Impulse Pictures // 1977 // 71 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // March 14th, 2013
A bondage fetish phenomenon!
Exploitation pictures are infamous for finding any excuse to show their particular depraved brand of human degradation. That's why there are so many Nazi films and "primitive" cannibal pictures. It gives the filmmakers the perfect excuse to show torture and flesh-eating without worrying too much about plot. Fairy in a Cage takes a page from this playbook, combining rope bondage and a corrupt World War II-era judge for a potent exploitation combo. Though it won't hold much interest for those not already fond of Japanese Roman films, Fairy in a Cage gets a solid DVD release.
During World War II, Namiji Kikushima (Naomi Tani) is suspected of fomenting revolt among the peasants. For her crimes she's sentenced to the care of Judge Murayama, who isn't above a little rope bondage and torture to punish wayward citizens.
Fairy in a Cage is an infamous example of the ways in which Japanese rope bondage has been featured on film. Shibari (or Kinbaku) is a fairly old Japanese technique that turns tying a woman up with rope into an art. Most Westerners learned about this practice from lurid exploitation pictures in which Japanese women were bound. Fairy in a Cage is a perfect example of this kind of film. The fact that Kikushima is not only tied up, but tortured gives everything an even more exploitative feeling than the rope bondage along would provide. Of course in the age of Google, anyone can learn all about Shibari and all the ways in which people get tied up. And yet Fairy in a Cage remains an interesting artifact for demonstrating where the crossover between rope bondage and exploitation pictures occurred.
The picture is also a fascinating artifact of the ways in which Japanese productions were changing at the time. Like other Roman or "pink" films, Fairy in a Cage was made after the golden era of Japanese cinema. With the studio system -- which relied on a kind of apprentice structure -- on the way out, the Japanese studios had a glut of talent that couldn't be applied to mainstream products. There simply weren't enough opportunities for skilled workers to work on prestigious products because of the relative lack of mainstream pictures. This inevitably lead to a whole host of creatives and technicians applying their skills to "lesser" pictures. The upshot is that a film like Fairy in a Cage doesn't look like many exploitation pictures of the day. It's shot with a relatively high budget and strong production values. Sets and locations look authentic. Actors do a fine job with the material, and even their costumes look high-end. Most exploitation fans have come to expect lowest-common-denominator filmmaking to get their exploitation kicks, but with Fairy in a Cage they don't have to. That alone makes the film interesting to watch, as these depraved acts are given glossy cinematic treatment.
Finally, there's the World War II setting. I'm not going to claim that Fairy in a Cage is the most revealing Japanese film about the excesses of WWII or anything. Still, the film does try to say something about the structure of the Japanese military at the time. Also, it's interesting to see the film deal with a kind of resistance figure as a hero. Not many Japanese films have a protagonist like this, and to view it in the context of a WWII picture makes for compelling variety.
This DVD from the folks at Impulse makes appreciating this bit of cinematic sleaze even easier. The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is vibrant and sourced from a surprisingly clean print. Detail is strong throughout, and black levels stay deep and consistent. The Japanese 2.0 Mono track keeps dialogue audible and balanced, but it suffers from technological limitations. It won't push your theater system to the limit, but with the English subtitles, it ensures that viewers can understand what's going on.
The set's lone extra is a set of liner notes by Jasper Sharpe. For some releases that might be cause to complain, but it fits Fairy in a Cage perfectly. Sharp provides production context, a bit of Japanese history, and some biographical info as well.
Of course, Fairy in a Cage is reprehensible for its depiction of violence against its female protagonist, and not even the political motivations excuse the rampant torture and bondage. The film is not for those who lack a strong stomach, though it's far from the most infamous example of the genre. If you know what you're getting into, Fairy in a Cage won't disappoint, but if you're a neophyte with the genre, then this is probably not the place to start.
Fairy in a Cage is obviously a film that caters to a niche market, but for those who are into '70s-era Japanese exploitation, it's hard to ask for anything more than this. The film is well presented and the extra information is interesting. It's not to everyone's taste by any stretch, but it's worth at least a rental for fans of the genre.
Guilty of excess.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Impulse Pictures
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Japanese)
Running Time: 71 Minutes
Release Year: 1977
MPAA Rating: Not Rated