Mondo Macabro Roman Porno
We helped to broker the deal that allowed Mondo to release these two films, and assisted with title selection—four more great films are on the way, next up being Masaru Konuma's 1983 Joshu Ori, aka Female Prisoner: Cage, a sleazy women-in-prison epic with some jaw-dropping sequences. Look for it in early 2009.
But back to the titles you can actually buy now.
My favorite of the two, and the only title that has seen previous subtitled DVD release (way back in the early days of the format, as a PAL format disc from a UK label called Pagan Films, also run by the guys behind Mondo Macabro) is Noboru Tanaka's glossy and respectable 1976 adapation of several Edogawa Rampo stories, The Watcher in the Attic (aka Yaneura no sanpo-sha, which actually translates to "The Walker in the Attic"). Starring Roman Porno starlet Junko Miyashita and future Takashi Miike company actor Renji Ishibashi, the story takes place in Rampo's favorite Taisho era (the 1920's), and follows a warder in a boarding house (Ishibashi) who secretly spies on the other tenants from above, through peepholes in the attic floor. One day, he catches sight of a beautiful woman (Miyashita) having sex with a man in a clown suit (no, really). Wanting to learn more about her, he eventually witnesses her commit a murder, but realizes that she knows she's being watched. He eventually reveals his identity to her and the two begin a destructive love affair that also ends in murder.
Tanaka creates a beautiful period atmosphere on what must have been a shoestring budget, capturing not only the distinctive and opposite impulses of early 20th century Japan - to modernize and become a democracy, yet remain true to its feudal roots - but also the feel of the specific era, the last time before the buildup to World War II when decadence was really permitted in the country, just prior to the military build-up of the early Showa period. (The same era was depicted, with less success, I think, in Oshima's lauded In the Realm of the Senses. And of course, Tanaka did his own earlier version of the same story in the much-better A Woman Called Sada Abe.)
The horror elements in the film are subdued, but definitely present. It's a slow-moving film, one that concentrates much more on building its atmosphere and exploring the dark crannies of its characters' psyches than presenting much action onscreen. Being a Roman Porno, there are the requisite four or five sex scenes, many of them quite sexy, but it's clear watching the film that Tanaka was reaching for something greater with Watcher, and I think he succeded in creating it, a classic erotic film that not only transcends its genre but is also one of the best of its kind.
Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, let's examine the other new Mondo Roman Porno, director Yasuharu Hasebe's inflammatory Assault! Jack the Ripper (aka Boko kirisaki Jakku). Also made in 1976, the film was Hasebe's second Roman Porno (after Rape!) after returning to the Nikkatsu fold following his departure in the early 70s, when Nikkatsu transitioned from making action films to making softcore porn. Hasebe was a fixture during late-period Nikkatsu action, making everything from Black Tight Killers to Roughneck to a few of the Stray Cat Rock series entries. In-between, he even made the fourth Female Convict Scorpion film - quite a prolific guy, and still going strong today.
Hasebe's Roman Porno films are known for their violent and shocking content, and Jack, the first one I've had the chance to see, didn't disappoint in that regard. It's as sleazy as they come, taking the true story behind films like The Honeymoon Killers—about a couple who lure young women into sexual situations, and then murder them—and giving it a sadistic twist, filled with blood and nudity. Filled with murder sequences where women are stabbed repeatedly in their private parts with a pastry knife, it's not for the faint of heart, but it's also surprisingly humorous, featuring enough oddball situations and bizarre character quirks to almost lighten its dark and nasty mood.
Definitely more of a "graduate level" Roman Porno title, it'll definitely please the audience open to its particular kind of entertainment, but it won't win any new converts who don't already appreciate the genre. In fact, it's just the kind of film people like to refer to when they condemn Japanese softcore cinema as nothing but violent porn. They're wrong, but it's an easy argument to make on the surface.
Both discs present the films fully remastered and featuring well-scripted English subtitles. The discs look great, too—these are the same remastered versions previously released in Japan by Geneon, but without English subtitles. All the subsequent Mondo Roman Porno titles will feature similarly polished transfers.
Extras include a Mondo Macabro documentary on Nikkatsu and the Roman Porno genre, originally produced a number of years ago but updated now with new interviews and clips. Featured in the doc are Nikkatsu actress Kozuko Shirakawa, director Seijun Suzuki (who never made a Roman Porno film!), film critic Toshiyuki Matsushima, artist Romain Slocombe, and critic / author Jasper Sharp. Sharp also turns up on both discs in a separate introduction to each film, which covers the overall genre, the director's career, and notes on the actresses and the reception each film has received. Also included are trailers for both films, plus three others forthcoming in the collection. The only one missing is Akio Jissoji's bizarre Marquis de Sade romp The Prosperity of Vice (aka Akutoku no sakae), which is one definitely worth waiting for!