Color, 1983, 70m.
Directed by Hidehiro Ito
Starring Ryoko Watanabe, Serina Nishikawa, Mizuho Nakagawa
Impulse (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Back in 2010, Impulse Picutres unleashed a startling collection of Nikkatsu trailers offering a taste of things to come. It took over a year to deliver, but under the Impulse Pictures delivered the opening salvo in their assault on the American video scene with two titles representing different but very sleazy ends of the Japanese roman porno spectrum. One of Japan's oldest and most famous studios, Nikkatsu has been the subject of notable releases from everyone ranging from Criterion to Mondo Macabro, and now you can get a peek at the bizarre commercial depths they plunged during the heyday of big screen erotica.
"This is just a temporary phase in your life," advises a warden in the aptly titled True Story of a Woman in Hell: Sex Hell. "So everyone is your temporary friend." Well, there are certainly plenty of interesting friends to be found here behind bars, where newcomers are forced to line up pantless and undergo gynecological examinations, the prisoner construct handmade sex toys they share before heading to the showers, and unlucky girls subjected to solitary confinement have to satisfy the guards from behind against the food slot in the door. This rare attempt to compete with the American and European women-in-prison films pouring out during the '70s and early '80s ratchets up the shock value in a way Roger Corman and Pam Grier couldn't have imagined, and even its closest Hong Kong contemporary, 1973's Bamboo House of Dolls, looks genteel in comparison. The plot itself is your usual "semi-innocent woman gets sent to the slammer and has to orchestrate an escape" routine, and in this case the heroine is Mayumi (Hitomi, who also appeared in the same year's sequel), who got screwed over by a duplicitous boyfriend and can only stand so much degradation before leading her sisters to freedom. Along the way director Kôyû Ohara indulges in the usual array of ridiculous fetishes (including a particular penchant for bodily functions and bathrooms), which isn't too surprising considering he went on to direct one of the most insane films in the Nikkatsu canon, 1982's sickie bus epic White Rose Campus: Then Everybody Gets Raped(which really should be next on Impulse's list if there's any justice).
Speaking of Impulse, their DVD features a very attractive 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer on par with the best of the studio's prior offerings through other labels. If you've seen Assault! Jack the Ripper or Female Prisoner: Caged, you'll have an idea of what to expect here. Black levels look deep and accurate, and the colors have that funky, saturated look common to '70s film stock. The optional English subtitles seem to be well written and are presumably accurate; if not, the translators have a really wild sense of humor. No video extras, but you do get an insert containing two pages of liner notes by Jasper Sharp, who does a good job of covering the limited Nikkatsu history of women-in-prison films and rattles off some fun facts about the director, including a tantalizing description of his film Fairy in a Cage.
Released in tandem with that film is the equally perverse Debauchery (original title: Ryôshoku), which was made eight years later but reflects a wholly different approach and aesthetic. By this time Nikkatsu (and Japanese cinema in general) had largely abandoned the expansive scope framing that distinguished the previous two decades, instead presenting films in a more TV-friendly and oppressive 1.85:1 frame. The content was also pushing into far more overly explicit sexual territory, with the country's ban on pubic hair meaning that censorship blobs were added over some of the more enthusiastic sex scenes to create the illusion that the actors might actually be doing the deed for real. They're not, of course (at least in this case), but it's a fascinating quirk you'll find in many '80s films like this.
The storyline here is your usual spin on Belle de Jour / Moonlighting Wives territory, as a seemingly buttoned-up married woman decides to explore herself by working as a prostitute while her husband's away from home. A former nurse, Ami (Watanabe) spends her free time playing racquetball (depicting in strangely sexual detail over the opening credits) and finding what contentment she can with her surgeon husband. One night at a bar, a skeevy colleague of his leans to her ear and mutters rumors about the Madame Machiko Society Club, where woman can indulge in kinky anonymous encounters with a variety of men. Naturally Ami hightails it over to Madame Machiko and signs up, after which she finds herself getting smacked around with a belt and violated by a big bald guy. As her wild side emerges, she finds herself letting a spider crawl under her clothes at home and engaging in warped, non-consensual games with that creepy doctor who originally told her about the place; turns out he's a twisted little number who just wants to drag her out naked in public led around like a dog, where she's tossed to a bunch of homeless men. This all leads to a very dramatic climax with a sick punchline you really won't believe.
So skanky you could go through a box of Handi-Wipes watching it, Debauchery is a textbook example of a later period roman porno film. Expect wall-to-wall skin (with pubic areas always concealed), lots of squealing and protesting, bullwhips, absurd plot turns, and arbitrary bondage and underwear fetishism, all wrapped up in one sweaty, fast-paced package that smacks you across the head for 70 minutes and leaves you reeling on the floor. Watanabe is, to put it mildly, one heck of a good sport; she actually comes off like a middle-class housewife in her early scenes, and she convincingly handles the gradual eroding of her character's inhibtions before plunging into pure Story of O territory. It's really her film all the way, and she runs with it from start to finish. Apparently she also appeared in a sequel two years later, and the mind boggles at what further adventures she might have encountered. Incidentally, she was also the star of that indelible half-hour short film, "Ryoko's Lesbian Flight," which was included on that aforementioned Nikkatsu trailer comp. (For some reason Amazon pulled that one off their site, but you can buy it here.)
Boasting cover art guaranteed to stop traffic, Debauchery comes to DVD from Impulse looking quite healthy indeed. Those omnipresent flesh tones look robust and accurate throughout, and the film's earthy color palette looks great. The real standout is Ami's pleasure room with her clients, which is bathed in eye-popping shades of red and black; a nice job all around, and the optional English subtitles have some dialogue you'll have running in your head for a few days after an initial viewing. This disc also contains the original theatrical trailer, which is almost as insane as the main feature and makes prominent use of the memorable leash-walking scene. Once again Jasper Sharp contributes two pages of liner notes, laying out details about the evolution of Japanese censorship and blocking out some career highlights for Watanabe and director Ito, who also produced the surreal De Sade adaptation Prosperities of Vice. It's been a long time coming, but this pair of debauched releases was definitely worth the wait.