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Inferno of Torture
Directed by Teruo Ishii in 1969 and set in the Japan of the nineteenth century, Inferno Of Torture (which is also known as Hell's Tattooers) follows the story of a woman named Yumi (Yumika Katayama) who finds herself in hot water early in the film when she can't come up with the money to pay off a debt to a loan shark. To make amends, she accepts an agreement wherein she will spend two years working as a Geisha Girl and, once her debt is paid off, she'll once again have her freedom.
Shortly after her arrival, Yumi quickly comes to the realization that she is, in fact, being forced not to work as a Geisha but as a prostitute in a brothel that caters to a Caucasian clientele. To make their prostitutes more exotic and therefore more profitable, the madam, Otatsu (Mieko Fujimoto) employs a tattoo artist named Horihide (Teruo Yoshida) to create lavish skin art on the backs of the girls that they are whoring out, whether the girls like it or not. Horihide and Yumi hit it off but Otatsu sees this and isn't particularly happy about it. When a rival tattooist, who hopes to get in the good graces of the Shogun himself, wants to use Yumi's flesh as his own canvas, conflict arises and Otatsu decides to do everything in her power to ensure that Yumi has as rough a time as possible while serving under her watch.
Inferno Of Torture is a legitimately interesting, if far from perfect, film. Ishii introduces characters quickly only to have them then disappear, sometimes for long periods of time and sometimes to never appear again. The narrative here is a disjointed one, and Yumi aside, it's hard to really connect with any of the characters in the picture. A bit more depth for the supporting players would have gone a long way and some of the more interesting subplots also needed more attention, as they don't always wind up meaning as much as maybe they needed to.
But yeah, this is a Teruo Ishii movie from the late sixties, so of course it's going to be of interest to fans of Japanese cult and exploitation pictures even if it isn't the best of the ‘torture' series that the man director for Toei around this time. There's a fair bit of strong content here. Women are abused, raped and mistreated. There's some moderate to strong violence and a lot of nudity. Ishii wasn't one to shy away from sex and violence, and this movie is no exception to that trait. Ishii does seem more focused on documenting the suffering of different characters in the film than he does in fleshing out his narrative, and in this department, the film offers up some salacious thrills. And like most of the man's work, there's a strong artistic slant to the way that all of this is delivered in the film. The cinematography is frequently excellent and there are some really impressive shots on display throughout the picture.
Not a perfect film, but a technically impressive effort.
Arrow brings Inferno Of Torture to Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 2.35.1 widescreen and generally speaking it looks quite nice, taking up just over 29GBs of space on a 50GB disc. The picture is free of noticeable compression artifacts. Color reproduction looks quite good and we get decent black levels as well. Skin tones look fine and there's only minor print damage noticeable in a few occasional instances here and there. Overall, this is a nice transfer.
The only audio option on the disc is a 16-bit LPCM 2.0 Mono track in the film's native Japanese language. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. There is some minor sibilance in a couple of spots but otherwise the track is fine. The levels are balanced properly and there aren't any issues with any hiss or distortion. The subtitles are clean, clear and easy to read.
Extras start off with an audio commentary by Japanese cinema expert Tom Mes. He starts off by noting the significance of the Hell's Tattooers alternate title sequence, how this is the fourth film in Ishii's series for Toei, how the opening credits don't really reflect the film itself, some interesting connections to the films of Ruggero Deodato, the box office success of Ishii's film from this period and their connections to the pink film circuit, obscure special layouts used by the director, the simple three-act structure that the film follows, trivia relating to the different cast and crew members involved in the production, how Ishii uses the style of S&M bondage art in the film, the state of the Japanese film industry at the time this picture was made and quite a bit more. It's a well thought out commentary that offers a good mix of trivia, history and analysis.
Also included on the disc is a featurette called Erotic Grotesque Nonsense And Japan's Cult Counterculture, which is ‘a condensed version of Jasper Sharp's Miskatonic Institute lecture' that clocks in at a half an hour in length. Sharp spends quite a bit of time here talking about the genesis of the movement by defining what it is in the first place and talking about when and where it begin, first in the Showa Era. He also covers the movement's connection to literature as well as the importance of contributions from writer Edogawa Rampo (and his influences and connects to writers like Poe) and some of his contemporaries. Of course, director Teruo Ishii is covered here, his 'torture' films getting a lot of coverage and discussion which provides some welcome context to the man's cinematic output. It's very highbrow and even scholarly but it's quite interesting, lending hot just some historical context but also some social context as well.
A theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection round out the extras on the disc.
As to the packaging, Arrow provides a nice color insert booklet that contains, in addition to credits for the film and the Blu-ray release, technical notes on the transfer as well as an essay on the film penned by Chris D. Some nice reversible cover sleeve artwork is also included.
Inferno Of Torture is an bizarre and challenging film, a picture that seems more than happy to wallow in exploitation tropes but which at the same time aspires to be more than a simple mix of violence and sex. It isn't a perfect film, and Ishii seems to lose focus periodically, but those with an appreciation for vintage Japanese exploitation pictures will no doubt find it an interesting curiosity. Arrow has done a nice job bringing it to Blu-ray in fine shape and with some valuable extra features. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.