Director Teruo Ishii was a master of styles, often transitioning from action films and yakuza pictures to the more erotic sensibilities of pinkie violence. Orgies of Edo, a 1969 pinkie violence film, found him doing just that as he entered into a period full of these sexually deviant movies that often focused on three different tales of debauchery. Before Ishii would tackle a rough adaptation of Edogawa Rampo withHorrors of Malformed Men, he offered audiences a look at three varying storylines of female violence, so-called “demented” thinking and fetishistic acts during the Edo time period. Orgies ofEdo‘s three stories range from conventional to bizarre to downright brutal, and despite the lurid elements contained in each half-hour tale, Ishii’s direction – and Masahiro Kakefuda’s script – still evokes the tragic events for all characters and the ripple effect that all three have on the recurring doctor character played by Teruo Yoshida.
The first short in Orgies of Edo follows a young woman named Oito (Masumi Tachibana) who, after getting into some debt to a group of unsavory characters, finds herself falling in love with her protector Hanji (Toyozo Yamamoto). Unfortunately for Oito, Hanji’s also part of this group of thugs, and he forces her into a life of prostitution and then begs her to pursue a geisha apprenticeship. The whole thing inevitably ends in tragedy after Oito gets pregnant and realizes that Hanji is not the person she thought, resulting in a brutal baby-bashing sequence. This tale is probably the most recognizably cliched one of the three, following many similar beats in other forced prostitution period films; still, its tragic tale of love and death and its particularly unlikable Hanji character add a lot of humanizing characterization, and it’s more accessible due to its much less erotic and sexually deviant storyline.
The second story follows Ochise (Mitsuko Aoi), who likes to incorporate simulated rape into her kinks after a sexual assault and kidnapping at the hands of a deformed man gives her some version of Stockholm syndrome wherein she actually gets turned on by the risks of this idea. Her servant Chokichi falls for her despite her constant teasing – which almost becomes cuckolding – and it eventually causes him to fly into such a frenzy that he mutilates his own face and accidentally murders Ochise. This tale is all over the place in terms of its sexually aberrant nature; there are rapist little people, there’s a horribly burned man, there’s a sex scene involving a black man due to its taboo at the time. And the conclusion is wild, too – what could be conveyed as a misogynist story about a sexually cowed figure who can’t cope with his lack of intimacy becomes a pretty somber take on obsession.
Finally, Ishii’s third story tells of a lord (Asao Koike) who has become so morally deviant in his sexuality that he actually pursues killing women in a variety of grotesque ways, apparently to try to seek out one that will be able to accept his sadomasochism with her own devotion to pain. He finds her after a pretty raucous scene involving a bunch of bulls being let loose on handmaidens dressed in red, resulting in an extended sequence where most of them are gored to death because they refuse to strip nude. It only gets weirder from there, as one of his handmaidens, Okon (Yujie Kagawa), is caught performing bestiality and is subjected to lead poisoning by being painted in gold, and then subsequently she reveals that the lord’s lover is actually his daughter pregnant with his own child (and grandchild!). This is the one where Orgies of Edo really steps off the deep-end, and it’s also the most fun tale despite its overlong bull sequence.
Orgies of Edo is filled with violence against women and a constant barrage of nudity, but Ishii doesn’t treat this as a porno-lite film. Instead, it has much of the nuance and thought as many of his other films, with a true devotion to character drama. It’s also an important look into the kink-shaming culture of the Edo period and even a highlight of taboo concepts in the late ’60s; the description calls them “moral sickness,” but Orgies of Edo certainly treats its smattering of kinks with critical understanding of how they develop and why it’s a bad idea to try to quiet those urges, since no one in this film fares well due to much misunderstanding of their conditions. Orgies of Edo is an occasionally rough watch, but its portrayal of sex in a bygone time certainly does these complex topics justice.
Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray release of Orgies ofEdo sees the company providing a nice high definition transfer of the film in its original 2.5:1 aspect ratio. Overall the picture quality on this disc is very good, with a large range of colors thanks to the period garb and especially a beautiful setting full of floral tapestries. Ishii often provides scenic backdrops to counter the brutality of the film, too, and that is well-represented on this release with minimal grain, consistent skin tones, and an image full of detail. There is one particular shot in the second short that does appear of noticeably poorer quality, and there are a couple of minor film skips – I’m not sure if these were an error or on the film itself. Otherwise, though, great quality here that is consistent with their transfer on Horrors of Malformed Men.
Audio is presented in uncompressed LPCM mono and sounds fine; it’s not very dynamic and occasionally some distortion does come through with both dialogue and the musical soundtrack. English subtitles are obviously also included though they can be turned off.
The sole extra feature on the disc itself is a 16 minute interview with Patrick Maccias, who goes into a lot of detail about pinkie violence films, Ishii’s prior and later works, the context of Orgies of Edo in the pinkie violence craze, and more. It’s a lot of information and a welcome addition to the film. Also included is a theatrical trailer.
The packaging itself comes with reversible cover artwork and a pull-out essay from Tom Mes, which also goes into detail about the pinkie violence era of filmmaking primarily details how Orgies of Edo fits in with similarities and differences to other types of films. It’s also a great read.
All told this is a nice collection for Orgies of Edo and anyone interested in these types of films would be wise to pick this one up.
Orgies of Edo is not for everyone, but those open to pinkie violence films or interested in Teruo Ishii's non-action output should check out this trio of sexual tales. Arrow Video offers up a good Blu-ray that is light on extras.
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