“Pinky Violence” was a term coined by Toei Studios to describe their astonishing output of pop art-sexploitation-action-thrillers, aimed primarily at young, urban males. Blood and bare breasts were essential ingredients. Beyond that Toei gave filmmakers free reign to indulge in satire, social commentary, and wild aesthetic experimentation. Visually, these films are as exquisitely crafted as art house films of the day. Ideologically, they’re often surprisingly left of centre. Sex & Fury is the perfect example, not least for its emblematic title. For this much-heralded team-up between pinky violence icon Reiko Ike and cult Swedish sex siren Christina Lindberg, director Norifumi Suzuki pushes gore, sleaze and black comedy into abstract art.
Tragedy strikes a little girl, on her visit to a local shrine. Her father, a police detective, is gorily murdered by hired thugs. Daddy’s dying act is to give his daughter a clue to the identity of his mysterious killers: three hanafuda (gambling) cards - the deer, the boar and the butterfly. Flash forward 18 years (to Meiji era, 1904) and our heroine is now lovely, lethal swordswoman, Inoshika Ocho (Reiko Ike). She strikes samurai poses amidst comic book credits while the groovy soundtrack fuses Clapton with Bacharach. Taking her name from her quarry (ino = boar, shika = deer, ocho = butterfly), Inoshika leads an outlaw’s life: gambling, seducing and picking pockets. She clashes with crime boss Kurokawa (Seizaburo Kawazu) and corrupt politician Iwakura (Hiroshi Nawa), founders of the Seishinkai Group, as they consolidate their power in an increasingly modernized Japan. Encounters with handsome idealist Shinseki (Masataka Naruse), and his long-lost love, pistol-packing western spy Christina (Christina Lindberg) point the way to her father’s killers.
Sex & Fury is infamous for its naked samurai girl scene. Reiko Ike leaps out of the bath and, dripping wet, battles yakuza hordes in an orgy of blood, snow, and severed limbs. Dreamy, doll-like nymphet, Christina Lindberg doffs her clothes for sexploitation fun with a glamorous geisha and a threesome with Kurokawa, but each sex scene is different in tone and either progresses the plot or probes the characters. Sleazy shenanigans become a pop art explosion amidst Norifumi Suzuki’s exquisite compositions. Hand-held camera captures samurai splatter. Ocho’s friends are tortured during a psychedelic lightshow. Our heroine is captured by knife-wielding, sadomasochistic nuns and conflicted Christina dons a fetching, fringed mini-dress to whip away at Ocho while a church organ swirls frenziedly. Even a rape scene and a major character’s death become slow-mo, super-stylized works of art - simultaneously kitsch and beautiful.
Japanese sex films offer a twisted ethos wherein heroines are brave throughout torture (foreplay) then take their revenge (orgasm). Those uncomfortable with the fusion of sex with violence should steer clear, but the film also showcases an appealing camaraderie amongst its outcast femmes and targets hypocrisy among big business-types. Kurokawa and Iwakura aren’t that different from self-serving politicos in Seventies Japan. Reiko Ike was barely out of her teens when she made this film. Never entirely happy with baring all onscreen, she nonetheless performs with conviction, making Ocho philosophical, humorous and super-cool. Christina Lindberg is a weaker actress, but remains a striking, sympathetic presence. One of the biggest stars in sexploitation cinema, Lindberg later took acting lessons and gave a genuinely haunting performance in Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1974), the celebrated porno-horror-action film. Her one-eyed avenging angel inspired Darryl Hannah’s character in Kill Bill (2003).