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Shogun's Joy Of Torture (Special Edition)
One of numerous ‘torture anthology' films made by the inimitable Teruo Ishii, 1968's Shogun's Joy Of Torture presents three separate short stories set in the feudal era, all of which are joined by some obvious thematic elements. On their own, these stories are strong stuff, and when combined, they make for an even grislier viewing experience, albeit a very nicely made one. The production values in the film, like the other ‘torture' films that Ishii made, are top notch and the film exhibits some gorgeous cinematography which, when you contrast it to the content it's displaying, makes for a paradoxical film.
After a grotesque introductory scene which serves as a primer for what's to come, we're introduced to a manual laborer named Shinza who gets injured on the job after taking a log to the back of the head. Set in the days long before workman's compensation plans and health insurance, Shinza and his family find themselves in dire straits when they can't afford the medical treatment he's going to need. To help take care of her brother, Shinza's lovely young sister, Mitsu, tries to talk with his boss, Mino, in hopes he'll give them some financial assistance. Instead, Mitsu is raped by the despicable Mino, much to the dismay of Shinzo, who has recently come out with the fact that even though it's taboo, he is very much in love with his sister. When Mino finds out their dark secret he knows he can use it against them and take Mitsu for himself.
Let's just say that things don't end nicely for our incestuous duo...
In the second story, a nun named Reiho arrives at a convent where she's to take up residence for a while. This convent happens to be situated next to a monastery, and as such, there are a lot of priests in the area. Reiho meets a young priest named Shunkei and soon forgets her vows and beings to have impure thoughts about him. When she catches Shunkei doing something that a priest shouldn't be doing in the woods outside the monastery one day, she figures she can use this to coerce him into taking her. When Shunkei refuses Reiho's demands, she snaps, and decides to take matters into her own hands.
When it all hits the fan, there's some pretty inventive torture on display, some of which is almost Guinea Pig-esque at times.
The final story revolves around Horicho, the most talented and in demand tattoo artist in his area. When he finishes his latest masterpiece on the flesh of Kimicho, he decides to show off his artwork to some of the locals. An official named Lord Nambera happens to come across the piece and proceeds to knock the artist down a few notches with his harsh criticisms of his work. Horicho becomes upset by this and decides that his next piece will have to be even better than his last. As he strives to come up with a way to top his last effort, he comes up with the idea of sitting in on one of Lord Nambera's interrogation sessions in which his men torture prisoners for information. Nambera agrees to Horicho's unusual request, but it doesn't come without a catch.
The interrogation techniques on display in this one are the nastiest of the set pieces in the film, as women are burned, slapped around, poked and prodded and whipped and beaten, one is even spun strapped to a wheel that forces her head under water.
All of this is shot with an eye for detail and composition. The cinematography in the film is excellent and many of the effects set pieces are quite realistic as well. Yes, you can tell that certain characters are wearing bald caps in the second story but Toei obviously put some money behind this, as the sets and costumes are all of very high quality. The acting is pretty strong across the board with all of the principal players doing fine work. The film moves at a good pace and each of the three stories holds our attention. Obviously this isn't a film for all tastes but anyone with an interest in the stronger side of vintage Japanese exploitation movies or with a taste for Ishii's tendency for reveling in the bizarre should certainly appreciate how this picture plays out.
Shogun's Joy Of Torture comes to Region A Blu-ray framed at 2.35.1 widescreen taking up 27.5GBs of space on a 50GB disc. Generally speaking it looks quite nice. 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 24-bit LPCM 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 that opens with some thoughts on the opening prologue sequence, information on the iconic Toei logo that precedes the movie, what the film tries to express as a warning to its audience early on, the social and political state of Japan around the time that this movie was made and its effect on Ishii's picture and plenty of thoughts on Ishii's life and career and the idiosyncratic way his films reflect the state of his country. As the track goes on, he speaks about the themes that the film explores and exploits, how and where Ishii employs empathy for certain characters, the undercurrents of perversion that often times run through the director's work, the nunsploitation elements that work their way into the second story, why Toei decided to bankroll these torture films in the first place, voyeuristic aspects of the visuals in the film and lots, lots more. It's very interesting stuff, Mes always does a great job with this type of material.
Also included on the disc is Teruo Ishii: Erotic-Grotesque Maestro, an exclusively newly filmed interview with author Patrick Macias that runs thirteen-minutes and covers Ishii's four torture film made for Toei, the director's status as 'king of the cult movies' in his homeland, biographical information on Ishii and his early years and how prolific he was in his early days, working in pretty much every popular genre. We learn how he made a name for himself with films featuring strong sex and violence, his relationship with Toei, the advent of pink films and their influence on this picture, the different cast members that Ishii worked with on the film and more. It's a good piece, Macias has a good sense of humor and offers up a lot of worthwhile information in this featurette.
A second featurette, entitled Bind, Torture, spends twenty-five-minutes with author and critic Jasper Sharp discussing the history of torture in Japanese exploitation cinema. He talks about how he came to know and then appreciate Ishii's work, where Ishii was at in his career when he made this film, how Japanese studios started making increasingly extreme content once the advent of television started putting a bit dent in their profits, the advent of pink films and roman porno movies, competition that existed between the studios, highlights from Ishii's filmography from throughout his career, shared elements that exist between Ishii's different torture films and more. Again, it's interesting stuff, and it helps to contextualize a lot of what we see in the feature attraction.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are a theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection options. The first pressing of this release also includes a color insert booklet containing an essay on the film by Mark Shilling as well as credits for the feature and the Blu-ray release. A reversible cover sleeve is also included.
Shogun's Joy Of Torture is a unique blend of arthouse style and base exploitation all presented through Ishii's skewed worldview. It's as stylish as it is often times quiet shocking, a lavish atrocity exhibition of sorts that remains a fascinating watch decades after it was made. Arrow Video has done a nice job bringing this one to Blu-ray with a very nice presentation and some interesting extras that help put all of this into context. Highly 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.