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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Madame O
Madame O
Synapse Films // Unrated // July 29, 2008
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Cameron McGaughy | posted July 7, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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"Before I realized it, I had grown into a woman who found pleasure only in revenge--revenge against men for the brutality they had shown me!"
- Madame O

The Movie
Released in 1967 (as Zoku akutokui: Joi-hen, or Continuation: Vice Doctor, Female Vice Edition), this Japanese entry from director Seiichi Fukuda makes lofty cult claims--a supposed "classic and controversial tale of revenge" that will "paralyze audiences with gore, nudity and shocking violence"! Hey, you had me at "classic". And it's the sequel to Vice Doctor: Maternity and Gynecology Department Diary? Sign me up!

Or maybe not. While it impresses with gorgeous cinematography from JirĂ´ Ooyama, Madame O is an otherwise slow-moving 80 minutes that fails to deliver on its exploitation promises. The enchanting Michiko Aoyama stars as Seiko, a respected doctor with a few secrets. At the age of 16, she was raped by three young men--an act her father blamed on her, adding further fuel to her "hatred of men" fire--leaving her pregnant and infected with syphilis. Now she's a doctor by day, a disease-inflicting dominatrix by night. "My nerves are raw. I'm on edge...I get up and get out into the streets and hunt for easy pick-ups."

Men have become her pathetic prey, so easy to lure and seduce. Her weapon of choice is a vial of disease ("to infect disease creates a strange and exciting dichotomy in me!"), so those of you expecting gore will be sorely disappointed--all she does is rub a syphilis-infected cotton swap on the arms of her victims. Boring, I know. If only her bite were as potent as her bark, which has a nice sting after she ties the tubes of a woman: "This will spare her any future pain, and at the same time drive her husband mad with doubts of his masculinity when she proves to be sterile. It is another of my secret pleasures!"

But when a handsome doctor (Akihiko Kanbara) joins her small practice, she starts to have feelings she never experienced before, his tenderness and gentleness winning her over. Their relationship grows, but soon her past--and another threat she doesn't see coming--starts to haunt her, leading the story to its campy conclusion (if possible, don't read the back of the box). Madame O is an oddity that doesn't go far enough in either direction to be truly satisfying. It's not gory, or remotely raw enough to stand alongside guilty pleasure exploitation gems--and it's shot so beautifully, it stands above them all. But the snail-pace story isn't nearly good enough to make this a powerful independent art film, its glacial progression lending itself to frequent refrigerator breaks.

I guess this was considered mildly controversial in the late '60s, but even then it's a stretch. You get boobs galore--paired with plenty of shots of guys planting their faces in cleavage--and lots of moans during soft-core sex scenes, the camera getting close to Aoyama's lips and eyes. There's also a scene with one of her johns riding her (fully clothed) like a horse, and plenty of drinking and smoking. The film has some very mild violence toward the end (her late-night prowling is minimal), so don't expect a bloodbath--unless you think delivering a baby (complete with fuzzy footage) counts.

But the film isn't completely devoid of entertaining camp value. In case you needed any convincing, one scene proves that trying to give yourself an abortion is a really bad idea ("It was going well until I fainted" has to be one of the funniest lines in the history of cinema); another scene (long before Saw) supplies at least an implied gross-out; one line ("An odd match, sir!") is perfectly placed for an intended chuckle; and the conclusion in the tunnel is so silly, you just have to laugh.

This is listed as being the "U.S. theatrical version", which means it's dubbed. It kinda adds to the camp factor, although I never favor a dub, ever. But Fukuda seems aware of the drawback: He tries to minimize it by using lots of expository narration (who needs acting when you have dialogue for dunces?!) and purposely shoots at angles that cover up mouths, whether by hiding them or maintaining a distance from the actors. Most of the film is in black and white, with some random scenes (without any obvious pattern or purpose) in color, all paired with a slow, jazzy score that transports you to a hot summer day in the South.

Madame O makes some lofty promises, and in the end it can't live up to them. But the film is a showcase for some strong cinematography, and remains a curious Japanese oddity, a light exploitation flick that hints at talent but doesn't go quite far enough with the material.

The DVD

Video:
A mix of black and white and color, this anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer from Synapse looks pretty strong considering the film's age. There's grain and noticeable film specks throughout, some flickering with the image and some shots that are slightly blurry. It doesn't sound as bad as it looks in print, and is overall an enjoyable, commendable effort.

Audio:
The 2.0 stereo track is a solid one, although the dubbing and recorded sound effects can become highly distracting, making you too aware that it was tacked on. There's an obvious separation of site and sound, with virtually no natural sounding effects. But at least it's consistent throughout!

Extras:
All you get is the film's trailer, in lower quality video. It reveals almost every plot point the film throw's at you, reveling in its tawdry nature: "It is burned in her memory--she will never forget! She will never forgive! This is Madame O: A woman possessed by a raging desire for revenge! This strange and brilliant woman, dedicated to medicine...and the cold-blooded destruction of men!" The insert also includes a brief essay from Japanese film expert Jasper Sharp.

Final Thoughts:
This 1967 Japanese exploitation film straddles the fence: It's far too artistic and professional to give you that raw, gory thrill of true cult classics, but it's too boring to maintain your interest. The story is better suited to a short film, moving so slowly that it's frequently snooze-inducing. The mild mix of soft-core sex and implied violence couldn't have been too shocking back then, much less now--so gorehounds beware. But strong cinematography and a few laughs still make this worth a look, while cult fans and genre buffs will probably get a bigger kick out of it. Rent It.

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