Right then, here’s a bit of exploitation scuzzy enough to make ‘Satan’s Baby Doll’ look like an episode of ‘The Powerpuff Girls’. Directed by Shogoro Nishimura as part of the roman porno cycle of the “pink” subgenre, ‘Rope and Skin’ boasted a slightly higher budget than most productions of its ilk, but ticked all the requisite boxes – nudity, violence, sexual content, short running time – otherwise.
It marked genre favourite Naomi Tani’s retirement from filmmaking at the age of 31 (her rationale: “I never wanted to disappoint my fans by showing an unflattering face … Nobody is free from aging. I want to exist in the audience's memory as a forever blooming flower”) and certainly pandered to her core audience. Tani, nicknamed “the queen of S&M”, had achieved great success over five years starring in exploitationers for the Nikkatsu production company.
Tani plays Okoma, a Yazuka member and renowned gambler. On the eve of her retirement from the criminal lifestyle to marry hardworking chef Kenzo (Tatsuya Hamaguchi), she participates in one final game. Catching crooked dealer Ofusa (Yukiko Tachibana) cheating, Okoma exposes her and displays contempt towards Ofusa’s patron, Chiyo (Junko Miyashita) who is the leader of the Yuki clan. Chiyo is angered, but Okoma’s protection by Hanai (Shohei Yamamoto) and big boss Sakuro* prevents the situation from escalating further.
Until, that is, Okoma and Kenzo are alone. That’s when some heavies from the Yuki clan infiltrate their home. Okoma fights off their attack, but Kenzo isn’t so lucky.
The story then skips ahead two years and we find Hanai in prison, the bereaved Okoma working a mundane job for Sakuro’s daughter Yukiyo, and Sakuro tenuously maintaining order despite Chiyo’s blatant provocations. Then Sakuro is assassinated and the shit hits the fan.
The Yuki bunch buy out Yukiyo’s debts on her restaurant and try to force her into a life of prostitution. Okoma swears to protect her, but the disappearance of a mutual friend is exploited by Chiyo who coerces Yukiyo into (quite literally) a life of bondage. Okoma offers to take Yukiyo’s place and is swiftly had at a disadvantage by the Yukis, particularly the sneeringly malevolent Ofusa who’s relishing the opportunity of some payback.
Chiyo reneges on the agreement, and keeps Yukiyo imprisoned. Ofusa goes to work on Okoma. Will Hanai get out of clink in time to stage a rescue?
It hardly matters. Nishimura has no interest in the action scenes (seriously: ‘Rope and Skin’ contains some of the most pathetic fights you will ever see) and once he’s hurried the plot out of the way during the first 40 minutes of this mercifully short piece of work, he gets down to his real agenda.
The title kind of gives it away. In fact, it would be fair to say Nishimura couldn’t have been more blatant short of calling it ‘Naked Women Tied Up and Sexually Humiliated for Half an Hour’. No kidding: the last half of the film consists of first Yukiyo then Okoma being bound and violated in a numerous unpleasant ways. Rape; anal douches; non-culinary use of eggs and bananas. It’s grim, repetitive and horribly misogynistic.
Misogynistic not because Nishimura sides with or takes the POV of Okoma’s tormentors. Quite the opposite: he takes pains to portray them as utterly depraved and lacking in humanity. Likewise, Okoma’s ordeal is wince-inducing and generates not even the guiltiest bit of frisson.
No, it’s misogynistic because what Nishimura puts Yukiyo and Okoma through is the sole reason for the film’s existence. The plot is merely a jumping-off point. The characters are uniformly one-dimensional. The fights – as previously noted – are staged with a palpable lack of interest. All ‘Rope and Skin’ has to offer is naked women tied up. It’s functionless, joyless and makes your average Jess Franco production look like ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. It’s the kind of thing that gives exploitation a bad name.
*Either I took the name down wrong while I was drunkenly watching this during the early hours, or the version I watched had dodgy subtitles, because I can’t correlate this character with anyone listed on the film’s IMDb page.