Female Demon Ohyaku (Japan 1968)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 9/29/08
Cast: Junko Miyazono, Tomisaburo Wakayama

A shocking and scandalous tale of sex and violence, especially considering that it was made in 1968. Ohyaku (Junko Miyazono) is a tainted woman - the daughter of a whore, an entertainer, a thief, and an extortionist. Her boss also likes to sell her body against her will. One day she gets fed up with being used and abused by men and pisses off a high ranking official, which results in her being tortured and sent to a harsh prison camp. Enduring her numerous hardships, she plots revenge and uses every means necessary to that end. An incomparable beauty, neither men nor women can resist her body, and someone is always trying to force their way into her pants. The warden's wife is one of these people, and she grants her special privileges in return for sexual favors and the thrill of allowing her to tattoo a giant oni on her perfect skin. Empowered by the tattoo, she eventually escapes the island and exacts her revenge in the cruelest way possible.

What a stir this must have created when it came out! Not only does it feature excessive bloodletting and explicit depictions of torture, but also some hot girl-on-girl action. Wow. However, based on the trailer for the film, some of the racier scenes ended up getting cut out of the final edit. Being a black and white film, the blood isn't nearly as visceral and effective as it could be, but the brilliant use of sound still makes it unsettling. In an excellent use of negative space, a visually impressive beheading is made even more disturbing by the camera lingering uncomfortably long on the scene, with the only sound coming from the constant trickling and splashing of blood as it pours out of the headless body. If you close your eyes, it sounds like a gentle brook. Very creepy and very effective.

Junko Miyazono does a good job in the role of the female avenger, and handles a sword fairly well. The action scenes aren't particularly exciting, but they get the job done. The film's primary focus seems to be on "extreme eroticism," which is what the Japanese pinky violence genre is all about. Sex and violence go hand in hand, and while I'm not a fan of rape as entertainment, the execution is well done and not overplayed. Somehow the Japanese always manage to turn exploitation into art. The film is obviously dated and clichéd but probably seemed fresh and cutting edge at the time. From a historical perspective, it's definitely worth checking out, and chambara fans will probably enjoy it as well. It even features the wonderful Tomisaburo Wakayama (Ogami Itto himself!) as a one-armed crime boss, which adds a certain amount of class and credibility to the production.