Friday, August 10, 2012

Onna-ro Hizu More Show than Go

Here's one you don't hear much about -- and for good reason. In the West it goes by the name Decapitation Island or Island of Horrors. In Japan it's called Onna-ro Hizu. The titles and cover pic are certainly alluring, but once you get past those, you're left with a feeling of buyer's remorse.

This film, you can't help but lament, could have rivaled Bamboo House of Dolls. Sadly, someone completely dropped the ball.

The film has been available in the West on DVD and may still be available for all I know. The DVD can also be purchased in Japan. In the US, the subtitled movie is/was going for around $15. In Japan, the price is over 4,000 yen. Can someone explain this price discrepancy to me?

US version DVD
Japan version DVD
This film is more show than go. A less generous critic might charge bait and switch.

The PR blurb in English promises much:

In a prison on a lonely remote island where only women convicts are exiled to, five guards torture 13 women prisoners as they wish. Incessant shocking scenes include tortures in which women are locked in a room of a boiling bath and are forced to dance naked. Women have their hands and legs tied and are kicked and rolled on the floor, and women have their skin burned by a drop from an oil pot hanging from the ceiling every time it moves.

So far so good, right? Wrong.

I suppose you could classify this one as a 1970s women in prison (WiP) film as it does have women and they are in prison (during the Edo period) and it came out in 1970. Unfortunately, what happens on screen fails to live up to expectations throughout the 83 minute runtime.

One huge blunder is that nudity in this film is scarce. While you do catch glimpses, there are many scenes where the goodies are purposely hidden. A women-in-prison film without gobs of gratuitous nudity? It almost doesn't deserve a place in this revered category.

Another problem is that the torture methods, while sometimes unique and intriguing, are poorly implemented. When the pot of boiling oil dangles precariously over the girl, she is held down by some jailers instead of being bound firmly in place. This allows her to escape her menacing predicament quite easily.

This film was made by Daiei, a company that, as far as I can tell, wasn't much competition to Nikkatsu or Shintoho when it came to raunchy SM movies. It seems that, with this film, Daiei were pulling their punches. Or maybe they just had a different market in mind. What that market was, I have no clue. They struck out shamefully with the obvious one.

The story of Daiei goes way back. According to Wikipedia, Daiei "...was the product of government efforts to reorganize the film industry during World War II..." In the process, several studios merged to form the Dai Nippon Eiga Seisaku Kabushiki Kaisha, aka Daiei.

Although not explicitly stated by Wikipedia, it seems that sometime after the war Daiei continued on as an independent studio until it finally went bankrupt in 1971.

The company was eventually taken over by a publishing concern and then sold to another publishing company, Kadokawa Shoten, in 2002.

Theatrical poster, Onna-ro Hizu
Kadokawa was, at one time, the publisher of Dan Oniroku's SM novel Hana to Hebi (after the story had appeared in installments in the magazine Kitan Club).

Kadokawa was founded in 1945 by Kadokawa Genyoshi. Genyoshi died in 1975 and the company was then led by his son, Haruki. Kadokawa Haruki put the company in the movie business shortly thereafter. However, in 1994 he was convicted of smuggling cocaine and embezzling money from the company. Protesting his innocence throughout, he served two and a half years of a four-year prison sentence. Upon his release, he set up a separate publishing and film production business.

Here's a blurb concerning Onna-ro Hizu I found on the net in .pdf form. It comes much closer to reality.

Teensy bit of skin; no gore.

Looking at the available references to this flick on the web, they all seem to parrot some enthusiastic ad copy that bills this as an outrageous exploitation flick -- nope, not even close. 

I've had this film for so long, I can't remember when or where I picked it up. We're talking 10 or 11 years, at least. When I came across it again just recently on the net, I wasn't sure I had it in my library or if I'd even seen it. Well, it's there. I just hadn't bothered with it again since the first viewing.

The film was directed by Tahara Toshiaki and stars Hanayagi Genshu, Kasahara Reiko, Kitajima Maya and Tamura Masakazu.

So much potential, so little satisfaction.

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