Female Demon Ohyaku (1968)
Director: Yoshihiko Ishikawa
Writers: Koji Takada and Takeshi Takahashi
Starring: Junko Miazono, Koji Nanbara, Kunio Murai and Kinji Nakamura.

The Plot: Our film begins with Ohyaku, an infant at the time, being held by her mother as she attempts to commit suicide by jumping off of a bridge into water. The young Ohyaku survives this leap, but is forever scarred across her back. We skip forward and find Ohyaku (Junko Miyazono) as a beautiful young woman. She has become a hustler of sorts, and has lately been running a scam where she seduces rich men before her friend breaks into the room and threatens to murder his cheating “wife.” The scam works well, but Ohyaku also manages to make a living working as a tightrope walker where all of the horndogs come to watch her walk across the tightrope while trying to peek up her dress. When the crowd becomes overly rebellious one evening, the young Ronin named Shin (Kunio Murai) stands up and helps protects the young woman’s honor. Shin and Ohyaku soon begin flirting, and it seems that Shin wants to induct this woman into his gang of bandits. His latest plan is to rob the local Sengoku government of a hefty shipment of gold, but he only intends to do this in order to teach the greedy bureaucrats a lesson. Meanwhile, Ohyaku finally discovers her mother’s secret past, as a prostitute, and this leads her fleeing into the arms of Shin who accepts her as a woman as well as a warrior. The two are soon engaged, and they are successful in robbing the government of the previously mentioned shipment of gold. However, the tables are turned when they are sold out and Shin is placed on the chopping block. With everything in this young woman’s life being stripped of her, Ohyaku intends to take revenge on those who have denied her the life she so desperately wanted.

The Review
Although the Legend of the Poisonous Seductress series may not be incredibly well known to my readers, they do make for some fairly important films when talking about the lineage of that beloved Varied Celluloid staple known the pinky violence genre. Made in the late sixties, this series helped introduce Japan to the concept of empowered women taking revenge on the male-dominant society, and it showed utter defiance to many conventions within the world of action cinema. Focusing on a strong leading woman who acted quite out of the ordinary, and produced by the legendary Toei studios, this series truly helped to give birth to the the pinky violence genre as we know it. For those who are unaware, the easiest way to explain the pinky violence genre is that these were movies that were made primarily during the seventies, produced mostly by Toei, and they often featured young women rebelling against society. Either as delinquents or criminals in some capacity or another, these were bad girls who still somehow showed a sense of honor amongst their own kind. With that ideal in mind, there’s no question as to whether or not Female Demon Ohyaku was an introductory title within this very exclusive subgenre.

When looking for the parallels between the pinky violence genre in its prime and this first entry in the Poisonous Seductress series, you may be thrown off by numerous differences. In the eyes of most viewers, the stark black and white photography is going to be the first and largest gap between the two worlds. Although the pinky violence may have been well known for its characters and their breaking of the modern social taboos, the visually stunning use of color is certainly one of the greatest attributes that I think of when I draw a mental picture of this particular style of movie. Instead, Ohyaku was a late-era black and white picture, so it might be easy to disconnect it from the genre. With more in common with the Zatoichi or Sleepy Eyes of Death franchises, this early title within the genre (if you even constitute it as an official pinky violence film) is a fairly dedicated samurai-themed period piece. However, despite these rather large differences, the attitude and the stylish aesthetics are very much alive in Female Demon Ohyaku. Sure, it may be in black and white, but I promise that director Yoshihiko Ishikawa takes full advantage over the charms and style that black and white photography affords. As far as attitude, the character of Ohyaku may start off this film as being a very demure and gentle snowflake, but as the movie progresses she turns into the ferocious tiger that one tends to expect from a movie like this.

There are traces of numerous genres found in Female Demon Ohyaku. The pinky violence elements do actually come out during the early parts of the movie, as well as the latter half when we see Ohyaku’s full transformation, but this is a title that throws numerous ideas at the wall trying to see what sticks. The early half of the movie generally focuses on Ohyaku’s role as a scam artist, something not totally lost on many Girl Boss-themed movies that would come in the future. However, as the movie progresses, it turns into a rather tense thriller. You’re never entirely sure what Ohyaku’s ultimate plan will be, but she seems so quick witted that it becomes sure that she will get her vengeance once she is placed inside of the feudal prison system that the latter half of the movie takes place in. During the final half of the film, there are even faint hints of the horror genre to be found. I was particularly reminded of Teruo Ishii’s work, particularly Blind Woman’s Curse, where ghoulish visuals accompany rather morbid tales. The movie develops some regularly dark ideas throughout, and its tendency to bring about bloody and disgusting violence only helps to reinforce these rather bleak moments. In one of the most vicious scenes of the film, we watch as Ohyaku herself is strung up by her hair (which produces bleeding from her scalp) as her lover is decapitated right in front of her eyes. The violence is brutal, but it is handled in a way that doesn’t come across as fun or silly like it does in something like the Lone Wolf and Cub series. This is a movie that shows the stark and brutal violence from the feudal period, without any form of sugar coating.

Although this ultimately has very little to do with the actual content of the film at hand, I figure a little history might be in order to help elucidate some aspects of The Poison Seductress series. The original Japanese title basically refers to a “poison woman,” which is basically Japanese slang for a scornful woman. The term originates from a true-crime case that came at the beginning of the twentieth century. Apparently there was once a woman named Takahashi Oden, and she was ultimately convicted of killing a man named Goto Kichizo, but was also suspected of poisoning her husband. It was essentially one of the biggest crimes at the turn of the 20th century, and it lead to Takahashi Oden being forever known as “Dokufu,” aka: poison woman. The concept of a “poison woman” runs deep within Japanese cinema and the world of pinky violence in particular, where these women can be seen breaking through the barriers of what was considered “good taste.” In a society that has long been known for its presentation of pure and silently obedient women, the concept of a woman who destroys all of these values, and instead does whatever it is that she wants, must have been radical during this period. Yet, in these movies, these women are often treated as if their cause is completely noble, despite these women performing overtly illegal activities.

The Conclusion
Featuring a strong cast (Ogami Itto himself, Tomisaburo Wakayama, shows up in a nice supporting role) and some highly intriguing artistic aesthetics, this is a movie that Japanese film fans should certainly make a point to search out. The start to a strong series, Female Demon Ohyaku is one that shouldn’t be missed. It receives a very favorable four out of five!