Ohyaku: the Female Demon (1968) [review]

Introduction

While Toei has long abandoned Pinky Violence, this genre, which flourished in the seventies, still has many fans around the world. One of the most well-known precursors of Toei’s bad-girl action films is, of course, Teruo Ishii’s Shogun’s Joys of Torture (1968). Another precursor, maybe less well-known, is Yoshihiro Ishikawa’s Ohyaku: The Female Demon.

Review

One day, after a successful performance of ropewalking, Ohyaku Dayu (Junko Miyazono) is invited by master Sengoku (Kôji Nanbara), a very important bureaucrat, to join him at his house. Master Sengoku has but one thing on his mind, to sexually enjoy her. Ohyaku refuses, angering the bureaucrat, but before he can assault her, she is saved by Shinkuro Onda (Kunio Murai), a professional thief who had his eye of her ever since her performance.

Eventually, Ohyaku falls in love with Shin and joins him and his accomplices on one of his most difficult heists yet. While the plan seems perfect and airtight, one of Onda’s most trusted accomplices, Hyoe Sakaki, has betrayed Onda to get promotion from master Sengoku. Shin gets killed and Ohyaku, after being raped by Master Sengoku, ends up in prison on Sado island. Can she escape in order to take revenge on those who wronged her?

Ohyaku: the female demon (1968) by Yoshihiro Ishikawa

It is clear from the very start of the narrative that Ohyaku is seen as an object to be enjoyed by most men (samurai and criminals). Not only are men making sexual advances but even when she performs ropewalking most men are only interested in seeing between her legs. And even in all-male prison, Ohyaku, immediately reduced to a body to be taken and sexually enjoyed, becomes the erotic object to fight for.

Of course, the fact that Ohyaku is conscious of being sexually objectified by men, approached by them solely for their own satisfaction, allows her to swindle many men. To put it even more crudely, the fact that most men are solely focused on finding masturbatory pleasure makes them easy targets for Ohyaku’s seductive swindling practices and manipulations. Even though Ohyaku plays with the phallic preoccupation of wealthy and/or powerful men, she herself has no intention to let herself be violated (Narra-note 1).

Ohyaku: the female demon (1968) by Yoshihiro Ishikawa

Ohyaku is, in short, against men who abuse their monetary power to eradicate the subjectivity of women to be able to enjoy them as sexual objects as well as against those men that, without thinking twice, follow their dick. Our female demon thus rebels against nothing other than the abusive male-female power-dynamic present within the patriarchal system. Not only does she refuse to further support an economical system that sacrifices women’s bodies as to support men’s indulgence in their imagined phallic power, but she also refuse to become the object to be enjoyed for those men who have no regard for her subjective position (Narra-note 2).

Due to her erotic infatuation with Ohyaku’s pristine skin, Omon (Yuriko Mishima), the warden’s wife and tattooist, one could say that she resembles the men in the narrative (Narra-note 3). Nevertheless, such reading would forget that she, herself, is subjected to the male power dynamic as such. Male desire will, as is shown in the narrative, prevail over her desire to sexually enjoy Ohyaku’s skin.

Ohyaku: the female demon (1968) by Yoshihiro Ishikawa

Ohyaku’s most impressive scene is its thrilling and torture-rich finale (Narra-note 4). Beyond its entertainment value, this finale also visualizes one major problem with revenge. As revenge is situated on the level of the imaginary – I do to you what you did to me, revenge can never change a subject or, for that matter, the dynamic by which women are subjected to the whims of male sexual pleasure. If the narrative leaves a subtle bitter aftertaste, it is precisely because Ohyaku’s revenge changed nothing, not for her and not for society. Revenge is, in other words, revealed as an act of impotent violence.

Ohyaku’s refined black-and-white composition is marked by fixity. While cinematographical movement, spatial as well following, is used here and there, the basic compositional element remains the fixed shot or the static moment. Even in more action-oriented moments where more following/tracking movement is applied fixity remains the central compositional element (cine-note 1). In those rare cases where the composition truly becomes more dynamic, this dynamism beautifully support the action, gives the staged action a certain elegance and makes, by empowering the direction of the movement as such, this action more impactful.

Ohyaku: the female demon (1968) by Yoshihiro Ishikawa

While the ever-elegant Junko Miyazono steals the show as Ohyaku, the other acting performances, like Kunio Murai’s performance as Shinkuro Onda, are great as well. Yes, the performances are, at times, a bit too dramatic, but this dramatic aspect, as supported by the equally dramatic musical accompaniment, successfully turns Ohyaku into a really pleasing and a truly emotionally rich ride.

Ohyaku is a very enjoyable revenge-narrative that, surprisingly, still holds up well today. While Ohyaku is not explicit by any means, the rape or attempts at rape and moments of torture are vividly brought to life by the cast. The narrative does not only explore male sexual opportunism, but also (maybe unintentionally) evokes, through its finale – the veritable highlight of the film – that the act of revenge changes nothing, not for the subject that took revenge nor for the society where the act of revenge has taken place.

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Notes

Narra-note 1: The men who are aiming to make Ohyaku their wife are not only focused on having her as object to enjoy, but also as object that corroborates their phallic worth.

Narra-note 2: Hyoe’s betrayal shows how this system of imaginary phallic power perverts everything, including longstanding friendships. The promise of promotion promises the possibility of enjoying more freely, promises the possibility to show off one’s imagined phallic success within the bureaucratic world.

Narra-note 3: Her plan to sell Ohyaku for a lot of money underlines that Omon has found a place within the economic system of selling sexual objects to men desiring to prove or corroborate their imaginary phallic worth.

Narra-note 4: Can one not read the finale as showing, in an ironical way, that a man’s imaginary phallic power derives from the woman who willingly supports it? In other words, when Sengoku’s wife falls, her fall will castrate her husband from (his fantasy of) having the imaginary phallus.

Cine-note 1: The sword-fighting scenes are a great example. These scenes, while not devoid of movement, are composed with fixity as to give the spectator an overview of the action.

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