Sex and Fury Review
Sex and Fury doesn't always make a lot of sense and it will prove a test for those who are uncomfortable with the mixing together of sex and violence. Despite this, it is rather marvellous, a jewel of an exploitation movie which unites Pinky Violence star Reiko Ike with the star of Thriller: They call Her One Eye, Christina Lindbergh. For those of you who like a woman who can kick butt whilst completely naked and retain her composure and dress sense after torture and sexual assault, this is the film for you. Helmed by the occasionally wonderful Norifumi Suzuki and bearing the tell tale signs of his films - sadomasochism, fetishism, an odd kind of equation between Christian iconography and evil, and some amazing artful sequences which would be just as at home in his namesake Seijun's movies. Mixing flesh, chanbara and sheer style, Sex and Fury is great fun.
Like many revenge flicks since, it begins with the dreadful murder of a child's father whilst she watches. As he bleeds to death, he scrabbles about and collects three cards which have dropped from his case. On the cards are drawn a boar, a butterfly, and a deer. Abandoned by her mother, the daughter, Ocho, grows up cherishing these three cards and the notion of revenge against the people responsible for her detective father's assassination. Taken in as a foundling by a female yakuza, she learns how to handle a short sword, to gamble, and to pick pockets for a living. We join her all grown up as she visits a gambling house where she finds herself entrusted by a dying man to redeem his sister, Yuki, from the threat of prostitution. She travels to the brothel where Yuki is about to be deflowered by Boss Iwakura who refuses to give over the girl. Instead he proposes that a gambling match is arranged where Yuki is the prize, but a group of young revolutionaries attack the house where the match is taking place and Ocho's western opponent is distracted by the appearance of her true love, Shunosuke. Ocho wins but Iwakura plans to have Yuki anyway and plans a trap for Ocho so he can seduce her as well, but Ocho has heard of his deer tattoo and the first part of her revenge is on. Two more targets will reveal themselves as spies battle Yakuza and corrupt officials, and Ocho must follow her vengeance. As is probably clear from this short description, Sex and Fury is ridiculously over plotted and populated with too many characters so that by its conclusion they have only really served the purpose of delaying the central vengeance of Ocho.
Still the delays in getting to the denouement are frankly wonderful. The opening bathtub fight against an ambush of yakuza with a naked Reiko Ike cutting through them like a knife through butter is more a piece of ballet with swords than gritty fighting, and serves to help the audience realise that Ike is no shrinking violet that can be stopped by being encircled by a yakuza army. If you enjoyed the bloody snow covered duels of the same year's Lady Snowblood, this movie simply amplifies the effect and turns the volume up to 11. There are a number of similarly excellent fights where Ike lays waste to the men who try to stop her, and they are choreographed in the same marvellously artful way, and this grace is also extended to the plentiful sex scenes which are near the knuckle in their abusiveness but all with a sting in the tail for the male aggressor. Christina Lindbergh cameos as a supposedly English spy complete with garter belt with revolver and top gambling skills. She also gets some monologues over the top of montages which are stylish but do highlight the limits of her spoken English. Suzuki also enjoys going into overdrive in the torture sequences involving set ups which would be repeated in the following year's Convent of the Holy Beast, I am not sure if his ability with making such nasty scenes appear so beautiful is a healthy thing but there is no arguing with the fact that they sure do look pretty. Suzuki is less able at keeping the narrative together; he will suggest that a character is madly in love one second and then has them in a romantic clinch with another different character barely seconds later, and worse still he makes some characters evil or good as the sequence requires rather than from any sounder logic.
Sex and Fury has its faults but it is a prime example of a great exploitation movie which just gives its audience everything they could want with a terrific sense of style and momentum. Reiko Ike is indestructible and Lindbergh is too beautiful to live and the final sequence sets up a sequel whilst acknowledging the end of revenge. It ain't Citizen Kane, however it is far more fun than a decent film ever could be.
Fabulous/Fremantle have provided the main feature in an anamorphic transfer at Original Aspect Ratio on this dual layer disc. The transfer seems to be encoded in NTSC and is actually a huge improvement on the previous quality of Japanese cult films that we have seen brought over to the UK. The print is as strong as the existing Panik House disc and framed the same with solid colours and goodish contrast, the image is very sharp and detailed with very little grain evident. Looking at the R1 disc for comparison there is very little to choose between them:
Watching the two discs alongside each other I noticed marginally better contrast in the R1 release, but the difference is very slight. The audio on this disc is also of a similar quality to the R1 apart from having more distortion in the lower register of voices. On the subject of subtitles, the new disc has the English translations in a rather idiosyncratic font that irritated me to read it and also has a couple of typos.
The menu design is less animated than the R1 disc, and all the extras bar a trailer are rather static themselves. There is original poster art, a black and white still gallery and a perfunctory biography of Ike. This release does not carry the commentary from Chris D that you will find on the Panik house disc. Still this is a good main presentation and amazingly we are now able to enjoy the torture and sleaze uncut thanks to the BBFC.
A real sleazy jewel of a cult film gets an uncut and rather nice transfer. The subs are not as easy to read as the R1 disc but that disc only has the additional extra of a commentary that personally I didn't find that interesting. For an R2 release this is a great step forward in quality for this kind of movie, well done Fabulous.