Tattooed Flower Vase
(Kashin no irezumi: ureta tsubo) (1976)
Directed by Masaru Konuma

Artistic & Entertainment Value: * * * ½

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Takako (Takako Kitagawa), a young college student, returns to visit her widowed mother, Michiyo (Naomi Tani), who earns her living by making Kabuki dolls. After seeing Michiyo in a compromising position, however, Takako runs outside and is hit by a car driven by Hideo (Shin Nakamaru), who happens to be the son of a late Kabuki actor with whom Michiyo had once been sexually intimate. Takako and Hideo promptly enter into a relationship of their own, but Michiyo, remembering her past affair, also starts having sex with Hideo.

Masaru Konuma's Tattooed Flower Vase is an attractively filmed, generally enjoyable erotic melodrama.


The story the movie tells is, I will concede, rather lurid and exaggerated (and is not generally captivating), but it is emotionally engaging, nonetheless. The viewer is likely to find himself aware of and involved in Michiyo's loneliness and desperate sensuality, her daughter's jealousy, eagerness, and conflicted emotions, and in the harsh realities of their world. Konuma repeatedly emphasizes the difficulties women face, and the ways that they are often exploited by men, so that his narrative is invariably tinged with cruelty.

6 9

What is more, Tattooed Flower Vase is consistently attractive visually. The director proves himself to be skillful at capturing the beauty of the most ordinary of scenes and of the simplest of locations. There is hardly a moment of the film that does not seem to have been lifted from some painting. There really are a number of sequences that are especially lovely, being carefully framed, staged, and shot. Konuma conjures up a visually splendid world whether he is showing the colorful performance of a Kabuki actor, is depicting Michiyo bathing her daughter in a small wooden tub, or is revealing Takako and Hideo making love in one room while Michiyo masturbates in the next by positioning his camera above these persons, so that it looks down upon them in such a way that it seems they are in a building from which the roof has been removed in order for the viewer to watch them.

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Oddly, although Tattooed Flower Vase is clearly intended to be erotica, it is rarely particularly sensual. The performers are attractive, and some of the themes included do create a sense of desperate sexuality, but the sex scenes are very tame and never especially imaginatively realized. I was not, at any point, aroused by the film, and was, consequently, a little disappointed with it.

7 5

That said, the movie's concluding scenes, in which Michiyo gets an elaborate and quite beautiful tattoo, take the movie from being interesting to being truly fascinating to watch. The woman's pain has a distinct sensuousness. As she suffers to make her body into a work of art, for distinctly erotic reasons, the viewer is likely to find himself immersed in the events being portrayed. Regrettably, such intense feelings come only very late in the movie.


Whatever its shortcomings, Tattooed Flower Vase is still a well made, engaging, and enjoyable movie.

Review by Keith Allen

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