Teruo Ishii is one of cinema's greatest exploitation/b-film directors. His name needs to mentioned with any of the great film makers who plied their trade in genre film, be it Russ Meyer, Jack Hill, etc. Ishii demonstrated a tremendous sense of mischievous style and zany spirit across many categories, from superhero flicks, to gangster pictures (including probably pioneering the female driven yakuza/gang picture), rebel youth films, karate bashers, to the just plain surreal and gorgeously grotesque.
Perhaps the most truly remarkable thing is that during his peak years, the 60's and 70's, much like Sam Fuller, he was a maverick within the studio system. Unlike Fuller, Ishii made some tremendously popular films, but he still always used his clout and relative comfort with low budgets to do more daring exercises. While he was one to bow to studio whims, be it taking projects or injecting certain producer insisted elements into films, he was still one who would only go so far and never felt threatened. He would only give a little and if they didn't like it, tough, he'd go somewhere else or he'd go independent. Teruo Ishii was going to be Teruo Ishii.
Bohachi Bushido: Clan of the Forgotten Eight (1973) is one of the truly dazzling numbers out of Ishii's insanely packed, or packed with the insane, filmography. The lewd, blood-soaked, incredibly debauched tale, based on a manga by Lone Wolf and Cub creator Kazuo Koike, concerns a violent samurai named Shino Ashita (Tetsuro Tamba), who has basically become a total outcast and outlaw. He is so weary with the world and being constantly hunted that he attempts suicide by jumping into an icy river. Shino awakes to find himself being revived by the supple, naked flesh of two women using their bodies to warm him back to life. Good way to wake up.
Shino is taken in by the Bohachi clan, basically a crime group specializing in prostitution. Second in command Shirakubi (Go Ubuki) gives Shino the lowdown on the Bohachi's peculiar code that involves abandonment of eight virtues: godliness, loyalty, respect for your elders (this appears to be a gray one since the clan is led by an elder), trust, modesty, justice, conscience, and shame. They are a group of "beasts masked in human flesh." Though, it looks like Shino may have found his perfect compliment, things quickly become complicated.
First, he doesn't take the bait when they try to dupe him into taking advantage of a supposed girl forced into the stable because she is in debt. The girl is in fact one of the clans main prostitutes, Oman (Yuriko Hishimi), and when they chastise him for not deflowering what he thought was an innocent, Shino replies by cutting off the ear of a cackling servant girl. Shino's only reprieve comes in the form of the clan elder seeing how Shino's skills with a blade and lack of morality when it comes to killing will pay off for them. And, of course, they see him as someone they can use and then screw over, which ends up being harder than they expect.
Basically the film is just over eighty minutes of scene after scene of bared flesh, sword-slashing bloodshed, and, yes, the two combined. It is an exploitation lovers dream. What could be better than a group nude fight between some lovely ladies and a scowling baddie? Sure, there are some choppy bits, including a naughty scene or two that seem crudely inserted, but you will find scenes like the films climatic group sex, seduction scene between Shino and the Bohachi women, an erotic bit that, in terms of pure technique and mood, rivals anything done by the likes of Roeg or Verhoven.
As for star/producer Tetsuro Tamba, he was equal blend of the stone-faced chops of Lee Marvin and Christopher Walken and is regarded as one of Japan's greatest character actors. Like Marvin, Tamba was often cast as a badass, tough guy, and like Walken, cast, well, because he was Tetsuro Tamba. He had the skill to carry a film and had an instantly identifiable credibility that could bring sense of character and presence to smaller, peripheral roles. Shino is the kind of enigmatic anti hero that Tamba was born to play, and unlike The Man With No Name Tamba knows the material should pull no punches so he imbues Shino with little moral compass or latent good intentions.
Teruo Ishii had a remarkable gift as a low budget exploitation director to not so much make one forget about the seams but let a viewer fully embrace them. Rather than try and cover up the lacking areas a budget which usually meant skimping on location filming, less than detailed sets, and so forth, Ishii would often manage to frame his lacking areas blatantly and with bravado, like a minimalist painter splashing a single vibrant brushstoke on his canvas and calling it a day. Bohachi Bushido displays this in one Ishii's trademarks, the spare black set. Particularly the staged finale where Shino has his big fight. He is surrounded by an army, backdropped by a blackened night sky, a simple floor of snow, with some minimal snowfall, giving the scene an incredible air of the surreal.
The DVD: Discotek.
Anamorphic Widescreen. Looks great. Aside from marks of its age and production limits, the print shows very little evidence of the ravages of time. Contrast is deep and well-balanced. Sharpness and general details are defined. Perhaps the most important aspect, the eye-popping colors are quite vibrant and appropriately lurid. Technically I noticed no glitches. No aliasing, edge enhancement, ghosting, etc. Solid stuff.
Japanese Stereo. English subtitles. Audio track is really spot on. The elements show little to no signs of age wear or distortion. While it goes without saying the audio is dated, the presentation is great. Subs, likewise, are well-timed, legible, and appear to be well-translated.
Reversible censored/safe or original/naughty cover. --- Interviews: actress Yuriko Hishimi (21:04) and pinky violence connoisseur and author J-Taro Sugisaku (15:32). --- Liner Notes by authors Chris D. and Mark Shilling --- Trailers (including original Bohachi Bushido Japanese trailer). --- Photo Gallery. --- Orginal manga pages. --- Commentary by director Takao Nakano, author J-Taro Sugisaku, and moderator Yoshiki Hoyashi.
Nice round of extras from the academic to the slightly and understandably off. On the former end you've got the essay by Chris D and Shilling, on the latter the interviews where interviewees Yuriko and J-Taro obviously play a little loose probably due to the nature of the exploitation subject matter (I mean, how does a pinky violence actress talk about her career with any seriousness and without a little bit of coyness?). The commentary is a nice fan track and both men have experience with meeting Ishii, so anecdotes are offered, as well as general appreciation and wonderment for the weird and wild film.
This is one of those times where I feel a little bit like a sucker for buying an expensive, unsubbed, barebones Japanese import of a film only to have an English friendly version with more meaty extras pop up a year or so later. But, ya' know, that's part of foreign/cult film love. Wasn't the first time my wallet has taken a hit, and it wont be the last time either.
For exploitation fans, this is a must buy. Pure and simple. Nice disc, good presentation with a decent round of extras. As for the film, well, it is a stunner.