Akira Kurosawa's RASHOMON is an undeniable masterpiece of cinema. A complicated narrative filled with exceptional performances and breathtaking cinematography, RASHOMON gives the audience no easy answers, yet its execution is riveting and cerebrally satisfying. Its stylistic twist on conventional storytelling has inspired countless imitators, few of which have been able to capture the wonderment and awe of the original. In comparison, NAKED RASHOMON (Showa Onnamichi: Rashomon) is just plain complicated. While the title invokes the promise of an intricate tale told by the varying accounts of those involved, packed with copious amounts of flesh, murder and rape, the film itself is rather tame. There is blood and there is flesh but the linear plot for Mondo Macabro’s latest entry in their Nikkatsu Erotic Cinema line, satisfying as is it, is no where near as wild as the one that I conjured up in my own head, again based solely on the title.
With his wife (Moeko Ezawa) unable to bare him an heir, wealthy nobleman Katsuragawa (Hideaki Esumi) begins to till more fertile soil by routinely bedding Shino (Hitomi Kozue), a prostitute who also happens to be the lover of Katsuragawa’s bodyguard, Todo. It doesn’t take long for Katsuragawa’s seed to find purchase and Shino to find herself whisked into seclusion so that her offspring can be passed off as that of Katsuragawa’s wife. However, the marquis plans hit a snag when Shino gives birth to twins, a boy and a girl, leaving him with two unwanted females. Ordered to get ride of Shino and her daughter, Todo instead sends them far away, to be forgotten lest he be forced to kill them and risk the police position promised to him by his master. Nineteen years later, Todo receives word from Shino’s daughter Kyoko (also played by Hitomi) that her mother is dieing, upon which he rushes to her bedside moments before she passes. Left alone, Todo takes Kyoko back to the city where, much to his dismay, she expresses an interest in following her mother's profession. Defiantly disregarding her guardian’s wishes, Kyoko sneaks away from Todo’s academy to take a room and a growing list of clientele at a local back ally brothel. After taking his virginity, one of Kyoko’s regulars, a 19 year old student, becomes smitten with the young hooker and for the first time, Kyoko begins to see the promise of a better life. I’ll give you one guess who he turns out to be.
Beginning in the Taisho period and ending in the Showa period, NAKED RASHOMON is Shakespearian in its convolution. Incest, betrayal, murder, cat fights, a little rope bondage and some moderate whipping, the picture has enough dramatic rudiments for two or three tragedies. Helmed by Chusei Sone, considered to be one of the finest directors to emerge from Nikkatsu' Roman Porno period, NAKED RASHOMON is a showcase of Sone’s visual flair, with its skillful use of color, most notably red, and several memorable camera setups, such as the film's opening which features a POV shot from the uvula of a performing stage actor. A busy man in the early 1970s, Sone directed over 15 films from 1972 to 1975, including HELLISH LOVE (Seidan botan-dôrô), LESBIAN WORLD: FONDLING (Zoku Lesbian No Sekai: Aibu) and OVERLY-RIPE BREASTS: MARRIED WOMEN (Uresugita Chibusa: Hitozuma), but is most often associated with the first two installments of the ANGEL GUTS series, ANGEL GUTS: HIGH SCHOOL CO-ED (Jokousei Tenshi no Harawata) and ANGEL GUTS: RED CLASSROOM (Tenshi no Harawata: Akai Kyoshitsu), filmed in '78 and '79 respectively, and for co-writing Seijun Suzuki's BRANDED TO KILL. NAKED RASHOMON, written by Atsushi Yamatoya (STRAY CAT ROCK: SEX HUNTER), is a torrid tale that quickly becomes involving and does a superb job of highlighting Sone's abilities as a director but the film is constantly sidetracked by several intrusive acts of censorship.
As is their custom, any trace of genitalia or onscreen depiction of sexual penetration is blurred or blocked from view. In many productions, such grating censorship was avoided by clever camera placement that often allowed for any naughty bits to be concealed by objects in the foreground. In NAKED RASHOMON however, it would appear that no such thought was given to what would or wouldn’t have to be masked. That’s not to say the camerawork is unimaginative, far from it, but the blurring of every sex scene, and there are many, is dreadfully jarring, removing one from the action and story. This is mainly due to the manner in which such scenes are censored. Unlike other pink films, in which such carnal action is frequently mosaiced out or simply blurred, NAKED RASHOMON is anything but subtle or consistent in its editing. Censoring ranges from large, hazy brown blobs to a flat, black diagonal strip that covers the screen like a beauty queens sash. One dream sequence features a couple doing the deed in an open field during a torrential downpour, their intimate session blocked out by a large, white rectangle. Curiously, this same scene is used in the film's trailer (available in the special features) but without the bulky box blocking the action.
Clocking in just shy of 72 minutes, NAKED RASHOMON is presented in a brand new anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer, taken from the original negative. The picture is quite clear with very mild grain and no trace of any blemishes or scratches. Colors are rich, with thick reds which are often contrasted against muted, yet detailed grays and browns. Audio is offered in a Dolby Digital stereo mix, featuring the film's original Japanese language track with optional English subtitles, both of which are easy to understand and follow.
Extra features include two brief but informative essays by Pete Tombs. One covers the history of Nikkatsu Studios with the other highlighting the film itself, including author Hogetsu Shimamura, whose play “The Hill of Destiny” is performed at the film's opening. Previously available on Mondo Macabro's other Nikkatsu releases, “The Erotic Empire” is a 24-minute documentary that is as equally entertaining as the feature itself. The doc covers the rise of Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno period, interviewing several Nikkatsu alum as well as other experts such as Jasper Sharp, author of Behind the Pink Curtain: The Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema, who finds himself interviewed yet again and rightfully so as his knowledge of Japanese cinema is seemingly endless. “Sharp on Stone” is a 10 minute onscreen interview in which Jasper provides a great deal of insight and information on Chusei Sone and back story about the picture. Trailers for THE WATCHER IN THE ATTIC, SINS OF SISTER LUCIA, THE PROSPERITIES OF VICE, ASSAULT! JACK THE RIPPER and FEMALE PRISONER: CAGED! and NAKED RASHOMON are all included, as is Mondo Macabro’s fan favorite preview reel, tying a unique bow on another solid release for the company. (Jason McElreath)
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