Exploitation fiends are shit out of luck if they blind-bought Yakuza Justice: Erotic Code of Honor expecting a few good campy laughs and a bit of T&A. While the American title suggests a softcore knockoff of Battles Without Honor and Humanity, Kinji Fukasaku’s milestone multipart yakuza epic, the film itself is a semiserious softcore tragedy.
You know you’re no longer in the land of mindless kitsch anymore once you take a peek at the DVD jacket’s plot synopsis and note that the film’s screenwriter is given top billing. Erotic Code of Honor was penned by Youzou Tanaka, most famous for having scripted Zigeunerweisen, the first installment in Seijun Suzuki’s “Taisho Trilogy,” a surreal, series of bone-dry, absurdly comic fantasies set during in the Taisho period (1912 - 1928). Fetishists shouldn’t worry though, as Erotic Code of Honor has more than its fair share of absurd violence and scenes where ecstatic women are raped, in one case to death. It also happens to have a pseudo-intellectual punchline that is repeatedly rubbed in the viewer’s face with overzealous abandon.
The nuttiest part about Tanaka’s script is that it justifies its unwieldy mix of campy sex and violence with Buddhist philosophy by arguing that the two are inextricable. The life of Seigen (Jiro Okazaki), an itinerant monk, is, from his violent birth onward, a tug of war between absurd corporeal strife and high-minded ideals. Seigen was born after his mother had already drowned in a stream near the monastery he was raised in. His mother’s corpse was discovered only after a monk reels her body in with his fishing rod. Years later, Seigen, now a virile man, encounters Misako (Nozomi Yasuda), a yakuza boss’s daughter and winds up screwing with her in slow-motion atop a waterfall after saving her from a rival gang (he douses them with buckets full of shit, somberly exclaiming, “The Buddha is shit!”). And this is mere minutes before Seigen finds out that he’s Misako’s brother. If you’re not disoriented yet, wait’ll you see the death-by-gun rape scene. If you thought Kim Ki-Duk was the first Asian filmmaker to establish himself with his brand of over-the-top Buddhist allegories, think again.
Tanaka and director Tatsumi Kumashiro are all too willing to point out the paradoxical state of hellish/holiness with which Seigen continually struggles. They use a combination of the bluntest of visual metaphors (a cluster of white flowers float down stream after having been doused in buckets of fake blood) and the most blocky, stand-offish and unpolished camerawork, the kind that never ceases to remind the viewer that they’re voyeurs watching Seigen’s tragic story from a literal distance. Holistically, for better and/or worse, they’ve made a primo bit of artsploitation. The fact that it’s frequently so jarring that it’s almost unwatchable is a sign of its success/failure.
The film's soundtrack has a muffled, tinny quality at times, but it's never enough to distract the viewer from the film. There's no grain to the picture, but there are a lot of irritating and overzealous black censor rectangles that pop up over any hint of male or female genitalia. It's especially sad to know that Kino was so stingy in their release as to deny their viewers at every turn the base pleasures promised in the film's subtitle.
Only a theatrical trailer.
Completely alienating, Yakuza Justice: Erotic Code of Honor accomplishes what it sets out to, but that unfortunately has nothing to do with what contemporary viewers will expect or want from a film with such a goofy title.