Inferno of Torture
directed by Teruo Ishii
starring Tamaki Sawa, Masumi Tachibana, Yumika Katayama
In just over a year director Teruo Ishii cranked out ten feature films for Toei Studios that epitomize the ero guro aesthetic of sexuality and gore that at the time was quite transgressive, especially for a legitimate studio to produce. They would release ero guro or other “pinky violence” movies but wouldn’t front the productions. Ishii’s deal with Toei would help legitimize sex and violence on the screen in Japan.
Inferno of Torture cannot be accused of hyperbolic titling as Teruo Ishii showcases a mass crucifixion, decapitations and a woman getting a spear to the crotch and throat, all during the title credits. Like all low budget filmmakers, Ishii’s films are always hampered by lacking time and money to get everything perfect, yet in his films there are always sequences that speak of genius. Despite budgetary shortcomings Ishii created sublime visions of depravity that are also achingly beautiful. Part of Ishii’s deal with Toei set him up much like the classic Hollywood B-Movie units at R.K.O., Universal, or Warner Brothers; tiny budgets and short production calendars, but access to the studio’s vast resources of sets, props, and costumes. This allows his very cheap films to have a far more expensive look. One thing Ishii found he didn’t have a lot of access to was Toei’s roster of acting talent and he had to cast from outside of the studio as established actors didn’t want to work in sex films. Ishii created a stable of talent that worked with him on numerous projects so you do see familiar faces popping up in his films.
Inferno of Torture is essentially an anthology film but Ishii chose instead of using a framing device he would weave the stories into a non-linear narrative that is often more confusing than the payoff is worth. Too much energy is spent trying to keep track of the characters and the most interesting of the plots involving Nami (Yumika Katayama, Goke Body Snatcher from Hell), a prostitute forced to resort to grave-robbing to retrieve the key to her chastity belt not only ends tragically, but far to early causing the film’s last third to be anti-climatic. The film’s psychedelic finale is a visual stunner it is an emotional snooze as there are no characters left to care about, but damn seeing Ishii turned loose with naked women, body paint, and black lights is an audacious and beautiful sequence that lingers even if the plot mechanics have broken.
The presentation of Inferno of Torture is gorgeous, as is expected from an Arrow release. The disc doesn’t have a lot of extra content but the quality makes up for any lack of quantity. Japanese film historian Tom Mes provides another strong, informative audio commentary full of information to expand context and understanding of the film and the people who made it without ever feeling dry or uninteresting. The other main feature is a real treat with film historian Jasper Sharp’s lecture at the The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies titled Erotic Grotesque Nonsense & the Foundations of Japan’s Cult Counterculture, presented here in a condensed version. I don’t know how long the full class was, but would love to see it in its entirety.