Eye For Film >> Movies >> Sex And Fury (1973) Film Review
While Female Convict Scorpion and Lady Snowblood (both played with cold-eyed relish by the incomparable Meiko Kaji) were two of the most memorable heroines of Japan's 'pinky violence' (pinku eiga) cinema, they certainly did not hold the monopoly on eastern kick-ass sex-kittens. Coming from the same period of the early seventies, although perhaps not quite so well known, was Ocho Inoshika, whose bloody exploits were first made flesh in Sex And Fury (1973) - a film which, in fact, falls neatly between the period-set vengeance plotting (not to mention snow-set fighting) of Lady Snowblood and the art-house sensibilities of the Female Convict franchise.
In 1886, a detective is cut down by unknown assailants while out walking with his young daughter. His last dying act is to clutch three blood-soaked animal cards in his hand – clues to the identities of his killers. Nineteen years later the orphaned girl (now played by Reiko Ike) has become an expert gambler and skilled pickpocket, but her true life's calling – revenge - is encoded in the three animal tattoos on her flesh, and in the very name that she has adopted: Ocho Inoshika (ocho 'butterfly', ino 'boar', shika 'deer').
A chance encounter in a gambling den leads Ocho (Reiko Ike) to Tokyo's Asakusa district to redeem a young indentured woman about to be forced into prostitution (Rie Saotome). There, Ocho becomes involved in a complex plot involving two ruthless middle-aged yakuzas rapidly risen to power (Seizaburo Kawazu, Hiroshi Nawa), a young dissident (Masatake Narusa) determined to assassinate one of them for reasons personal as much as political, a determined British agent (Mark Darling) hoping to turn Japan into the stage for a second opium war, and his latest recruit, "the number one most popular dancer in the stormy city of London, England" (Christina Lindberg), whose motives for turning sex-spy have little to do with Queen and Country. A good thing, then, that Ocho is as handy with sword, poison and pistol as with cards.
Sex And Fury is an exploitation cinema lover's wet dream. It is helmed by Norifumi Suzuki, who was an old hand at the sukeban (or 'girl boss') genre, and who would later direct such artful trash as Terrifying Girls' High School: Lynch Law Classroom (1973), The School of the Holy Beast (1974) and Beautiful Girl Hunter (1979); and it pairs Toei Studios' top sex star of the time Reiko Ike with Swedish soft-core nymphet Christina Lindberg, who would go on in the following year to make her own homegrown exploitation revenger Thriller: A Cruel Picture, aka They Call Her One-Eye. Need I mention that Quentin Tarantino is a big fan?
Certainly Sex And Fury comes with its fair share of exploitation detail: over-sexed yakuza, nuns carrying switchblades, an unguent with (supposed) nymphomania-inducing properties, death by cunnilingus, one torture sequence in what can only be described as a Meiji-era disco, another in front of a cubist mural of Jesus on the cross, blood-showering swordplay, a doomed east-west love story (that inverts Madame Butterfly), and female nudity (so essential to the whole pinku eiga genre) that here extends beyond the bedroom to the fight sequences themselves. There is even, heaven help us, a fart gag.
In fact, there is so much going on that, through mad exuberance alone, Sex And Fury quickly achieves critical mass, bubbling over into something far more than just the sleazy sum of its parts – an effect which is only enhanced by Suzuki's highly aestheticised approach to framing and imagery. It is as though, lurking within the film's overt tensions between form and content, East and West, old and new, male and female, sex and death, something beyond the normal limits of genre is straining to break free. Embodying this revolutionary spirit is Ocho herself, in all her contradictions: not only an object of pornographic voyeurism, but also a strong female character who knows how to use her sexuality to her own ends, and who resists and conquers all her male oppressors. If her kimono, so striking at a party where everyone else has affected western dress, marks her out as very much the traditional Japanese woman of the early twentieth century, then her independence, fearlessness and take-no-prisoners attitude reflect a far more modern (dare one say 'feminist'?) sensibility. She is one formidable heroine.
Still, Sex and Fury does have its problems too. Even when a plot is as convoluted as this, there can be no excuse for a script so saturated with clunky exposition (characters literally open their dialogue with lines like "my name is…"). And while it might be tempting to blame this on 'creative' subtitling, the English-language dialogue in the film is even more appalling, while Darling and Lindberg have all the expressiveness of short-circuiting robots.
For all that, the beauty of the images, the postmodern insanity of the story, and the funky delirium of Ichiro Araki's score make Sex And Fury a high-end sexploitation gem.Reviewed on: 11 Jun 2007
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