To die is hell, but to live is also hell.
Japanese cult movie guru Teruo Ishii (HORROR OF MALFORMED MEN; BLIND WOMAN’S CURSE) directs this deranged, over-the-top adaptation from the original manga by Kazuo Koike (creator of LONE WOLF AND CUB, LADY SNOWBLOOD and RAZOR HANZO) about a privileged samurai gang in charge of recruiting women for prostitution in old Edo’s pleasure quarter. It’s a perfect match for unapologetically decadent, phantasmagorical, softcore sex and bloody, sword-swinging sadism. Fascinating, brilliant and amoral, a tour through an ancient subculture obsessed with cruel, violent death and cruel, violent sex. Tetsuro Tanba (ZERO WOMAN: RED HANDCUFFS, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE) is a standout as the hardboiled mercenary swordsman caught in the middle between the sex slave business, the corrupt Shogunate and rival gangs. When he goes into action, blood sprays, and heads and limbs fly!
ABOUT THE FILM
Before one starts to discuss BOHACHI BUSHIDO as a film, it is necessary to examine the legacy of its manga creator Kazuo Koike, a legendary writer who generated some of the most unforgettable and most filmed) manga from 1960s/1970s in Japan. LONE WOLF AND CUB (Kozure Okami), LADY SNOWBL000 (Shure Yukihime), RAZOR HANZO (Goyo Kiba), DEMON SPIES (Oni wa Ban) and, more recently, CRYING FREEMAN, all sprang forth from Koike’s perverse and blood-drenched pen. BOHACHI BUSHIDO is one of Koike’s lesser known, shorter-lived manga series and relates the saga of a nihilistic, lone wolf rosin — played by Tetsuro Tanba in the film — alternately in alliance and at odds with the Bohachi, a degenerate clan of samural, yakuza samurai dedicated to vice, specifically sex slavery and opium traffic. Koike had previously depicted the Bohachi gang in one of the Lone Wolf and Cub manga installments (see the film, LONE WOLF AND CUB #3 — BABY CART TO HADES aka LIGHTNING SWORDS OF DEATH for a previous film reference — although the clan there is led by a woman, played by Yuko Hamada).
But unlike Toho Studio’s Koike pictures, especially the LONE WOLF AND CUB, RAZOR HANZO (both produced by Shintaro “Zatoichi” Katsu and LADY SNOWBL000 series, all of which made extensive use of evocative exterior locations, the film of BOHACHI BUSHIDO is largely setbound. Which is not to say it does not often look spectacular, despite its low budget. Toei Studio’s production designers and cinematographer Jubei Suzuki have abetted director Tero Ishii in conjuring up a phantasmagorically decadent, fever dream of a movie. Many of Ishii’s color-coordinated setpieces are dazzling, and — although not as well choreographed and shot as the LONE WOLF films (or star Tanba’s samurai films with director Hideo Gosha) — the sword action is still hypnotic. The other Koike manga series that have been filmed are all certifiable tall tales, but Ishii takes a significantly more tongue-in-cheek approach here. In comparison, the closest to which BOHACHI comes in tone would probably be the three RAZOR HANZO pictures with Shintaro Katsu as the ultra-endowed and oversexed samurai cop (RAZOR producer/star Katsu was also enamored of black R&B and was instrumental in proposing the incongruous, but bizarrely effective, SHAFT-style theme for the first installment of that series). Director Ishii does incorporate Koike’s trademark existential anguish that is so evident in the LONE WOLF and SNOWBLOOD sagas — to paraphrase, Tanba’s BOHACHI BUSHIDO character repeats a key bit of philosophy throughout, “To die is hell, but to live is also hell.” However, Ishii never takes it too seriously, and he purposely eschews the more serious historical/dramatic landscape that directors like Kenji Misumi brought to the LONE WOLF pictures. Ishii and screenwriter Susumu Saji pokes fun at Koike’s coldblooded, nihilist, angst-ridden characters and incorporates a visual style that is — to use that word again — positively phantasmagorical.
The world of Toho Studio’s Koike adaptations is also nightmarish and phenomenally gory, but, no matter how over-the-top, it is also rooted in some kind of recognizably real world. Ishii paints a had dream landscape of torture, cruelty, promiscuous sex and sudden death in BOHACHI BUSHIDO (much as it had appeared in the manga), but his approach is overtly artificial. Instead of real locations and the gritty, super-realism of the Toho pictures, Ishii brings the qualities of a garish, very well-mounted theatrical production to his effort. Visual tropes and motifs are endlessly repeated in different contexts. And when there is nudity — which is even more in evidence than flying heads and limbs and spurting blood — it is absurdly gratuitous, generated for no other reason than one’s dreamlike desire for immediate gratification. But what is so entertaining and ultimately satisfying about BOHACHI BUSHIDO is that, unlike Ishii’s FEMALE YAKUZA TALE (where he seemed to be out screwing around half of the time), Ishii obviously has taken time and care with his astonishing setpieces. Perhaps he felt he owed it to his friend and lead star Tanba. From Ishii’s own account, Tanba had purchased the rights to the manga and had personally asked Ishii to take on the project. Although Ishii claims he had originally not wanted to do it, Tanba finally convinced him and he acquiesced.
Veteran yakuza film actor, Tatsuo Endo, who made a long career out of playing villainous bosses and henchmen, is amusingly effective as the degenerate and duplicitous Bohachi leader. Goro Ibuki, another yakuza film regular, is Endo’s younger second-in-command. Actor lbuki, but not Tanba, would return the following year to appear in the follow-up, BOHACHI BUSHIDO — THE VILLAIN (Bohachi Bushido — Sa Burai, 1974), joined by the star of the GIRL BOSS (Sukeban) series and SEX AND FURY, Reiko Ike. That film was helmed by Takashi Harada. As an interesting side note, Ishii remarked, in a 1997 interview with this writer, that he had been totally unaware Toei Studios had mounted a sequel!
In the final analysis, BOHACHI BUSHIDO’s full title — which incorporates the phrase: Poruno Jidai-Geki or HISTORICAL PORNO STORY — aptly describes the content of the film. But it gives little evidence of what to expect — a mind-boggling hybrid of director Ishii’s fascination with the ero guru (erotic/grotesque) aspects of 19th century kabuki theater and Toei Studio’s burgeoning “Pinku Violence” genre, as evidenced by the likes of their ZERO WOMAN, FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION, GIRL BOSS and TERRIFYING GIRLS HIGH SCHOOL films. Ishii had directed an even mare effective blend of the elements the year before in THE RED SILK GAMBLER, starring Eiko Nakamura and Bunta Sugawara.
Chris D. on Discotek Media DVD
– Interview with lead actress Yuriko Hishimi
– Interview with Pinku Violence expert J-Taro Sugisaku
– Commentary with J-Taro and Takao Nakano (as second audio track)
Language(s):Japanese & Japanese commentary