The Top 20 Iconic Japanese Exploitation Cinema Images Part 2

Posted on January 16, 2012 by Deaditor 4 Comments

by Keri O’Shea

And so, it is time to hit the big Top 10…

Again, I can’t stress enough how tough it was to narrow down such a wide and interesting genre to a series of definitive images. Sure, I could have stuck with the up-to-date gore and still come away with a striking set of stills, but I did not want to ignore the earlier material even though, by its very nature, writing up a Top 20 list cuts down on so much. Still, let’s get on with it, and I hope that these do not disappoint…

If you missed my part one, you can catch up here.

10: Joy of Torture 2: Oxen Split Torturing
The slightly awry translation of the movie title into English here actually does the film no disservice; firstly because a) it does exactly what it says on the tin, although the combination of some prudery with some SFX limitations prevents a fully graphic rendering of same, and b) if the title doesn’t make perfect cogent sense, then neither does the film – splicing daft humour with sequences of torment which rest a little uncomfortably together, even in a film culture where the divisions between ‘funny’ and ‘horrible’ have never been divided as strictly as they might have been elsewhere. The defining scene which I have chosen from Oxen Split Torturing comes from the first half of a film which comprises two distinct stories from two historical periods. In this half, a Christian woman is taken prisoner and used as a sex slave by a demented local magistrate during the Shogunate – when he discovers that she has betrayed him, he commands that she be quartered (well, thirded) in a fittingly sexualised death…

9: Tokyo Gore Police
Ooh, boy, I couldn’t go any further without featuring Yoshihiro Nishimura, could I? This man has a strong work ethic when it comes to delivering slabs of warped, cartoonish gore. In looking at the filmography with which he has been involved, he’s been one of the most important SFX specialists of the last ten years, but I plumped for his own directorial project – Tokyo Gore Police – for his inclusion here. Because, by crikey, he really goes for it in TGP! In its world, losing a limb is, for the people known as ‘Engineers’, the beginning and not the end, thanks to the machinations of a mad scientist who has ensured that they replace flesh and bone with weaponry…and Tokyo’s police are on the trail of these beings. My absolute favourite scene, amongst a host of brilliant scenes, is the li’l lady featured here. No legs, no problem.

8: Baby Cart at the River Styx
I suppose it’s only to be expected that the rich, bloody seam of Japanese history known as the Shogunate should crop up more than once on this list – here, in one of the most notorious (and best-known) of the country’s output during the 1980s, when both parts of the Lone Wolf and Cub series of films were cribbed together to form one hodgepodge of a movie, Shogun Assassin – where it was promptly banned in the UK, during the days of the Video Nasties débâcle. However, as Baby Cart at the River Styx is the original piece of work (and makes up the bulk of Shogun Assassin), I’ve gone back to it, and to its protagonists. Its story – of an assassin for hire driven from his home, accompanied by his baby son Daigoro – has given us one of the most famous father and son teams in exploitation cinema.

7: Ichi the Killer
It would be all too easy to let Takashi Miike dominate proceedings here; arguably, he has become the most famous Japanese purveyor of extreme cinema, known by the masses as well as by cinema geeks. For a guy who got into the filmmaking profession out of sheer indifference to other vocations, the man has done good: it may not have been what he’d always wanted to do, but here we have a diligent, interesting and talented director. I’m wary of flashing around terms like ‘visionary’, but come on…

I decided that if I was going to choose one Takashi movie, I would go for Ichi the Killer; it’s not that I’m not a fan of Audition, but for me, that image (and you know the one I mean) has been reproduced so much now to have lost its impact. Plus, the manic energy of Ichi the Killer, how it pitches the ultimate masochist against the ultimate sadist…it’s the first of his films I ever saw, and it blew my mind. The scene I’ve chosen communicates all of the mayhem, colour and style we’ve come to expect from Takashi-brand ultraviolence.

6: Guinea Pig 2: Flowers of Flesh and Blood
It’s difficult for me to pick a film from the strange, seedy Guinea Pig series (well, from the first three in the series anyway) which doesn’t have a startling image of some kind. See, the Guinea Pig movies set a strange kind of benchmark for me; I heard about them in underground death metal fanzines when I was a teenager where they were always referred to as ‘extreme’. Curiosity killed the cat – I managed to get hold of The Devil’s Experiment on VHS and, let me tell you, through a fug of poor quality copying, that film looks much more intense than it ever did cleaned up for DVD. Still, after much ado, I went for the second film in the series – entitled, ‘Flowers of Flesh and Blood’. Much like the first film, there is little or no reason for what happens to the unfortunate woman in it, leaving aside some poetic language spouted by a murderer in lipstick and a samurai helmet – this is simply an exercise in protracted cruelty. As an aside, Flowers of Flesh and Blood does now carry with it the urban legend of Charlie Sheen reporting it to the cops after mistaking it as a real snuff movie, so convinced was he – still, whether this is true or not, knowing what we know now about Charlie Sheen, he probably thought he was really in Vietnam when he shot Platoon…

5: Suicide Club
Shion Sono is one of my favourite working directors today, and he knows a thing or two about providing us with arresting opening scenes. It’s true of everything he’s done so far. This, the first of his films I ever saw, kicked off with such aplomb that I was literally left open-mouthed. Suicide Club starts out with an army of Japanese schoolgirls (almost obligatory in the country’s genre movies, it seems) and – Shion utterly wipes them out, in a mass suicide sequence at a Tokyo metro station, as the everyday bustle of the place gives way to chaos. Unbelievable dark humour at its finest. And a-one! And a-two! And a-three!

4: School of the Holy Beast
Corrupt convents, repressed sexuality, wimples…the seventies, in particular, were so awash with horny nuns that they even have their own sub-genre of genre film – even in Japan, where Christianity has a much, much shorter history thanks to the Japanese ‘closed door’ policy with regards to other cultures, there was School of the Holy Beast – a striking example of exploitation which merges the almost-obligatory sleaze with some stunningly beautiful sequences. This movie has as much of Black Narcissus as Satanic Pandemonium. Observe, then, my choice for the top scene from this movie: the gorgeous Maya (Yuri Takigawa) being whipped with roses for her transgressions…

3: Sex and Fury
Man, if ever a film title summed up a genre…

This female-driven revenge flick tells the tale of Ocho (Reiko Ike), a lady making her living from petty crime during the Meiji period in Japanese history (which is roughly equivalent to the late Victorian/early twentieth century period in Europe). Whatever else drives her, having witnessed the death of her father – who, as a detective, was definitely on the other side of the law – means she is forever sworn to find the people who murdered him. Unfortunately for Ocho, this means crossing paths with a corrupt Yakuza boss – especially when she makes it her business to save an innocent girl from being sold to a brothel. Luckily, Ocho can look after herself…

2: Female Convict 701: Scorpion
This list would not be complete without a women in prison movie, and you can’t tell me it isn’t so. Therefore, what could be better than the manga-derived Female Convict 701, as brought to the screen by director Shunya Ito. It’s not the only Female Convict movie to get made, but it is – at least for me – the most visually-arresting. Matsu – played by the inimitable Meiko Kaji – is doing bird, after being set up by her one true love, a corrupt police officer who exploited her in order to get connections to a Yakuza gang. Even in jail she isn’t safe, though: she’s a liability, in case she talks. But the intractable Matsu is not going to prove easy to kill. The aesthetic prowess of this movie cannot be overstated, as the dark, unsavoury jail comes into contrast with the brightness of Matsu’s life before – life and experience have changed her, and everything around her. Some parts of this movie are very well choreographed, too. At the hub of it all is Meiko’s performance as Matsu (or Sasori – ‘Scorpion’ – as she’s also known). She is really put through her paces here, but plays her role like the biggest ice queen on the block. It is my opinion that Sasori is one of the most important characters in Japanese exploitation cinema.

…Which leads me neatly to the top of the list…

1: Lady Snowblood
If it seems disingenuous to have Meiko Kaji place first and second in this list, or even to have Sex and Fury placed so close to Lady Snowblood, considering their closeness of theme, then I can only protest that it plain did not seem right to put this movie any lower, or miss out any of the others. I was a real latecomer to seeing Lady Snowblood, but having done so, I can see just how vital it is. Sure, it has had a large influence outside of its native country, most notably on Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies, but it is a fine piece of work in its own right. Unlike The Bride in Tarantino’s later works, Yuki (Meiko Kaji) does not become an agent of vengeance through a chain of events; rather, she is conceived and raised with that very purpose, when her mother is bereaved of her husband and then imprisoned on a false charge. All of this means that, however honed a weapon Yuki is, her purpose is not hers alone; so, at times, she hesitates, making her a well-realised character rather than a caricature. This is a beautifully-shot, lit and paced movie which gives us a wealth of remarkable images. The one I have chosen heads up our Japanese Exploitation Month banner, too – which all goes to show, as Marc put the banner together on his own before this feature was even suggested, that great minds think alike.

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