Sunday, May 2, 2021

Bakeneko Toruko furo (1975)

... aka: 怪猫トルコ風呂
... aka: かいびょうとるこぶろ
... aka: Haunted Turkish Bathhouse, A
... aka: Kaibyô toruko buro 
... aka: Mysterious Cat in a Turkish Bath
... aka: Phantom Cat Turkish Bath

Directed by:
Kazuhiko Yamaguchi

It's 1958 and a new "anti-prostitution act" has got into effect in Japan. That means sex workers in the Red Light District of Tokyo are soon going to have to either change professions or risk being thrown into prison. Instead of closing up shop and just tossing his girls out into the street, sleazy brothel owner Genzô Kakinuma (Taiji Tonoyama) decides to revamp his establishment into a hammam, or Turkish bathhouse. The new rule is that the owner will now merely "rent" the girls a spa room and whatever they decide to do with their clients is entirely up to them. In other words, business as usual, except Genzô will now legally be off the hook if any of the ladies are busted. All of his workers agree to the new arrangement except for Yukino (Naomi Tani). She's fallen in love with Yûzô Shikauchi (Hideo Murota), who's not only promised to marry her and give her a more respectable life but also let her sheltered teenager sister Mayumi (Misa Ohara), who has dreams of becoming a dressmaker, move in with them from the country.

Unfortunately for Yukino, she's picked the biggest scuzzbucket in all of Tokyo to hook up with. Shikauchi claims to be indebted to gangsters and has no way of paying them back 500,000 yen he's stolen, thus coercing Yukino to go to the bathhouse and beg for a job to help pay off his debt. Unbeknownst to her, he's actually in cahoots, and is having an affair with, the bathhouse owner's sadistic wife Utae (Tomoko Mayama). He's already taken money for a three year contract for Yukino that she has no clue she's even under.

Not scummy enough yet? Well then... While Yukino is busy slaving at the bathhouse, Shikauchi decides to rape her kid sister. When Yukino returns home and discovers what's happened, Shikauchi beats her up. And when Yukino discovers she's pregnant, Shikauchi, Utae and some of the girls tie her up to a pole outside and beat and prod her with a bamboo pole to make her miscarry the baby. That attack not only kills the baby but also Yukino herself. Shikauchi and Utae then plaster the body up behind a wall Poe-style and go about their business.

Several months pass and the bathhouse turns out to be a huge success; so much so that Genzô hopes to franchise and open up another such place in New York City. However, he has no clue that his wife and Shikauchi are plotting against him. They stab him to death, hide the body then arrange a marriage with Genzô's crippled, piano playing daughter Natsuyo (Terumi Azuma), which ends with Natsuyo slitting her wrists after Shikauchi rapes her. All the while, Yukino's beloved black cat Kuro and her now-hardened sister, who's gotten a job at the bath and uses her trademark full body massage technique "Naked Dancing" to quickly become the most popular girl there, lurk in the background and plot their revenge.

After Kuro is decapitated and some of the girls try to drown her sister in a well, Yukino finally decides she's had enough and bursts out of the wall in the basement as a fabulous white-faced cat demon in a white flowing gown, silver fright wig and gold contact lenses. The cat woman hisses, flies, flips, hangs upside down, slashes people with her long white fingernails, rips out guts and a throat, pokes out eyeballs and bites an ear off. Even after being decapitated, Yuriko's flying head continues to attack. There are several cat attacks, a severed hand left as an offering outside a door, lots of colorful lighting and (the main reason the film was made in the first place) loads of T&A provided from numerous attractive Japanese actresses.

The first hour of this one is mostly heavy drama with sex / nude / rape scenes uneasily punctuated with comedic bits involving goofy male bathhouse guests making ridiculous faces while women rub up and down on them. We definitely could have used much more haunted bathhouse action instead since it doesn't even occur until the last 25 minutes and that part is a hell of a lot of fun. But as silly as this is, judging it against other softcore erotica, it's vastly superior to most films of this type from a technical standpoint and that counts for something. It looks great and is well-made, very nicely shot and lit and has some unexpectedly clever directorial touches.

I've not seen enough of these things yet to be familiar with the cast. Apparently leading lady Tani is considered one of the top actresses of such films and is often dubbed the "Queen of Pink" and "Queen of S&M." She was a big star in Japan and many of her films, like the 1974 duo of Flower and Snake and Wife to Be Sacrificed, were huge box office hits in Japan. Few of these were released to theaters here in America though, so her greatest exposure to U. S. audiences during her heyday was when Playboy magazine tapped her for a 1968 pictorial titled "The Girls of the Orient."

The director, best known for his Delinquent Girl Boss and Sister Street Fighter movies, also made the genre film Wolf Guy (1975) starring Sonny Chiba, which I've heard is far crazier than this one so I'm certainly forward to it!


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