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Teruo Ishii (1924 - 2005)

Lifespan: 1924 - 2005

Related: violent film - ero-guro - Japanese exploitation - Japanese cinema

More vital than most men half his age, eighty-year-old Teruo Ishii continued to make films that witnessed their creator's colourful personality. Still best known for his series of Edo-era torture films from the late 60s, Ishii has worked in a vast range of genres in the course of his six-decade long career. From his early Super Giants films for Shin Toho, through his gang and biker films for Toei and his recent independently made ero-gro spectacles, his work has remained as youthful in spirit as the man who made them. --[1]

Attack from Space (1957) - Teruo Ishii Belgium
image sourced here. [May 2005]


Teruo Ishii (born in Tokyo in 1924) is one of the greatest film-makers in the Japanese exploitation cinema. He dropped out university to become an assistant cameraman at the Toho where he had the opportunity to work with the great Mikio Naruse, whom he still mentions today as his mentor. In 1947, he became assistant director on going to the recently created Shin Toho, and directed his first film in 1957. He filmed the series devoted to "Super Giant" (the Japanese Superman) and from 1958 to 1961 shot a series of detective stories in which the common denominator is the Japanese word "Chitai" ("zone", "frontier", "boundary limit") in the title. He then moved to the Toei at the right time : when the firm was looking form film-makers to direct films about yakuzas. It was at that time he won his stripes by giving the starring role to Ken Takakura in "Abashiri Prison" (1965), the first step in one of the most popular series of all time in Japan. Up until 1968 Ishii shot the first nine episodes.

He then moved to the Ero-Guro genre (eroto-grotesque) with such works as The Joy of Torture (1968) and "Hell's Tattooers" (1969). Towards the mid-seventies, he directed one of the episodes of the "Streetfighter" series with Sonny Chiba and inaugurated a series of films devoted to "bosokuzu" (biker gangs). He stopped his career in 1979 but made his come-back in 1998 with his adaptation of Tsuge's avant-garde manga, "Nejishiki". In 1999, he directed a remake of "Hell", Nobuo Nakagawa's masterpiece, using the Aum sect as its framework. He recently directed, totally independently, "Moju Tai Issunboshi" (literally the blind beast against the dwarf), a proclaimed homage to Edogawa Rampo. (Edgar Allan Poe) --http://www.hkmania.com/Dossiers/teruoishii-en.html [May 2005]

Surely there are limits, but

“Surely there are limits, but within these limits one can do whatever he pleases,” said specialist Kato Akira about the roman porno genre. The same can be said about those hybrids in which submission and bondage give way to sheer violence and torture: thus, the jidai-geki (period films) produced by Toei and set during the Tokugawa dynasty can be considered a peculiar form of splatter movie. It is mainly due to these ero-guro (erotic-grotesque) flicks - precisely, the so-called Joys of Torture series - that the name Ishii Teruo is not new to Japanese cinema devotees, with such titles as Tokugawa Onna Keibatsushi (Tokugawa History of Women Punishment a.k.a. Criminal Women, 1968) and Tokugawa Irezumi Shi Seme Jigoku (Tokugawa Tattoo History: Torture Hell, 1969). Some will also remember his early sci-fi movies, such as the Super Giants series in the late Fifties. But, actually, Ishii’s body of work has been largely overlooked by Western critics, partly due to the scarce availability of his films outside of Japan, partly because Ishii himself was considered a minor, if not forgettable, director.  --Roberto Curti, http://www.horschamp.qc.ca/new_offscreen/ishii_teruo.html [May 2003|May 2005]

Toei and "Pinky Violence"

The enormous success of pink eiga didn’t go unnoticed by the major film studios. They started to produce their own sexploitation films. Toei began its so-called ”Pinky Violence” films in 1971 with a series of bad girl movies, and in the same year Nikkatsu launched its production of so-called Roman Porno. With the establishment of the subsidiary company Tokatsu, even the family-oriented Shochiku studios joined the ranks of pink eiga producers. Toho remained the only studio that didn’t venture into the sexploitation market. --Roland Domenig, [Aug 2004]

image sourced here. [May 2005]

If you were single, urban, and male during the late sixties and early seventies, then Toei studios wanted dearly, desperately to be your best friend.

All for you, legendary Toei producer Kanji Amao created the Shigeki rosen (Sensational Line), the Ijoseiai rosen (Abnormal Line), and the Harenchi rosen (Shameless Line).

Individually and collectively, they were wild-sex, and sometimes sex-and-violence, films designed to play on the bottom half of double features featuring yakuza films in the top slot. And while Takakura Ken might extol the virtues of honor and humanity in the main feature, bath house geisha with fabulously talented lower regions (the Onsen Geisha series), sexually perverted Tokugawa retainers (the Tokugawa Onna series), or impossibly tough female gangs (the Sukeban series) would wreck havoc in the B-feature. --http://www.pulp-mag.com/books/tokyoscope/pinky.shtml [May 2005]


Shogun's Joy of Torture (1968) - Teruo Ishii

Whatever accusations of misogyny or bad taste can be leveled at this film, it is ultimately a product of its time. During the late 60s, as censorship patterns relaxed around the world, films such as these were made the world over to pander to audiences clamouring for more and more excesses in their desire to be shocked. Whether in the increasingly sadistic work of Jess Franco in Europe, the low-budget gore films of US independent practitioners such as Robert L. Frost and Andy Milligan, or even the increasing levels of sex and violence in Hammer's films, the boundaries of sadism and nudity were constantly being pushed as an easy way of getting people into cinemas against the now firmly established threat of television. --http://www.midnighteye.com/reviews/shogtort.shtml [May 2005]

see also: exploitation film - ero guro - Japanese cinema

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