AKA: Furyo Anego-den – Inoshika Ocho; Story of a Bad Elder Sister – A Deer Amongst Wild Boars
Review By: David Austin
Sex and Fury is glorious, mind-blowing trash – the kind of film that gives exploitation cinema a good name. From a nude Reiko Ike massacring an entire yakuza gang in a snowy courtyard, to the confrontation with a group of switchblade-wielding nuns on a moving train, director Norifumi Suzuki delivered the goods – and created a pop trash tour-de-force in the process. Throw in psychedelic sets and colors, and a dolled-up Christina Lindberg, and you’ve got a film that no fan of Japanese exploitation should pass up.
Sex and Fury is the female yakuza period piece, taken to the next illogical level. In 1968, actress Junko Fuji had moved into traditionally male territory by starring in the Red Peony Gambler series. Red Peony Gambler created a feminine alternative to the archetypal wandering yakuza loner perhaps best embodied by Shintaro Katsu in his Zatoichi and Wicked Priest roles. Between 1972 and 1974, Meiko Kaji starred in the Female Convict Scorpion and Lady Snowblood films, baroque, violent and sexy exploitation masterpieces. Sex and Fury was Toei’s response to, and escalation of, this trend. Facing devastating competition from television, Toei did the only thing it thought it could - cram its movies with enough sex and violence to choke a horse in a desperate attempt to put asses on the seats. The resulting Pinky Violence and Roman Porno genres are a mixed bag, both morally and aesthetically, but the positive elements in Sex and Fury far outweigh the negative.
Sex and Fury is a cross between the period-piece revenge plot of Lady Snowblood and the lurid sexuality and over-the-top artiness of the first two Female Convict Scorpion movies (which I highly recommend). Director Norifumi Suzuki (School of the Holy Beast, Shogun’s Ninja) took the best of both worlds, and added in the parallel plotting of a Zatoichi film. The film moves at a crackling pace, and entertains from start to finish.
Suzuki makes the visuals the third star, staging the actions in ways that would make the better-known Seijun Suzuki proud. The pulsating torture disco, blasphemous S&M torture session in front of a cubist Jesus, and a whirling assault on a Mondrian-inspired tatami mat floor, among other stand-out scenes should satisfy any viewer’s appetite for eye candy. (I’m happy to note that in the last year, several of Suzuki’s previously AWOL films have become available on Region 1 DVD.)
Sex and Fury kicks off with the assassination of a detective by nameless thugs. His last act is to give his daughter, the only witness, a clue to the identity of his killers – three hanafuda cards, the deer, the boar, and the butterfly. Flash forward 20 years to 1905, and the daughter is now the gorgeous and deadly Reiko Ike, who takes a new name, Inoshika Ocho, from her quarry (ino = boar, shika = deer, ocho = butterfly). Meanwhile, gang boss and political fixer Kurokawa (Seizaburo Kawazu) and his flunky Iwakura (Hiroshi Nawa) consolidate the power of their Seishinkai Group, carving out territory in an increasingly confident and modernized Japan.
Ocho, now a renowned gambler and thief, butts heads with the Seishinkai after a dying yakuza gambler asks her to help his sister, the object of Iwakura’s lust (the death scene lead to my favorite line in the film: “Hell waits right beneath the gambling mat”). Two other individuals also cross Ocho’s path. The first is Shunosuke (Masataka Naruse), the dashing son of a murdered rival of the Seishinkai, sporting manga-hair and a mile-wide grudge against Kurokawa. The second is Christina (Christina Lindberg), a mysterious westerner, talented both with a gun and at the gambling table. And, unsurprisingly, events ultimately tie into the unresolved slaying of Ocho’s father.
Reiko Ike (Streetfighter’s Last Revenge, Battles without Honor and Humanity) is no Meiko Kaji, but she’s the next best thing (still nowhere near – Meiko Kaji is untouchable). Ike has striking features, a great figure, and throws herself into her role with gusto. The highlight is unquestionably the lengthy fight sequence when Ocho is surprised by attackers in the bath, and proceeds to slaughter wave after wave of knife-wielding yakuza in the nude. The fight scene is creative and well choreographed, with Ike battling furiously in the snow. One extended shot of only feet, shadows, and falling limbs is particularly impressive. Only the incredible nude battle in 1970’s Zatoichi and the Fire Festival is its equal, though to more comic effect.
Swedish star Christina Lindberg (Thriller aka They Call Her One Eye) makes the most of her part, considering her limited range and the necessity of performing in awkward phonetic English and Japanese. Whatever problems her presence creates are more than compensated for by her enjoyably melodramatic storyline, Cinderella outfits, and a very sexy scene late in the film.
The only nits I have to pick are the expected ones. Films from Japan and Hong Kong have a repugnant habit of staging sexual assaults for the purpose of titillation, and Sex and Fury is no exception. Also, there is an extended S&M scene that lacks appeal for non-enthusiasts. Fortunately, the foregoing scenes form only a small part of the goings-on, and not nearly enough to ruin one’s enjoyment of the film. Of course, it goes without saying that Sex and Fury is not for everyone. The only other minor issue is that the score is not as good as one expects from films of this period – it ranges between lounge piano and jam band, and evokes both Barbarella and Jimi Hendrix, but frequently undercuts the action on screen.
Overall, Sex and Fury is a superior bit of entertainment. It’s a great example of its time and genre. For those interested in more films on a similar wavelength, Sex and Fury is not quite up to the level of the first Lady Snowblood, the first two Female Convict Scorpion films, or the first three Lone Wolf & Cub films, but is superior to the later entries in all three of those series, as well as to the Hanzo the Razor trilogy. Sex and Fury is followed by its sequel, Female Yakuza Tale, also released by Panik House, which I have reviewed here.
Recommended? Yes, but not for the squeamish. This is a sex and violence classic.
If you like this, you might like: Female Convict Scorpion 1 and 2, Zatoichi and the Festival of Fire, Lady Snowblood 1, Hanzo the Razor 2, Lone Wolf and Cub 1-3, The Streetfighter, The Sexy Killer, Coffy, Kiss of Death (Shaw Bros.)
DVD Production Company: Panik House (www.panikhouse.com)
Panik House, one of the newest DVD production companies on the block, has done an excellent job with this release. As part of Panik House’s Pinky Violence Collection, the Region 1 DVD of Sex and Fury has been restored and includes copious extras, most provided by the hard-working Chris D. of American Cinematheque.
The movie is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and has been restored beautifully, with only tiny indications of damage. Sound is also good, and English subtitles are optional. The case is somewhat unorthodox, consisting of a translucent snapper case, with superimposed images on a sleeve.
Panik House has provided a plethora of background information and extras. First, and most whimsically, there is a Reiko Ike sticker included. More traditionally, the original theatrical trailer is included, along with poster and still galleries. Director and Star Bios for Norifumi Suzuki, Reiko Ike, and Christina Lindberg are detailed, informative, and include additional images of the featured artist (there is also a easter egg bio of Jun Midorikawa on the Bio menu screen). There are two interesting essays by Chris D., one describing the background and plot of the film, and one discussing Toei’s Bad Girl Cinema more specifically, touching on Meiko Kaji, and the Sukeban and female gambler films. Finally, Chris D. has recorded a feature-length audio commentary for the film. While the tone is a bit dry, and gaps are frequent, his encyclopedic knowledge of the stars and bit players in the film is very useful.
© David Austin
Filed under: Movie Reviews and Movie Reviews: Japan and DVD News and DVD News: Japan and DVD Reviews and DVD Reviews: Japan and Contributors: David and Rating: Great ★★★★ and DVD Companies: Panik House and People: Christina Lindberg