Bohachi Bushido: Code of the Forgotten Eight Review
Teruo Ishii's films are full of beautiful blasphemy and, depending on whether you consider that a virtue or a vice, you will love or loathe them for their dizzying brilliance or their picturesque obscenity. I would have to say that I am in the former camp as I am yet to see an Ishii film that would leave me alone after it had finished. Even the relative straightforwardness of his Starman episodes in his early career feature invention and fecundity beyond many a director's limited ability and imagination. His willingness to play with the moral centre of his films and destabilise and disorient the viewer is intoxicating. Even if you finish watching one of his films and realise what strange morality you have endured, you will realise that you enjoyed the dark depths and were thoroughly entertained by ideas you would never countenance.
Bohachi Bushido is an adaptation of Kazuo Koike's manga, and given this source, the man who gave the world Lady Snowblood, Hanzo the Razor, and the Lone Wolf and Cub series, you can imagine what sickly fun Ishii has with it. The film opens with a delirious Samurai sword fight with our anti-hero, Shiro, surrounded on a bridge and forced to dispatch his pursuers in torrents of blood. He eventually escapes into the river expecting his own death, and he is saved by the Bohachi clan who induct him into their prostitution business - based on a lot of extortion and oodles of bondage. Soon Shiro's swordsmanship is exploited by the gang's leader to extend their turf and Shiro realises that once the clan gets what they want he will be living on borrowed time.
Shiro is shown into a world where women are turned into sex maniacs by repeated sexual assaults and lots of whipping, a world where the clan are attended to by naked women servants and where he himself has a band of naked lovelies as his bodyguards. It is all clearly nonsense and pure exploitation based on dubious sexual morality, but it is insanely watchable and exciting to boot, an adult comic. The sex is hallucinogenic and orgiastic and may very well lead to the grave, and the violence is theatrical, balletic, and improbably bloody. Limbs intertwine and flesh clings to flesh with crazy intense lighting when Shiro is the lover, and limbs and body parts pirouette through the air in slow motion when Shiro is the fighter. Rampant excess has never looked so good.
The story is one that fans of samurai films will have come across before as the outsider plays politics for his survival within the clan. He waits for the leader to trap him and recognises that he and his fellows are merely pawns sent out to do the boss's dirty work. In any other director's hands this would be predictable but the sheer appetite for perversity and violence that Ishii brings to the film means that all the set pieces are delivered with tremendous choreography and photography which compliment the spirit of the source comic.
Tetsuro Tanba is as unimpressionable as ever, the perfect anti-hero who cares little for anything and delights in his own principled nihilism. He serves to fill the centre of the screen with magnetic menace whilst the synchronised nudity and blood splattering occurs around him. If he seems indestructible, a man who drugs and armies can't even stop, then this is because he needs to be so that the director can keep up the circus around him. Ishii is the ringmaster, and Tanba is his prize attraction.
Whilst you are watching Ishii's film, its impossible not to be lost in the irresistible momentum of this cartoon carnage. Thinking about it afterwards you may want to regain your moral superiority by considering its depiction of women, its unwavering masculine perspective, and its casual enjoyment of sex and gore. But if that is what you're thinking, I believe you'd be better off realising this is mere post coital guilt and that Ishii, the old bugger, has had his way with you, and terribly enough you enjoyed it...
Discotek provide quite a haul of extras for the film, with interviews with Yuriko Hishimi, and the writer J-Taro Sugisaki kicking things off. With clips from her early work, including a deliriously daft one from Ultra 7 where a man changes into shrubbery, and pictures from her career, the interview with Hishima is a delight with her respectful of her films and frank about being in and out of work, and talking about turning down Ishii when he offered her the role in this film. J-Taro is very enthusiastic about the Pinky Violence genre, and jovial as he waxes lyrical about movies and manga, citing the Red Peony Gambler movies as a particular inspiration to the genre. His collaboration with Takao Nakano on the commentary is rather fun too with the two chatting like excited schoolboys, with open reverence to the director's talent and the film's visual beauty.
From the Manga to the Movie is a presentation of Koike's Manga to compare against the uncannily similar film. Mark Schilling contributes a short piece on Ishii and the film, and Chris D provides a much longer article about both as well, along with biographical notes on Tanba. The photo gallery mixes pictures from the set with pictures of Ishii's actual script and later photos from Ishii's final films including shots of him with Shinya Tsukamoto. There are five trailers on the disc including one for the forthcoming and much awaited Star of David: Beauty Hunting.
The main feature is presented at original aspect ratio with the wide-screen being used to its full potential by Ishii. The print seem to have come from two sources, one very good sharp with strong colours and the other softer and much more faded. It isn't as good a presentation as other Discotek releases but the better quality scenes in the print are breathtakingly good in terms of vibrancy and excellent contrast. The audio track has some distortion on the dialogue at moments of emphasis and in the score, but is a strong consistent track overall supported by clear well translated subtitles.
A final note: the cover is reversible with the inner version showing nudity and modesty prevailing on the outside cover.
Now this was my cup of tea, if you liked Female Yakuza Tale then you will probably love this too.