Wednesday, December 17, 2014
WINTER OF DISCONTENT: Sex and Fury
After the kitchen sink aesthetic of ‘Anita: Swedish Nymphet’, the unmitigated tedium of ‘Maid in Sweden’ and the “is it an exploitation movie or isn’t it” what-the-fuckery of ‘Exponerad’, finally we have a Christina Lindberg starrer that delivers the kind of good unclean fun that trash fans approach these kind of movies for in the first place. And how could it not? It’s called ‘Sex and mother-loving Fury’, y’all. Sex. And. Fury. Has there ever been a better title for an exploitation movie? Hell, it’s not just a title, it’s a statement of intent.
And then there’s the rest of its credentials: it was directed by Noribumi Suzuki (who made the controversial and thoroughly depraved ‘Star of David: Beauty Hunting’, a film that I can only describe as the ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ of sexploitation); it stars Reiko Ike, the authentic poster girl for the pinkie violence movement (random picks from her filmography: ‘Women’s Violent Classroom’, ‘Terrifying Girls’ High School: Animal Courage’, ‘The Lustful Shogun and His 21 Concubines’); and it features gambling, prostitution, political treachery, shoot-outs, sword-fights, whippings, flick-knife-wielding nuns, snow, blood and nudity.
Just taking those last three items as a baseline aesthetic, there’s a scene fairly early on where gambler and vengeful swordswoman Ocho Inoshika (Ike) witnesses a murder at a gambling den. Later, a team of assassins attempt to silence her at a bath-house. One of them gives himself away and Ocho blinds him with a well aimed flick of a playing card. Nasty things, paper cuts. She then grabs her swords as the others come piling after her and the ensuing five minutes of sword play spills out of the bath-house and into a snowy garden outside. Oh, did I mention that Ocho is naked throughout the entire altercation? That, ladies and gentlemen, is how Noribumi Suzuki rolls.
But anyway, what’s a nice(ish) girl like Ocho doing in a seedy gambling den in the first place? Well, in a short and bloody prologue set in the late 1880s, Ocho as a young girl is walking with her father, a detective investigating political corruption, when he’s jumped by three antagonists, repeatedly knifed and some key evidence taken from him. Their faces are hidden, and the only identifying marks are their tattoos: a deer, a boar and a butterfly respectively.
Twenty years later, Japan an expanding empire in the early years of a new century, Ocho is all grown and deadly with it. A pickpocket, a gambler, a stone-cold killer, she’s doggedly tracking down her father’s killers. It’s a mission that brings her into contact with anarchist Shunosuke (Tadashi Naruse) and Yuki (Rie Saotome), sister of the man murdered at the gambling den and to whom she made a promise, in his dying moments, to rescue Yuki from a life of sexual servitude to businessman Iwakura (Hiroshi Nawa). Iwakura is in cohorts with gang boss turned statesman Kurokawa (Yoshikazu Kawazu), a man with big and not necessarily legal plans for the new Japan.
Meanwhile British spy master Guinness (Mark Darling) – handler to the glamorous but conflicted agent provocateur Christina (Christina Lindberg) – races to uncover Kurokawa and Iwakura’s plans before Shunosuke succeeds in assassinating Kurokawa. Oh, and the reason Christina’s conflicted? She and Shunosuke used to be an item.
That, believe it or not, is a simplified synopsis. For an 88-minute flick that’s principally concerned with blood-letting and female nudity, ‘Sex and Fury’ is almost manically obsessed with its own complexity. Maybe Suzuki genuinely felt that he was making the pastel-coloured equivalent of a John le Carré espionage thriller (but with tits) and went all out to achieve a fully immersive investigation of the shifting sands of double cross and triple cross that can leave even the most seasoned and cynical of operatives confused as to where their loyalties lie and who they can finally trust. Or maybe the script was hammered out over a couple of nights during which industrial quantities of saki were consumed and, of the three credited writers, one wrote the espionage stuff, one wrote the fight scenes and the other got far too excited at the thought of all the naked ladies.
The middle third of ‘Sex and Fury’ dedicates itself to the first half of the title as the narrative’s pinball-like progress basically stops dead so that one bit of softcore nookie after another can languorously play out for the audience’s viewing pleasure, culminating in a ménage-a-trois between Christina, Iwakura and one of Iwakura’s geisha girls. By this point, you almost feel sorry for the guy who got stuck writing the plot.
Still, the plot and the softcore writhings prove a lot more effective than the fight scenes (‘Sex and Fury’ being ever so slightly let down by the fury), which are ludicrous even by the standards of the genre, and edited in such a way as to leave you wondering whether Suzuki was trying to be avant garde and failing miserably, or some poor editor found himself desperate to disguise the leading lady’s lack of facility with a sword.
Minor gripe, though. ‘Sex and Fury’ powers through a running time that stays exactly the right side of an hour and a half, cheerfully thumbing its nose at good taste and as blood erupts over all the place, nudity abounds and the closest any character comes to a happy ending is that their death scene is more iconic than their opponent’s death scene.
Mercifully for all involved, they are served by Motoya Washio’s glorious cinematography, a widescreen orgy of Technicolor extravagance. Granted, there are still plenty of pinkie violence titles I have yet to acquaint myself with, but I doubt the subgenre has anything to offer that’s more genuinely beautiful than this. Suzuki and Washio conjure some genuinely poetic imagery from the raw material of abject sleaze. Art cinema, eat yer heart out.