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Sex & Fury
cast: : Reiko Ike, Masatake Narusa, Christina Lindberg, Seizaburo Kawazu, and Hiroshi Nawa

director: Norifumi Suzuki

88 minutes (18) 1973
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Fabulous / Fremantle DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
An interesting one this. Born of the 1970s' Japanese cinema's obsession with female criminality known as 'pinku eiga' or pinky violence, comes the sukeban or female boss film. Packed to the gills with sex and violence and possessing one of the creakiest scripts I have ever encountered, it is beautifully shot and features a final scene that can't help but have inspired Quentin Tarantino when he was looking for a way to finish the first Kill Bill film.

The orphaned daughter of a detective, Ocho Inoshika (Reiko Ike) takes her name from the three cards held in her father's dying grasp as a means of identifying the men who had him killed. Twenty years later and Ocho is a skilled pickpocket, gambler, swordswoman, and expert shot with a pistol, and a senior member of a gang of pickpockets operating in Tokyo's Asakusa district. A chance encounter with a man at a gambling den leads her to cross paths with a pair of middle-aged yakuzas who are plotting with British spies while a young political firebrand (Masatake Narusa) plots to kill them while hiding his love for the British spy (Christina Lindberg). Carefully picking her way through this political minefield, Ocho discovers that one of the yakuzas bears the tattoo of a dear on his back, identifying him as one of her father's killers. She immediately coats her body with poison and seduces the yakuza knowing that each touch of her skin is deadly to him. Siding with the young political dissident, Ocho decides to finally cut the Gordian knot and do away with the yakuzas, prompting a battle with some flick-knife bearing nuns and a fight in a snowstorm.

At times, the plotting of Sex & Fury (aka: Furyô anego den: Inoshika Ochô) makes it a little difficult to take seriously. A chance encounter with a dying man prompts Ocho to not only risk her life to save his sister from prostitution but also to be attacked by the owner of the gambling club, prompting her to fight a dozen men with swords while she's stark naked. Indeed, like western exploitation films, Sex & Fury's plot is little more than a useful structure upon which to hang poorly choreographed fight scenes as well as scenes of rape, lesbianism and female bondage. Indeed, aside from Japan's traditionally tolerant attitude to rape, we also have to deal with the, at times, stunningly juvenile Japanese sense of humour that seems to revolve around farting, willies and people being gay (even the great Ozu's Good Morning relied largely upon farting for its comedic effect) as well as trying to work out what a condom is, suggesting it must be some kind of chic western balloon, before naming them 'naughty sacks'.

The acting is also hit-and-miss. Reiko Ike is a fantastic lead whose beauty and charisma make her a natural star. However, the western actors are appalling. Christina Lindberg was a giant of European sexploitation films but here her delivery is flat and lifeless enough to suggest that she might well have learned her English dialogue phonetically. The dialogue is also, at times, spectacularly clumsy but, as with its western counterparts Sex & Fury's sexploitation ethic features a large dose of female empowerment as Ocho starts dressed in a traditional kimono but ends the film wearing men's clothing, thereby rejecting the traditional role of the faithful Japanese woman.

Despite being quite poorly written, it's difficult to dislike a film as beautiful as Sex & Fury. The product of the 1970s' Japanese studio system, it's difficult not to see similarities between some of the sets and costumes used here and those used in Yasujiro Ozu's films despite Ozu having died ten years previously. However, while director Norifumi Suzuki may have been forced to use Toei's multi-purpose back-lot for his tale of 1900s' gangsters, he was not forced to stick with realism and the result is a score and a series of visual effects that are wonderfully psychedelic. Indeed, while Suzuki may have saved money on plots and settings, he certainly did not hold back on the photography as every shot is perfectly framed, and every battle is stamped with a firm and distinctive visual style.

On the whole, Sex & Fury will be most interesting to those who really like exploitation films or that are interested in the history of Japanese cinema. However, for the casual viewer, this film is too extreme, too weird and too badly stitched together to keep them interested for long.

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