Sex and Fury

Directed by: Norifumi Suzuki
In turn-of-the-century (not this century—the last century) Japan, gambler, pickpocket, and swordswoman, Ochô Inoshika, seeks the three individuals who murdered her father twenty years earlier.  She happens to run into a dying gambler who asks her to save his sister from a brothel which, coincidentally, is run by one of the killers.  Also coincidentally, an anarchist that Ochô saved is plotting revenge against a politician, who is another one of the killers.  And did I mention coincidences?  How about that the anarchist’s ex-lover is a British spy who is working with the politicians who are the killers.  Wait, there’s more.  Ochô’s mother is having sex with one of the killers and…  Oh, never mind.  It’s best not to think about it.

Ah, Japan in 1905 was a fascinating and magical land, where latex condoms were all the rage and plastic poker chips were abundant.  It would take the West years to discover plastic, but in the far East, it was just a normal part of life.  But don’t look down upon Western culture, for it was years ahead in terms of women’s panties, as demonstrated by lady spy, Christina in Sex and Fury.  She might have been confused about her own accent (being an English spy, but having an inexplicable Swedish accent), but she was an expert at attaining small, black briefs.  Of course she shouldn’t be blamed for her odd vocal patterns since her very British boss had an American accent and spoke in a strange halting fashion which cried out “The director has no idea what I’m doing so I don’t have to worry that I sound like I’m phonetically sounding out each word.”

Sex and Fury doesn’t make much sense if viewed as a narrative.  However, everything falls into place when you assume that telling a coherent story in a consistent manner was of no importance, but getting viewers to turn off their televisions and head out to a theater, was.  It is filled with anything that couldn’t be seen on broadcast TV.  There’s nudity, consensual sex, rape, lesbianism, bondage, whipping, violence, scatological humor, and lots and lots of blood, sometimes spraying into the air.  It is all haphazardly put together, as if master director Norifumi Suzuki just didn’t care (my guess is that he didn’t; sometimes you just do it for the paycheck).  The story doesn’t hold together and requires an absurd number of coincidences to function to the extent that it does.  Irrelevant subplots pop up and disappear, as do characters.  Both the heroes and the villains take insanely stupid actions with no explanation.  It is all capped by the most inappropriate music I’ve heard in a film: acid rock backing a massive swordfight, harp music to go with a sexual assault, and elevator music over a protracted death scene.

But that doesn’t mean Sex and Fury isn’t fun.  One of three movies that can claim to be direct sources (as opposed to the many indirect sources) for Quinton Tarantino’s Kill Bill (the others being Lady Snowblood and Thriller, A Cruel Picture, also starring Christina Lindberg), it is joyful in its carnage.  On occasion, Suzuki would almost accidentally create the kind of artistry that would suffuse his latter picture, School of the Holy Beast.  One of the films set pieces is an exciting and bizarre swordfight between a completely nude Ochô and a gang of yakuza.  Meticulously staged and beautifully shot, it is worth the price of admission on its own.

The film’s other moment of brilliance is why we’re examining it here.  From an atheist perspective, there’s not much to talk about for most of Sex and Fury‘s running time, but that changes late in the picture when, for no reason, the villain is defended by a group of stiletto-wielding Catholic nuns.  It makes the most sense to consider these women as bodyguards disguised as nuns, but that interpretation is made improbable by the next scene, where, still dressed as nuns, they stand reverently in an underground chapel before a giant painting of the crucifixion.  The blasphemy is kicked up a notch as we’re shown Ochô, topless and chained, whipped by Christina (who is wearing a sexy cow-girl outfit…  I can’t even guess why).  Then, in a shot that could go on any art museum’s wall, we see Ochô, still topless, suspended by a rope and hanging directly in front of Jesus.  This is S&M Christ at his best.

Unfortunately, Suzuki doesn’t solidify his antireligious message here (as he would the following year) so all we get are a few minutes connecting the Church to violence.  It is marvelous imagery that indicates that this movie could have been much more.