Inferno of Torture

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Inferno of Torture poster
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Also Known As

  • Hell's Tattooers
  • Tokugawa 2: Das Freudenhaus von Nagasaki
  • Tokugawa irezumi-shi: Seme jigoku

Main Details

  • Released in 1969
  • Color
  • 95 min
  • 2.35.1
  • Toei Studios

Cast and Crew

  • Directed by Teruo Ishii
  • Produced by Shigeru Okada
  • Music by Masao Yagi
  • Cinematography by Motoya Washyo
  • Written by Teruo Ishii and Masahiro Kakefuda
  • Starring: Teruo Yoshida, Asao Koike, Yuki Kagawa, Masumi Tachibana, Mieko Fujimoto, Miki Obana, Reiichi Hatanaka

Film Review

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Inferno of Torture, although I prefer to call it by its japanese title, Tokugawa irezumi-shi: Seme jigoku, is one of the most ambitious Teruo Ishii films I’ve seen and probably his most coherent exploitation work. The technical quality is on a level that is rarely reached even by so called A-film directors. Ishii uses multiple main characters, breaks the chronology, uses lots of ’through the glass floor’ shots and lets the camera pan slowly on empty corridors. The cinematography is of high quality and the moody soundtrack supports scenes perfectly. Simply a gorgeous movie to look at. A bit surprisingly the storyline and the characters are good as well. Some of the more romantic and tragic scenes are genuinely beautiful, even touching. Somewhat an achievement from an exploitation film.

The film has a wild english title, Inferno of Torture, but that’s partly a marketing gimmick. After the gruesome but cool opening scene (which uses the kick ass theme music from The Joy of Torture) the violence is toned down to the typical pinky violence whipping action and occasional, not too gory torture scenes. Fourty minutes in and Ishii seems to have forgotten the whole theme of torture. Only the ending features a little shocker but it’s quite brief and well handled.

So, does this mean the film doesn't live up to its title? The original japanese title, Tokugawa irezumi-shi: Seme jigoku, actually refers to both tattoo and torture. The film also has an alternate and more describing english title; Hell's Tattooers. That's more what the movie is really about. Everything that happens in the movie is related to tattoos in one way or another. I’ve never been a huge fan of tattoos myself but honestly speaking the stuff here was pretty damn impressive. ’Inferno of Torture’ is the name of a certain tattoo appearing in the film.

One thing I like about the film is the structure. The movie is centered around two rivalry tattoo artists (Asao Koike and Teruo Yoshida) but they’re not really the main characters, or at least not the only main characters. Ishii moves back and forth between at least four important characters tells different parts of the story through different characters. All of them have their own stories but they’re still closely related and basically just different ends of one bigger story. I’ve seen movies fail miserably with this but here it works nicely.

Those expecting a hard edged exploitation film with blood and guts all over the screen will most likely be disappointed. Inferno of Torture is definitely something different from the usual psychedelic Ishii show. It’s a suprisinly polished work in its own genre and one of my favourite Teruo Ishii films. However, if it’s hard gore torture you’re looking for then I recommend the 1976 semi-sequel Shogun’s Sadism (directed by Yuuji Makiguchi).

- Reviewed by HungFist - 1/3/08

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