Friday, 12 February 2010

Madame O (1967)

Madame O (Zoku akutokui: Joi-hen) marks my second excursion into the world of independent Japanese pink films. This one is a kind of horror thriller, with a few other twists. It’s also a rape revenge movie, but a very unconventional one.

The title character is a successful doctor, a gynaecologist in fact. At the age of 16 she’d been gang-raped, and left pregnant and infected with syphilis. Once she qualified as a doctor she set out to get her revenge on men. She’d cruise the bars and allow herself to be picked up. She’d sleep with the guy, and leave him a little present. A case of syphilis. She didn’t leave things to chance- she injected them with it when they were asleep.

Then she takes on a new partner in her practice, a male doctor. And falls in love. Suddenly her ideas on men change radically. And her life changes just as radically. Then the past comes back to haunt her, in the form of one of the men she’d picked up and infected. That causes her considerable difficulties, and then when she thinks that’s been sorted out, she finds her troubles have only just started.

There are interesting ideas here, although there are a few problems with the screenplay. A few too many unlikely occurrences, and sudden unexplained character changes. There are perhaps too many betrayals to be really plausible, and it makes use of a narrative device that always annoys me (although I can’t reveal what it is without revealing a major spoiler).

As an erotic movie it’s a complete non-event, although it’s worth remembering that in Japan in 1967 censorship was amazingly strict, so even a glimpse of a nipple was pretty hot stuff. You can of course make a very erotic movie without any nudity at all, but this one falls rather flat in that area.

It’s interesting that Japanese sexploitation went down similar paths to US sexploitation in the 60s, and for the same reasons. With limitations on the amount of sex and nudity that could be shown, film-makers turned either to weirdness or violence to provide the necessary additional thrills. In the case of this films there’s a certain degree of weirdness, and quite bit of violence. The violence in this case is mostly, but not entirely, by women and directed against men (although not without some justification).

Luckily it has plenty of other things going for it, and as a twisted mystery thriller it’s much more successful. The lead actress does the obsessive revenge thing pretty convincingly. Naomi Tani, later to become a major actress in pink film, appears in a supporting role. The acting on the whole is fairly adequate.

It does raise some thorny ethical issues. The lead character’s thirst for revenge is perfectly understandable, but the targets she picks aren’t especially evil men, and while there are certainly some men who might deserve the treatment she metes out, these guys don’t really fall into that category. For dramatic purposes that does have the advantage of giving added piquancy to the regrets she later feels, so it is trying to be a rape revenge movie that avoids too many obvious cliches.

Like a lot of the early pink films it was shot partly in black-and-white and partly in colour, which is very disconcerting at first! It was picked up for US distribution in the 60s by Radley Metzger’s Audubon Films, which is probably why it’s survived when so many other early pink films have vanished. It also means that it’s survived in a dubbed print, but the dubbing isn’t too terrible. Picture quality on the Synapse DVD is generally surprisingly good considering that it’s a relatively obscure movie in a relatively obscure genre.

Overall this film is a mixed bag. Some surprising gore (and some gruesome surgical scenes), very little eroticism, an interesting if slightly muddled script, but it’s sufficiently twisted to make it worth a watch.

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