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July 22, 2008

Madame O

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Zoku Akutokui: Joi-hen
Seiichi Fukuda - 1967
Synapse Films Region 0 DVD

Madame O may be of interest as an example of Japanese filmmaking on the fringes. As a film combining erotica and horror, the more mainstream Yasuzo Masumura's Blind Beast made just two years later is more extreme, and a far better film. I am also hoping someone will rescue Susumi Hani's Nanami: Inferno of the First Love, from 1968, one of Japan's few true independent films that more graphically explored sex and sexuality. The audience that may appreciate Madame O the most would be those most devoted to the history of the "Pink Film".

The story is about the gynecologist from hell. A female doctor, raped and infected with venereal disease as a young woman, takes revenge on men by going to bed with them, and secretly infecting them with syphilis dabbed on with a cotton swab, after making a couple of small scalpel cuts. As part of her treatment with her patients, the women may unknowingly have their tubes tied, primarily to make their husbands doubt their potency. A second, male doctor, joins the practice. Discovering his boss strapped to the stirrups for a self-performed abortion, the male doctor brings out the romantic nature of the woman who proclaimed hatred for all men. Love proves to be the undoing with the murder of a man attempting blackmail, double crosses, and an ending that is a variation on something seen in several "noir" films.

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Even though the film is a sequel, at least in title, the narrative does not seem to be dependent on viewing the previous film. What reservations I have on judging Madame O stem from the indications that what is said to be the only surviving version is short by three minutes according to IMDb, and dubbed in English. Not that a complete version with Japanese dialogue may make the film any better, but it would be closer to what Seiichi Fukada had intended. How Madame O may have been altered to reflect what U.S. distributor Radley Metzger needed either for ratings or to reflect his own sensibilities is unknown.

I was also thinking about about how other filmmakers would have made Madame O. For Jesus Franco, it wouldn't be enough to hate men, the doctor would find time to make love with her comely female assistant. Had H. G. Lewis filmed Madame O, there would be more blood and shots of dismembered body parts. What may be Madame O's biggest failing is that it is too restrained in its tastelessness. Fukada jazzes up the film with a few shots in color and some stylistic flourishes. Naomi Tani, one of the most prolific actresses of "Pink Films" plays the supporting role to Michiko Aoyama who has the title role. Jasper Sharp of Midnight Eye does some heavy lifting attempting to place Madame O in the context of Japanese Cinema in the Sixties and as a surviving example of genre filmmaking with his notes that come with this DVD. For myself, it is a challenge to feel as enthused about the DVD release of Madame O when the taboo breaking films by Susumu Hani, Nagisa Oshima and Yoshishige Yoshida during that same era are available only in Japanese language versions.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at July 22, 2008 12:28 AM