With the amount of horrible shit I’ve subjected myself to, I’m amazed that I’m still, on occasion, shocked by a film. When I say “shocked”, I don’t mean that I find myself a weeping mess, or furious and offended. No, normally my eyes widen a little, and the thought “why do I watch this stuff?” flickers through my tortured brain. I’ve seen worse than The Joy of Torture 2: Oxen Split Torturing, but I must confess I was surprised, shocked even, at how nasty this one was.
THE JOY OF TORTURE 2: OXEN SPLIT TORTURING
original title: 徳川女刑罰絵巻 牛裂きの刑
aka: Shogun’s Sadism
Japan, 1976, Yûji Makiguchi
The first story takes place in 1628 – a time where the infamous Tokugawa Iemitsu, third shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, cracked down on the perceived Europeanisation of feudal Japan and implemented strict anti-Christian policies. A psychotic daimyo lord takes captive a young Christian woman, raping her and torturing her with unbridled enthusiasm in an attempt to force her to reveal her Christian brethren. He even blinds her twelve-year-old sister. All this is witnessed by the Christian woman’s lover, a samurai vassal of the daimyo who struggles to keep his emotions intact. When the girl’s parents are viciously slaughtered, the young samurai draws the line.
The second story skips ahead to 1821. A young man pretending to be a son of a rich Osaka landowner has a wild night at a brothel’s expense and takes a particular liking to a young prostitute with an insatiable love of fine foods. Waking up hung over, the lying pauper is unable to pay his enormous bill and the aggressive owners force him into a year long slog of slavery to pay off his debt. Working at the brothel, he is humiliated regularly, but worse yet, he must watch as the female workers are abused. After being forced to cut off another man’s penis (yes, really), he decides to make a break for it taking his food-lovin’ prostitute pal with him.
Oxen Split Torturing starts intensely. Its first act plays out as a montage of torture. We are shown various gruesome scenes for little reason other than to establish a grim and seedy tone. The first shot once the odd title sequence wraps up is a woman being dunked into a boiling pot of water. It only gets worse as more tortures roll by; we watch a woman tossed into a pit of snakes; a man has his feet smashed to smithereens with a hammer (I found this to be the most shocking moment); another poor soul is cooked inside a hollow statue; and a screaming woman is rotated on a spit. And that’s only a few key moments. This is inter-cut with the first story’s slim plot: the initial romance between the leads and the ever-growing madness of the overacting daimyo (who enjoys eating live geckos in-between rape and torture, by the way). The opening story ends with an unbelievably gory scene that lives up to the title of the film.
With the 1600s out of the way, the second story, at first, almost seems like a relief. The two new leads inject some comic relief and a much needed breathing space between moments of humiliation is given. Then there’s the abortion scene where an old woman shoves her hand inside a woman pulling out the insides of her reproductive system. And everything is horrible again. With the sleazy brothel setting, the second story becomes decidedly more sickening than the first. Even a lighthearted sequence involving characters slipping into a pit toilet had me gagging.
The first tale is disjointed but certainly engaging in its foul content, and it is certainly the most outwardly gory of the two. The second story flows with a greater ease and is more effective as it wraps up on an expected depressing note. The humour thrown about in this latter half is also unnerving, making the story all the more effective. The sick creativity of showing a character forced to cut off another man’s penis is a stroke of mad and evil genius leading to a scene that’s both genuinely rather sad and shocking, but also darkly funny in a guilt-inducing way.
The second story also feels somewhat more soulful and less misanthropic, despite the strong content. The characters are far more believable and their love for each other offers a comforting contrast to the cold cruelty of the authorities that hunt them down.
Oxen Split Torturing is relentless in its constant flow of gore and sadism. While it’s easy to come by nihilistic Japanese nasties, it’s rare to see one of this vintage bulging with effects and explosive arterial spurts. Add to that excellent locations, an interesting historical backdrop and music that would feel at home in an episode of Monkey, and you have yourself an incredibly strange and impressive slice of trash. Not for the fainthearted (that goes without saying), but highly recommended to those that like a good cinematic kick to the balls.
Oh yeah, there’s also a scene where a naked woman is covered in a substance “that dogs like” and licked by a pack of tiny, perverted hounds.
At one point in time, Oxen Split Torturing was available from Japan Shock. That DVD is long out of print, but it can still be found if you dig around a bit. The release uses the alternative title Shogun’s Sadism and sports an excellent anamorphic transfer.