Shogun's Sadism (Tokugawa onna keibatsu-emaki: Ushi-zaki no kei) (1976)

You will soon forget your god and cling to me like a bitch!
Posted on by

Shogun's Sadism a.k.a. The Joy of Torture 2: Oxen Split Torturing (Tokugawa onna keibatsu-emaki: Ushi-zaki no kei)

The popularity of so many modern Japanese horror movies over the last ten years has no doubt generally piqued Western curiosity about the country's cinematic legacy: its more recent gory movies didn't emerge out of a vacuum, that's for sure, and it's getting easier to track down earlier works which show us this much, such as Shogun's Sadism (The Joy of Torture 2: Oxen Split Torturing), a bizarre film which was happy to disembowel and sever feet many years before you might think it had happened on screen. Released in 1976, it takes the unusual format of two independent stories, each with historical settings: the first part of the film takes place in the Shogunate (the seventeenth century) and the second in the nineteenth century. That's not to say the historical settings mean it's all nice period detail and melodrama, mind you...

Before we get to the first story, however, we have to run a very strange gauntlet which, in its way, sets the scene for the headfuck which is to follow - a movie which continually shies away from settling for one type of tone or atmosphere, often moving happily from torture to physical comedy in the space of a few minutes, as if that were the most natural progression in the world. But hey, perhaps it's just Western audiences who get sand in their vaginas about that sort of shift; that may explain why I was left confused by the time I'd got as far as the opening credits. A black and white montage of World War II casualties post-atomic bomb, before a brief "yep, people have always been cruel" and straight to the seventeenth century? Sure, whatever! Thing is, I don't think Japanese cinema feels so hard-pressed to make the distinction between different genres within one film - it doesn't now and it didn't then. So without further ado, we're into the Shogunate, and we get a woman being boiled to death, a man being hanged and a woman being burned, all in the first minute. Don't get too comfy - lose the sand - because now it's a love story.

When a young woman called Toyo saves a passing samurai from the effects of a snake bite, offering him shelter while he recovers, it looks like a standard case of boy meets girl, with a bit of soft-focus romancin' (and groping) thrown in. Toyo, however, is a Christian - and the local magistrate, the samurai's boss no less, has dedicated himself to rooting out this "evil religion" in the name of preserving Japanese society. He's not afraid of getting inventive in fighting the Christian menace either; one of the most interesting things about this film is that it manages to present Christianity in a new light. Sure, we get a lot of salacious playing around with religion in European exploitation cinema of the period, but from the perspective of this movie, there's more of an organic sense of bemusement and disgust at a foreign system - albeit a system treated with more brutality than you might strictly need in order to deal with a bunch of quiet, prayerful folk. When the magistrate arrests Toyo, he decides to "spare" her, making her his concubine... and adding a bit of human drama to what constitutes the main part of this story, and the next - torture sequences, with a dash of sexual cruelty thrown in, all under the watchful eye of Toyo's real lover. Hmm. You know that's all going to end well.

Despite the wildly-altering feel of the film, there are elements within which are still shocking; one of these is that we are shown a child being tortured, something you almost never get this side of the Equator. Mind you, they shy away from showing people bumping uglies by going heavy with the ol' misted camera, so it's probably 1:1. The gore content is limited by the budget and the decade, but the filmmakers do a good job of maximising the cheap and cheerful blood they do have, especially during the scene which gives the movie its original title. Plus, for all the nastiness, you can feel something for poor Toyo, and the film does at all times attempt to hold the nasty stuff together with a sort of context. How successfully they do this can be debated, but they certainly try.

Characteristically, the film seems to have shifted entirely by the time we reach the second half; now in the nineteenth century, we again follow the fortunes of a hapless couple, only this time we also get pratfalls, gurning and even a poo joke in-between... a bit more torture! It all feels a lot more wacky and cartoonish by this point, and that makes the ample grisly content rest even more uneasily. It goes: comedy, brutality, comedy, brutality - but you know damn well that the story of good time guy Satezo (who can't pay his whorehouse bill and is made to work off his debt as a cleaner) is not going to end well either, once he falls for the charms of tart-with-a-heart Sato and they decide to run away together, into a gamut of disgruntled hookers, rapey beggars and crooked lawmen...

If you're at all like me, your end feeling here will be 'huh?' followed by feeling pleased to have seen this oddball movie nonetheless. The ever-changing mood can be jarring, granted, but you're not easily allowed to feel bored, even though we live in an age where we're up to the back-teeth with people being tied to things and violently messed about with on film: there is still plenty to shock here, whatever the limitations are, and a dash of culture shock is always a good thing, right? Nasty and baffling in equal measure, this is a warped part of the back story of many, more recent films so beloved of genre film fans.
This review was posted on by
Categories: Asian Horror Movies

Shogun's Sadism (Tokugawa onna keibatsu-emaki: Ushi-zaki no kei): Movie Information

Shogun's Sadism (Tokugawa onna keibatsu-emaki: Ushi-zaki no kei): Related Images

Shogun's Sadism (Tokugawa onna keibatsu-emaki: Ushi-zaki no kei): External Links