In Tokugawa era Japan, after an arduous search for the perfect suitor, Princess Kiyo (gorgeous, pouting Miki Sugimoto), beloved youngest daughter of mighty Shogun Ienari Tokugawa, weds country lord Tadateru Ogura (Hiroshi Nawa). Unfortunately, as a proud samurai devoted to the Bohachi code of honour, Lord Tadateru has no interest in women. He lives only for horse riding, hunting and warfare and proves comically clueless about sexually satisfying the luscious Kiyo. With the princess humiliated, the royal aides fear the wrath of Shogun Ienari. To help Tadateru improve his sexual prowess, they present him with Sandra (Sandra Julien), an exquisite French beauty-turned-captive courtesan who arrives inside a giant gift box like some life-sized doll. Her extraordinary sexual technique awakens Tadateru to the fun he’s been missing all these years.
Problem is, Sandra proves so amazing in bed that Tadateru shuns Kiyo altogether. While enraged royal handmaidens make life difficult for Sandra at court, the situation worsens when Tadateru ventures beyond the palace and discovers - gasp! - common ordinary people enjoy sex too! Carnal pleasure is not solely reserved for aristocrats. Outraged, Tadateru promptly bans all his subjects from having sex. Newlyweds are halted in mid-coitus. Men across the kingdom have a special seal stamped on their private parts. Those who break the law are castrated. Soon everyone in the region except Lord Tadateru grows cranky and irritable.
The sexploitation films of Norifumi Suzuki are riddled with contradictions: bawdy and tasteless yet just as often smartly satirical, full of mostly juvenile humour but also politically subversive and overflowing with some of the most artfully composed imagery in world cinema. In some ways, Suzuki shares a lot in common with Ken Russell although far from a rabble-rousing auteur, he was a trusted studio director at Toei, as happy cranking out a slew of sequels to his hugely successful, family friendly Truck Rascals (1975) as his delinquent schoolgirl movies Sukeban: Girl Boss Guerilla (1972) and Terrifying Girls’ High School: Lynch Law Classroom! (1973), seminal nunsploitation opus School of the Holy Beast (1974) or the karate actioner Roaring Fire (1981). In the Eighties, with exploitation films out of style, Suzuki changed gears and became Japan’s surprise answer to John Hughes with a string of fluffy, innocuous teen comedies, a far cry from the man who made one of the sickest, most depraved horror films of all time, the S&M themed Star of David: Beauty Hunting (1979).
With Tokugawa Sex Ban: Lustful Lord, part of a Toei series of period sex comedies, Suzuki strikes a typically idiosyncratic tone midway between grand guignol, Carry On style farce and Akira Kurosawa historical epic with sweeping vistas and lavish production values. For despite rampant silliness and an anachronistic (albeit delightfully catchy) bossa nova meets Burt Bacharach soundtrack, much of the historical detail here is surprisingly accurate. Rather than simply dress up a historical film with softcore shenanigans, Suzuki draws some potent parallels between sex and freedom. Sex is shown to be an inalienable right that transcends class barriers and even proves a force for liberation as the third act finds the enraged populace storming Tadateru’s castle with a battering ram shaped like a giant phallus! Along the way Suzuki treats viewers to such off-kilter outrageous, pictorially extravagant set-pieces as a sexy hara-kiri scene (!), a mob of naked women advancing on one villain like vengeful sex zombies, and a lesbian love duet between French sexploitation icon Sandra Julien and pinky violence superstar Miki Sugimoto. After Sandra schools Kiyo in the art of love, a sisterly bond develops between both heroines which inevitably, given this genre, escalates into lesbian passion as they frolic naked in a field of flowers.
The film has a terrific pace, impeccable visuals and lively comic performances from a charismatic cast. Appearing in her second Toei sexploitation outing after Modern Porno Tale: Inherited Sex Mania (1971) the lovely Sandra Julien, star of Shiver of the Vampires (1970) and I Am A Nymphomaniac (1971), was among several international sirens gracing Toei’s pink films around this time, including American porn star Sharon Kelley in Lustful Turkish Bath Diary (1974) and Swedish sex bomb Christina Lindberg in Sex & Fury (1973). Paired opposite the feisty Sugimoto, her sensual performance proves one of the highlights of the film. Amidst all the goofy comedy she even shoulders her own tragic sub-plot as the child of Christian missionaries, torn between religious faith and carnal desire (“My heart seeks God while my body wants pleasure”). Most critics claim Suzuki was baiting the Catholic church and yet the film is disarmingly deft at reconciling sex with spirituality and actually climaxes with an act of Christ-like martyrdom that, while ostensibly blasphemous, is on close inspection quite representative of true Christian beliefs. You can’t say that about a whole lot of sex films.