Sex & Fury (1973)
By: Mr Intolerance on February 13, 2009  | 
Eastern Star (Hong Kong). Region 3, NTSC. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). Japanese DD 2.0. English, Traditional Chinese Subtitles. 88 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Norifumi Suzuki
Starring: Reiko Ike, Christina Lindberg, Masataka Naruse, Ryoko Ema, Rie Saotome, Yoko Mihara, Jun Midorikawa
Screenplay: Masahiro Kakefuda, Norifumi Suzuki
Country: Japan
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Meiji-era Japan, 1886: Ocho's (Reiko Ike) detective father is slain in the line of duty, and even though she's a small child, she wants vengeance. Ocho's only clue – some cards her father managed to spill from the clothes of one of the assassins. As the credits roll, we get some stylised images of the gorgeous Ms Ike tattoed, semi-nekkid and wielding a wakasashi, basically telling us that she's gonna be one tough lady for the bad guys to take down.

1905: the Japanese empire is expanding, having recently been victorious in both the Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War. The nation is energised and wanting to modernise, or Westernise, if you'd prefer (just prior to this film being made, Japan's premier man of letters, Yukio Mishima, led an attempted and unsuccessful coup against this kind of behaviour, believing Japan was losing its traditions – I'm picking up a strong scent of that line of thought here, too – in many cases the good guys are in traditional Japanese dress, the bad guys in much more Westernised garb). Anyway, Kurokawa, head of the Seishinkai Group, a powerful but corrupt business concern (I'm smelling contextual values and attitudes again), is a bad dude, and has had an attempt made on his life, the culprit having a cameo in his pocket with a picture of Christina Lindberg in it. Ocho has grown up to be a pickpocket , gambler and thief , and a dab hand with a knife, and is still keen on revenge, and still has the flower cards (from which she has taken her name) from the day of her father's death.

She has travelled a long way from Tokyo to find her father's killer, but before one of the local crooks will give her any information, she has to prove her prowess with the cards. On a matter of honour, she has to go back to stop a young girl, Yuki, from being sold to a brothel. Unfortunately, this commission she receives is overheard by a rather pathetic bunch of gamblers who attack her while she's in the bath And while there's about a dozen of them, she slays the lot, bloodily and while stark naked, in an explosive and well-choreographed fight scene, in the best tradition of Lone Wolf and Cub, Hanzo the Razor, or Lady Snowblood. That's right kids, fire-engine red geysers of blood for one and all. Mmmm-mmmm.

Ocho returns home on the anniversary of her father's death, and meets up with her bunch of homegirls (with the worst prat-fall and fart joke I've been exposed to in some time), and then is part of making the crappest bunch of jokes about condoms I've heard in quite a while. In order to save Yuki, from defloration by an absolute arsehole, Ocho has to match gambling smarts with Christina (Lindberg, that's right, from Thriller: A Cruel Picture). But the deal is reneged upon, and Iwakura, the fella who should have handed over Yuki, the virgin in question, is a total sleazeball, and rapes her first ("Deflowering virgins is my hobby!" he states at an earlier point of the film). When Yuki returns, she is understandably horribly distraught, but reveals one more part of the puzzle of who killed Ocho's father.

Christina's not having that good a day either; turns out she's a secret agent, and her superior has found her work so far to be lacking and so therefore rapes her as punishment – in his opinion, "a lesson". That shit never happened to James Bond... Feeble attempts at humour aside, this is all part of the reason I don't personally consider this to be a pinky film; at times the tone is too grim, too oppresive – most of the pinkies I've seen have had a much more cartoonish and bizarre element to them that this film lacks on more than one occasion. I think it has more in common with the Lady Snowblood films, personally, given the quite heavy and contextually relevant political content. Exploitative? Sure, but not a pinky – I realise that I'm in the minority voicing that opinion. The Western characters are depicted as real arseholes to a man, their real reasons for being in the country have nothing to do with good international relations, let me tell you (there's those early 70s nationalist politics again – understandable when you consider that the US occupation, not mention the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still in living memory).

We find out via some expository dialogue that the current government only came to power through killing Ocho's detective father, who apparently had enough evidence to bring them down (we find out some other stuff, too, but I'll leave that up to you to find out). This, of course, gives her puh-lenty of impetus to do some killing, as revenge.

Shunosuke, Christina's boyfriend, is some kind of anarchist, and wants to lead an armed uprising against the West-leaning state. Fact of the matter is, his forces are far too minimal and too damaged (unintentionally funny line, to Shunosuke from one of his men explaining their predicament: "Our members are severely injured." That's the kind of pain you don't need) from a previous attack on the Guiness Casino (where the "gamble-off" was held) to lead the kind of assault he'd like to. His grudge is far too focussed on his girlfriend being in chains to authority – his focus is all wrong, not managing a balance between love and reality. His men are arrested in a raid, and he himself only escapes by the skin of his teeth, ending up in Ocho's women's refuge, escaping again to a more secure hideout.

Ocho's refuge/brothel gets raided by the coppers in turn, led by scarred henchman Kizugen (think of him as like the Jaws or Oddjob of the film), who are on the lookout for Shunosuke (the coppers and Kizugen and his men are in rather dandified Western attire, and don't remove their shoes before entering, a cardinal sin of traditional Japanese etiquette, reinforcing that point I was making before about Western culture trampling all over that of the Japanese, even in terms of politeness and common courtesy), and this leads us into a bizarre psychedelic scene of the women, in traditional Japanese rope bondage being beaten with kendo staves with crazed lighting and early 20th century Japanese paintings of images of war superimposed over the top of it all. Ocho offers herself instead of her girls, and let me tell you fellas, if a girl excuses herself before sex to put on perfume, get the fuck outta there! Do not hang around! And for crissakes, don't lick any part of her.

Christina's boss now wants her to go into action, by which I mean use her body for sex, in terms of secret agent stuff, trying to elicit a bit of political information. And so eventually a bit of girl-on-girl action ensues. Is this enough for the casual masturbator (if you really needed to pitch your tent while watching a film)? Of course it is, but in terms of the film itself, we're slowing down the action – AGAIN. I realise that this is all part and parcel of the film's narrative (hell, it's part of the title, but it's like being in fourth gear and shifting down to first every ten minutes – kind of jolting for the passengers). I never thought I'd ever say this, but enough with the sex scenes already! After the third or fourth one it seems like merely padding for what is otherwise a very engaging and reasonably tautly directed action flick.

Christina and Shunosuke meet up and realise that their relationship ain't likely to work out, but that justice must be served. So now its Ocho and Shunosuke teaming up (kinda) to take down their next target, but things don't always work out quite as smoothly as you'd like. A bunch of switchblade-wielding nun bodyguards pretty much ensures this. Yeah, you read that right. And then there's the question of whose side Christina is really on anyway, to factor into the mix. The last act of this film is a twisty-turny thing, and no mistake.

I'm leaving it there, in terms of synopsis – there's still a whole bunch more weirdness, sex and fury to go (Christina Lindberg as dominatrix/torturer dressed like Pocahontas, for example). The only other thing I will say is that this is a pretty damn good film, working surprisingly well on both an exploitative as well as a political level, and actually says a fair bit about Japanese attitudes in the early 1970s (especially to the West and their own culture) through the veil of the turn of the century.

So, in terms of narrative plot and who lives and who dies – good guys and bad – and whether or not Ocho succeeds in her quest, or if Shunosuke and Christina can get past seemingly irreconcilable differences, and what the fuck is the immediate future of Japan, especially in terms of her relations with other countries and her independence – watch it, because I can guarantee that you will not be disappointed by Sex and Fury.

Oh, and for Reiko Ike enthusiasts, if you didn't know already, the actress also made some recordings of what I can only describe as Japanese-psychedelic-lounge-porn music, featuring noises amongst the music that sound disturbingly like animals having sex more than humans. Weird.
Awesome – a class presentation, sharp and crystal clear. Original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and anamorphically enhanced. A beautiful picture.
A fine soundtrack. Might only be a Japanese dual mono track, but it still sounds pretty good to me. The sound effects of gory violence are suitably loud in the mix, too! There are one or two points where the score distorts, however.
Extra Features
Bugger all. There are a few trailers – Sex and Fury, Battlefield Baseball and Message From Space (Vic Morrow must have seriously needed the cash). There's also a photo gallery, but seriously, who cares? After all, you've just watched the film, and you have a pause button – I'll never understand why these things are counted as Extras or Special Features; especially since there aren't many of them, and aside from the few pictures of the original daybills and what looks to be a quad of sorts, they're in black and white, which the movie ain't .
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Well, there's certainly no false advertising here – Sex and Fury doesn't stint on either the sex or the fury. It's not exactly a chambara film, and it isn't loopy enough (despite what I've written above) for me to call it a pinky violence flick, although many would disagree with that (including the distributors of the film who have the slogan "Norifumi Suzuki's Pinky Violence Classic!" emblazoned on the attractive gloss and matte coloured slip case my copy came in), I know, but that's simply a matter of opinion based on the other pinkies I've seen which have a different tone to them. It's certainly got elements of both uniquely Japanese genres, but no matter. What it is, is a film that well deserves its reputation as a cult classic, driven by the performances of Ike and Lindberg, two remarkably attractive and quite charismatic actors, and who both (Ike especially, who is by a country mile the superior actress) hurl themselves into this film like lemmings from a cliff, really giving it their all. The pace of the film is like that of an express train without brakes, until the sex scenes, which are kind of necessary to the plot, but tend to slow things down far too much for my liking. That's probably nit-picking. Another thing this film is, is one that should be sitting on your shelves, if it isn't already.

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