Tattoo (Irezumi)

A rather melodramatic adaptation of the Junchiro Tanizaki novella by Yasuo Masumura, who adds plenty of ostentatious fights and writhing deaths. But as with Blind Beast, Masumura is adept at chronicling the subtle shifts in his characters' descent into nihilism and depravity. Otsuya starts of as a willful young girl eloping with her father's apprentice Shinsuke. She cares for him, and he is besotted with her, but their relationship is pushed past breaking point as they get swallowed up by the underworld. Shinsuke becomes a killer, and Otsuya a whore, largely by circumstance, but the more courageous Otsuya is better able to capitalise on her predicament. She starts to use the enthralled Shinsuke to enact her revenge on those who betrayed and exploited her, but she gradually loses interest in him as the body count rises and the prospect of becoming a concubine to a well-connected samurai opens up.

This descent is encapsulated by the tattoo Otsuya is forcibly given at the behest of her pimp Tokubei, a jorō spider with a woman's head that feeds on blood. As part of her initiation, Tokubei shows Otsuya a painting of a geisha standing on top of a pile of corpses – a visual imprinting of the role she will assume. The tattoo is a symbol of her monstrosity, yes, but it is one forced on her by the men who kidnap and prostitute her. The tattoo artist speaks about the way his soul has escaped and been grafted onto Otsuya, so that her murders feel like his. To some degree they are, in that Otsuya is a product of her environment, and that environment is made by criminal men. Perhaps the artist speaks for the director of the film as well, and the writers who conceived and adapted the story. Otsuya is their creation as well, and they are by turns attracted to and then horrified by her, to the point where they deprive her of her life. But they are guilty as well – after killing Otsuya, the tattoo artist plunges the knife into his own chest.

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