DVD: Fairy in a Cage / Ori no naka no yôsei (1977)

April 16, 2013 | By

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Film: Good/ DVD Transfer: Very Good/ DVD Extras: Standard

Label: Impulse Pictures / Synapse Films / Region: 1 (NTSC) / Released: April 2, 2013

Genre: Japanese Pink / Adult / S&M

Synopsis:  A judge uses his influence with the military to arrest the wife of an upper class peer and indulge in his cruel S&M “hobby” under the pretext of Official State Justice.

Special Features: 4-page colour booklet featuring liner notes by Japanese film historian Jasper Sharp.

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Review:

Based on the novel by S&M author Oniroku Dan, Fairy in a Cage may be among Nikkatsu’s most notorious and sadistic films, but amid the hype its earned over the years, director Koyu Ohara doesn’t indulge in the graphic mangling or epic torture found in the work by cinema’s most gifted monster, Takeshi Miike (Audition, Masters of Horror: Imprint).

It may have been the censorship rules of the time which restricted deep & dirty details; views of any private frontage are carefully blocked during the neatly composed S&M, and Ohara often uses objects, like a sildier’s flesh-coloured sword sheath, to infer an enormous male appendage – teasing before committing any penetrating cruelty.

Ohara may also have preferred to maintain a certain artiness to the fairly simple (if not pretty banal) story where a jealous judge uses his influence with the military to arrest a jeweler’s wife (played Japan’s “Rope Queen,” Naomi Tani) and torture her to tempter his seething, Roman hunger for depravity. That’s essentially the plot, but its simple premise, spawned from male jealousy and lust, is easily contemporary since news pieces of women and men pointlessly tortured due to power plays and ethnic cleansing policies aren’t rare.

Ohara’s film, however, does linger on certain procedures (perhaps due to the credited involvement of a bondage consultant), and the fact a male character is also abused shouldn’t be read as some effort to transcend the rampant misogyny of Nikkatsu’s nasties. When an arrested actor supposedly names the jewel’s wife (who’s also the president of his fan club!) for associating with an insurrectionist, the two are tossed naked into separate cells and dragged out to watch each other’s protracted abuse. Because the actor is known for playing women, his groveling has an effete quality, placing him not only on the same level as the tormented wife, but available for assault by the judge’s girlfriend, a woman normally accustomed to being trussed up and prodded.

There is political commentary within Fairy, but it’s more opportunistic that strategic; the few jabs at the corrupt military police adds just a bit more authenticity to the film’s WWII veneer. The story also feels like a pastiche of conventions, since the glee of the torturers – the judge with a unique “hobby,” his normally submissive girlfriend, the military confidante and his new assistant – is on par with the bored and hungry-for-entertainment villains in nazipolitation nonsense of the decade, if not DeSade’s epic 120 Days of Sodom. It’s also more small-scale – there are only two victims + four perpetrators in this mean little play – but like the naziploitation flicks, the ending involves an escape, a flight to rural environs, and a finale that follows the nihilistic worldview in many of Nikkatsu’s nastiest Roman Pornos. The finale also echoes a bit of John Fowles’ The Collector, where the wife – who once again becomes a ‘kept’ woman – becomes ill, which forces her hero / captor to reluctantly act quickly to ensure his secluded little shack doesn’t become an impromptu crypt.

Impulse’s DVD features a new HD transfer mastered from the 35mm camera negative (a Blu-ray release is also available) that’s oddly less robust in the amount of colour saturation typical of the Roman Pornos (maybe it’s from filming exteriors under fairly overcast skies?), and a bit soft in detail. The soundtrack is a clean mono, and Hajime Kaburagi’s score (written under the nom de plume Taichi Yamanashi) is a sparse mix of jazz with slight funk, and slight orchestral cues. Most of the music is isolated to the film’s exterior bookends, and rarely evokes mid-forties Japan.

Fairy has its disturbing material, but it’s also quite ridiculous – perhaps due to the often funny dialogue (“Itchy… So Itchy” says the actor after having his privates treated with magic itching powder). There’s also Ohara’s need to focus on bodily fluids, as in a hasty enema scene (perhaps a reference to Tani’s best-known work, Wife to be Sacrificed, which celebrated backdoor cleansing), and Tani discovering she must micturate not into a toilet, but a hole under which stands her tormentors with an empty silver-plated serving bowl.

Impulse has also released Ohara’s first two Women in Prison entries, True Story of a Woman in Jail: Sex Hell [M] (1975) and True Story of a Woman in Jail: Continues [M] (1975), plus the unambiguously titled I Love It from Behind! (1981).

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© 2013 Mark R. Hasan

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External References:

IMDB Composer Filmography

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