Arrow Video: Shogun's Joy of Torture (1968) - Reviewed

This was the first film in Teruo Ishii's Tokugawa series of which there are seven entries. It depicts the methods used by the Shogunate to punish criminals, though it was sometimes used unfairly. The film is split into three short stories about unfortunate individuals, who due to terrible circumstances, end up being subjected to torture. 

The tales concern a brother and sister who get a little bit "too close", the sexual exploits of a nunnery and a young monk, and a tattoo artist who uses real torture as an inspiration for his work. Of the three tales, the last one is the strongest (and most intense).

Each tale has considerable set-up, and although it would be easy to categorize this movie as mere exploitation or torture porn, the amount of care put into both the narrative and the cinematography give the film more depth. While the torture scenes are indeed meant to be titillating, the morality behind the stories is sound. It's made quite apparent that Shogun's Joy of Torture is a critique of Feudalism and the environment it fostered. Peasants had next to no rights and were at the mercy of a cold and uncaring government that could at any time subjugate them. Ishii, through the dialogue of the characters, expresses the idea that this all controlling government is not a good thing.

It is strange for the film to simultaneously have sex and violence used as entertainment and be a scathing social commentary but Ishii often tackles complex diametrically opposed ideas in his films, whether it be genre-mixing or ideology-mixing. Stylistically speaking, this film has fantastic gore effects and excellent editing. Ishii had full use of Toei's beautiful period sets and the production value is sky high, especially for something so thematically sleazy. The torture scenes look uncomfortably realistic and at times it is an extremely hard watch. This is one of Ishii's more harsh works and it is less accessible than his other films. 

Transfer: This is the best I have ever seen this film look, with a clean and colorful transfer that lets the gorgeous cinematography shine.

Extras: Patrick Macias has a short but sweet interview that gives a lot of interesting context to the release of Shogun’s Joy of Torture and "pinky violence" films. Jasper Sharp also has a longer video essay that covers Ishii's career in general giving a lot of great background information on some of his more obscure work.


High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation

Original uncompressed mono PCM audio

Optional English subtitles

Audio commentary by Japanese cinema expert Tom Mes

Teruo Ishii: Erotic-Grotesque Maestro – an exclusively newly filmed interview with the author Patrick Macias

Bind, Torture, Thrill – author and critic Jasper Sharp discusses the history of torture in Japanese exploitation cinema

Original trailer

Image gallery

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jacob Phillips

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collectors’ booklet featuring new writing on the film by Mark Schilling

--Michelle Kisner