Legend of the Poisonous Seductress Trilogy (US - DVD R1)
An angry woman teaches Gabe Powers the true meaning of "No Means No."
It’s hard to make broad comments about one’s affection for an entire subgenre with a clear conscience. I could say that I love zombie films, but then I’d be reminded that less than a tenth of all zombie films are even watchable. I could say I hate romantic comedies, but then I’d remember movies like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and What’s Up Doc?. It’s hard to make generalizations, but seeing that I’m still a relative new comer to the genre, I feel I can state within the realms of my ignorance that I love Pinky Violence movies, especially those that take place in a Samurai setting.
There’s something about the relatively ‘innocent’ nature of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s era of filmmaking that render such jagged pills easy swallowing. Pinky Violence flicks are filled with imaginative scenes of rape, dismemberment, murder, and torture, all made to shock the hell of the jaded television audiences of the time, but the actual on-screen carnage is rather tame by our modern standards. With these films a modern audience is allowed to experience the relative ‘fun’ of shock and debauchery, without actually witnessing sights too vile to recount, as happened when Japanese exploitation cinema ‘evolved’ into ‘80s features like the Guinea Pig series. Part of what makes Tarantino and Miike’s ode to these classic trash feasts is their basic adherence to the formula’s now quaint approach (at least usually in Miike’s case).
The Legend of the Poisonous Seductress trilogy isn’t quite as gob-smackingly exhilarating as the Lady Snowblood films, but that’s hardly cause for disappointment. These films are stylish, sadistically violent little gems, and unlike Euro or American exploitation cinema from the era, the acting is pretty sharp as well. They represent early entrees in the genre, though not the most popular.
Female Demon Ohyaku
In the first entry, Ohyaku (Junko Miyazono) is an actress who finds herself running with the wrong crowd. After a relatively innocent heist goes South she’s finds herself in a male dominated prison, and is brutally pushed by her fellow prisoners and jailers to the point of no return. After discovering her feminine wiles, Ohyaku hatches an escape and revenge plan. With a demon tattoo across her back and a sword in her hand, she embarks on a crusade of vengeance against all those who have wronged her, laying waste to man and woman alike in her quest for bloody retribution.
Female Demon Ohyaku is the roughest of the three films, but I found it the most enjoyable overall. The stark black and white photography captures an almost gothic atmosphere unlike any I’ve seen outside of the horror genre. Stylistically, the film has more in common with Mario Bava then Akira Kurosawa, with even hints of German expressionism sprinkled throughout.
Though the oldest and quaintest of the series, Female Demon Ohyaku is probably the most rife with exploitative goodness, including Grand Guignol (a word commonly used by commentator/expert Chris D.) torture apparatuses, lesbianism, and enough flowing blood to make Kill Bill fanatics take notice. Fighting sequences aren’t particularly elaborate, and Ohyaku doesn’t even pick up a sword until the finale, but the grimy violence is still quite theatrical.
My only criticisms are of the overly familiar plot line, which mostly counts off the minutes to Ohyaku’s eventual explosion. Some viewers may be turned off by the volume of screen time given to the heroine’s hardships, but such brutality seems necessary given the vengeance genre. Fans of the Loan Wolf and Cub series should be happy to notice a restrained and dramatic performance from Ogami Itto himself, Tomisaburo Wakayama.
Junko Miyazono returns as Okatsu, the daughter of an aging sword master who takes on a power-hungry magistrate. When her father and bother are brutally murdered, and she herself ravaged, Okatsu joins forces with by Rui (Reiko Oshida), a mysterious (and rather modern looking) young swordswoman. Our heroines quickly become wanted criminals, as the evil magistrate takes every opportunity to frame Okatsu for the crimes he has committed. But these criminals have a plan and will stop at nothing for their bloody revenge.
Nobuo Nakagawa, the director of popular Japanese horror titles like Jigoku[i] and [i]Snake Woman s Curse first tried his hand at the formula with this exciting but uninspired tale of gory retribution. Nakagawa’s staging is at times breath taking, including some sequences which are set up as a stage play, and his camera work is more intricate that Yoshihiro Ishikawa’s earlier film. The swordplay is also impressive, but the plot itself verges on dull, and as a viewer I once again found myself counting off the minutes to the final act.
The arterial spray and sexual perversion is plentiful, but Quick-Draw Okatsu has a more refined approach then the first film, and isn’t quite as shocking (though it’s possible that unrealistically bright red blood doesn’t produce the same reaction as black and white blood). The film finds itself unfortunately perched between the exploitative Pinky Violence and more classy samurai genres, and doesn’t handle itself as well as Lady Snowblood or the Lone Wolf and Cub series, which deal in both genuine drama and blockbusting theatrics.
Okatsu the Fugitive
In the final episode Junko Miyazono returns as the beautiful swordswoman Okatsu, though this time she’s a soon to be married daughter of an aristocrat. A corrupt merchant tortures and kills her parents, and leaves her to die. Betrayed then by her fiancé, Okatsu finds herself aided in her quest by a handsome Ronin (Tatsuo Umemiya), and the vengeance begins anew.
Okatsu the Fugitive is pretty easily the weakest of the three films, but still an entertaining find. My vote on overall swordplay is up in the air between this and the second film, and the dramatic action scenes are the features highlight. The budget seems a smidgen lower this time around, but the limited sets lead to a few of the flicks more surreal sequences.
I watched all three films in a row, and though I saw the last film most recently, I’m having trouble separating its plot from the second film in my mind. Okatsu the Fugitive has simply too much in common with Quick-Draw Okatsu, and though it may be the gorier feature, director Nakagawa has less interest in theatrics this time around. There’s enough carnage and sensuality to keep most Pinky Violence fans interested, but just barely.
Synapse once again impresses by cleaning up a series of older features to the point that they look like they could’ve been made yesterday, except the first one, which gives itself away with its black and white photography. Ok that’s an exaggeration. There are still a few flickers of artefact, but overall the cleanliness of these transfers is pretty impressive.
Though all three films have their share of grain, Female Demon Ohyaku, being the oldest, cheapest and most black and white of the features, is the grainiest. The purposefully dark photography doesn’t help, but details are still rather surprisingly discernable. Quick-Draw Okatsu and Okatsu the Fugitive are both a little on the soft side, in both colour and dimension, but still impress with their clarity, and lack of compression noise.
All three films are presented in their original Japanese mono, and though they aren’t likely to dazzle audiophiles, all three tracks sound just fine. Unlike some older Mono tracks, specifically ones with harsh Japanese Samurai sound effects and music, the sound levels don’t often peak with distortion. Though the depth of field and bass levels are a bit flat, definition is effective, and dialogue is clear. As with the video, the quality of Female Demon Ohyaku is notably less than the other two films, but still not really anything worth complaining about.
Our main extras here are two audio commentaries with Japanese cinema expert and author Chris D (full last name Desjardins). D is informative enough, but doesn’t quite fill the track to the brim like Tim Lucas, Bey Logan, or Tom Mes might. His atonal reading is actually quite amusing, and I know for a fact that I learned something from the tracks, so I recommend them despite their rather lacklustre presentation.
D also supplies us with a liner note essay about female swordplay cinema, which graces all three releases. D is a better writer than speaker, and the notes definitely make one want to check out his book on the subject, ‘Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film’, seeing that I don’t quite have the intellectual grasp on the subject I once assumed I did.
All three discs also carry the same three trailers and image galleries.
All three films are quite enjoyable, but people will undoubtedly have their favourites. I’m leaning towards the first episode for its gothic and grungy elements, but fans of action may want to go with the second episode instead. These films are not offered (so far as I can tell) as part of a set, so some buyers may want to pick and choose. However, if you’re going to get the first two, you really might as well pick up the last one for completion’s sake. I look forward to more entries in Synapse’s Pinky Violence Collection.
Female Demon Ohyaku: 7/10
Quick-Draw Okatsu: 7/10
Okatsu the Fugitive: 6/10
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 13th November 2007
Disc Type: Single side, single layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono Japanese
Extras: Chris D. Commentary, Trailers, Liner Notes, Image Gallery
Easter Egg: No
Director: Yoshihiro Ishikawa, Nobuo Nakagawa
Cast: Junko Miyazono, Reiko Oshida, Tomisaburo Wakayama
Genre: Action, Drama and Thriller
Length: 262 minutes
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