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Issue #186a HOME E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com BACK ISSUES November 17th, 2003

The Notorious Concubines
(1969; Shochiku)

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended

Japanese: Kin Pei Bei

Alternate English Titles: Fist & Steel -- The Concubines, The Concubines

Director Koji Wakamatsu is admired for such startling underground productions as GO, GO SECOND TIME VIRGIN and ECSTASY OF THE ANGELS. However, he occasionally worked on more mainstream projects like this Shochiku adaptation of the scandalous Chinese erotic novel Jin Ping Mei, the content of which is potent enough for the book to remain banned in China to this day. Pan Jin-lien (Tomoko Mayama), the beautiful, scheming wife of rice seller Wu Ta (Hatsuo Yamatani), has an affair but is forgiven this transgression by her obsequious husband. The woman quickly gives in to temptation and poisons Ta, but fears what the man's brother, soldier Wu Sung (Shikokyu Takashima), might do upon returning to the region. Sure enough, upon seeing his brother's spirit tablet, Sung goes berserk, commits murder, and is sentenced to death. In the meantime, Jin-lien has become the fifth wife of decadent Hsi Men-ching (future director Juzo Itami) but is soon forgotten by the drinking, carousing nobleman. Jin-lien also has a hostile relationship with her fellow concubines and, when Men-ching marries a sixth time and fathers a son with his new bride, Jin-lien murders the baby. Men-ching drowns his sorrows in wine and sex but he has worse problems ahead: Wu Sung has escaped execution and is leading a group of murderous bandits into the territory.

THE NOTORIOUS CONCUBINES was released stateside by Harry Novak's Boxoffice International minus -- obviously -- the original language track and almost all of its credits, and that is the version presented here (it was also most likely edited but I was unable to locate the original Japanese running time). Alas, these alterations have largely negated whatever merits the original version possessed. The English dialogue by actor/writer James E. McLarty (THE TOUCH OF SATAN) is simplistic and the dubbing is incredibly lackadaisical, draining the energy and tension from scene after scene. The mix is also quite thin, with background foley FX and ambient sounds largely non-existent, adding to the artificiality of it all. We are left with a plodding and muddled narrative that fails to hold one's interest and central characters who make virtually no impression at all. It does not help that the source novel spans 70 chapters (the title, Jin Ping Mei, is the names of three concubines but only Jin gets center stage here), so we are left with a fragment of a story fragment. The production's visual merits, at least, remain intact. While based on a classic of Chinese literature, this is very much a Japanese film in both its compositions and production design, though even this novelty eventually fails to hold one's attention. In true exploitation style, the jacket copy claims that the movie is "awash in sex, violence, and brutality," but the eroticism is fairly mild, with some innocuous nudity (image) and a couple of brief whippings, and bloodshed is reserved by Japanese standards of the time. What initially seem to be brief flaws in the print are actually instances of optical blurring added to obscure pubic hair, a bit of censorship performed in the movie's home territory and certainly not the work of Harry Novak!

As usual with Something Weird discs, the extras are legion, including an entire second feature mentioned only on the back of the keep case. After spending part of the '30s helming Sylvia Sidney movies for Paramount, Russian-born director Marion Gering's career went off in unusual directions, none more so than VIOLATED PARADISE (1963; 67 minutes, 16 chapters, Dolby Digital 1.0), aka THE SCINTILLATING SIN. Ostensibly an adaption of Fosco Maraini's book "Meeting With Japan," this moderately interesting Italian/Japanese co-production begins with a National Geographic-style look at local traditions, seen through the eyes of pretty teenager Tamako (Kazuko Mine, voiced by Paulette Girard with faux Japanese accent), who lives in a remote settlement but decides to become a geisha in Tokyo. We start with the rural villages (where topless fishergirls harvest awabi) and then receive a primer in Shinto and Buddhism. Once Tamako arrives in the big city, the movie ventures into mondo territory, alternating between her delicate observations about life and the citizenry, and a condescending male narrator's snide asides that try to paint the Japanese as the most hedonistic race on the planet ("This is what happens when the moon is out and Tokyo entertains itself and the men have good expense accounts"). Along the way, we learn about the training and demands made upon those who practice the traditional geisha arts, girls who perform in cabarets, public baths, etc. There is enough casual nudity (image) here to have satisfied early ‘60s drive-in patrons in search of the exotic Eastern erotic escapism (though certainly none of the roughie content inherent in that typically misleading title) but contemporary viewers will find the movie's time capsule views of the country its most significant quality. Rating: 5/10.

Cover art courtesy Something Weird.

Tomoko Mayama. Image courtesy Something Weird.

Juzo Itami. Image courtesy Something Weird.

Kazuko Mine. Image courtesy Something Weird.

Kazuko Mine. Image courtesy Something Weird.
Something Weird #ID1188SWDVD (U.S. label)

Dolby Digital 1.0

Dubbed in English

18 Chapters Listed in the Menu

Enhanced for 16:9 Displays

Letterboxed (2.36:1)

Coded for Region 1 Only

NTSC Format

79 Minutes

Contains moderate violence, nudity, sexual content, and torture

DVD menu courtesy Something Weird.

Ontario: R
United States: R


While it is nice to see that SWV is now doing selected titles in 16:9, their presentation of THE NOTORIOUS CONCUBINES is uneven, with the image often on the soft and grainy side. The transfer is also a bit too dark, with indistinct contrasts during some low light sequences. Colors are strong, however, and the source materials (apparently a 35mm positive) are generally clean, with the most prominent wear subsiding after the first few minutes. Aside from being a bit low, the audio has no notable problems than were likely already present. On a trivial note, CONCUBINES is one of the few Boxoffice International sex films to be released with an official MPAA "R" rating, as opposed to Novak's phony "Restricted Admission" tag. The print of VIOLATED PARADISE suffers from scratches and constant speckling. There are also dialogue-dropping splices (particularly during a badly worn reel midway through) and occasional wobbling caused by damaged sprockets. The Eastman Color hues are still strong but some greenish discoloration pops up from time-to-time and color quality drops considerably in the final reel. The fullscreen framing does not seem to compromise the compositions in any way and the sound is reasonable, considering how well-travelled the element is. In contrast to previous discs, the SWV bug does not appear and, when one views the movie as a free bonus (not to mention one that is more interesting than the main feature), the presentation is acceptable.

Additional supplements include trailers for NOTORIOUS (which carries the title THE CONCUBINES, also the name on the source used for the transfer) and five other Asian erotic films that played domestic venues: BONELESS, GEISHA PLAYMATES ("Filmed entirely in Japan in the fleshpots of Tokyo!"), NAKED PURSUIT ("A film as shocking as the heritage of violence that made it possible!"), THE SLAVE WIDOW, and THE WEIRD LOVEMAKERS. Five short subjects are also included. Of most interest are the two from Japan, both of which are in color and scope. "Red Lights of Tokyo" (2.40:1, 16 mins) features a variety of acts, while the more leering of the two, "Sherbet Nude" (2.38:1, 18 mins) unfolds in such stylized backgrounds as an apartment and office building. The others are American-made, B & W, Academy ratio, and not nearly as stylish. "Lotus Wing -- Oriental Typhoon" (3 mins) apparently dates from the early 50s, while "Princess Ming Chu" (5 mins) looks to be an excerpt from the same era. Finally, there is "Oriental Tease" (18 mins), a multi-segment coin-drop arcade loop from 1949 that entreats the viewer to part with his cash via title cards like "Part Four has passed but don't feel blue -- Part Five is better I'm telling you!"

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