Sex and Fury
(Furyo anego den: Inoshika Ocho) (1973)
Directed by Norifumi Suzuki

Artistic Value: * * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * * * *

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Having witnessed her father's murder when she was a little girl, Ocho (Reiko Ike) grows up in Meiji Japan to become a deadly swordswoman and a skilled gambler. One day, after a man is attacked, and fatally injured, for cheating in a gambling house, he begs Ocho to deliver money to his innocent sister, Yuki (Rie Saotome), who has been sold into prostitution. Ocho agrees, but Iwakura (Hiroshi Nawa), the man who is in possession of the girl, refuses to give her up. Ocho, in order to free her, must gamble with a young foreign woman, Christina (Christina Lindberg), who is as proficient at gaming and fighting as is the heroine. Although Ocho wins, and frees Yuki, her troubles are not over. She discovers that Iwakura is one of the men responsible for killing her father and sets out to kill him and his accomplices.

Norifumi Suzuki's Sex and Fury is, without a doubt, an exploitation film. It is exceedingly violent, filled with nudity, and it occasionally fails to make complete sense. That said, it is absolutely beautiful to look at, genuinely engaging, consistently exciting, and, frankly, often sexy.


From Sex and Fury's opening sequence, in which Ocho and her father walk along a path underneath a row of gleaming red torii, there is hardly a moment during the whole of the film's duration in which the viewer is not presented with some mesmerizing image. It is difficult to imagine how anyone could fail to be captivated by such sequences as that in which the naked, tattooed heroine fights a gang of attackers in a snowy courtyard, or that in which Ocho, hung by her hands in the middle of a church (in front of a stained glass window), is tortured by her enemies, or that showing a man and a woman having sex while sprawling on multicolored mats arranged so that they look like a painting by Mondrian. One vibrant, candy-colored image succeeds the next without interruption, leaving the viewer awed by the strange, lovely, and ferocious world in which he finds himself.


Happily, Sex and Fury is as thrilling as it is gorgeous. The aforementioned battle in the snow is one of the best action sequences I have ever encountered, but it is hardly the only one. Ocho fights one opponent after another over the course of the movie, including a gang of knife wielding Catholic nuns. Anyone appreciative of such scenes will hardly be disappointed.


Even sex is deadly in the film's world. In fact, few of the sex scenes are overtly romantic. A few are tinged with desperation, and many are rough or outright brutal. At one point, Christina is raped by a representative of the British government. At another time, Yuki, who is a virgin, is raped by Iwakura, who happens to be fond of deflowering virgins, and, in a third scene, Ocho, having rubbed poison on her body, kills Iwakura by allowing him to lick the stuff off. Although it might occur to some readers that such scenes would be unpleasant to watch, they are not. This is not to say that they are not disturbing - they are - but they are so beautiful, and evince such an appreciation of the human form and of the human condition, that they are truly captivating. Suzuki revels in depictions of both sex and violence, frequently mingling these two things together in an affecting, mesmerizing way.


As many good things as I do have to say about the film, I must admit that it does have a few flaws. There are, for instance, details in the narrative that are not well developed. Christina is said to have been brought to Japan to work as a spy, in order to help bring about another Opium War in China, but I was never certain how that was going to be accomplished. Her real reason for traveling to Asia is, however, her desire to be reunited with a former lover, Shunosuke (Masataka Naruse), who is now leading a group of rebels and seeking to kill the same men Ocho is. Other than getting his own revenge, I have little idea what he, let alone his band of followers, wanted to accomplish. There are a few other problems such as these.


What is more, although the acting is generally good - Ms Ike is particularly intense - there are a few players who give less than impressive performances. Ms Lindberg, I am sad to say, is often awkward, although this does seem to be a result of her speaking lines in languages she does not know well (English and Japanese). She is certainly better than the English speaking actors who appear in the film. The man who portrays her superior is just dreadful.


Such faults, luckily, are not sufficient to spoil the movie. Sex and Fury is weakened by them, but the movie is still a joy to watch. It is easily amongst the best exploitation films I have ever encountered.

Review by Keith Allen

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