Shino Shinozaki (Saeda Kawaguchi) works as a maid for a rich employer in this rural Japanese village, but she has a more complex past than she is letting on, something which comes to a head when she is washing clothes in a basin then notices she is being observed. The watcher is Eisuke Omayada (Kei Satô), and she has a history with him, well aware that he is a dangerous man responsible for a series of rapes and assaults across the area. He tries to seduce her but she resists, pointing out he is married to respectable scholteacher Matsuko Koura (Akiko Koyama), which spurs him on to a new atrocity...
Shino doesn't die, though she seems to be a character who flirts with death on a regular basis, but her employer does as the villainous Eisuke rapes and murders her, then escapes. When the police interview Shino, for reasons best known to herself she doesn't wish to reveal the true culprit so fudges her answers, preferring to try and persuade Matsuko to expose her husband instead. If this is coming across as hard to believe, then bear in mind it was one of the real life crime films director Nagisa Ôshima made during the course of his career, so had a basis in fact, though what he was really interested in was drawing back the curtain on his country's society so the audience could see its corrupt heart.
Scathing as ever, Ôshima was also keen to innovate, so employed a fast cutting style which emphasised closeups on the actors' faces and a camera which was wont to reel from one point of view to another, echoing the way the narrative would go back over old ground to see what more they could say about the situation, which turned out not to be a pretty picture, in spite of the supposed rustic charm of the region this was set in. Early on, for example, we are offered a flashback to how the collective farm that was set up there failed when a flood washed most of it away - metaphor alert! - thereby summing up how Japanese society at large has arrived at what the director saw as dire circumstances.
That flood also triggered more than the problems with the village's economy and lifestyle: Shino was forced to take the maid's job when her part in the farm was lost, and her potential (arranged) romantic partner Genji (Rokko Toura) was sent into a downward spiral of depression which he could only see one way out of, and that was suicide. Not only his own, but Shino's as well, and in another flashback we witness the pact he coaxes her into only for it to kill him and leave her lying unconscious on the ground when her noose snapped. It is here Eisuke arrives, and from one view you could see Shino and the other women in the film blamed for his crimes by their mere presence in his life.
But Ôshima was more complex, so you don't get the impression he endorses the vile logic of his villain and more sides with his victims, one of whom was Shino when he raped her which revived her as Genji swung dead above them. Yes, it was grim stuff, but the film wants to make you think on about what kind of community allows this sort of behaviour to prosper - Eisuke has around a dozen victims, we learn - though you could equally argue that just because a nation suffers violent crime it doesn't mean the majority endorse such acts. Here, however, the blame is spread far and wide; the killer is not excused exactly, we're in no doubt he is a nasty piece of work who should not be sympathised with, but the sense that this is a place which breeds such twisted personalities was never far away. If you didn't appreciate the themes, then there was always compensation in the style which was never less than striking, yet the whole affair was so set on rubbing your nose in the grime it was difficult to really enjoy. Music by Hikaru Hayashi.