Europe tends to get the most attention when it comes to cinematic adaptations of the Marquis de Sade, particularly when considering the titles currently available on DVD (JUSTINE AND JULIETTE, EUGENIE DE SADE, EUGENIE... THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION, etc), but leave it to the land of the rising sun to birth one of the most decadent and visually stunning pictures to ever take on the Marquis.
Taking place in 1920s Japan, Akutoku no sakae (dubbed MARQUIS DE SADE'S
PROSPERITIES OF VICE for this release) stars Koji Shimizu as a wealthy and sadistic
aristocrat whose every waking moment is spent in the pursuit of depravity and
the decadence of vice. Using local thugs and criminals as actors and stagehands,
the corrupt count constructs a play as a means of bringing to life the works
of his muse, the Marquis de Sade. Between glutinous feasts and orgies of humiliation,
the count is encouraged by his fellow noblemen (and women) to push and explore
the boundaries of excess and hedonism, both on the stage and at home. As such,
the count employs one of his cast, a thief, to steal (rape) his wife in the
night, an act which he and his jaded entourage take great pleasure in watching
from a darkened adjacent room. Leering through peepholes, the party watches
as the counts wife (Seiran Li) succumbs to the intrusion, eventually giving
herself over not only to her attacker but the attack itself. The incident however
awakens the young woman, who since a child has been little more than a toy to
her husband and his friends. Finding both pleasure and solace in her pain, the
young wife turns the tables on her benefactor, providing a distraction to both
the play's audience and its director.
Growing government censorship and the rise of home video in the early 1980s eventually proved fatal to Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno line. Faced with waning attendance and falling revenue, the studio was ultimately forced to close the book on its once popular genre as it was unable to sustain itself next to the rising popularity of the AV (Adult Video) industry. Nikkatsu however did attempt to reboot its Pink Film production in the late 1980s with a new line dubbed Ropponica. This new line of erotic films brought a more arthouse aesthetic to the table while maintaining the story arch’s and plot devices that had proved so popular (and profitable) in the past. As such, sex and flesh are displayed not only to titillate but to further the story. In VICE, the rich and powerful gain pleasure out of degrading their servants and indulging in the excesses available to those with wealth. However when the count's wife takes the pain and degradation as her own, it promptly changes the dynamic, as what was once clearly an act of humiliation is suddenly not so black and white.
Akio Jissoji is a hard director to pigeonhole as his filmography varies so greatly. From science fiction, action adventures such as ULTRAMAN, to adaptations of the works of Edogawa Rampo, it’s not that Akio is able to jump from one genre to another that is so impressive but the fact that he is able to do so, so effectively. Made around the same time as Teito monogatari, better know in America as TOKYO: THE LAST MEGALOPOLIS, VICE is a stunningly shot, expertly executed tale of decadence and depravity. Color and shadow are wielded like a paintbrush, composing scenes of arresting pain and palpable mood. Likewise, scenes of ecstasy and torture (and in this film both are often one and the same) are framed for effect rather than shock, showing just enough to convey the emotion and potential repercussions of the scene. There is no need for fuzzy mosaics of intercourse or large black boxes of concealment; the action is clear and often conveyed solely in the faces of the actors. All around performance are strong and fans of modern Japanese cinema will be pleased to see a familiar face in Renji Ishibashi, a Takashi Miike regular with roles in THE BIRD PEOPLE IN CHINA, GOZU and AUDITION to name a few.
Mondo Macabro presents PROSPERITIES OF VICE for the first time outside of Japan in a brand new anamorphic (1.85:1) transfer from the negative. Picture quality is top shelf with no noticeable debris or markings, rich detail and precise coloring. With grain at a minimum, Mondo Macabro continues to impress. Audio is available in Japanese only with optional English subtitles. The Dolby Digital track is clean with clear dialogue as are the subtitles which flow naturally and are without error. Extras include two brief essays by Pete Tombs about Nikkatsu Studios and the film itself. Keeping with their past Nikkatsu Erotic Cinema releases, the 24 minute documentary “The Erotic Empire” is included to educate and entice those new to Nikkatsu's unique brand of Pink Films. Likewise, Jasper Sharp is back with a seven minute interview about the film and its director. Rounding out the special features are trailers for THE WATCHER IN THE ATTIC, SINS OF SISTER LUCIA, ASSAULT! JACK THE RIPPER, FEMALE PRISONER: CAGED!, NAKED RASHOMON (all currently available) and THE PROSPERITIES OF VICE alongside Mondo Macabro's preview reel which is still promising a release of SNAKE SISTERS. Enough already, you have my attention; now just release the damn thing! (Jason McElreath)
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