What is ero guro nansensu? That is the focus of INFERNO OF TORTURE‘s main special feature, a segment from a lecture by Jasper Sharp entitled “Erotic Grotesque Nonsense and the Foundations of Japan’s Cult Counterculture.” One might call it a genre that focuses on eroticism and sexual corruption while another refers to it as modernism, revolving around the deviant and bizarre. These definitions make it more apparent why a movie like this would draw the attention of Arrow Video and its fanbase. INFERNO OF TORTURE can be interpreted as many things, but there’s no denying its misogynistic themes.
Yumi (Yumika Katayama) takes up an offer for two years as a geisha to help pay off a debt. While this seems like a straight cut agreement, her new gig proves to be more than she bargained for. She witnesses the other geishas not only being tied up but also suspended as perverse playthings for rich male customers. A particular taste is for these girls to be tattooed all over. It can be perceived as a fetish, but for some, it’s more of an art form to perfect on their bodies. This is where things get even more complicated for Yumi.
Her madam takes her under her wing but pushes her in between two competing tattoo artists. Yumi comes across other characters such as gender-bending geishas as well as some men who have a taste for tattooed virgins. The women in this house are viewed as property and it’s hard not to accuse the filmmakers of agreeing with that notion. They are filmed to entice the viewer (just like the customers) and there’s plenty of exposed breasts popping out of nooses.
There are no apologies in INFERNO OF TORTURE, not even when shying away from Yumi’s initial punishment of being locked up in a chastity belt. Her capability to enjoy sex on her terms is taken away from the beginning and there’s not much redemption on display. The power dynamics over the geishas turn on everyone involved. While there’s not a lot of graphic material as one would expect from a title like this, it still feels extremely exploitative. One cartoonish set piece after another sets up the overall tone. However, there’s an audience for this and I would expect those purchasing are most likely already aware of the style.
Released in the 60s, INFERNO OF TORTURE retains that grainy look on Blu-ray but with some great onscreen cleanup. Arrow never is a let down in terms of transfers. It seems no matter how small or well known the project, each is treated with love from fas. For those who want to delve in deeper, Arrow has included Japanese film expert Tom Mes to deliver the audio commentary. He covers all the questionable themes as well as the production history, correlating with Japanese culture at the time. The previously mentioned lecture runs around a half-hour and is a great companion in learning more about the genre. Sharp is passionate and clearly knows his stuff.
Arrow Video succeeds again in bringing a lesser-known property to home video along with a strong restoration and complimentary features. For more on INFERNO OF TORTURE, and to pre-order the Blu-ray, click here.