Whenever you take a foreign cinema class at film school, you’ll be show the lofty titles that once played the fanciest of art houses in major cities. These are noble productions that made audiences feel like they needed to dress up for a screening. They expected to feel illuminated by deep meaningful productions about the human factor. They wanted real butter on their popcorn because nothing would be artificial on the silver screen as they read subtitles. When it came to the selection from Japan, your professor would make the hard choice of which Akira Kurosawa film would be put on the syllabus. Odds are it would be The Hidden Fortress, Ran, Throne of Blood or Seven Samurai? After the screening you have an intellectual chat where you imagine Kurosawa made every movie in Japan that didn’t feature Godzilla and Gamera. At no point will a classmate chime into asking how Kurosawa’s version of feudal Japan compares with Teruo Ishii’s Shogun’s Joys of Torture. Why? Because your teacher might not want to discuss the blood, gore and carnality found in Ishii. If you’ve seen the previous Arrow Video releases of Orgies of Edo and Horrors of Malformed Men, you will know that Ishii made movies that could have played at the Drive-In Arthouse from John Waters’ Polyester. Shogun’s Joy of Torture will have your eyes wide open as you read the subtitles.
The film opens with quite a few shocking executions done on people found guilty. There’s no need to give away the techniques although a few look like the tests they do with pigs on Forged In Fire. Those samurai swords are sharp. After the random punishments we see Mitsu (Masumi Tachibana) being led through the streets toward her final fate. She reflects back at what got her in trouble. Her brother Shinzo (Teruo Yoshida) has an industrial accident that cracks open his leg. It’s so serious that they must bring in the best doctor in the land. His fees are notoriously high and the guy who owns the local kimono store has agreed to pay for the medical attention. But the kimono merchant has his own price. He wants Mitsu to become his mistress. She’s not into this insurance payment plan since he’s a really disgusting person. She also doesn’t want to hook up with the guy because she and her brother are really close. The second story takes us to a nunnery where a Relho (Yukie Kagawa) arrives to take over her new post. Things get twisted when her assistant Rintoku (Naomi Shiraishi) has the hots for a neighboring priest. This doesn’t help since Rintoku isn’t merely an assistant, but the nun’s lover. When she catches the two together in the woods, things get nasty which leads to another creative execution scene administered by Shogun Ichinoshin Nanbara (Fumio Watanabe). The final story is all inked up. A tattoo artist Horicho (Asao Koike) taps his masterpiece onto the back of a geisha. Everyone marvels at the image of a tortured woman until Nanbara glances at it and laughs. He calls it a kid’s version of torture, because he knows what a woman really looks like when she’s in pure agony. This unravels the artist. He must make a superior tattoo. First he stalks a woman with the perfect skin by sneaking around a female only bathhouse. Instead of talking her into his art project, he abducts her. He comes up with a rather disturbing way of making her not want to escape. Then he asks Nanbara to show him what a woman being tortured looks like. The Shogun takes him along on is next mission to get confessions out of a group of non-Japanese women who were accused of sneaking into the country to convert locals to Christianity. The torture session gives the artist so much inspiration to cover his abductee’s back. But he needs one more thing to make it a masterpiece.
What makes Ishii so masterful is that Shogun’s Joy of Torture can be seen as three story portmanteau of crime and punishment in Edo. There’s a frame work of a character reading these three cases in a book. But it turns out to be a story of Nanbara told in three segments. He’s the one who gets to decide how the women are tortured and executed. This little narrative trick makes the film more whole at the end. He gives us three cases that truly press the extreme in Nanbara’s career. As rough and nasty as the stories turn out, Ishii and his crew endow them with an artistic eye. This is exploitation arthouse at its very best. But don’t show it in your international film class because the Dean will be calling you to their office to ask why you didn’t show Ran again. You should best watch Shogun’s Joy of Torture for an independent study.
Video is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The 1080p transfer brings out the details of the beauty of the Japanese sets and the nastiness of the torture. You can even see the joy on the Shogun’s face. Audio is PCM mono of the original Japanese soundtrack. The movie has English subtitles.
Audio Commentary by Tom Mes starts off with him explaining where they shot the Toei logo waves on a rock. He goes pretty deep into the people involved in the film.
Terou Ishii: Erotic-Grotesque Maestro (13:23) has Patrick Macias dig into the career of the director. The director did 4 movies in 1968 including Shogun’s Joy of Torture. Ishii was born in Japan’s tawdry entertainment district. He was able to go to extremes because the studio needed movies that you couldn’t watch on TV in Japan. They had to get people back in the theaters. This film did the trick. It also upset the stars of the studio’s more traditional stars.
Bind, Torture, Thrill (25:16) has historian Jasper Sharp discus ero-guro sub genre. He first saw Ishii movies put out by Shock Japan on VHS. He goes into the other films that were made around this time with similar topics. This is a lecture you probably won’t be getting in International Cinema and you will be writing down the titles mentioned.
Original Trailer (2:40) lets you know that this isn’t a family friendly film of Old Japan. They even promote the bust size of one of the actresses. “Living for Lust. Dying for Sin” is part of the promotion.
Image Gallery (3:10) includes stills from the film and posters.
Arrow Video presents Shogun’s Joy of Torture. Directed by: David Lawrence, Ryan Sexton & Rodney Ascher. Starring: Masumi Tachibana, Teruo Yoshida, Yukie Kagawa, Naomi Shiraishi, Fumio Watanabe and Asao Koike. Running Time: 96 minutes. Rated: Unrated. Released: February 23, 2021.
Tags: Arrow Video, Japanese, Terou Ishii