Sadistic Japanese Exploitation

Legendary cult filmmaker Teruo Ishii (Orgies of Edo, Inferno of Torture) is best remembered today in Japan for a series of notorious exploitation films made during the ’60s that pushed the boundaries of accepted norms with graphic themes. Shogun’s Joy of Torture is one such underground shocker, a grisly anthology of three tales about crime and punishment set during the Edo period.

Forbidden love is a common theme in Shogun’s Joy of Torture, often met with severe torture in sequences that remain convincingly lurid and over the top. Depicted with immense craftsmanship and top-notch casts, Ishii fashioned some of the most memorable and dark Japanese exploitation thrillers ever made.

… cult masterpiece from Japanese director Teruo Ishii that explores the darker side of punishment during the Edo period

Immediately denounced by Japanese critics for the film’s elaborately sadistic scenes and unmatched depravity, Ishii delights in shocking audiences with intense visuals and unforgettable moments. The salacious stories have uncanny twists and superb storytelling that elevate them far above most disposable exploitation cinema. Incest, lesbianism, and other forbidden passions drive the movie but narrative punchlines like upside-down crucifixions serve as Ishii’s demented calling cards.

The first tale is about a carpenter injured on the job and unable to provide anymore for his beloved sister Mitsu. His boss lusts after Mitsu and expects the young woman in exchange for paying off her brother’s medical bills. The second tale concerns the arrival of Reiho and her servant Rintoku at a monastery for nuns. Located near a temple inhabited by Buddhist priests, Reiho becomes interested in a priest that arouses forbidden lust and an ill-fated love triangle.

The third tale is about a tattoo artist named Horicho who has just finished his most elaborate tattoo when a man mocks its realism, claiming Horicho has no experience with the look of real anguish and pain. That sparks a feverish desire in Horicho to find the look of real pain in his tattoo art. A number of foreign women appear in this third segment, rare for early Japanese exploitation.

There’s a real dichotomy between the graphic themes and elegant direction in Teruo Ishii’s underground cult films. Most exploitation is made with a sleazy style and inferior filmmaking. Shogun’s Joy of Torture is a well-acted, well-written, and memorably executed anthology with dramatic punch.

The intense thriller is a shining example of inventive filmmaking that marries arthouse freedom with Toei’s typical production quality. Breaking new ground in Japanese exploitation, the film holds up as shocking and deeply thematic entertainment. It’s a cult masterpiece from Japanese director Teruo Ishii that explores the darker side of punishment during the Edo period with vividly graphic torture and superb storytelling.

Video

The 1968 Japanese period thriller looks quite film-like with sufficient detail and pleasing colors. Japanese studio Toei provided the HD master to Arrow Video with minor re-grading by the cult label. Presented in its original, intended 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Shogun’s Joy of Torture has ample definition and nicely saturated detail. Running 96 minutes, a generous AVC encode tackles the film grain with unerring precision.

The exploitation flick does have its softer moments and the 1080P video isn’t tack-sharp. Black levels are solid with a little crushing. The contrast holds up with welcome clarity and healthy, naturalistic flesh-tones. The film transfer is likely from a telecine struck a few years ago, though taken from the original camera negative in excellent condition. Japanese film elements from Toei are often in remarkable shape with few obvious signs of wear.

Arrow Video has now released all four of Teruo Ishii’s more notorious exploitation movies and Shogun’s Joy of Torture’s picture quality might be the best-looking on Blu-ray. It receives a quality presentation from a decent film transfer with no technical problems.

Audio

The 1.0 DTS-HD MA Japanese audio is a fairly robust recording without excessive dynamics. The original monaural soundtrack features clean, intelligible dialogue without much strain or glare. Japanese films of the period from Toei were careful, professional productions. While the soundtrack isn’t flashy with overpowering sound effects, there is a nice sense of space and smooth musical fidelity.

Optional English subtitles play in a white font, inside the scope presentation all the time.

Extras

Arrow Video follows up last year’s successful Inferno of Torture Blu-ray with a very similar edition for Shogun’s Joy of Torture. First pressings include an illustrated collectors booklet featuring new writing on the film by Mark Schilling. The Blu-ray is coded for Region A. A reversible sleeve offers original and newly commissioned artwork by Jacob Phillips.

Teruo Ishii: Erotic-Grotesque Maestro (13:23 in HD) – Exclusive new interview with author Patrick Macias who thoughtfully discusses Teruo Ishii’s other work comparable to Shogun’s Joy of Torture and the general reaction in Japan to them. Definitely provides food for thought and helps paint a picture of how they evolved.

Bind, Torture, Thrill Featurette (25:16 in HD) – Author and film critic Jasper Sharp discusses the history of torture in early Japanese exploitation cinema, offering a wider purview of the scene beyond this specific movie from Toei. Some interesting points are made about television taking business away from Japanese films and the move towards more shocking material to reel audiences back into theaters.

Audio commentary – Japanese cinema expert Tom Mes should be familiar to Arrow Video fans. He gives a lucid discussion of the movie’s cast, among other insights that delve deeply into the surrounding sociopolitical climate in Japan. A few dull moments and breaks along the way aren’t ideal but is mostly entertaining and informative.

Shogun’s Joy of Torture Original Trailer (02:40 in HD)

Image Gallery (03:10 in HD)

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Shogun's Joy of Torture
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A cult masterpiece from Japanese director Teruo Ishii that explores the darker side of punishment during the Edo period with vividly graphic torture and suberb storytelling.

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