To be honest, I haven’t watched all that much S&M. I’ve seen a good handful of features exploring what I’ve called ‘the darkest of the carnal fruits,’ but I’m clearly no expert on the subject matter. However, Nikkatsu’s FAIRY IN A CAGE was a bit above what I’ve seen elsewhere. Some of that could be the setting. Some of it could be the direction. More of it is mostly likely due to the excellent production detail paid in the war-time backdrop which serves as the mechanism to bring all of these players together.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging: “During World War II, the tyrannical Judge Murayama uses his military power to imprison and torture innocent people. Suspected of helping an anti-government movement, the lovely Namiji Kikushima is captured, along with a local kabuki actor. Helpless and unable to escape, the two are subjected to a grueling series of tortures including rope bondage and physical assault. As the Judge and his evil assistant Kayo revel in their perverse fetishes, a new military recruit they’ve hired named Taoka may be the key to the prisoners’ freedom. He loves Namiji and will do what he can to help her, even if it means betrayal to organize an escape!”
FAIRY IN A CAGE created a bit of a stir when it was first released in the late 70’s, much of which was honestly due to public scrutiny its studio – Nikkatsu – was enduring at the time. Granted, the story which flirted heavily with such topics as bondage, sex toys used as torture, and the like was provocative enough; add to that the conviction of a government bent on censoring exactly the type of story director Koyu Ohara had captured on film, and the picture was probably destined to amass a cult following in any circle.
Despite all of that hubbub, I actually found FAIRY IN A CAGE to be a bit tame. Sure, it was a handful of scenes which glorify the interrogator’s role with obvious S&M flavoring, but a few of the sequences play out like perhaps only mildly sadistic foreplay considering the depth of depravity of seen on display in lesser flicks. I mean … tickle torture? Water torture? Salves to make your loins itch? Yes, it’s S&M … but the captives’ solution managed to hit the spot! (If you’ll pardon the pun …)
From an original story by Oniroku Dan, FAIRY is actually a tale involved political corruption as much as it is illicit carnal passions. Murayama – as an interrogator – clearly has given up any inclination to behave with any measure of decorum; instead, he’s used the privilege of his political position to exploit others all for his own macabre fascination with getting others ‘to crack’ through sexual means. He’s even taken a bit of a concubine of his own, and the woman has become so enamored with his activities she’s taken them up in her zeal to service the cause. What that cause is never quite gets ironed out, but I thought Ohara did a pretty good job pointing fingers at the establishment for allowing the creation of such a police state while depicting the sexual shenanigans more as sideshow antics than legitimate art.
While the packaging implies that the soldier – Taoka – has fallen in love with the lovely damsel Namiji, that’s more than a bit of an oversimplification. Instead, he’s been won over to her charms precisely by what he’s witnessed happening to her; that’s why the first time he’s moved to self-gratification he imagines her fully bound with ropes – much as he’s come to know her – which leads him to touch himself. After he helps her escape in the big finish, he’s overcome with lust once he believes they’re free, and then the audience sees he’s only all too willing to further violate her body senselessly one bout of intercourse after another while the exhausted captive no longer has the strength to so much as resist.
FAIRY IN A CAGE (1977) is produced by Nikkatsu. DVD distribution is being handled by Impulse Pictures under the Nikkatsu Erotic Films Collection. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is a Japanese spoken language release with English subtitles available. (There is no English-dubbed track.) As for the technical specifications? Wow! FAIRY IN A CAGE actually looks quite good despite its age, and it is presented here in glorious full theatrical widescreen. Lastly, the only legitimate special feature here is the liner notes – an ongoing staple to these releases – provided by Japanese film scholar Jasper Sharp.
RECOMMENDED. While I found much of the film a bit narratively bizarre, FAIRY IN A CAGE certainly didn’t appear as controversial today as it was when it was first released theatrically in the late 70’s. In fact, compared to today’s standards in adult entertainment and hard-core pornography quite a bit of FAIRY is pretty tame, though no doubt some audiences will be put off by the S&M storyline. Still, nobody endures a bit of sexual torture and looks good like Naomi Tani!
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Impulse Pictures provided me with a DVD copy of FAIRY IN A CAGE by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.