Arrow Video: Inferno of Torture (1969) - Reviewed

Teruo Ishii's films sometimes lack in cohesiveness, and Inferno of Torture (1969) is one of his more chaotic works. The story (which takes place during the Edo period) follows a young woman named Yumi (Yumika Katayama), who unfortunately owes a lender a large amount of money. Unable to pay, she offers her services as a geisha in a local brothel under the stipulation that it only last for two years. Unbeknownst to Yumi, this brothel is run by a cruel mistress and all the geisha who work there have to be extensively tattooed. After they are inked up they are given to western clients and subjected to cruel torture and sexual abuse. The premise of the film is quite lurid and there is a large amount of nudity and graphic violence particularly in the opening and ending scenes of the movie.

Inferno of Torture is firmly in the "pink film" genre, with nude women constantly being tied up with elaborate rope bondage AKA kinbaku and put into bizarre torture contraptions and whipped and beaten. Interestingly, I wouldn't say the sexual situations are explicit as much of it is implied off camera or cut away from--it's mostly just titillation and general kinkiness. On the other hand, the violence is gruesome with things like eyes being gouged out and people ripped apart. Either way, the content of the film is squarely in the exploitation realm of Japanese cinema.

Ishii's sense of style and fantastic set-design and camera work elevates this film beyond simple sexual gratification into a mesmerizing and intriguing piece. The main conflict of the narrative is between two competing tattoo artists and as the story progresses they try to one-up each other with their artistic output. If one is into tattoos there is a lot to love here, with lovely naked ladies and beautiful body art. One sequence in particular, involving glowing tattoos and black light, is gorgeous and embraces the obsession with psychedelia in the late '60s. The music is fascinating too with a jazzy sensibility that offers an interesting contrast to the Edo period aesthetic.

The main negative of Inferno of Torture is the way the story jumps around all over the place and as a whole it feels unfocused. Yumi seems almost like an afterthought about halfway through the film (and she has zero agency) even though she is the protagonist, and it's apparent that adding sequences of pretty topless women was more important than any sort of coherence in the plot. Luckily, the visuals and production value are good enough to keep the attention of most viewers. While this isn't some of Ishii's best work, it is worth a look if one is a fan of his filmography in general.


High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
Original uncompressed mono audio

Optional English subtitles

Audio Commentary by Japanese cinema expert Tom Mes

Erotic Grotesque Nonsense & the Foundations of Japan’s Cult Counterculture - a condensed version of Jasper Sharp's Miskatonic Institute lecture


Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by Jacob Phillips

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by Chris D.

--Michelle Kisner