Live by yakuza law, die by yakuza law - break their iron rules at your own risk! That’s the theme behind this insane splatter anthology. It kicks off with a crazed montage: a power drill bores into a victim’s skull until it erupts in a geyser of gore; a magnifying glass fries someone’s eye in its socket; and a bunch of screaming unfortunates are bound naked and spit-roasted over a roaring fire like rotisserie chicken. Yuck.
Part One is set in Edo era Japan and illustrates why, as our narrator intones: “One should not steal, and one should not have affairs with married women.” The unfortunate Tomoso is accused of the former, while two of his men - including yakuza film icon Bunta Sugawara - submit to an eye-gouging and ear-slicing over accusations of adultery.
Part Two leaps forward to the 1920s where Shuji Ogata is released from jail after serving three years for a mob boss who won’t acknowledge his sacrifice. Shuji vents his frustrations in a kill-crazy rampage that sees him expelled for igniting a feud with a rival family. He makes a fatal error in returning to pick up his beloved girlfriend, as their grisly fate illustrates why “those who cause trouble for the boss and his family will be expelled. Those who return will be punished.”
Things get really nasty once we hit 1960s Tokyo for the most manic episode, wherein “those who destroy the family organisation and those leaking secrets for whatever reason, will be eliminated.” A suitcase full of gold is stolen from the Hashiba family, which sets in motion a vicious series of revenge killings and tortures as gangsters are dragged through the air by helicopters or dumped in the ocean. Faces are burnt off with Zippo lighters. A gangster’s moll gets a concrete overcoat. Some dude gets pulped to a bloody mess inside a junkyard car crusher.
In any other country such extreme sadism and gore would be the product of low-budget exploitation or underground filmmaking. But this was a mainstream effort from Toei Films, the seventh in their profitable Joys of Torture film series (1968-1973), initiated by writer-director Teruo Ishii. Whereas most entries focused on mutilating nubile young women for various transgressions against society, this gives brutish yakuza thugs the Herschell Gordon Lewis treatment, which lessens accusations of misogyny - albeit slightly.
Truth be told, there isn’t a whole lot going on here beyond the parade of mutilated meat. Where Japan’s real-life gangsters governed by such an inflexible code or really just a bunch of slavering oafs looking for an excuse to crack skulls? Ishii has no interest in debating the point and merely serves up a catalogue of rabid atrocities with the same unsettling disinterest as the rest of his series. Whereas Toei later married ultra-violence with social commentary in their groundbreaking Fight Without Honour movies (1973-1979), this gory progenitor is slapdash, devoid of style and its episodes too brief to engage. Ishii was probably bored cranking out such films at the rate of three a year - although swapping hardcore violence for soft-core porn woke him up, since the last film in the series Porno Samurai Theatre: Bohachi Code of Honour (1973) is outrageous fun. Toei bring their usual sterling production values to Yakuza Torture History: Lynching! and the gory effects work is first rate. So if your dying to see a man tied between two bent trees and split messily in half so his intestines splatter the grass - this is the movie for you.