Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Fairy In A Cage (1977) review


Naomi Tani (Namiji Kikushima), Hirokazu Inoue (Lt. Nishizaki), Rei Okamoto (female sex torturer), Reika Maki, Kazuo Satake (Keita Taoka), Minoru Okochi (Maron Murayama)

Directed by Koyu Ohara

***WARNING! This review contains images of nudity and sexual situations***

The Short Version: With very little plot to hold itself together, FAIRY IN A CAGE compensates by using its shoestring storyline of a WW2 era authoritarian sadist "interrogating" captives as an excuse for a chain of sexual tortures and degradations. But with this being of Japan's celebrated and condemned 'Roman Porno' genre, there's a modest stylistic air that lends it a uniqueness unlike the typical exploitation picture. 

After being falsely accused of financing an anti-government political activist, the lovely Kikushima -- along with a young Kabuki actor -- is arrested and handed over to the sadistic judge Murayama. To satiate his psycho-sexual lust, Murayama "interrogates" his prisoners in his own sex-torture dungeon. An inexperienced military officer named Taoka becomes increasingly unstable as the tortures persist, eventually desiring Kikushima for himself. A short time later, the libidinous Taoka plots their escape from Muryama's clutches.


Japan's controversial and critically celebrated 'Roman Porn' movies have held a minor cult following outside of their native Japan up until recently when a gaggle of them were unleashed to North American shores on DVD. These are films that showcase sexual fetishes, bondage, S&M, subjugation, sex, nudity and torture. Oh, and they have the propensity to be extremely misogynistic. If your cinematic savories are geared towards Drive In fare, exploitation films and general celluloid trash, than these types of movies will be an attractive proposition for those tantalizingly twisted tastebuds.

Having never journeyed into the realm of Nikkatsu's contentious, yet popular Roman Porno movies, this picture was my first experience with these movies. I read about them (and skimmed over them) in their extensive coverage in the now defunct Asian Cult Cinema digest back in the 1990s. These movies, that often feature lots of bondage, torture and rape, never interested me. With Synapse releasing them through their Impulse Pictures arm, I decided to play the role of voyeur and purchase a few of these violent erotica quickies just to see what they're all about.

Having watched a few so far, these movies seem to only be interested in shock and titillation. Plot is secondary to the sex and violence. For the most part (at this point, anyways), these are essentially the sort of lascivious exploitation you might find littered among Jess Franco's oeuvre, only here, there's a startling amount of craftsmanship and sense of camera placement.

In the case of FAIRY IN A CAGE, this particular example of Japan's 'pink' pictures calls to mind such movies as the ILSA series and Pasolini's SALO (1975). 

In addition, the script contains a socio-political undercurrent that attempts to detract from, or rise above the near endless bondage and assorted torture shenanigans, but is drowned out by them instead -- yet it lingers just under the surface via the dichotomy of its central protagonist and antagonist. This air of capitalism vs. big government erects itself on a few occasions, and would have been a vastly intriguing premise; but the gratuitousness of the films selling points take precedence. 

For instance, at the beginning the judge and Nishizaki are pondering how they can manipulate their way into capturing some new sex slaves. They ogle Kikushima from afar, watching intently as she mingles with her clientele enjoying the toasts and accolades they're giving her. With a look of hate-filled vehemence on his face, Nishizaki mumbles "merchant-class scumbag" denoting his disdain for those he cannot control with a militaristic iron hand. 

The violence that is perpetrated on Tani's character could easily be viewed as a metaphor of a totalitarian regime "pacifying" -- with jackboot authority -- those enjoying the benefits of a free market society. The subjugation and torture of Kikushima means more than mere misogyny -- it represents the crippling of a capitalist system.

At one point, the sadistic judge attempts to justify his twisted decadence to his accomplice, Lt. Nishizaki that these "pleasures" were always reserved for nobility. These "pleasures" run the gamut from various torture devices, to bondage, and the drinking of female urine. Where SALO reveled in the eating of excrement, FAIRY IN A CAGE sees its crazed authoritarians quenching their thirst on Kikushima's bodily fluids.

And it is this sin-sationalism where the filmmakers show their true loyalties -- not in anti-capitalism rants, but in various tortures and the raping of women. The film hasn't been on five minutes and we see a whipping and candle wax-to-crotch torture while the opening credits drape themselves over the violence. To be fair, one of the women in this film (the judges aristocratic plaything played by Rei Okamoto) rapes and tortures a male captive repeatedly. However, her lechery is used against her to mount a premature escape.

Outside of some artsy photographic touches, there's very little here that stands out. The limited, but efficient set decor is quite good, and stands in stark contrast against the steady flow of nudity and torture scenes. The characterizations are barren, relegated to the actions of the people playing them as to how they touch the viewer on an emotional level. At 70 minutes, there's really no time to build on any one person.

Naomi Tani is a famous actress for her numerous roles in 'Roman Porn', yet this would seem more for her willingness to strip and be tied up in assorted and elaborate ways than for her acting ability. But then, I've not seen enough of her films to truly say. Her oppressive, near constant victimization here will make the viewer wince on multiple occasions, or make you shut off the movie altogether.

FAIRY IN A CAGE (and this genre in particular) will not be for everybody's taste. Some could classify these pictures as trash, or exploitative, misogynistic junk; but labeling them as 'Stylized Sex and Violence' is an apt description, too. Apparently a feather-ruffling production during the time of its release, it's recommended for those who are fans of exploitation movies looking for new cinematic kicks on the far out fringes, and for those not easily offended.

This review is representative of the Impulse/Synapse DVD.

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