Female Demon Ohyaku is generally considered to be the forerunner to the Pinky Violence genre; a harrowing tale conceived in the halls of Toei Studios, designed specifically to challenge the age-old conventions of traditional Japanese filmmaking. Arguably, it is not the very first ‘pink’ film – such an honour might go to the softcore pornographic works of Satoru Kobayashi or Tetsuji Takechi during the early 60’s in what is generally accepted as pink film’s first wave – but Female Demon came to typify a turning point in the country’s cinematic mindset, spawning two sequels (dubbed the Legends of the Poisonous Seductress) and characterizing a genre which would go on to dominate the Japanese box office for a decade.
Junko Miyazono stars as the titular Ohyaku, a beautiful woman, part-time actress/whore and all-around deadly vixen. Miyazono would go on to play the female leads in both Poisonous Seductress sequels (Quick Draw Okatsu and Okatsu the Fugitive, respectively) and indeed it is her involvement, along with the similar thematic elements of the three films that tie them together as a loose trilogy as opposed to, say, a traditional linear narrative.
In the film, Ohyaku is an acrobat who puts on a mean high-wire act – a show designed to draw willing men to bid for her nocturnal services and affections. Ohyaku, however, abhors her humiliating lot in life and despises the patriarchal structure she is imprisoned in. During one performance she is rescued from a heckler by a handsome samurai, whom she crosses paths with later on that eve. Over the next few days, the two fall in love despite Ohyaku’s hatred of all things male. We learn that the samurai is planning to rob the local mint, but not just for the gold bullion it contains. It seems his ideals fall in line with Ohyaku’s, in that they both want to see the male lords and their rich, arrogant followers shamed and belittled. With the advice and backing of the local Yakuza, both are thrown head-first into a scheme of robbery and betrayal, and are soon enough captured by the local magistrate.
Ohyaku is then forced to watch her samurai lover tortured and beheaded, but is herself granted mercy – she is imprisoned on a slave island in exchange for her life. Thus begins her bloody journey for redemption and vengeance against those who wronged her, and nobody – man, woman or beast – will stop her.
All the hallmarks of the Pinky Violence films abound here – gratuitous violence, sex, cruelty and sadism, along with the ‘female avenger’ premise which almost exclusively epitomizes the genre. The difference here is that Ohyaku is not a superhuman fighting machine, as much of Pinky heroines tend to be, but rather she is conniving and calculating in her quest for revenge. She uses her beauty and smarts to influence others – often manipulating whole understated schemes to arrive at a desired conclusion further on down the line. Take, for instance, the sub-plot with the prison guard and his tattooist wife. Both are used and abused (and in some ways loved) by Ohyaku and, as she escapes the island, we realize that Ohyaku allowed both characters into her life to simply get one step closer to her redemption. Why not just kill them both and be done with it? It seems her exploitation of the situation provides a much more advantageous and simpler answer. What seemed odd and convoluted at first was, in retrospect, merely the result of a puppeteer expertly working her strings.
Which highlights another stand-out aspect of the film – the often rich and intelligent story-telling. It may seem slightly intricate, and other times slow-moving, but the pace is perfectly timed to the unravelling nature of the film. Characters come in and out of view, but never unnecessarily. It’s the underlying motivations that are the crux of the plot and it all winds down to a fitting, bloody, but also necessary conclusion. It couldn’t end any other way, really, but not a second of it feels forced or unrealistic when taken in context to the arc of the entire story.
A couple of other observations: The cinematography, in stark black and white, is remarkable. I mentioned earlier the idea of Female Demon Ohyaku as a turning point in Japanese cinema, and you can really see in the photography the old traditions butting heads with the new. As such, when the moments of excessive gore and violence occur, the effect is definitely intense. Also, you can see the subtle stylings of Pinky Violence begin to peek through - spurting geysers of blood, torture and lesbianism being a few examples off the top of my head. And, while not as exaggerated or over-the-top as later films (the Lady Snowblood and the Female Prisoner Scorpion series come to mind), there is a certain resonance in other aspects of Female Demon that more than make up for it.
Only in the last few years have these films been readily available on Region 1 DVD, as exploitation as a viable and important genre has been re-discovered the world over, dragging along with it the unique and bizarre world of Pinky Violence. While the genre may not get the mainstream recognition that I feel it rightfully deserves, films such as Female Demon Ohyaku may be the diamond in the rough that turns some heads. It’s exciting and intelligent, but leaning just enough into the grimier side of filmmaking to keep things truly edgy and fresh. A superb film to add to your exploitation collection.
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