FAIRY IN A CAGE: S&M With Studio-Style Slickness

There is no shortage of shockers in Nikkatsu’s catalog of Roman Porno productions.  If you’re not familiar with the diverse styles this production line was capable of, just check out some of the Nikkatsu titles Schlockmania has covered in the last year: films like Zoom In: Sex Apartments, Eros School: Feels So Good and Debauchery reveal that transgressive erotica found an outlet in many forms under this studio’s banner.  However, Fairy In A Cage occupies a special place of infamy in the studio’s pink film history.  It combines historical context, S&M content and a sinister intelligence to create a film that is devastating in more than one way.

Unlike a lot of Japanese bondage/torture stories from this era, Fairy In A Cage bypasses ancient times in favor of a World War II setting.  The story quickly establishes a nasty partnership between Judge Murayama (Minoru Okochi) and Lt. Nishizaki (Lieutenant Nishizaki) , a pair of corrupt, sadistic officials who take advantage of their respective offices to indulge in torturing those who displease them.  In the opening moments, they set their sights on Namiji Kikushima (Naomi Tani), a wealthy merchant’s wife who uses her money to support the arts.

Murayama finds his justification to capture Namiji when a torture of a political radical results in him blurting out the name of Inoue (Tatsuya Hamaguchi), an actor favored by Namiji.  Lt. Nishizaki has them arrested and spirited away to a torture chamber in Judge Murayama’s lavish home.  Both Inoue and Namiji are forced to submit to an array of humiliations and sexual tortures, with their captors using naive young recruit Taoka (Kazuo Satake) to perform a lot of the torture on Najimi.  At first repelled by his work, Taoka finds it soon stirs his darkest desires as he finds himself romantically drawn to Najimi.  Shifting political circumstances soon find him taking drastic measures to pursue this love.

The end result is as impressive as it is perverse.  The story is skillfully plotted and specific in its details because it was adapted from a story by Oniroku Dan, a major author of Japanese S&M erotica.  The WWII setting gives it a light political undertone that works hand in hand with the intense bondage sequences to allow the film to phrase its critique of the corrupting nature of political/legal power in a searing, uniquely specific manner.  The impressive sets, period costumes and lush photography add an elegant touch that makes the story’s dark content all the more disturbing.

It also helps that the film is directed with style and vigor by Koyu Ohara, a Nikkatsu veteran never shied away from the seamy side of the material he worked with.  His treatment of the film’s lengthy, complex torture scenes is downright Sadean, with a merciless sense of attention to detail.  He also directs his cast well, have them play their edgy material in straightforward manner devoid of camp or irony.  Ohara’s work creates a mood of ever-growing hopelessness that suits the story’s unflinchingly grim view of humanity’s dark side.

The final element of this film’s devastating power lies in two key performances. The first and most obvious comes from Tani, an actress who specialized in S&M roles and brings the full bearing of her skills to her role here.  She endures the kind of agony that would send most Western actors running off in fear and does so with a sense of commitment and intensity that is truly admirable.  The second comes from Satake: he throws himself with gutsy fervor into a role that requires him to be pitiful at times and terrifying at others.  As the audience’s “eyes” into the story, he communicates the seductive allure of power and how it can destroy a person’s sense of decency.

In short, Fairy In A Cage remains an overwhelming experience, even for those familiar with the excesses of pink films. Ohara and company mean business and the tightly crafted work they produce is as ruthlessly effective as the film’s torture-crazed villains.

DVD Notes: Recently released on both DVD and blu-ray by Impulse Films. The DVD was viewed for this review and it’s another top-notch anamorphic transfer for this reissue series.  There are no extras on the disc itself but a film this rare and slickly presented is worthwhile on its own terms.  If you need added incentive, the insert booklet features liner notes from pink film historian Jasper Sharp that are gripping stuff, with plenty of info on Tani and some unforgettable quotes from the amusingly twisted Oniroku Dan.

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