Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Fairy in a Cage (1977)

Fairy in a Cage, written and directed by Kôyû Ohara, is perhaps the most notorious of the long series of roman porno movies made by Japan’s Nikkatsu Studio between 1971 and 1988. It should be explained that these movies have nothing to do with the Romans - the French term for an erotic novel is roman porno and I guess someone at Nikkatsu though it sounded classy.

In the latter stages of World War 2 the Japanese military police are cracking down on anti-war activists. Judge Murayama takes an active hand in the interrogations, especially of female suspects. He is considered to be a specialist in this area. Murayama’s idea of interrogation involves torture with definite sexual overtones.

There is however considerable doubt as to whether any of these female suspects is guilty of anything more than catching Murayama’s eye. He has now picked out his next victim, the young and very beautiful wife of a rich jeweller named Kikushima. There is not the slightest evidence against her but Murayama really wants to torture her. So evidence is manufactured implicating Mrs Kikushima and a kabuki actor named Sennosuke Inoue.

The first stage of Murayama’s interrogation technique is to tell Mrs Kikushima to take all her clothes off. At this stage she realises she’s in a for a rather unpleasant time.

Murayama works closely with the military police and in this case a new recruit, Lance-Corporal Taoka, will be taking an active part in the interrogations. Also taking an active rôle is Murayama’s young assistant and mistress Kayo. Taoka isn’t happy with the situation at first, then he starts to enjoy it and then he starts to become sexually obsessed with Mrs Kikushima. It is implied that Taoka is sexually inexperienced and may even be a virgin. He is definitely somewhat disturbed sexually. When it is suggested that he should pleasure himself with some whores he gets very uncomfortable. He is perhaps a little bit afraid of women.

Young Kayo takes charge of the torture of Inoue, the kabuki actor. Her idea of torture is to force Inoue to have sex with her and to force him to endure the horrors of fellatio. That would certainly be enough to break any man’s spirit, especially given that Kayo is young and very pretty. Yes, this is one very strange movie.

Taoka’s sexual obsession why Mrs Kikushima grows, He even contemplates rescuing her. He is however not quite a knight in shining armour. His idea is to get her out of the clutches of Murayama so that he can have for himself and rape her at his leisure. Taoka is not a healthy young man.

Murayama and the military policemen are clearly exceptionally depraved (they really really enjoying torturing attractive young women) and young Kayo is perhaps even more depraved. Her hobbies include forcing men to submit to sex, watching other women get tortured and humiliated and having Murayama tie her up (he has to make sure that the ropes really hurt her) before pleasuring her.

OK, so this sounds like a straightforward S&M software porno movie. But this was the 1970s, a time when film-makers in various countries were getting very attracted to the idea of making movies about the relationship between power and sex. More specifically playing with the idea that power leads to moral corruption which then leads to sexual depravity. Or perhaps that the sexually depraved are attracted by power, especially absolute power over others. In Italy Tinto Brass explored this idea in Salon Kitty and it was his original idea for Caligula (although Caligula as released bore little resemblance to Brass’s original conception). These ideas are perhaps vaguely plausible and they certainly had possibilities for movie-makers who could make S&M movies and then claim that they weren’t making just making porn movies - they were making movies that were serious political statements.

Fairy in a Cage is very obviously exploring these same ideas. Its main weakness is that it doesn’t offer us much insight into the psychology of the two most interesting character, Murayama and Kayo. Taoka is a bit more fully developed. It seems likely that he is only aroused by women when they’re under his power.

Minoru Ôkôchi’s performance as Murayama is extremely good and Rei Okamoto is extraordinary as Kayo. Kayo is not a girl you’d want to take home to meet Mother.

Naomi Tani has to be given credit for volunteering to undergo some pretty extreme bondage, much of which apparently was genuinely painful. She’s a gorgeous woman but to be honest she’s essentially just a prop. She’s merely an innocent victim, Naomi Tani does a good job enough job conveying her fear and her humiliation, but we know no more about her at the end than we knew at the beginning. The focus here is on the psychology of the torturers (both the male and female torturers).

Fairy in a Cage was based on a story by Oniroku Dan, a very successful writer of S&M erotica and a close friend of the film’s star Naomi Tani. She had already established herself as an actress in pink films (Japanese erotic movies) but her appearance in numerous adaptations of Dan’s stories for Nikkatsu made her a star and Japan’s queen of cinematic S&M.

Fairy in a Cage is, like all of Nikkatsu’s roman porno movies, very well-made (Nikkatsu was and is a major studio) and it looks great. It was, predictably, controversial at the time. Which is hardly surprising. It is pretty extreme. While the political subtext is definitely there this movie is really more of an exploration of the psychology and eroticism of sadomasochism. So it really is, quite unashamedly, a softcore S&M erotic movie. Which is of course exactly what Nikkatsu wanted. So whether you enjoy this movie depends entirely on your feelings about S&M erotica. If the subject matter doesn’t bother you then it has some claims to being, along with Just Jaeckin’s The Story of O and Radley Metzger’s The Image, one of the classics of the genre. And you can always pretend that you only watched it for the political subtext!

No comments: