Orgies of Edo
directed by Teruo Ishii
starring Teruo Yoshida, Masumi Tachibana
Terru Ishii is sadly best known in the west for his work of the kiddie schlock Starman movies from the 1960s. The mostly forgettable sci-fi superhero movies with titles like Attack from Space and Evil Brain From Outer Space were staples of kiddie matinees, late late shows, and more recently as fodder for the bots on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Recently some of his masterworks have been making their way to the west and they have been quite eye opening. Although slogging through the Toei Studios genre grist mill he managed to rise above the usual low budget limitations of monster, crime, and sex movies to create transcendent works of cinema. When you say Ishii was working in a grist mill at Toei Studios realize that he made ten Abashiri Prison movies in a two year period. When the chance to do something different came along he was ready.
Japan’s “King of Cult Movies” Terru Ishii and Toei Studios crafted what would later become known as pinky violence or Pinku eiga films. Pinky violence refers to basically any films using sex and violence. They made the switch to these films when the box office for their Yakuza films, which were their stock and trade declined. The comparatively lush period films allowed Ishii’s imagination to flourish and in a short period he created some truly memorable work.
Orgies of Edo is a three part anthology with a young doctor with a penchant for western medicine working as a connective tissue between the three tales of sexual perversion and personal and political maneuverings. The first story is the most conventional. A woman is manipulated into working as a geisha to bail out her boyfriend who is shacking up with her sister. Needless to say once the truth is revealed it doesn’t end well for anyone involved. The second episode features a woman who can only find arousal in the hands of men who are physically deformed. Her servant helps her procure trysts with an assortment of deformed men, although harboring hidden love for her. The twist ending here feels the most tragic of the film. The final piece of the Orgies of Edo is also the most notorious. A tale of palace intrigue between the wife of a minor nobleman and one of his concubines.
With a title like Orgies of Edo you would expect copious amounts of nudity, and you would not be disappointed. Ishii raises the stakes with bondage, rape, torture, murder, bestiality, incest, and more. The perversity and gore spill off the screen, yet being Japan the pubic areas are always modestly covered. To say this is a movie that couldn’t be made today is an understatement. The brutal subjugation of women and the use of African men and dwarves as freaks would create outrage long before the more salacious and prurient elements could blossom.
The Arrow Video Blu-ray presents the film in a lovely 2.35:1 scope transfer that serves the film’s vibrant color palette quite effectively. There isn’t much in the way of extras on the disc, but the extended discussion on Ishii and Orgies of Edo with Japanese film and pop culture expert and Tokyoscope author Patrick Maccias. Maccias does a great job of putting the film and Ishii’s career into context.
Arrow Video should be commended for their quality releases of Ishii’s films including this, Horrors of Malformed Men, and Blind Woman’s Curse. These films were either forgotten or never known in the west. Even if they were seen it was certainly not in a manner fitting the vision of Ishii. There is something so potent about a genre filmmaker who is able to create art while working in a mass production format that doesn’t reward much but doing the job fast and cheap. It is a system where a director can do basically whatever he wants so long as the film can be sold as a genre entry and comes in on time and under budget. Sometimes this arrangement makes for some unique works of cinema.