"To die is hell, but to live is also hell" growls nihilistic masterless samurai Shiro (Tetsuro Tamba) as he is ambushed by enemies on a bridge. Although outnumbered this one-man army embarks on a balletic orgy of limb-lopping violence by picturesque sunset. He kills 'em all but takes a seemingly fatal fall into the frozen river. Shiro awakens in bed to find himself being nuzzled by sexy naked geisha girls (result!) His host, Kesazu (Goro Ibuki) welcomes him to the secret den of the Bohachi clan, notorious sex traffickers of Tokugawa era Japan. In this den of inequity captive naked women are strung from the rafters, tortured with candles held near their genitals and groomed into sex-crazed whores by means of non-stop shagging. Shiro proves he has some scruples by refusing to deflower Omon (super-sultry Ruriko Hishimi), a young sexpot in debt to the mob who auction her virginity off to the highest bidder. But Omon's plight turns out to be a ruse. She actually works for wheezing Bohachi chief, Shirobei (Tatsuo Endo) who hires Shiro to assassinate all the lords, officials and magistrates that oppose his profitable prostitution racket.
With this hyperbolically-titled gonzo soft-core samurai actioner Toei contract director Teruo Ishii crams more kinky sex, flying severed heads, ninja tricks and drug-addled debauchery into eighty-one minutes than most exploitation filmmakers managed in a lifetime. Porno Period Drama: Bohachi Bushido was the final entry in Ishii's Joys of Torture film series that began in 1968. These were splatter anthology movies centred on the abuse of women in days of yore, a high concept that seems pretty unfathomable for a mainstream movie in this day and age, though the preceding entry Yakuza Torture History: Lynching! (1969) marked a rare instance where all the victims were men. Ishii grew bored with the repetitive nature of the series, just as he had with his earlier Starman series of child-friendly superhero movies, e.g. Evil Brain from Outer Space (1958), and multi-part yakuza franchise Abashiri Prison (1965), and varied the formula with bawdy humour and outrageous sex.
The film is adapted from an adult-oriented manga, or gekiga, by Kazuo Koike, creator and screenwriter of Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx (1972) a.k.a. Shogun Assassin (1980). Koike's trademarks are his impeccable attention to historical detail, which earned him the admiration of serious scholars of Japanese history, and outrageous sexual excess. These more lurid aspects of his work later reached full flower with his jaw-dropping anime porn-action thriller Wounded Man (1986) which shares some plot similarities with Bohachi Bushido, notably the concept of a sex industry bent on world-domination. Granted scenes where naked starlets are violently banged till they love it means the film is not for the easily offended but the tone is at least partly intended to be ridiculous. Ishii gives the grindhouse crowd all the spurting blood and naked babes they want but does not endorse the Bohachi's Sadean philosophy. Unusually for a soft-core porn horror actioner the film expresses a coherent ideology with a clearly defined character arc for its intense antihero. While the Bohachi argue survival in this world depends on rejecting God, conscience, morality and shame, Shiro clings to his own slightly twisted code of ethics and ends up altering their worldview by stoic example.
Incredibly prolific cult actor Tetsuro Tamba, who often boasted he never turned down a role, is commandingly charismatic in the lead. Best known for his role as Tiger Tanaka in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice (1967), Tamba was perhaps the only actor in the world who could get away with portraying respected religious leader Josei Toda in Toho Film's acclaimed Buddhist drama The Human Revolution (1973) the same year as headlining a tawdry porno flick for rival studio Toei. In fact it was Tamba who brought Koike's original manga to the attention of Toei. A noted womanizer, Tamba was likely thrilled to be sharing intimate scenes with top Toei sex kittens like Keiko Aikawa, Reina Ichinose, Emi Katsura and Ruriko Ikejima who partake in several of the most delirious sequences: forming a human blanket to extinguish a fire before stripping off their burnt clothes, sharing a naked cat-fight over who gets to gang-bang a topless European nun atop a rack! Or how about the incredible battle between an enraged ninja and the naked warrior women? Either way there is a whole lot of naked in this movie.
Away from the kinky stuff, Koike's well researched screenplay offers genuinely fascinating insight into the politics underlining the Tokugawa sex industry and its secret codes and customs. Brilliantly paced, Ishii's eye-catching direction turns the film into a live action gekiga with remarkable cinematography and an abundance of violent action, horrific set-pieces and yes, of course gorgeous sex starlets, coalescing into an hallucinogenic whole in the scene where Shiro enjoys an opium-fueled orgy with his five comely companions that turns nasty precipitating the finale. Conceptually the plot is a little similar to Hideo Gosha's samurai fable Hitokiri (1969), another story wherein a secret organization manipulate a wild murderous ronin into eliminating their political enemies before turning against him. However, super-stud Shiro proves too wily and sheer damn cool to let the Bohachi outwit him so easily and the climax proves by turns philosophical and incredible. More than twenty years later Tetsuro Tamba reprized his role in a cameo in Ishii's gonzo horror epic Jigoku (1999).