Saturday, 15 September 2012

Rope and Skin (1979) Shogoro Nishimura

Rope and Skin was the final film of the phenomenal Naomi Tani and fittingly it's about retirement. Specifically that of Red Cherry Okuma, gambler, fight and all round righteous lady about town. Unfortunately during her final game she embarasses a crooked boss, helping incite a perilous spiral of violence and degradation bound to leave no one unscathed. Interestingly the film rather brings to mind a Toei production with its warring gangs, honor pitted against avarice, flashes of bloody violence and sparse but skilfully evoked period setting. The mean tone and sexual humiliation is all Nikkatsu though, and the storytelling typical of director Shogoro Nishimura with its moments of tenderness cut down by cruelty and a strong relationship between females in which one lady suffers to protect the honor of the other. I'm not sure I'm completely convinced by the combination of pinku tropes with more family friendly bloody period revenge drama since the former genre tends to rely on titillation via dubious sexual morality and the latter is concerned with satisfactions of a moderately more noble kind in the felling of evil, and the sexual stuff is a bit pat (save a bit of amusing use of foodstuffs), but there's a fairly satisfying amount of nudity and the action is efficiently choreographed, the two combining with a swift pace to make an entirely watchable experience.

Naomi Tani is ace as ever, performing with nobility and stoicism with a certain hard edge that allows her to convince in action scenes despite lacking the fierceness of a Reiko Ike. Yuri Yamashina projects an affecting wounded nobility as the much wronged Yukiyo, daughter of the good boss of the film, Shohei Yamamoto is appropriately intriguing as mysterious good guy Mr. Hanai, there's a small but moving role pinku notable Junko Miyashita and the villains are suitably crass and hateful. The overall relative lack of shock and insanity here is a definite setback (though for some it may be a plus I suppose) but all in all this is still a quality work and since things never get too graphic there are no appearances for the dreaded beaver blockers that curse many a film of this kind. Well recommended to both established genre addicts and newcomers alike then, and the fact that I wasn't tremendously impressed by it really says more for the general high standards of the genre than any great problems with the film itself.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Flower and Snake 4: Rope Slave (1986) Shogoro Nishimura

The ever able Shogoro Nishimura brings us another Flower and Snake entry and is still going strong. I don't usually expect much from the fourth installment in a series but Flower and Snake: Rope Slave is an effectively twisted, fresh and cruelly poignant affair, while it lacks something of the charm and tension of its predecessor it makes up for the lacks with mean vibe and a fine finale. The plot follows deviant dentist Dr. Oba who has a habit of sexually molesting unconscious female patients, aided by naughty nurse and lover, the comely Naoe. It's a good racket he has going on, secure sex and plenty of room for abusive fun times, but then he takes a shine to Miki, student and lover of noble artisan widowed Lady Ito. So Dr. Oba steps up his shenanigans and pretty soon everyone is headed down a bad path...

It's a claustrophobic affair with only four key players and no important side characters, and only four or five locations, all confined with almost no time spent outside. There aren't many twists or complications either so the film doesn't have much tension. But things are lifted far away from potential monotony by by the rhythm of the construction, adeptly balancing the traditionally loving relationship and tender sexual moments of Miki and Lady Ito with the perverse connection of Dr. Oba and Naoe, their relationship murky in its power exchanges and mutually fuelling malevolence, their sex an expression of said murk. Also the dentistry setting makes for some rather good squirm inducing scenes that are a nice change from the standard sexual degradation, creepy exploration of a ladies lower mouth (as it were), and an inexplicit but potent bit of full on torture. There's a fair amount of regular sexual degradation as well (of course!) but it's mostly "seen it before" stuff. The lack of variety only hurts a little though as the film is very focused.

The cast sell it well too, Ran Masaki is great as the abused Miki, like her previous film for Nishimura (Beautiful Teacher in Torture Hell) she conveys innocence and tenderness that is poignant both in scenes of love and of abuse. Minako Ogawa (returning from Flower and Snake 3) does a good job as Lady Ito, sensual and dignified, while whoever it is that plays Dr. Oba (I lack a proper translated cast list) is a quality villain of the cold and arrogant kind, one can easily sense the calculations by which his pleasure becomes all, and anybody else just an object. The direction goes well as well, crisp and efficient with nary a wasted shot, the film is good slick stuff. It may not be especially advanced or thrilling stuff, but as far as 80's pinku cinema goes it's pretty much rock solid stuff. Recommended to thoroughgoing genre fans certainly, others may enjoy but could equally take a rain check. If I were still rating films I'd probobly give it a firm 7/10,  but, you know, results may vary and all that. Enjoy!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Flower and Snake 3: Punishment (1986) Shogoro Nishimura

I've not yet seen either of the first two Flower and Snake films. Didn't make me hesitate to watch this one though as I'm pretty sure the connection is thematic rather than directly plot or character based in nature. And since said theme (sexual subjugation and ambiguous acceptance) is a staple of the pinku genre at large and so something I've encountered many times, I didn't feel beholden to chronological order. Flower and Snake 3: Punishment is considerably less acclaimed than the Konuma original and doesn't do anything especially new or elaborate but it's a perfectly solid work for genre fans, well orchestrated by the veteran Shogoro Nishimura. The plot follows Shizuko Tooyama, whose rich businessman husband refuses to prop up the ailing concern of associate Takeshi. So Takeshi kidnaps Shizuko and makes her star in a porno film for blackmail purposes. And both maid Chiyo and lawyer Sugimoto are involved also, as well as Shizuko's student Mitsuko. Although the plot set up is simple, the involvement of multiple players gives it a taut, twisty feel where sympathies blur and shift which is most agreeably sustaining. The performances are all solid, starlet Minako Ogawa is harrowed but resourceful and determined as Shizuko, with some welcome darker shadings as well, Yuichi Minato is a good scummy villain and the other performers deliver the various intrigues with often sinister aplomb. Some nice pulsing synths on the soundtrack get the blood flowing, and the sexual scenes are suitably claustrophobic and mean, there are also outdoors nightime sequences lit in wan, eerie green conveying offbeat murky atmosphere. As far as the all important grotesqueries of the film go there's various sexy rope work, hot wax play, piss fun and a couple of slightly more unusual perversions that I won't spoil here. Suffice to say things aren't spectacular but perfectly pleasing, and the way things are organised the morality is nicely murky, giving the viewer a modicum of depth to chew on. The conclusion isn't so strong but provides at least a visually pleasing capper, making the film in general a solid piece of slim slick sleazy fun. Newcomers and genre enthusiasts of a more discerning temperament can probobly just about pass this one by, at least if there aren't any more spectacular offerings available, but for the more general fan like myself who just plain digs pinku films and isn't too worried if they're socks aren't knocked off this is worth a look. BW thumbs up then, but don't strain yourself searching for it or anything.