“Sex & Fury” – A.J. Hakari

It seems that the most interesting exploitation flicks are made far from American shores. We’re much more crass when it comes to this style of cinema, hurling all manner of lurid content at the screen with nary an artistic flourish. Sure, Quentin Tarantino changed the game, but where do you think he got his best ideas from? Sex & Fury comes to us from Japan’s notorious “pinky” genre, in which bare bodies and bloodshed reign supreme on the silver screen. This too promised to instruct us Americans how to pull off grindhouse fare with flair, though the story’s clumsy presentation puts a dent in what guilty pleasures could have been enjoyed.

The year is 1905, and Japan is marching to the tune of progress. Opening up to the West has allowed various unsavory types to make fortunes at the expense of their own culture. But all that matters little to Ocho (Reiko Ike), for she’s one mean mama with murder in mind. A master pickpocket, Ocho watched helplessly as her father was killed over twenty years prior. But when she travels to Tokyo to do a favor for a slain gambler, she crosses paths with the very culprits she’s been searching for, who are also targeted by a group of revolutionaries. As she plans her revenge, however, Ocho encounters competition in the form of Christina (Christina Lindberg), a sexy spy recruited to bring Japan to its knees by inciting a drug war.

If you think this sounds like a lot of story for a simple skin flick to handle, then you’d be right on the nose. Director Norifumi Suzuki did pile his plate high for Sex & Fury, but I can see what he was aiming for. As far as the U.S. is concerned, stories in sexploitation end when the pizza guy knocks on the door. Though there’s certainly a sizable parade of flesh trotted throughout Sex & Fury, Suzuki figured, hell, why not stir the pot a bit? Thus, viewers also get James Bondian espionage, torrid romances, switchblade-wielding nuns, and even a little chambara for their money. It’s a picture where you’re sort of expected to sit back and watch the insanity unfold, and for a while, it works. But there are too many times when the story threads wind up in such a mess, no amount of nude swordfighting can distract you from wondering what in the world is going on.

Suzuki treats Sex & Fury’s turn of events like an indecisive five-year-old would his G.I. Joe figures. One subplot after another is picked up, fidgeted with for a while, then tossed aside in favor of something else. He takes nearly half the movie to sort out the ground he wants to cover, and even then his execution feels too erratic. Plot twists arrive with little reason to care, symbolism is haphazardly handled, and as hip as I am to gratuitous nudity, even this flick is a bit too liberal with the human body. But what Suzuki does get right is blessing Sex & Fury with a memorable visual composition. Colors really pop, action is invigoratingly staged, and just the right dash of grittiness is used to great effect. Reiko Ike also commands our attention with ease; it’s her quest for vengeance that keeps us holding on until the rather badass finale, featuring a bruised and bloodied Ocho making her last stand.

Sex & Fury came out the same year as fellow revenge story Lady Snowblood, and while they share a similar premise, each film is a unique entity. The latter isn’t as burdened with plot and gives off a more personal vibe, while the former goes completely for broke. My heart belongs to Snowblood, but while Sex & Fury isn’t worth the hefty price it can go for with various online merchants, cult cinephiles will find enough snippets of the strange to satisfy their cravings.

Rating: ★★☆☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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