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March 05, 2013

Fairy in a Cage

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Ori no naka no yosei
Koyu Ohara - 1977
Impulse Pictures Region 1 DVD

If there was ever a movie that could be compared to a double sided razor, this is it. Fairy in a Cage is best approached carefully. Among the Nikkatsu series of Roman Porno films, extremes are pushed in ways that understandably startled the Japanese male audience of a certain age. Using the Roman Porno framework as a vehicle to attack or at least question certain aspects of Japanese life is not unusual, as has been pointed out previously. What makes Fairy in a Cage notable is that it is simultaneously an exploitation movie centered on sadomasochism and bondage, while also functioning as a harsh critic of the excesses Japanese government and the military during World War II.

Taking place in April, 1941, the film opens on a gathering of various dignitaries and upper level Japanese at an outdoor gathering, with the music of Beethoven playing in the background. A judge, Murayama, casts his eye on one of the guests, the socially prominent Namiji Kikushima. The judge has a taste for ties that bind. With the support of a military officer, some very coincidental evidence is used to imprison Namiji and kabuki actor. While my interest in rope tricks is strictly academic here, it is clear why Naomi Tani was such a popular star in this rough genre.

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What has become evident to me is that just as I have been reading Edogawa Rampo to get a clearer understanding of his influence on Japanese horror and fantasy films, so I may need to add Oniroku Dan to my reading list. Even if the films I cover in this series are not directly based on Dan's writings, it would appear that his influence permeates many of these films. While the handful of films I've seen based on Dan's writings are primarily about women held as prisoners by men, Fairy in a Cage includes role reversal. Murayama's mistress and playmate, Kayo, takes advantage of the kabuki actor, a female impersonator on stage, an involuntary stud behind bars. There are also scenes of an officer whose fantasies about Namiji eventually take their toll.

On the politically volatile side is a plot based on characters who questioned or in some way challenged Japanese authority during World War II. In the name of national security, Namiji is imprisoned based on her alleged financing of politically subversive leaflets. The young, idealistic officer who witnesses the punishment of a deserter finds himself questioning his previous sense of loyalty. The film concludes with an indictment of the Japanese military which has reverberations with continued denials of acts that can only be described as criminal.

I had written a bit about Naomi Tani a few years, in the film Madame O. While bondage and S/M are not my cup of chai, Tani seems to have racked up a few credits that are notable for the imagination of the filmmakers. Hopefully, the folks at Impulse Pictures will bring more films starring Ms. Tani in the future.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 5, 2013 08:18 AM