Last time he played a game of slave widow, Judge Daryl Loomis found out the hard way that "candle wax" is not an effective safe word.
I'm your maid and I want to work hard.
Slave Widow took me by surprise in many ways. I was not familiar with the Japanese grindhouse tradition, and I'm not sure one actually exists, but the film is billed as part of Cinema Epoch's "Grindhouse Sexploitation Collection." There is, however, a broad history of erotic films out of Japan, and the director of this film, Mamoru Watanabe, went on to direct over 300 "Pink Films," Japanese erotica. Slave Widow fits into this tradition, but less so into grindhouse, at least as I know it. The film deals with prurient subjects and has a predominant sexual theme but, unlike most erotic films, its concern is not only in getting the characters out of their kimonos. Erotica supported by a coherent story? Pigs must be flying.
Facts of the Case
Mitsuko Fuji (Noriko Tatsumi) sits alone in her luxurious mansion waiting for Aya (Naomi Tami), her new maid, to arrive. The maid has been hired by Mitsuko's husband, always away on business, to serve as much as a companion as a housekeeper. Lucky for Mitsuko, she serves up more than tea and friendship. Her husband's gesture is his final one, however, because the mounting debts he'd kept secret from his wife have finally caught up to him, and he commits suicide to escape embarrassment. Now, responsible for a mountain of debt, a huge mansion, and a maid she's very strongly attached to, Mitsuko has no future. Out of the shadows comes Mr. Kito, Mr. Fuji's largest creditor, who agrees to forgive her late husband's debts in exchange for her…services. To survive, Mitsuko becomes his slave. Driven into depression and self-loathing, Mitsuko looks anywhere for an escape from her sexual servitude.
Slave Widow is as lurid as they come with sexual slavery, love triangles, and homoeroticism as its main themes. Most often, the stories in erotica go no farther than this: get their clothes off, get them grinding, and everyone goes home happy. Fortunately, Slave Widow includes an actual fleshed-out plot. Sex is the driving force of this film, of course, but this simple addition so often left out of similar productions puts it above many of its peers. Mitsuko's cultural responsibility to pay the debts of the dead forces her into this indentured servitude. If she doesn't take Mr. Kito's offer, she'll be forced onto the street and into begging or prostitution to stay alive. There is no way to win in this world for a widow, and Mitsuko is left with essentially no choice in the matter. Her character is fully realized in this conflict, and all the sex falls out of that. She doesn't have that animalistic, insatiable lust that has destroyed many erotic heroines. Nor is she morally against or afraid of sex. She is a normal woman in an abnormal, horrible situation reluctantly relenting to her aggressor. Her sex drive, however bad her circumstances, is still active, and Mitsuko finds comfort in Aya's arms. Mitsuko's search for peace of mind is a sad and dismal experience, though realistic and well done. The other characters are far less developed than Mitsuko, but she is the focus, and it is her descent we watch.
With the notion of a Japanese grindhouse film, I expected a roughie like Entrails of a Virgin, but the film is sympathetic to Mitsuko. Thankfully, my fears about the sexual violence were unfounded and, while I certainly can't call the sex "sweet," it is not nearly as mean spirited as I'd anticipated. It does well in not forcing the characters into the sack right away; they spend the first half hour establishing the situation before the action starts. Some would argue that, for erotica, the lack of sex in the first half of the film would be a deal breaker, but a little foreplay's a good thing and doing this makes the sex more meaningful, hopefully more emotional and, consequently, more erotic. Slave Widow is quite successful in this aspect. After it gets going, the action comes fast. The film is surprisingly frank with coital depictions, especially between Mitsuko and her maid. I certainly didn't expect a well-realized lesbian romantic subplot from a '60s Japanese film and, not only is the relationship in full view, it is by far the most tender and emotional part.
Cinema Epoch's release of Slave Widow looks and sounds better than expected. It was mastered from the original elements and shows few defects. There is some degradation of the print here and there, but the transfer is perfectly fine. The black and white photography has sharp contrast and looks very good. The sound is completely acceptable, but there isn't much for the speakers to do. The Japanese dialogue is clear and bright, and the music (what there is of it) sounds full as it can through the single channel. There are no extras on the disc.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The film is thematically interesting, but technically quite bland. With subtitled erotica, it's difficult to tell if the translation makes the dialogue worse than originally written, but these absurd lines so pointed to the bedroom would make Misty Mundae cringe. I'll say again that I appreciate the depth of the lead character, but the others are poorly drawn and ultimately shallow. Revolving around Mitsuko are her unwitting lover, her aggressor, and his son who wants her as well. There is some token dialogue between father and son, limply trying to establish a reason for the son's inclusion in the story at all, but everything that doesn't involve Mitsuko (which, to be fair, isn't a lot) is pretty worthless. The camerawork and direction are static, and the music is essentially one theme repeated ad nauseum. The clearly miniscule budget and general lack of artistry do not help the problems in the story or the dialogue.
For all its artistic setbacks, Slave Widow is a decent film with some surprisingly tender moments that help downplay the inherent misogyny of a story of sexual slavery. A sympathetic lead character that is well-drawn and well acted, and some reasonably erotic sex scenes, will make fans of the grindhouse scene quite happy.
It's better than most films of its kind. Shoddy as it is in places, Slave
Widow is free to go.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Cinema Epoch
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