Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sex & Fury



Sex & Fury
Original Title: Furyô angeo den: Ishoshika Ochô
Directed by: Norifumo Suzuki
Japan, 1973
Pinky Violence /Chanbara, 88min
Distributed by: Studio S. Entertainment

It’s quite easy to fall in love with Christina Lindberg as the silent avenger in Bo A. Vibenius seminal movie Thriller - A Cruel Picture 1974. But the Lindberg movie that delivers the best in my book is Norifumi Suzuki’s fascinating swordplay avenger Pinky Violence flick Sex & Fury!

If you know anything about the splendid age of Japanese Pinky Violence, then you will know the name Norifumi Suzuki. Born in the Shizuoka prefecture in 1933, he started out as a second assistant director at Toei Studios in the late fifties. It was Toei that would become his firm base for the most of his career and after a stint writing scripts for Chanbara & Yakuza movies, the modest kind still safely in line with the alliance restrictions posed after the second world war, he finally got the chance to direct one of his own scripts in 1968. Hibotan bakuto: isshuku ippan (Red Peony Gambler; Gamblers Obligation) was a very late 60's Yakuza action flick with a focus on female gamblers, here starring Sumiko “Junko” Fuji as O-Ryu. A few years later Kenji Fukasaku would bring the genre to a defining high with his series of male oriented yakuza flicks starting with Jingi naki tatakai (Battles Without Honor and Humanity) 1973.

Nevertheless Suzuki was right at the epicentre when Toei made the daring move to enter the Pinky Violence scene. In a bold move to fight against American imports and the ever growing popularity of television, the men in suits that ran Toei decided to take all their flair and artistry of the last twenty years and apply it to the new roman porno wave that was sweeping the nation. But where others where primarily low budget studios, Toei had the means to make a spectacular difference, and they did indeed.

Movies like Teruo Ishii’s Tokugawa onna keibatsu-shi (Joys of Torture) 1968, Shunya Ito’s Sasori movies – making if possible an even bigger star out of Meiko Kaji, who ironically left Nikkatsu Studios in an attempt to distance herself from their line of Roman Porno flicks. And the string of Suzuki movies that make up something of a backbone of the Pinky Violence genre; the Sukeban geira (Girl Boss Guerilla) and Kyôfu joshikôkô (Terrifying Girls’ High School) movies 1973, which both starred Miki Sugimoto and Reiko Ike, and the infamous nunsploitation Pinky Seijû gaken (School of the Holy Beast) 1974 firmly established Suzuki amongst the greatest directors of this evocative and fantastic genre.

But those movies hold nothing against to the tour de force of Sex & Fury. After an invite from Toei, the barely twenty-three year old doe eyed Swedish beauty Christina Lindberg packed her cases and took off for Japan. There she would star in two movies; Sadao Nakajima’s Poruno no joô: Nippin sex ryokô (Journey to Japan) 1973, a modern tale seeing Lindberg getting in the wrong taxicab on her arrival in Japan and ending up being enslaved by a kinky photographer who forces her into bondage themed photography. She soon develops Stockholm syndrome and a seedy twist comes into the movie. And then there’s the crown jewel of Lindberg’s Japanese movies, and in my honest opinion, the best movie of her career is Sex & Fury. No matter how delightful lead actress and genre star Reiko Ike is in this one, Christina Lindberg gives the performance of a lifetime as Christina the tormented spy.

Based on a novel by Tarô Bonten with a script by Suzuki and Masahiro Kakefuda, who co-wrote most of Suzuki’s movies with him, Sex & Fury is basically a classic Chanbara meets Pinku tale of revenge, Ike plays Ochô Inoshika, a woman with a mission. A mission to avenge the brutal slaying of her gambling detective father whose violent and bloody murder she witnessed as a child. As her father lies in a lake of blood taking his last breath of life he arranges three playing cards with the symbols of the tattoos his assassins have – Boar, Deer and Butterfly. Later in life Ochô roams the lands visiting gambling halls in search of her fathers killers. Here she meet’s anti-establishment activist Shunosuke (Masataka Naruse) who she finds comfort and alliance in. He promises to help her seek out the killers if she can help him in his fight against the establishment. With the corrupt cops on her heels there’s a second subplot that comes into play, the English Empire trying to pry their way into the economy of Japan by kidnapping politicians and starting a new opium war. The Empire comes armed with a deadly spy in the shape of the magnificent Lindberg. Obviously their paths cross, on more than one occasion, but Christina has a hidden agenda as she’s taken the mission in Japan as a device to be reunited with her love Shunosuke!

Being a Pinky Violence piece there’s more than enough moments of sinister violence and naked women being molested and pushed around by sweaty fellows, and there are some really great swordplay moments too, just like the iconic scene where Ike fight off a horde of swordsmen buck-naked. But it’s that delicious love story subplot between Lindberg and Naruse that make this movie such a damned fine piece, because it really gives Lindberg an opportunity to shine unlike the parts she had in movies back in Sweden – remember she has no dialogue in Thriller – A Cruel Picture, but here she really makes the most of it and delivers a terrific performance. The climax to her arc in the piece is a really superb moment that packs a strong emotional punch.
Obviously the story finally returns to Ochô and her vengeance plot. Again there’s some splendid moments as she’s captured by the last of her victims and learns a devastating fact from supporting actress Yôko Mihara, who starred as the main badass protagonist in many Pinku movies; Shunya Ito’s Joshuu 701-gô: Sasori (Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion) 1972, Yukio Noda’s Zeroka na onna: Aki wappa (Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs) 1974, and Suzuki’s School of the Holy Beast 1974 to name a few, but she also starred in movies directed by Nobuo Nakagawa, Kinji Fukasaku and several Teruo Ishii films too. If we agree that Lindberg is the sex, then Ike is the fury, and when that final battle comes, the semi naked badly injured blood drenched Ochô puts up a fight that you won’t forget in a near future.

The Pinku movies coming out of major Japanese studios had some great advantages, one being the incredible camera work that the pieces display. Much like the Giallo and Italian pieces have the stunning visual work, the Pinku movies had some true wizards shooting these wonderfully composed cinematographically masterpieces. Sex & Fury has some breathtaking images by Motoya Washyo, who also shot Suzuki’s Shiruku hatto no ô-oyabun (Big Boss in a Silk Hat) 1970, and Teruo Ishii’s Tokagawa irezumi-shi: Seme Jigoku (Inferno of Torture) 1969, definitely composes some stunning shots, and it’s no wonder that several scenes where later to influence Quentin Tarantino when he made the Kill Bill movies. A movie that makes for a great drinking game when you can name the referent influences.

Reiko Ike returned as Ochô Inoshika in Teruo Ishii’s sequel to Sex & Fury, Yasagure anego den: sôkatsu rinchi (Female Yakuza Tale) 1973 which also starred Tarô Bonten as Detective Tora. Nowhere near as potent as the original movie, it was amongst the last movies that Ike made before going about her career-killing move of declaring that she’d had enough of shedding her clothes for Pinky cinema.

So if you have a taste for the queen of Swedish sin, or Japanese Pinky Violence or even like the odd bit of sleaze and nudity along side your Chanbara, then Sex & Fury is a movie for you. Ferocious, violent, some brilliant subplots and two great actresses rolled together in the same movie. Sex & Fury is a magnificent Pinky Violence classic that should be a permanent fixture in any cineastes collection.


Image:
Widescreen 16x9
Audio:
Dolby Digital 2.0, Mono. Japanese & English Dialouge. Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian and Danish subtitles are optional.
Extras:
Christina Lindberg & Reiko Ike biographies, Filmographies, trivia Image gallery the original trailer and trailers for other Studio S releases.

Here's the opening titles with Ichirô Araki's rather catchy score.

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