Arrow Video Blu-ray Review: Orgies of Edo (1969)

Written by Teruo Ishii, Masahiro Kakefuda
Directed by Teruo Ishii
Starring Teruo Yoshida, Toyozo Yamamoto, Masumi Tachibana
Released January 9, 1969 (Japan)
RT 89 min.
Home Video Arrow Video
Classic Horrors rating = 7 (out of 10)

According to authorPatrick Maccias (TokyoScope: The JapaneseCult Film Companion), “pinky violence” refers to a subgenre that emerged in Japan during the late 1960s when audiences were staying at home instead of going to movie theaters.  The”pink film” already existed with its nudity and sexual content, but for the first time, major studios financed them, adding action and violence to the eroticism.  These movies featured “imageryt hat will haunt you and stay with you… connecting a grindhouse aesthetic with something you’d see in an art film.”

A studio called “Toei” created a model for pinky violence and Teruo Ishii was one of the first directors to use it with his 1969 film, Orgies of Edo. Based on what I learned about pinky violence, as well as the title of this movie, I didn’t find it to be as explicit as I expected.  One reason, I suppose, is that it’s almost 50 years since it was made; what was explicit then might be considered tame now.  Also, although the subject matter was very mature, the films were still restricted from showing genitalia.  Orgies of Edo could be considered soft core at most, but by today’s standards, I don’t think it even goes that far.

For me, the disturbing images in Orgies of Edo come from the violent side, not the erotic side. And there are some disturbing images in the three stories that comprise the larger film.  Each one features scenes that depict rape or sexual assault. Then, each one increasingly shows bloody violence, ranging from angry people slamming a rock onto a pregnant woman’s stomach to angry bulls goring scantily clad Geishas.  Overall, while the violence seems aimed at the women, men are also the victims of some horrific acts.  At times, it’s a rough film for either gender to watch.

On the other hand, the stories behind the sexual and violent images are compelling.  There’s a little substance to the style.  In an introduction before the first story, a narrator describes (and we read the subtitles) the Edo period as a prosperous time, with the disclaimer that, “Behind everything lies depravity and sickness of the mind.”  The IMDb synopsis calls Orgies of Edo, “A collection of stories dealing with punishment towards women.”  Yes, but that’s selling the movie short.  It also deals with less sensational topics of forgiveness and redemption..

The first story, is a flashback explaining how a young woman comes to arrive at a hospital with”an awful wound.”  (She’s the one that received the aforementioned rock to the stomach.)  She’s ultimately the victim of Hanji (Toyozo Yamamoto) a con man who tricks her into becoming a Geisha, which begs a legitimate question when she becomes pregnant: “How do you know it’s mine?”  It may be true that, “A woman can tell;” however, she could never anticipate the angry crowd that hangs them both, beats them, and rubs peppers into Hanji’s eyes.

The second story is more…uh… interesting.  It begins with two little people storming into a woman’s chamber, stripping her and licking her all over her body.  It seems that she hired them to do so because she is aroused by men with abnormal bodies.  In order to compete, Chokichi (AkiraIshihama), in a suspenseful and intense scene, burns his face with a hot poker.  This story includes a flashback as well, during which we learn why the woman developed her sexual taste.  There’s no way this one can have a happy ending, even though it’s filmed beautifully and includes a lovely musical theme.

The third story is the most twisted, putting the horror into Orgies of Edo.  A power hungry lord releases bulls with flaming horns into a pen with several Geishas wearing red robes.  Since the bulls are enraged by the color red, the women can survive only by undressing.  Some are smart enough to figure it out, and one draws the attention of her master.  All is not as coincidental as it seems, though.  There’s a master plan that turns the tables on the lord so that by the end of the story (and the movie) the women have come out on top.  Well, maybe not quite…

I’m not sure I’ve convinced you, much less myself, that Orgies of Edo is more than what appears on the surface.  There is a moral to the story, though.  The narrator repeats the aforementioned disclaimer, but then adds, “You must live, despite your burden.  Resist madness.  And put all your strength into this precious life.”  As disturbing as it can beat times, the movie fascinates me. It’s even more interesting because Ishii soon made Horrors of Malformed Men, a movie focused on one story in which pinky violence completely continues to evolve into horror.

Bonus Materials:

High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
Original uncompressed mono PCM audio
Optional Englishsubtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
The Orgies of Ishii – an exclusive, newly filmed interview with author Patrick Maccias
Theatrical trailer
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matt Griffin
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by author Tom Mes

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