Sunday, July 11, 2010

REVIEW: Wife to Be Sacrificed

生贄夫人 (Ikenie fujin)

Released: 1974

Masaru Konuma

Naomi TaniNagatoshi Sakamoto
Terumi Azuma
Hidetoshi Kageyama
Tessen Nakahira

Running time: 71 min.

Reviewed by Matthew Hardstaff

The summer of 1998 I saw my first Pinku film, "Wife to be Sacrificed", when it played at Fantasia here in Toronto . It rocked my world. Masaru Konuma’s S&M classic was unlike anything I’d ever seen. And it really was. I’d seen North American produced pornography, Fritz the Cat, and a few Tinto Brass films, but at that point in my life, my exposure to the fusion of sex, pain and cinematic excellence was pretty null and void. Then this film came along, and blew my world apart. Today being my birthday, I thought I’d revisit the film that opened my eyes to the Pinku genre and Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno series of films. It’s been 12 years since I’ve seen it, and my mind is no longer such a virginal sanctuary waiting to be defiled.

Naomi Tani, the queen of S&M Pinku, stars as Akiko, a woman who’s been estranged from her missing husband for three years after he was arrested for a sexual crime involving a high school girl. To her surprise, she spots her husband Kunisada (Nagatoshi Sakamoto) sitting in his car on a bridge, watching a young girl urinating by a river. Upon her return home, the young girl appears, claiming her ‘uncle’ has gone missing and needs help. She turns the girl over to the police, whom it turns out has been missing for sometime, and there is evidence someone has been fondling her young genitalia. When Akiko visits her deceased mother’s grave, Kunisada appears, kidnapping her and taking her to a remote cabin in the woods. Soon Kunisada subjects her to a wide array of humiliating and submissive punishment, hell bent on turning his wife into a submissive object.

When Masaru Konuma adapted Oniroku Dan’s novel "Flower and Snake" into a film, it was a hit. Both Naomi Tani and Nagatoshi Sakamoto starred in Nikkatsu’s flagship S&M Roman Porno, but Dan was not pleased with the result. Despite his burgeoning relationship with Naomi Tani, he refused to have any part with "Wife to be Sacrificed", arguing that the S&M in "Flower and Snake" was diluted. Whilst he is correct, in "Wife to be Sacrificed", there is far more going on than just S&M. Konuma, an assistant director who turned to Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno when it was the only directing job offered to him, brings a remarkable artistic sensibility to "Wife to be Sacrificed". While he manages to fetishize just about everything in the film, whether it be candle wax dripping on Naomi Tani’s bare chest and genitals, the administering of an enema and subsequent cleansing of the bowels of another imprisoned female or the final, grand sexual climax that takes place over one long take, where the lighting cue changes as the sun sets, he seems to restrain himself just enough as to not make the film too exploitive. Perhaps that was what offended Dan, but for a film that winds up being more about the connection through pleasures of the flesh versus the connection through the emotion of love, it demands that level of artistry to give you that depressing and gut punch of an ending.

Visually "Wife to be Sacrificed" is marked with the bold cinematic shots that became the mainstay of many a Nikkatsu film. From the wide landscape shots of Akiko and Kunisada dwarfed by the natural world, or the extreme close-ups of people moaning in a state of painful and pleasurable ecstasy, Konuma creates an amazing juxtaposition of images. There’s also a strong interplay of the grungy and dirty versus the clean and immaculate, playing towards both Kunisada’s obsession of fetishizing woman as living dolls and giving distance between his calculated and often emotionless acts versus those of two hunters who irrational rape Akiko when she makes a brief escape. He seems to enjoy watching; he forces Akiko to relieve her bowels in front of him, but his expression when performing the acts of S&M often remains blank and expressionless.

There’s a pubic hair shaving scene to rival anything Nagisa Oshima put on film, and the bondage, an ancient vestige of the traditional martial art of hojojutsu is in itself both disturbing and strangely fascinating. And of course, when it’s all over, we’re left with a terribly disturbing end that tells us a great deal about human nature and the male ego. This film was every bit as powerful as it was when my virgin eyes bore witness to Konuma’s masterpiece so many years ago, and this is most definitely his masterpiece, and by far one of my favourite Pinku Eiga’s to date.

Read more by Matthew Hardstaff at his blog.

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