by Chris MaGee
I have to be honest and admit that I have a love... hate would be too strong a word... dislike relationship with the films of Teruo Ishii. On the one hand I have boundless respect and admiration for his unparalleled visual ingenuity, his dark sense of humour, the support and mentorship he showed young filmmakers late in his career, and most importantly for me his interest and collaborations with avant-garde and underground artists like butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata and gekiga artist Yoshihari Tsuge. On the other films I find some (but not all) of his films a bit hard to watch, be it because of the bloody sadism on display or the film's bargain basement budgets. Regardless of whatever personal problems I have with Ishii's filmography he is still one of the most distinguished directors in Japanese film of the last 50 years, and is therefore more than deserving of a documentary that pays tributes to his talents and contributions. Thankfully that documentary is here.
Released in Japan last year "Teruo Ishii: Movie Soul" explores the films and the lasting legacy of Teruo Ishii, who passed away in 2005 at the age of 81. Directed by AV filmmaker Dirty Kudo it traces Ishii's career from his days making the low-budget Shintoho "Super Giants" science fiction films right up to his final independently produced film "Blind Beast vs. Killer Dwarf". Along the way he hits every cinematic stop, from the "Abashiri Prison" films starring Ken Takakura, Ishii's ero-guro experiments of the late 60's early 70's starring butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata, and his S&M excesses of his "Shogun's Joys of Torture" period.
Kudo talks with contemporaries of Ishii like "Furyo Bancho" director Makoto Naito, "The Japanese Underworld" director Masaharu Segawa, apprentices like "GS Wonderland" director Ryuichi Honda, as well as actors Teruo Yoshida (Horrors of Malformed Men, Orgies of Edo) Yuki Kagawa (Horrors of Malformed Men, Onsen Geisha) Yuriko Hishibi (Bohachi Bushido), and Shiro Sano (Gensen-Kan Inn) to name only a few. I find it a bit sad that Kudo couldn't get some of the big name directors and stars who worked with Ishii like Shinya Tsukamoto and Tadanobu Asano to weigh in with their experiences, and it goes without saying that longtime collaborator Tetsuro Tamba, who passed away a year after Ishii in 2006, leaves a real hole in the film.
I have to say that I love the fact that this tribute was helmed by an adult video director. Lord knows that Ishii indulged his dark erotic visions and brought enough bare skin to the screen to be counted alongside Russ Meyers and Jack Hill as exploitation film royalty. Sadly, as of this moment there's no news of a North American or European screening or release of "Teruo Ishii: Movie Soul", but here's hoping it happens at some point soon. For now you can check out the trailer below and the doc's blog here. Thanks to Wild Grounds via Facebook for this story.