Saturday, 12 May 2012

Cruelty: Black Rose Torture (1975) Katsuhiko Fuji

Serious, sobering and sad. Not three words that I usually find myself using in a review of a pinku film, but Cruelty: Black Rose Torture is a little loftier in its intentions than the average. It's sleazy too of course, but in a matter of fact way, acknowledging the power in sex and body without the warmth and closeness of intent to titillate. The story is of Yumiko and her maid Chiyo, who at the start travel to see Yumiko's brother, who Chiyo loves, only for the trip to prove disastrous as Chiyo is raped by an official on the train, then Yumiko's brother is forced to flee from the Japanese secret police and the two women are tortured to find his whereabouts. Cut to two years later and the brother is fighting at war, Yumiko is going insane and Chiyo has to go to any lengths to hold the situation together. Needless to say, things do not go especially happily for anyone...

So, this is a pretty serious film about the effects of war on home life, of the brutality of officialdom and the tragedies and ironies of love. The direction is subdued and claustrophobic, shots often static and neatly framed, many times looking down upon the protagonists and their entanglements impassive as the ceiling itself. I was a little reminded of the work of Koji Wakamatsu, though this isn't in the same league, lacking his scalpel of style and politics to dissect character and situation. This is still reasonably nuanced stuff though, no Sadean monsters, no extravagance, just people, some good and some deeply flawed, existing in a state that all know could get much worse at any moment. So the film consists mostly of sexual and emotional power play before coming to a head in the final 15 minutes or so, and I must say I was left fairly downbeat at the end. Humanity, warmth and wrong coiling into abuse and death with flat inevitability, not exactly cheering stuff. The lack of all that much sleaze also means that the film isn't generally as entertaining as others of its ilk, though there are various rapes and some pretty harsh cane beating. Fortunately the cast sell things well, the divine Naomi Tani touching as Yumiko, noble heart fragile, soiled and soon declining, and Terumi Azuma equally fine as Chiyo, borne ever deeper down by love and duty. Not having a proper cast list I can't single anyone else out but the various military types are all suitably brusque and officious, and the villain of the piece shaded enough to be interesting. So all in all this is a decent, if not terribly distinguished genre entry, and one that will likely disappoint newcomers or the more devoted sleaze-hounds among pinku fans. But for a change of pace and some genuine drama to chew on this is a solid little piece, and worth checking out.

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