Director: Teruo Ishii
Script: Teruo Ishii & Masahiro Kakefuda
Cast: Terup Yoshida, Masumi Tachibana, Yumiko Katayama, Mieko Fujimko, Yukie Kagawa, Shnichiro Hayashi, Asao Koike
Running time: 95 minutes
Director Tero Ishi is probably best known in the West for his early films in the Super Giant series, and for his films in the erotic-grotesque subgenre of ‘pinku’ cinema such as Shogun’s Joys of Torture (1968) and Horrors of Malformed Men (1969), which I recently reviewed for Blueprintreview.
Inferno of Torture, or Hell’s Tattooers as it’s sometimes known as, came out during Ishii’s peak period of directorial weirdness and he’s on fine form here if you’re into naked female flesh, bondage and some rather gruesome torture and death scenes.
The story told here is quite an odd one, to say the least, and revolves around the high demand for tattooed geishas, which went on to generate an entire, seemingly quite legal, industry for their ‘production’. Even the Europeans get in on the act and the European brothel owners often pay more for tattooed beauties than their Japanese counterparts. Against this historical backdrop, Inferno of Torture follows the rather strange on-going competition and final confrontation between two highly skilled masters of the geisha tattooing art.
Opening up with the emperor watching a series of public executions of crucified felons being impaled at the end of a very long spear and some other poor unfortunates being buried up to their necks in sand and then being decapitated by two men with a very long saw, Teruo Ishii ensures that his film is chock full with lots of uncompromising scenes, mostly involving young women being humiliated in some way, although the men aren’t exempt from humiliation either. For example, one geisha handler, who’s caught raping one of the girls, without –tut, tut – permission is killed after first being made to watch the flogging and blinding of his own sister! And to cap the sequence off the young woman that he raped is then fitted with a chastity belt so that only the brothel’s madam can chose who the girl is assaulted by in future! The poor girl later retrieves the key from the body of her rapist, who’d swallowed it before dying, by digging up his grave, but then she manages to snap it off in the lock and is caught for grave-digging by the authorities and is sentenced to be burned alive! What s**t luck!
The film is probably the closest, at least in tone, that I’ve watched, to the writings of the Marquis De Sade and, like his graphic writings, Ishii reveals a level of dark and twisted humour throughout his film.
I have to admit I found it difficult at times to work out what was happening and why, but you do get into the story eventually and it is certainly quite an immersive experience, albeit an unpleasant one.
Ishii films a fair portion of the movie with a hand-held, always moving, camera style, which was quite unusual for films back then. The colours are vibrant (especially the tattoos) and I am pleased to say the sound is good, especially for a film of this age. And, to accompany all the youthful breasts on display, we also have a Jean Rollin-esque score, reminding me of some of the French auteur’s rather trippy female vampire films.
Plus, just to make the film even more weird and disturbing, there are men playing at being geishas too (with a crazy half naked fight between them) and shots of dogs in cages, in a market, ready to be cooked, including the cutest bowl-full of puppies you could ever imagine! In fact, there are so many outstandingly bizarre scenes and shots in this film that connoisseurs of weird and wonderful cinema will be spoilt for choice as to which is their favourite scene. And then, finally, to cap it all off, the film concludes with a dozy of an execution scene, that of death by dismemberment, which even had my jaw hitting the floor!
Arrow Video is distributing Inferno of Torture on Blu-ray. As per usual with Arrow Video there are some decent extras on the disc including:
An Audio commentary by Tom Mes
Erotic Grotesque Nonsense and the Foundations of Japan’s Counter Culture (30 mins) – A condensed version of Jasper Sharp’s Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies Lecture on the ‘euro-guro’ movement and its key contributors, including Teruo Ishii and Edogawa Ranpo. Jasper discusses this sub-genre in some detail and there are some nice retro posters on display, although mostly it contains just shots of Jasper standing at a lectern talking, which isn’t particularly visually arresting – no offence meant, Jasper! Sharp demonstrates his deep knowledge of the subject and compares director Tero Ishi with Ken Russell and also remarks that he sees the Erotic Grotesque genre as less of a sub-genre and “more of a state of mind”.
Theatrical trailer (3 mins) – This uses music that wouldn’t be out of place under-scoring a Hammer film and, at times, even a Herchell Gordon. Lewis film.