d: Hidehiro Ito
DVD Impulse Pictures
A relatively late addition to the infamous run of “Roman Porno” sexploitation pictures produced by Japan’s Nikkatsu studios throughout the 1970s and eighties, arriving some twelve years after the release of the inaugural Apartment Wife: Affair in the Afternoon (1971) and not long before the nascent Adult Video market sent the doom-wails careening wildly about the chambers of all involved, Hidehiro Ito’s Debauchery (1983) proffers a fairly typical assortment of beautifully-shot degradations and disgraces of a class that will doubtless boast scant novelty for fans of the genre, but from which newcomers may well feel compelled to flee in pursuit of a wire brush and a basin of bleach about half an hour in.
Writhing and moaning away at the nexus of the prodigiously unpleasant and hugely problematic “violent” and “S&M” strands of Roman Porno, Debauchery stars Ryoko Watanabe as Ami, a young surgeon’s-wife attempting to find some means of penetrating the colourless post-nuptial crust that has been allowed to congeal about her libido by an inattentive and clueless puddle of a husband. He being far too busy attending conferences and stitching up guts to worry about satisfying anything beyond demand for a Generic Bland-as-Bastards Pink Film Cuckold, a desperate Ami allows first her mind and then her artfully-obscured genitals to wander off in the direction of a brothel patronised primarily by foul-faced, battle-scarred, pinstriped psychopaths. Predictably, these clients are after something considerably more intense than a shamefaced knuckle-hump on the edge of an over-stressed mattress. So too, it transpires, is Ami. As one member of this “Society Club” remarks: “The girl is starving. She’s looking for something extreme.”
Sure enough, it turns out that there’s nothing a bored housewife needs or wants more than to be beaten, battered and buggered hither and thither by madmen from dawn till dusk, and if a slobbering Tor Johnson look-alike could maybe pop around for some vicious, anal-beaded-fisting every so often, well sure that’s so much the better. So much the more fulfilled she’ll feel for that.
This is the set-up, anyway. For anyone who has ever spent the wee hours biting their bottom lip at any of Hidehiro Ito’s other Nikkatsu pictures of the period - the really quite foul Secretary Rope Discipline (1981), perhaps, or 1984’s White Uniform Story: Molesting! - it will come as no surprise to learn that events are soon tumbling toward the void at a rate of knots. Having had the temerity to achieve orgasm in the course of her encounter with the abovementioned ersatz-Lobo, Ami is soon cast to the Hellfire, the narrative swiftly whittled down to a gnarled nub of grotesque violence in time for a quite breathtakingly misanthropic final act.
“Christ’s teeth.” This the chat of a friend with whom I’m discussing the thing in the lounge bar of an Irish pub on Holloway Road. “I’d forgotten about the fella with the beads. God he makes some work of that arse afore he’s finished. In it to the eyeballs by the end. Like a famished mutt trying to eat the face off a goat through a letterbox.”
“Like that,” saying.
“God but it’s a rotten piece of work.” He takes a mouthful of whatever cloudy-looking garbage it is that he came back from the bar with ten minutes past. “But here. Listen. I saw it in a room above a hairdressers in Turnpike Lane, nobody else about, and I can tell you that the nutting I done up that sleeve of mine was nothing normal. Rotten or no. And anyway, the thing’s so utterly demented. It was like blowing muck at the ankles of elves. That’s how divorced from the real it was.”
True, them says. Me: “And I tell you, especially in the last third, it becomes something of some magnitude, in my opinion.”
For listen: although, as Jasper Sharp observes in the excellent liner notes included with the Impulse Pictures Region 1 DVD of the film (sadly the only extra, although the print is beautiful, and complemented by fresh subtitles), Hidehiro Ito is now far better known as a producer of films by the likes of Takashi Miike and Takeshi Yokoi than as a director in his own right, his work on Debauchery is frequently astonishing. The opening scenes throb with the delirious psychosexual intensity of early Polanski, culminating in a moment which seems specifically designed to evoke Repulsion: the camera prowling around the room like a hound in heat as a shaking Ami receives news of her impending first appointment, glancing toward the ceiling in time to catch the plaster cracking under her gaze. Later sequences seem possessed (no pun intended) by Zulawski, whilst the final act, for better or worse, anticipates tonally, stylistically and visually both Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.
Watanabe, too, is excellent throughout, her face perpetually swept by ambiguity in the first acts - like the neck hairs bristling under a warm breath (“For Fuck’s sakes,” says he, “would you ever listen to yourself…”) before hurtling towards a near religious mania in the final third. In fact, there’s nothing “near” about it. By the time Tor has begun pounding her and Debauchery alike toward some kind of hallucinatory, incantatory frenzy around the mid-way point, Watanabe has adopted the countenance of Dreyer’s Joan; Ami relentlessly drilled toward some kind of terrible grace. In a later scene, bound up and at the mercy of the piece’s nominal villain, he ravishing her whilst another woman plays with his arse, Watanabe shudders and contorts into a form worthy of Bernini. A belt-lashed Teresa impaled upon the noxious, sweat-slathered spear of some hissing, arse-fingered Michael.
“God almighty!” This again from himself. “Keep your voice down, for Jesus sakes, are you trying to get the face battered off us? Talking like that about the Holy Teresa in here!”
“Sorry,” says I, wincing at the fetid dregs of the too-cheap-pint held an inch from my face.
“And anyway,” says he, “It’s all bollocks. That’s never how it plays out in real life. Listen. A lass I know shot off upon a similar sort of trajectory a few years back. Bored with the husband. Just getting into the Velvet Underground. Probably watched a Jess Franco picture or two. Secretary a few times, at the very least. Goldilocks zone. Hears of a place above a hairdressers on Green Lanes where these sorts of urges are seen to on a regular basis. Heads out one night with a rucksack full of fresh knickers and a pocketful of too-tight blindfolds. Ready for the worst, she says. Wanting the worst. I’m only saying what she said.”
Me sniffing into the crook of an arm. “Understood. Barbaric times?”
“Not really. Says she ends up yawning into her wrist-ropes while some old huffer in a mask stands over her, barking about how she’s the pure scum of the earth, about how he’s never seen anything so vile, about how her tits is like something you’d find hanging out the arse of a poisoned sow. Next thing he’s sent the full of his week’s wages up against the doorframe and took away off out to the stairwell with the tears tripping him.” He takes a swallow of his drink, grimaces. “Wasn’t much in that for her.”
“No,” I say. “No I wouldn’t imagine there would be, right enough.”