Saturday, October 21, 2017

Female Demon: Ohyaku (1968)

Female Demon: Ohyaku

Directed by Yoshihiro Ishikawa. Starring: Junko Miyazono

Reviewed By Michael Hauss

This film is a blood-soaked masterpiece of womanly revenge. The story of although not a virtuous or innocent woman, but a woman nonetheless who is pushed into this undesirable life because of the scar on her back, which is not merely a scar, but, a sense of pain, shame, and hate all manifested in that bodily mutilation. Oh, but, that scar does not detract a thing from the beauty of Ohyaku (Junko Miyazono), because she is a woman of exquisite grace, with skin so soft and inviting, that it’s as if the devil himself had granted her this divinely, but devilishly intoxicating form.

But, an easy life was never in the cards for Ohyaku, since the moment her mother decided to throw herself and young Ohyaku, off a bridge, into a raging river below. The fall from the bridge kills Ohyaku’s mother, but the young girl survives with a large scar upon her back and a multitude of ones inside her. Ohyaku, grows into a beautiful woman and becomes an attraction at a carnival, where she is a tightrope walker of amazing agility. One-night things get set in motion to forever alter the life of Ohyaku, which pushes her to the edge, from whence she can never return. In the crowd that night are two men, who will forever change the course of her life. First there is Shinkuro (Kunio Murai), who is in the crowd scouting her for a job, after meeting and falling in love with her, decides momentarily not to involve her in his plans of robbing the mint. The other man in the crowd Master Sengoku (Koji Nanbara), who will bestow pain, hurt and send Ohyaku, to the point of breaking, only to have her push back with a determined, almost unworldly determination for vengeance.
Come on Mr. Softee, I don't have all day!

Master Sengoku, the most important bureaucrat at the mint, has rapist designs on Ohyaku, whom he assumes is an easy mark, because of her being part of the carnival, and due to his social standing. Problem is Ohyaku, will have none of his groping, rapist, self-entitlement, escaping from him with the help of Shinkuro. When called on the carpet by the carnival owner, who tells Ohyaku, that he could have his head chopped off because of her insubordination towards Sengoku, demands her to return to visit Sengoku again that night. Ohyaku, tells the carnival owner, that, “I’ll no longer be a man’s toy, even if it kills me.” Ohyaku, goes on to say, “I’d like to kill all men who abuse women with power and money,” to which the old man says, “The child of a whore, should behave like a whore.”

Shinkuro, tracks down the drunken and hurt Ohyaku that night and they tell their stories of pain and anguish, the scar proving that she is the child of a whore and inside that scar her mother cries, because they share the same blood. Shinkuro, has also lived in a world of pain and rejection, including his lack of opportunities because of his being unable to bribe his way into a position and his mother killing herself for his inheritance. Shinkuro tells Ohyaku, “You see no one is without a scar on their body or heart. But, if you let it fester in your mind, you’ll never move forward." The pair falls in love and Shinkuro’s plan to rob the mint, is aided by an inside man at the mint named Hyoe Sakaki, a childhood friend of Shinkuro’s.
while you're up there, would you mind hanging the laundry.

Minokichi of Otowa (Tomisaburo Wakayama), a local boss, arrives and tries to dissuade Shinkuro from robbing the well-guarded mint, telling him, how twenty years ago, when he and his men attempted to rob the mint, how he lost everything including wife, kid, all his crew and his arm, telling Shinkuro you shouldn’t cross a dangerous bridge. But undeterred Shinkuro continues on with plans for the robbery, when is pulled off, successfully. But it seems the inside man Hyoe Sakaki, was only doing it to benefit the careers of Master Sengoku and himself, to bribe themselves into more important positions, so with a force of men,  they attempt to retrieve the gold from the robbers, which had been well hidden beforehand. After killing all the other robbers, they wound Shinkuro, and spare the life of Ohyaku. Taken back to the mint, after the bound Ohyaku is raped by Sengoku, Shinturo, then placed in a guillotine with a rope tied to Ohyaku’s hair while heat is introduced on the platform where she stands, her hair being the only thing holding the blade back from cutting Shinkuro’s head off. Sengoku, tells Shinkuro, that if he wants to live, and wishes to end Ohyaku's suffering, then tell them where the gold is hidden. Slowly blood pours down Ohyaku’s face from the weight of the blade, pulling her hair out, causing Shinkuro to tell them where he'd hidden the gold.  A moment after Shinkuro tells them where the gold is… the rope is cut and the blade comes down chopping off Shinkuro’s head, and the torrents of blood from his body starts cascades down onto the floor.

Ohyaku, is given something worse than death, she’s sent to the notorious Sado island prison, to work in the gold mine. Once she's introduced into the men only prison, she is quickly accosted by a few of the men, until a man named Bunzo, steps forth to defend her, telling her, Buznzo (Koji Sekiyama), the iron-barbarian will take care of you now. Bunzo, even attempts to rape her, down the line, driven mad with her beauty, until she splits his skull with a rock, telling him that when and if she decides to give it to him, it will be her decision. The Jailer’s wife, notices the lovely Ohyaku and decides that she could sell her for a nice bit of money, but first wants to tattoo her exquisite skin. Ohyaku, decides she wants a large demon tattooed to her back, to cover her scar. The jailer’s wife, just like the men who encounter Ohyaku, wants her sexually and violates her after using a needle to paralyze her, which she plans on doing when Hyoe Sakaki comes to visit, because he has a rapist eye on Ohyaku also. But Ohyaku decides to play the jailer and his wife against each other by telling the jailer she want to run off with him and then telling the wife her husband wants to kill her and vice versa, this deception ending in bloodshed and eventually death for both. When all is said and done, Ohyaku sails off with Bunzo to pay a visit to the mint and Master Sengoku.

While women in Japanese films had been relegated to wives, mothers, daughter, prostitutes and victims for many years, this film while not the first to give a little female violent liberation, it is the one of the films along with the Red Peony series, you can point to that got the Pinky Violence genre kickstarted. Two more films would follow in this series, Quick-Draw Okatsu (1969) and Okatsu the Fugitive (1969), but were stand-alone films, that were not continuations of the previous films, with Ohyaku, even receiving a name change to Okatsu. The director of this film Yoshihiro Ishikawa, also directed the excellent Bakeneko: A Vengeful Spirit in 1968, and The Ghost of Otama Pond (1960), for Shintoho, where he was a writer, director and apprentice to the legendary Nobuo Nakagawa, on the legendary J-Horror films; Kaidan Kasane-ga-fuchi (1957), Black Cat Mansion (1958), and the definitive version of The Ghost of Yotsuya (1959). The exotic beauty Junko Miyazono, appeared in a host of films. besides the Ohyaku/Okatsu flicks, including Samurai Wolf (1966) Eleven Samurai (1967) and the first film in the Toei Delinquent Girl Boss series; Tokyo Bad Girls (1970). The legendry Tomisaburô Wakayama plays Minokichi of Otowa, but, is best known as Ogami Itto, in the Lone Wolf and Cub series of films. Wakayama was the brother of Shintaro Katsu, most famously known as the blind swordsman in the long running series of film and television shows based on the Zatoichi character.

A film of at times deep misogyny, that never attempts to hide this hate throughout the first three quarters of the movie, but, allows the Ohyaku character a chance to extract some revenge against not only the men in her life who wronged her, but also the bureaucracy that kept the social classes repressed and held those in lower classes in total disregard. Produced by Toei and released in 1968. Released by Synapse films on DVD with a beautiful black and white, English sub-titled print, audio commentary by Japanese film expert Chris D, trailers for all three films, and other goodies. 

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