When Japanese film studios found their box office receipts dwindling in the late 60's, the main culprit was the growing tv market. So, most studios, including giants Toei, turned to producing films with more extreme content, be it blood or sex (often both), that audiences couldnt get at home. The stately samurai film even got more extreme with the likes of Lone Wolf and Cub and Lady Snowblood. Gangsters got even meaner and more depraved. A whole spate of sub-genres emerged, from the torture film, to biker flicks, and bad girl cinema. Sex and Fury (1973) belongs to the pinky violence category, female driven films that offered a combination of frequent soft core titillation with some added ultra-violent action.
The year is 1905. Pickpocket Inoshika Ocho (Reiko Ike- Streetfighter's Last Revenge, Terrifying Girls High School) was orphaned as a child after the murder of her detective father, who was killed because he had evidence of a trio if yakuza's political manipulations. Ocho's goal is to find the yakuza and get revenge, though her only clue to their identities is the tattoos that they have, one a boar, the other a deer, and the third a butterfly.
Ocho makes her way to Tokyo in order to rescue a dead gamblers sister who is being held in a brothel on account of family debts. She also finds two of the yakuza who killed her father, Iwakura and Kurokawa. In the twenty years since her murder's murder, the two men have risen to comfortable seats of political power while mainlining their gangland connections. Ocho also teams up with Shunosuke, a rebel out to kill Iwakura, and Chrisitna (Christina Lindberg- Thriller: A Cruel Picture), Shunosuke's former lover, who is now a British agent assigned to protect Iwakura (and infiltrate/manipulate the bigwig so the British can seize control of the opium trade).
It is your standard tale of underworld revenge, of course, punctuated with frequent scenes that require Reiko Ike and Chrisitian Lindberg to remove their clothes. That is a good thing.
I guess the best way to describe what makes this film so great is a very early scene. Ocho has agreed the dying request of the gambling cheat, but his gambling cronies don't want her to spread word of their shady tactics. About a dozen of them attack her... while she taking a bath. Ah, yes, quite the exploitation film scenario. However, it is a shocking scene not just in its frankness and actress Reiko Ike's literal naked vulnerability, but in the absolutely beautiful and surreal way the scene is shot, in gorgeous technicolor, slow motion, well-composed angles, yet with wonderful splashes of blood and gore, as well as Reiko Ike's feminine assets. It is something that could have been cheap but is instead handled in a way that transcends the material and makes it inventive... and, dare I say, brilliantly artistic.
Having also appeared in Girl Boss Sukeban and later Fukasaku's Graveyard of Honor, Reiko Ike made a career out of being a bad girl. She is an odd one. Though in her early twenties when Sex and Fury was made, she, to me, looks ten to fifteen years older. She is quite a good vixen-heroine, handling the nudity and compromising situations very boldly while also able to scowl and slash some guys with a sword with the same confidence. Swedish softcore sex starlet Christina Lindberg, forever tied to her enigmatic role in the revenge classic Thriller, is almost the opposite to Reiko Ike. In appearance, Lindberg looks a good deal younger, like a teenager, and, therefore, has a much more fragile, doll-like persona, especially since her role calls for more opulent dress and subdued demeanor. But, she is a secret agent, so she gets ample (no pun intended) opportunity to burst of out of that shell.
Director Noifumi Suzuki was a very typical exploitation director of the time. He delivered some great flicks, like the nunsploitation School of the Holy Beast, the bad girl film Girl Boss Sukeban, and Sony Chiba action flicks like Killing Machine and Shogun's Ninja. He had an odd habit of changing gears. He would typically deliver some low expectation b-film direction, only to suddenly pepper a film with some sequence that was downright inspired.
Sex and Fury is by no means perfect. Even by b-film standards the plotting is pretty simple and filled with some wince inducing exposition and lame characters (the comic relief brothel geek comes to mind). Still, it has some great dreamlike sequences, sinfully sweet titillation, and scenes of outrageous violence. So, while it is clumsy when examined closely, for the sum of its parts, Sex and Fury is a fine work of exploitation that delivers in all debauched areas a slobbering fiends like me could wish for.
The DVD: Panik House
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Newcomers to the DVD game, I wanted Panik House's release of Sex and Fury and it's sequel Feamle Yakuza Tale to be good, just good. However, I did not expect them to be great.
The print is almost pristine with no sever blemishes or signs of age wear (beyond the dated look of the era). Colors, especially, standout with vibrant reds and soft blues, and no color bleeding. Contrast and sharpness details are also excellent. There is some grain present, but not to any excessive level, and taking into account the films era and age, it appears spot on.
Sound: Mono, Japanese language with optional English subtitles. Groovin' Soundtrack. Clear Dialogue. Great subtitle translation. Minor amount of distortion and technical quirks that are just a result of the film's period.
Extras: Slipcase— Original Trailer— Poster and Still Gallery— Director and Star Bios. While informative, one gripe I have is that pictures used in this section are obscured by text and are not included in the gallery section.— "Toei's Bad Girl Cinema" essay by Chris D.— Commentary by American Cinemateque programmer Chirs D. The track is moderately informative covering the era, bits about the cast, though there are some gaps and spots where he restates certain observations and comparisons.
Conclusion: Nice bit of the ol' ultraviolence and wicked sensuality. Not for the chaste crowd out there. However, with two nubile female leads and a decent story/direction, Sex and Fury delivers for exploitation lovers. The transfer is impressive and the extras are a sufficient bonus. Therefore this one gets a very solid recommendation.
REIKO IKE RETURNS AS INOSHIKA OCHO IN, FEMALE YAKUZA: INQUISITION AND TORTURE!