists her and yanks the fetus out (!!!) She's then forced to go back to work and almost dies. With help from one of the men, she tries to help her escape but the two are captured, tortured and killed. His new boss even makes Sutezo cut off the man's dick (after forcing him to eat his ear).





Sick and tired of the abuse, Sutezo and his favorite of the girls - Sato (Maki Tachibana), a gluttonous eater and none-too-bright it seems, run away and find their life of crime on the outside just as harsh. They concoct a scam to sell Sato to other local brothels but run off after she's sold... even if that means wading through a pit of shit and getting pissed on to get out. After a fight, Sato goes off on her own and gets gang raped by a bunch of dirty beggars. Sutezo kills them and then the two find themselves on the run from the law. They're captured by the authorities, tied up back to back, beat with bamboo poles and subjected to various other tortures including getting toes chopped off, nipples ripped off and being tied to a water wheel. Eventually they're put in a rack in the public square with a saw placed near their heads. Anyone in the village can decapitate them if they so choose to, but Sato is spared decapitation in favor of life as a concubine. The end.




Loaded with gore, misery, screaming, torture, nudity, rape and sex (though any thrusting - clothed or not - is fogged out on the version I saw), this has a healthy budget and is more tasteless and "extreme" than many better known American or European counterparts from the same time. That in itself doesn't exactly make this better per se, but it's sick and mean enough to possibly attract a larger audience than the first film. I found a major tonal issue here, though. Much of the time it's cartoonish and over-the-top, but then it'll whip out the dramatic music in an ill-fated attempt to try to make us care or sympathize with the undeveloped cardboard cutouts contained within.

The DVD is from Japan Shock.

★★

Tokugawa onna keibatsu-shi (1968)

... aka: Joy of Torture, The
... aka: Punishment of the Tokugawa Women
... aka: Shogun's Joy of Torture
... aka: Tokugawa 1

Directed by:
Teruo Ishii

You know this episodic Toei Production means business when the opening credits include a decapitation, a body sliced in two, a burning at the stake and a woman being tied spread eagle in front of a pole and pulled apart by two by oxen! This is very graphic and adult oriented material for its time in more ways than one: ballsy, button pushing stuff really. There's no way in hell the images contained in this mainstream film would escape past the censors in America or many other countries during its era. And I'm not just talking about the violence, gore and frequent nudity on display. I'm talking about depictions of a brother and sister passionately kissing, a man raping a virgin in front of her dying brother, a tight close up of lesbian nuns making out, nuns and priests going down on each other and more. It's also funny how something over forty years old can completely bury more modern "torture porn" crap not only when it comes to substance, artistry, performance and overall production values, but also in its actual depictions of on-screen torture, suffering and bloodletting. This isn't a "joy" to watch, but it's not meant to be. It's basically a condemnation of cruelty, torture and capital punishment of anyone - "deserving" by current law or not - at the hands of their "superiors."




The first tale is set in a small farming village, where Shinza is seriously injured after a tree hits him in the head. Wealthy village master Mino arranges for a doctor the family cannot afford to help him recover. Why so generous? Because he wants Shinza's beautiful younger sister Mitsu to become one of his mistresses. Because their parents are dead, her brother is laid up for months and Shinza's odd jobs aren't quite cutting it, she finally gives in to the master so he can continue to pay for the doctor. When her brother catches word, he confesses his love to his sister and the two end up becoming much more acquainted than any siblings should. Mino finds out about the incest and, knowing it's punishable by death in their village, decides to blackmail Mitsu. After raping her in front of her brother/ lover, a shamed Shinza commits suicide. Mitsu lashes out against Mino and slices him up, then is apprehended. What follows is plenty of torture as the village elders decide to try to beat a confession out of Mitsu. She finally confesses to the incest and ends up tied to an upside cross and left to slowly drown for punishment.






Next up is a sensuous and bloody tale of lust, jealousy and corrupt heirarchy set in a sheltered religious convent in 1666. New abbess Mother Reiho is sent to a secluded nunnery from the head convent (where all the nuns shave their heads), along with her servant Rintoku, who's also her lover. Reiho is told early on that the nuns don't fraternize with the priests who live at the nearby Juko temple. She happens to catch sight of priest Shunkai having a secret rendezvous with a nun named Myoshin and uses this against the priest to get him to make love to her (under a waterfall). When her desire for future liasons are denied, she uses her high position in the convent pecking order to enact some grueling tortures against Myoshin in hopes she or Shunkai will give up on their relationship. Poor Myoshin is terrorized with leeches, being tied upside down and spun around and then having her private area stuffed full of red pepper and then branded with a hot poker. This segment has a bloody decapitation, concludes with crazed nuns being gored to death on crosses and ultimately asks the question whether or not it's immoral to put the mentally ill to death.






Our final tale - set in 1671 - centers around prideful tattoo artist Horicho, who fancies himself the best in his field. When the powerful and ruthless Lord Nambara criticizes his work, Horicho becomes obsessed with perfecting his craft. He spots Hana, a young virgin with fair skin at a local bath, then kidnaps her, drugs her and tattoos her private parts to ensure that no man will want her and she'll be his obedient slave. Now with a blank canvas at his disposal, Horicho needs to learn the true meaning of agony to improve upon his drawings. The Lord invites him to the magistrate's office to bear witness to their most cruel tortures. They've gathered up a group of caucasian female Christian missionaries (!) who are whipped, lead around on leashes, have huge stones placed on their laps, burnt with fire and candlewax, drunked under water, put in a rack, you name it. Horicho watches it all unfold while working on tattooing Hana's entire body with ugly scenes are torment and torture.




Bleak, depressing, grueling and sometimes even a bit tedious to sit through, Joy of Torture is pretty much laid out just like a warped research paper, starting with a thesis statement and then using its individual stories to further illustrate its main point. Though structured completely differently, it can be seen as a precursor to stuff like Pasolini's SALO, MEN BEHIND THE SUN or any number of later Nazi death camp or torture flicks. The acting, art direction, production values, makeup, photography and editing are all very, very good.



First distributed on VHS by Video Screams, it's now available on DVD through Japan Shock. It was followed by at least one follow-up: THE JOY OF TORTURE 2: OXEN SPLIT TORTURE (1976) as well as some unofficial ones (including director Ishii's INFERNO OF TORTURE [1969]).
 
★★★
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