Many may know of prolific manga author Koike Kazuo's works such as his brilliant Crying Freeman series or his wildly erotic adventure comics like Kizuoibito or Offered, but his most lasting creation has been the influential and groundbreaking manga Kozure Okami (Lone Wolf & Cub) series from the 70s. Together with talented artist Kojima Goseki, they brought new life to the traditional chambara or jidaigeki ("Samurai Costume Drama"), infusing their story with ultra violent swordplay, pornographic sex and near Shakespearian tragic melodrama.
Kozure Okami was an epic tale that was perfect for film and thus it was adapted to the screen by famed Katsu Productions, producers of the classic Zatoichi films. The "golden duo" of Koike and Kojima followed up with other Samurai manga stories such as Kubikiri Asa" and Hanzo No Mon but weren't able to capture the same impact as Kozure Okami, although Koike's other manga stories like Shirayuki Hime (a.k.a. Princess Snowblood) and Goyokiba (a.k.a. Hanzo The Razor) were also made into films. Toei's Bohachi Bushido was adapted from a Koike/Kojima manga short and in an inspired selection, Ishii Teruo, who directed such films as Edogawa Rampo Taizen: Kyofu Kikei Ningen (a.k.a. Horrors of the Malformed Man) and Tokugawa Onna Keibatsu-Shi (a.k.a. The Joy of Torture) directed the film. The results were pure exploitation magic.
Tiring of his aimless existence, wanted ronin Ashita Shiro (literal meaning "Die Tomorrow", and played by Tetsuro Tamba) decides to commit suicide by
drowning himself after massacring yet another band of pursuing goemon
(state authorities) sent to capture him. As Shiro sinks to the bottom
of a river, he remarks "To die is hell, but to live is also hell", yet
these words prove eerily prophetic as Shiro finds himself saved from
his fate by the hellish criminal syndicate "The Bohachi", a group so
sinister and vile, they refer to themselves as "beasts wearing human
The Bohachi are so named because they have made an unholy oath to
reject (forget) all human virtues: Ko, Piety towards God; Tei, Group/State allegiance; Chu, friendship/loyalty; Shin, trust; Rei, civilness/humanity; Gi, sense of justice/morality; Ren
-conscience/regard; and Chi, self worth/shame. Its members are
initiated through sadistic torture and are made to rape multiple women
to show their worth to the syndicate. While the Bohachi men are true
human scum (they even flaunt their criminal affiliation with coats that bear sexually perverse kanji), the Bohachi woman are equally cruel, cunning and heartless, having been made that way through constant beatings and relentless sexual assaults.
Shiro is made a guest by Bohachi monarch, Daimon Shirobei (Endo Tatsuo)
a wealthy merchant with vast amounts of wealth and widespread
influence. He is aided by his lead henchman, the emotionless Shirakubi
Kesazou (Ibuki Goro) and his paramour, the seductively beautiful but
cruel Omon (Hishimi Yuriko). The Bohachi have dominated the sex-trade in Tokugawa Era Edo's (now Tokyo) Yoshiwara district since government formation, and have amassed
enormous amounts of influence and money through their government
contracts, providing prostitutes and harlots to samurai, government
workers and laborers.
But other criminal factions have begun to muscle in on their
enterprises. Daimon asks Shiro to help them to kill off the
samurai officials who go to the rival brothels and destroy the
competition. Shiro at first refuses the offer but is then persuaded by
Daimon through promises of protection from government authorities.
Shiro soon acts as the Bohachi's assassin and enforcer, and successfully
crushes the Bohachi's rivals and the assassins sent to kill him. However, Shiro
later finds out that he was sold out by Daimon to the Tokugawa
Chancellor in an arrangement to give the Bohachi complete control over
Yoshiwara in exchange for Shiro's capture. Shiro vows to get revenge on
the Bohachi for their treachery.
Ishii Teruo is one of the most visually artistic of the Toei directors
of the 70s and his films, while controversial, were always feasts for
the eyes. Bohachi Bushido is no exception. From its blood
splattering opening title sequence (the blood and gore actually form
the movie's title) to the various images of debauchery, opium use,
over-the-top bloodshed, violence, and wanton nudity, Ishii's film is
not for the overly prude or easily offended. While the film promotes
itself as a Porno Jidaigeki ("Pornographic Samurai Film"), the film is
not that graphic or hardcore. There are ample shots of
nudity, but the sex scenes are brief and not gratuitous.
Those familiar with Tamba Tetsuro's previous work on TV and film may
find his character here in stark contrast to the jovial or stoic parts
he's played in the past. I never thought of Tamba as an action star but
he certainly pulls it off here, giving Ashita Shiro some decent
nobility and honorable qualities as well as showing off his skills with
the sword. His outsider character seems in the same vein as Clint
Eastwood's "Man With No Name" character from films like Sergio Leone's
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly.
Great character actor Endo Tatsuo (Daimajin, Zatoichi Royaburi) is no
stranger to portraying vile and despicable characters, and again
delivers a truly menacing performance as the Bohachi leader Daimon. Ibuki Goro (Jingi Naki Tatakai) is also wonderfully sinister as lead
henchman Shirakubi Kesazou. He looks menacing and his cold and
calculating performance is definitely chilling.
Many may be pleasantly surprised (as I was) by Hishimi Yuriko's
performance as lead Bohachi woman Omon. Having only known her from her
role as cute Yuri Anne in the cult Tokusatsu show Ultra Seven and
as Yuriko in the sexy all-female detective show Playgirl, it was
refreshing to see her in a much more darker and aggressive role. She
definitely gets to show off her ample assets during her many scenes,
including one audacious sequence where she assaults a blonde
foreign nun (Donna Kay).
Bohachi Bushido is not for the overly serious and its bawdy and
carnal subject matter may offend some, but it is outrageous
entertainment that has to be seen to be believed. (JMaruyama 2008)