Colour, 1988, 96m.
Directed by Akio Jissoji
Starring Yasumi Hara, Renji Ishibashi, Seiran Li, Kimiaki Makino
Mondo Macabro (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

In 1920s Japan, a debauched count (Hara) and his former prostitute wife (Ishibashi) collaborate on staging the works of the Marquis De Sade with the aid of a troupe of performers recruited from the city’s criminal element including thieves and whores. The production begins to distort the participants’ viewers of reality and morality as the uninhibited fantasies onstage bleed into real life, with often devastating results.

An unusual slice of Japanese erotica, this Nikkatsu production isn’t really a traditional Roman Porno film; it’s more of a European-styled art film with a few erotic flourishes and shot with a visual aesthetic similar to Walerian Borowczyk. Every scene is bathed in rich layers of darkness and light with a powder texture over the actors that creates a unique atmosphere, while the actors leap into their roles with a gleeful abandon that culminates in a hallucinogenic finale. In the end this feels more like Japan’s answer to Marat/Sade, and exactly how this escaped any critical notice since the ‘80s is perplexing.

Mondo Macabro’s English-language debut of this film features a striking anamorphic transfer, and the original Japanese track is presented with optional English subtitles. Extras include their 24-minute “The Erotic Empire” piece about the history of Nikkatsu’s erotic output featuring historian Jaspar Sharp, director Seijun Suzuki, and many more discussing the history of the studio’s output which has now finally built up a firm international following. Also included is the original trailer, a text overview of the studio and the director, and an interview with Sharp about the studio’s attempt with films like this to refashion its Roman Porno offerings into the new, artier Ropponica genre. The disc is rounded out with a slew of other Mondo Macabro / Nikkatsu titles like Watcher in the Attic and Assault! Jack the Ripper. Strikingly beautiful and unique, this is essential viewing for fans of De Sade on film and the outer fringes of Japanese filmmaking.

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