Legends of the Poisonous Seductress: Quick draw Okatsu
[Yoen Dokufuden: Hitokiri Okatsu]
Genre: Early Pinky Violence
review in one breath
Beautiful Okatsu must summon her inner killer to avenge an attack upon herself and the brutal murder of her father. This will involve being sold into prostitution, hunted by a huge mob, and leaving a trail of dead bodies behind her. Good thing she's a kick-ass sword master! This is the second film in the "Legends of the Poisonous Seductress" trilogy, directed by early j-horror maestro Nobuo Nakagawa.
The Legends of the Poisonous Seductress (Yoen Dokufuden) is a trilogy of films produced during the years 1968 and 1969. Each film is a period piece (jidaigeki) set in the early Tokugawa/Edo era and involves the struggles of a beautiful female protagonist against the cruelty of a powerful authority figure obsessed with her sexually. In each film the protagonist is played by Junko Miyazono, making her an early central figure in the early Pinky Violence genre.
The first tale of the trilogy, Female Demon Ohyaku is a black and white film directed by Ishikawa Yoshihiro. In it Miyazono plays the character of Ohyaku, an eye-pleasing performer with a proclivity for attracting the wrong kind of man. The film truly captures and depicts the core of what would later become known as "Pinky Violence" and was popular enough to warrant two subsequent films under the same umbrella of the "Poisonous Seductress".
These latter two films, however, differ quite substantially from the first. For starters, they are both directed by Nobuo Nakagawa, already a prominent director and occasional co-worker with director Ishikawa. (The two had worked together on several of Nakagawa's earlier horror films including Mansion of the Ghost Cat (1958) and The Ghost of Yotsuya (1959).) By 1969, Nakagawa had been directing color films for over a decade and had developed his own very distinct style. Thus both Quick Draw Okatsu and the subsequent film (Okatsu the Fugitive) are filmed in vibrant colors and offer a veritable showcase of Nakagawa's characteristic cinematic style.
The films in the Legends of the Poisonous Seductress trilogy are:
- Female Demon Ohyaku (Hannya no Ohyaku, 1968)
Quick-draw Okatsu (Hitokiri Okatsu, 1969)
Okatsu the Fugitive (Okatsu Kyojo Tabi, 1969)
These three films were no intended to be sequels or prequels of one another, and each tells an independent tale. The protagonists in the latter two films, however, share some very obvious similarities in both circumstance and identity. Though clearly different people, each is named Makabe Okatsu and is an accomplished student in swordsmanship. Both Okatsu characters also witness the death of their fathers at the hands of a merciless aristocrat who refuses to take "No" as an answer to his request for the mesmerizingly beautiful hand of Okatsu in marriage.
These common characteristics of the final two films actually make them quite distinct from the first film by Ishikawa. Other differences between the first and last two films include Nakagawa's evident skill at directing more prolonged, more complex story lines. New yet critical characters are continually introduced even toward the end of his films, leaving the audience to discover how their introduction and the narrative's trajectory will ultimately resolve. Another difference is Nakagawa's seeming hesitancy to display extreme brutality toward the female protagonist. Indeed, she is tied up, sexually abused, beaten and hunted, but not in the visually explicit manner found in Ishikawa's original. Most such scenes are slightly hidden just off screen in Nakagawa's films. He apparently feels no such discretion when it comes to the depiction of the grisly deaths of the male antagonists, however.
The English title of the film is (say it with me) "Quick Draw Okatsu", which seems to suggest she carries a six shooter pistol or something and is shooting hats off people's heads. She does not own a gun. The original Japanese title Hitokiri Okatsu literally means "Okatsu the Killer" and refers to the description of her on the many wanted posters which appear soon after she starts wreaking her vengeance. Undoubtedly, "Okatsu the Killer' would have been a better choice when it came to what this film would be called in English.
When the local magistrate, the diabolical Shiozaki asks for the hand of his daughter's hand in marriage, the elderly swordmaster Makabe vehemently declines citing Shiozaki's immoral and unscrupulous character. Refusing the rejection, Shiozaki sets out to get his way, by orchestrating the social downfall of Makabe's eldest son through enormous (rigged) gambling debt. When the beautiful Okatsu attempts to negotiate with Shiozaki in order to save her brother, he quickly imprisons her and has his way with her while she is bound with ropes. When the elderly Makabe hears of his childrens' fate, he voluntarily surrenders to Shiozaki under the promise that Okatsu and her brother will be let go. Once in his custody, however, Shiozaki betrays his promise and cruelly tortures Makabe to death before the horrified eyes of Okatsu.
The rage of this injustice quickly bubbles to the surface within Okatsu and she soon takes up her sword against her oppressors, killing countless men while Shiozaki escapes the premises. What ensues is Okatsu's involved and slowly realized plan of revenge which will ultimately take her Edo to hunt down the now more powerful Shiozaki.
I guess there are two ways to approach this film, first in terms of it being directed by Nobuo Nakagawa and second, in terms of it being an early Pinky Violence film. As for the first tact, I am a real fan of Nakagawa's films and have great respect for his directorial skill and cinematic style. While most of the Nakagawa films I have seen sit more squarely in the horror genre, Quick Draw Okatsu was no less impressive and entertaining. And this 1969 film, produced nearly a decade after the collection of films through which he established himself as a great director, showcases all the more his developed and unique skill and vision. These Poisonous Seductress films are definitely worth watching solely in terms of being from the hand of Nakagawa.
Regarding the second tact, that of the film's place in the early Pinky Violence genre, Nakagawa offers a very subdued and toned down version in comparison to Ishikawa's first film and certainly to other/later films in the genre. Nakagawa's storylines never seem to delve into gratuitous scenes of violence or sex, nor does he cross any thresholds in terms of sexuality or nudity. It seems apparent that he is much more concerned with a well-told suspenseful revenge tale, depicted it characteristically high-stylized cinematics. Thus while many such trilogies display an evolution in directorial attempts to increasingly shock or titillate audiences, the Legends of the Poisonous Seductress trilogy actually moves toward more sophisticated narratives and cinema, and away from more brash depictions of sex and violence. Thus while Ishikawa's original film was clearly within the halls of potentially scandalous Pinky Violence, I believe it is fair to question whether Nakagawa's two sequels hold a similar place within the genre. They are far more precursors of films like Lady Snowblood (1973) where sex takes a backseat to revenge, than they are of the types of films which would soon thereafter characterize the Pinky Violence genre.
The film has plenty of historic value regardless of which tact you prefer and offers a good revenge tale with or without the bOObies. Plus, is currently available in the West via Synapse Films. I recommend you check it out!
Version reviewed: Region 1 DVD with English subtitles, available via mainstream venues.
|Early Pinky Violence film by director Nobuo Nakagawa. This is one of a very few non-horror Nakagawa films currently available to Western audiences.||Plenty of sword flailing and mayhem, alongside dangling tortures and flames to the toes!||Minimal stylized, oft off-screen depictions of non-consensual sex.||This is an interesting female revenge film much in the line of the later Lady Snowblood. Although deemed an early Pinky Violence film, this is far less pink than it is violent.|