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Reviews

Sex & Fury

Sex & Fury

Furyô anego den: Inoshika Ochô

Norifumi Suzuki

Japan, 1973

Credits

Review by Thomas Scalzo

Posted on 29 May 2006

Source Panik House DVD

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Sexploitation is a difficult genre to discuss dispassionately, critically, or fairly—the word itself undoubtedly eliciting immediate prejudices, whether hostile or favorable, in the mind of any reader, particularly among those who have never actually witnessed a genuine genre offering. For the uninitiated, such a film is likely imagined either as an abhorrent onslaught of female objectification, or a glorious orgy of senseless nudity.

In truth, bona fide representations of the notorious genre, while certainly never skimping on the skin, often center on strong female characters wielding sexual confidence to exploit weak male counterparts, and regularly employ fast-paced action and richly orchestrated violence to tell complex, compelling stories. Such is the case with Norifumi Suzuki’s sexploitation classic, Sex & Fury, a film that not only offers up a splendid tale of vengeance brimming with swordfights, political intrigue, and clandestine organizations, but posits fascinating theories on the power of feminine sexuality.

The tale begins with our heroine, Ochô, as a young girl, walking down a narrow alleyway with her father. Out of the shadows leap a pair of assailants, ruthlessly stabbing and robbing Ochô’s sire, and leaving him for dead. As Ochô rushes to comfort her dying dad, the old man hands her three bloody tiles, depicting the images of a deer, a boar, and a butterfly respectively. Not only does the scene serve as an effective opening — at once initiating an intriguing mystery and sewing the seeds of Ochô’s lifelong quest for revenge — it also establishes an important theme: men, consumed by vice, attempting to achieve their goals by force.

Fast-forward eighteen years, to early twentieth-century Japan. Unrest consumes the populace, government corruption is rampant, and young Ochô has matured into one of the city’s premiere thieves. Inevitably, her irrepressible penchant for perfidy, and her ceaseless quest for vengeance, embroils her in an underground rebel movement determined to do away with the crooked president and his cronies—and places her high on the list of potential threats to the corrupt establishment. Soon enough, the order goes out—Ochô must die. Much like the murderers in the opening scene, however, the death dealers here are unwilling to fight fair, spinelessly ordering a gaggle of assassins to off Ochô as she relaxes, defenseless, in a bathhouse. And so it is that one of the most outrageous scenes in the history of cinema comes to pass.

Her street-savvy instincts sensing danger, Ochô leaps from the tub (completely bereft of clothing mind you), snatches up a sword, and rushes headlong into the throng of attackers. Quickly fighting her way out of the bathhouse, she reaches an outer yard, where beneath a fine curtain of falling snow, even more assailants await. As the infectious, groovy theme song kicks in, and the slow motion takes hold, we watch in awe as Ochô deftly slices her way through dozens of would-be assassins, handily dispatching her foes. It is a magnificent sequence, memorable not only for our heroine’s lack of clothing, but for the balletic slaughter—Ochô effortlessly severing limbs, impaling torsos, and slicing skulls.

While further emphasizing the aforementioned theme of callous men resorting to violence to get what they want, the scene also introduces the idea of uninhibited female sexuality acting as an effective countermeasure to male aggression. Far from rendering her a pliable waif, Ochô’s nudity here gives her strength, freeing her from any and all societal mores of female decorum and reticence, and allowing the full weight of her fury to be unleashed upon the assassin horde. Although they hold a distinct advantage in numbers, the men are clearly afraid of Ochô—not only because she is charging at them with a large sword, but because she is naked. Confronted with such unfettered femininity, the gang’s machismo posturing is nullified, and, fittingly, they are killed to a man.

This idea of the naked female serving as a buffer to the machinations of insecure males is echoed later in the film as Ochô sets out on a final rampage in hopes of exorcising her demons. Clad in a traditional kimono, the proper attire for a sensible young woman, she brazenly enters the mansion home of a known criminal, and begins crossing swords with lackeys. At first, constrained as she is by the voluminous folds of her clothing, Ochô is unable to successfully scale the heavily guarded staircase in order to reach her quarry. Instead of succumbing to defeat, however, she impatiently shrugs the robe off her right shoulder, at once exposing half her chest and allowing her brutal sword arm greater flexibility. As the body count mounts, Ochô similarly frees her left shoulder, a move that leaves her completely naked from the waist up, and consequently able to overcome the last of the enemy crowd and achieve her goal.

Of course, sexploitation pictures as a rule do not limit themselves to scenes of gory violence, even if naked women are involved. And sure enough, between Ochô’s battle of the bathhouse and the climactic massacre at the mansion, we are treated to a healthy dose of explicit debauchery. Far from trite titillation, however, the majority of these scenes serve as graphic buttresses to the film’s ideas on sex and power. The most telling example comes when Ochô employs her charms to seduce one of her father’s murderers. Unbeknownst to the lustful male, Ochô has slathered a poisonous lotion over her entire body in preparation of the tryst. As the sex-crazed man greedily envelops Ochô with ravenous kisses, attempting to thoroughly possess the object of his desire, he is confronted with the latent power and unsuspected fury of female sexuality—and it kills him.

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