Directed by Teruo Ishii
Starring Teruo Yoshida, Toyozô Yamamoto, Masumi Tachibana, Mitsuko Aoi, Yukie Kagawa, Koike Asao, Miki Obana, Maki Carousel
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/RB HD) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
The same year he released his psychedelic horror show Horrors of Malformed Men, director Teruo Ishii (Blind Woman's Curse) also unleashed this stylish, S&M-heavy pinky violence epic, the fourth in a Toei series about sexual excesses and a companion piece of sorts to Ishii's erotic anthology, The Joy of Torture. Substantial budgets were being poured into these opulent spectacles of nudity and cruelty to lure in audiences, and this is one of the most flamboyant with a cavalcade of perverse scenarios straddling the lines between horror, surrealism, and rough-edged eroticism.
Beautifully shot and wildly perverse, this one returns to the omnibus format with a trio of tales about degradation. Here the framing device involves a doctor (Malformed Men's Yoshia) relating stories from the Edo era, starting off with the travails of poor indebted girl Oito (Playboy model Tachibana) whose manipulative gangster boyfriend, Hanji (Yamamoto), tricks her into becoming a courtesan by having his buddies pretend to bully her right into his arms. Soon it's off to a one-year tenure at an upscale geisha house where she takes the name Itoharu, starts a rivalry with the wonderfully-named Maki Carousel, and witnesses the unspeakable wrath of multiple women scorned. The most traditional and melodramatic of the bunch, this tragic morality tale ends up in a very dark place and place like a particularly kinky scare film.
Then Ochise (Aoi), the daughter of a successful merchant, can only find satisfaction by debasing herself with the society's outcasts-- starting off with dye-job circus midgets, whom we see smacking her around and licking her shins in the opening scene before she turns the tables. From there it's off to the races with sexy piggy-back rides, whippings, snake swallowing, a horny African muscle man in a shipping crate, and hypnotherapy as the grotesque cause for her sexual dysfunction is finally revealed just in time for a sick twist ending.
In the final and most lavish story, a depraved nobleman (Asao) keeps a stable of women but may have met his match in Mitsu (Obana). This one starts off with a truly astounding sequence as bulls with flaming horns are let loose upon a bevy of of women clad in red robes who have to strip down for their lives -- with Omitsu firing arrows into the crowd for good measure.
Ishii is clearly unleashing his imagination with this one right from the outset as the credits unfold over a giant wooden cabinet filled with spasming human puppets and a bearded man flailing around with a dead chicken in his mouth. The final segment is obviously the big show stopper thanks to that outrageous curtain raiser and a bevy of other highlights like unlucky nude offender Yukie Kagawa getting slathered in gold body paint (a la Goldfinger) and an impromptu c-section that has to be seen to be believed. All of the tales have a moralistic stinger at the end to presumably make audiences feel a little less grimy for witnessing all this insanity, but it doesn't really do much good since it's quite clear the main purpose of this film is to indulge in as much shocking content as possible for the time. Luckily Ishii also has such a fine command of the absurd that even the strongest content doesn't transgress too far, which is quite an achievement considering the baby scene or the implied racism of the African sequence.
Very difficult to obtain legally apart from a very pricey French DVD boxed set (with no English options, obviously), Orgies of Edo comes to U.S. and U.K. Blu-ray from Arrow Video looking quite good with its red, brown and gold color scheme fully intact and fine, natural film grain in evidence. The DTS-HD MA Japanese mono track is also in fine condition, with optional English subtitles provided (including a handful of profanities that seem a little jolting for some reason). The new "Orgies of Ishii" (16m2s) with author Patrick Macias offers a solid overview of the development of pink cinema at the time and this film's place in Ishii's output, with much admiration in particular expressed for that last story. A subtitled theatrical trailer is also included and promises "One hour and fifty minutes of trying not to look at these numerous ancient forms of torture!" Don't go looking for those extra 20 minutes. The packaging features reversible sleeve options (original poster art and a new design by Matt Griffin) plus, in the first pressing only, new liner notes by Tom Mes.
Reviewed on November 6, 2018.