Monday, February 18, 2008

Tokugawa onna keibatsu-shi/ The Joys Of Torture/Female Punishment Of The Tokugawa Clan (Teruo Ishii, 1968)

Adding insult to injury...

Since the 1950's, the greatest threat to movie-going in theaters has been TV.

Different countries/cultures had different responses to the threat.

In the US, the networks

armed themselves with live drama showcases -- like:

-- and distinctive, reliable powerhouse family entertainers such as Uncle Miltie --

-- Lawrence Welk --

-- and Ed Sullivan.

The movie studios

fired back at the resultant declining ticket sales with fool-proof gimmick experiences that one could never replicate on television; namely wider gauges of film yielding larger images on screen such as: "Cinemascope" --

-- "70mm" --

-- "Cinerama" --

-- and experimental (oft times physically challenging) processes such as eye-crossing "3D" --

-- or any of the number of toys in William Castle's cinematic bag of tricks --

-- like "Percepto" --

-- "Illusion - O" --

-- "Emerge-O" --

-- "Fright Break" --

-- and the ever-popular "Punishment Poll" --

In sharp contrast -- In Japan --

The studios

used larger ideas to pull viewers into theaters instead of larger screens or, rather, shall we delicately put it, grander transgressions...

They found they didn't need red and blue tinted glasses to cross the viewers eyes -- all they needed was was to implement far more cost-effective sure-fire textual crowd pleasing elements to their film entertainment such as graphic simulations of rape, torture and dismemberment (mainly to women).

Utilizing an array of historical, literary and artistic rationalizations at their disposal, new cinematic movements were formed.

Most successful was the ero guro --

-- or erotic-grotesque off-shoot of the pinku eiga --

-- or softcore pink film.

Prolific studio workman director-cum-ero guro stylist Teruo Ishii --

-- helmer of the successful "Starman" series --

-- creatively fueled by his deep affection for the writings of Edogawa Rampo --

-- plumbed the depths of Japanese perversity for his break-out artistic achievement, The Horrors Of Malformed Men (1968).

Ishii, soon after, hit a commercial apex with his 8 film strong "Tokugawa" series --

-- the first of which, the ecstatically re-titled The Joys of Torture utilizes exceptional technical proficiency in its use of prosthesis mortis. Ripe examples of Ishii's gusto at mannequin slaughter is prominently displayed, expediently enough, during the film's title sequence --

To wit:

Another sequence, later in the film, graciously allows a momentary reversal of power - a woman gets to decapitate a man.

In most other cultures, such a gesture might appear to salve the concealed guilty conscience of the filmmakers --

-- but the scenario here -- and thru-out -- still lauds the heady, centuries-stagnant air of misogyny that fuels this particular form of cinematic indulgence.

For example --

-- or here --

-- a pair of "innocent" eyes -- presumably placating the audience member who shares this character's outrage -- beholds as well, though "helpless" to stop the ceremony --

-- but the audience watches through many eyes -- and many perceptions --

-- and all of them owned by director Ishii --

-- the eyes of the sadistic governmental torturer --

-- the eyes of the tattoo artist who has been challenged to capture the expression of the tortured on the inked skin of a young woman --

-- the eyes of Hana, the human "canvas", who watches the tortures of others as the image of their pain is indelibly etched onto her back --

-- and the eyes of the tortured, who can see no end to their pain --

What is notable thru-out is the idea of the metaphoric subjugation of women through the actualization of that subjugation via visual re-enactment.

No longer relying on the literary form to activate the mind's moral assessment of such tragic/violent scenarios, Ishii intentionally bends the viewers morality into one of aggressive erotic engagement --

-- thus forming a cinema built exclusively on the erotic subjugation of women.

Such a cinema that necessitates its existence --

-- and erotic payoff --

-- by relieving the very actresses of said cinema of their humanity through the transformative use of dummy simulacra. An act of mannequin-ification --

-- and emblem-ification --

-- that literally -- and figuratively -- adds insult --

-- to injury.

post © Howard S. Berger & Kevin Marr