• Legends Of The Poisonous Seductress: Female Demon Ohyaku (Synapse Films) DVD Review

    Released by: Synapse Films
    Released on: November 13th, 2007.
    Director: Yoshihiro Ishikawa
    Cast: Junko Miyazono, Tomisaburo Wakayama, Kunio Murai, Koji Minawara
    Year: 1968
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    Legends Of The Poisonous Seductress: Female Demon Ohyaku – Movie Review:

    Never before released on home video in North America (or on DVD in Japan), the first film in the Legends Of The Poisonous Seductress trilogy stars Junko Miyazono as Ohyaku. Poor Ohyaku has had a rough life. Her mother was a prostitute who tried to kill them both and the suicide attempt left the otherwise beautiful girl with a nasty scar along her back. Now grown, Ohyaku works as a performer, making her living walking across tight ropes for the amusement of the male crowd who gather to watch.

    The local magistrate, Sengoku, takes a liking to her and wants Ohyaku as his own but she refuses. Thankfully when things get rough, a young samurai named Shinsuke comes to her aid. She becomes instantly smitten with him and after they make love he refers to her as wife, the two are obviously quite in love. How unfortunate then that Sengoku’s plan to steal a shipment of gold headed towards the mint gets blamed on Shinsuke and some of his comrades. Shinsuke and Ohyaku are captured, he gets decapitated and she gets sent to a prison colony to work in the mines of Sado Island. Before she’s sent away, however, Ohyaku swears she’ll get revenge.

    Once at the penal colony, she begrudgingly befriends a burly man known as Bunzo The Iron Barbarian (Tomisaburo Wakayama of the Lone Wolf And Cub films). He shows her the ropes and helps her out in the mine but soon the warden and his wife decide they can probably sell Ohyaku as a concubine and so they take her out of the general population and clean her up a bit. Oman, the wife, takes an instant liking to her and asks to tattoo her back. Ohyaku agrees and over a period of time, Oman inks a demon onto her and once it’s finished, she seduces her. While all of this is going on, however, Ohyaku is planning her escape and when a certain nobleman arrives at the island for a routine inspection, she decides the time has come to make a break for it and exact her revenge.

    While Legends Of The Poisonous Seductress: Female Demon Ohyaku starts off with a dramatic bang, the next twenty-minutes might leave you wondering what all the fuss is about. That said, let this slow introduction fool you, as once the plot is established and Ohyaku’s motivations made clear, the film kicks into high gear. Granted, there are certainly bloodier and sexier entries in the same genre but when you consider this film was made in 1968 before the whole pinky violence thing really started to take off, this film is strong stuff. The violence is unflinching and the sex is genuinely erotic but it’s all there to further the story. Sure this is exploitation filmmaking but it’s quality exploitation filmmaking!

    Director Yoshihiro Ishikawa might not be as recognizable a name as other Japanese genre directors working around the same time but he had a hand in some very important films. He not only directed this picture but he wrote a few notable Nobuo Nakagawa (who would direct the second and third films in this series) films such as Black Cat Mansion and The Ghost Story Of Yotsuya. Though he didn’t direct a lot of films, with Legends Of The Poisonous Seductress: Female Demon Ohyaku he shows a real knack for building tension and for pacing and the film is all the better for it. The last half of the movie definitely pays off with some exciting action scenes and enough sleaze to stand up and take notice.

    At the center of the film is a great performance from Junko Miyazono who, outside of the three films in this series, is probably best known for showing up in Hideo Gosha’s two Samurai Wolf films. While she isn’t an icon the way Reiko Ike and Meiko Kaji are, had she appeared in more films she probably could have become one if her performance in this film is anything to go by. She brings a dark, brooding intensity to her character, which makes her mission of revenge all the more believable. While she’s easy on the eyes, there’s a dangerous streak hiding underneath her pretty features. Seeing her appear alongside Tomisaburo Wakayama in a film as exciting and fun as Legends Of The Poisonous Seductress: Female Demon Ohyaku is a treat.

    Legends Of The Poisonous Seductress: Female Demon Ohyaku – DVD Review:

    Legends Of The Poisonous Seductress #1: Legends Of The Poisonous Seductress: Female Demon Ohyaku is presented in a fantastic 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that preserves the film’s original aspect ratio. Aside from a little bit of grain here and there this is a very clean image and there are no problems with print damage or debris. Mpeg compression artifacts are never a problem nor is edge enhancement. The contrast levels look dead on and black levels are quite strong. A few of the darker scenes lose a bit of fine detail but that looks like it’s due to the original cinematography and lighting rather than the transfer.

    The film is presented in its original Japanese language in Dolby Digital Mono with optional English subtitles. Audio quality is fine, there are no problems with hiss or distortion and dialogue is clear. Range is obviously limited by the fact that it’s an older track but there are no problems here, the movie sounds fine. There are one or two spots where the white subtitles appear against lighter parts of the film making them just slightly difficult to read but thankfully this doesn’t happen often and it’s a minor complaint.

    The main extra feature on this release is an audio commentary track with Japanese film expert and author Chris D. While this is more of an observational track, Chris does make some interesting comparisons here to American and Chinese films that may have inspired this picture. He talks about Junko Miyazono and talks about how she appeared almost exclusively in Toho pictures, though regular moments of silence pepper the talk. He gives us some basic information on the composer and the director and provides some cultural insight into the history behind the film as well as its influence. This doesn't wind up being the most informative track ever recorded, there are too many gaps and not enough detail but that said it is a decent overview of the film with some interesting critical insight.

    Aside from that we get widescreen trailers for all three films in the Legends Of The Poisonous Seductress series, some stylish animated menus, and chapter selection.

    Inside the keepcase is an insert booklet containing a three page essay from Chris D. which gives a brief rundown of the Japanese female swordplay, explaining its appeal and noting some of the more important and influential films and actresses. A chapter listing is also included on the final page of the insert. As they did with their previous Panik House releases (Snake Woman’s Curse and Horrors Of The Malformed Men), Synapse has provided some reversible cover art. On one side is the newly created DVD cover art (done in the style of the Panik House Pinky Violence Collection releases) and on the opposite side is the original Japanese poster art.

    Legends Of The Poisonous Seductress: Female Demon Ohyaku - The Final Word:

    If stylish black and white camerawork, a searing and intense performance from the lead and some crazy and maniacal violence sounds like your idea of a good time, give Legends Of The Poisonous Seductress: Legends Of The Poisonous Seductress: Female Demon Ohyaku a shot. The movie is a blast and Synapse has done their typically excellent job on the presentation.