Teruo Ishii's Bohachi Bushido pushes a notch higher in the sex-and-chambara sweepstakes. Instead of confining their nudity to the bedroom, Bohachi's nude women bodyguards douse fires and take on a ninja master in the open. Add an enigmatic assassin, and it all adds up to a bloody bloodbath. Stephen Tan reviews.


When it comes to sex in Asian movies, the Japanese are more than one step ahead. So it was no surprise that the Shaw Brothers' 1981 wu xia (swordfighting) film, Bloody Parrot, should take an idea that was tried and tested in Bohachi Bushido: Code Of The Forgotten Eight. Bloody Parrot had a group of women fighters who fights in the nude. In Teruo Ishii's Bohachi Bushido (1973), the Bohachi's chief has a group of female bodyguards who too fights in the nude.

Based on Kazuo Koike's manga, lesser-known as compared to Lone Wolf And Cub), a key element to the success of the sex-and-chambara (swordfighting) Bohachi Bushido is Tetsuro Tamba as the lead. Western viewers will remember Tamba as James Bond's Japanese counterpart, Tiger Tanaka, in You Only Live Twice. Here, he is Shiro, is a notorious assassin in medieval Japan wanted by the law. While he is tired of all the killing, he is not prepared to give himself up. Instead he jumps off a bridge to drown himself in the icy river.

His suicide attempt is unsuccessful as he is rescued by the Bohachi clan. The Bohachis are the meanest of the mean, who have no regard for anything, especially women, whom they torture into submissive sexual slaves. To be a Bohachi, one must forget one's godliness, obedience, loyalty, trust, modesty, justice, conscience and shame (the eight forgotten human virtues) - that is, everything that is contrary to the bushido (warrior) code.

To revive Shiro, a group of naked women wrap themselves around him to keep him warm. Before Shiro is given a chance to join the clan, he has to undergo a test. The Bohachi clan controls prostitution in the city and Shiro's first job is to rout out all competition. In the process, the Bohachi captures a woman to be auctioned off to the highest bidder and Shiro is given some money to join in the auction.

Tied up in a spread-eagle fashion, potential bidders are given the opportunity to feel up the woman but Shiro, who stakes all the money he has, wins the bid. Left alone, Shiro does nothing to the woman but it is shown that the whole set up is the final test for Shiro who fails (he was supposed to "break" the woman). The women among the clan members laugh at Shiro's stoic manner and, in a fit of anger, he cuts off a woman's ear.

Trying to leave, Shiro finds the law waiting for him. The ensuing fight is stopped by the elder and crafty Bohachi Boss, who personally takes Shiro under his charge.

With Shiro on his side, the Bohachi ends up the strongest clan, leaving their competitors envious. One night Shiro is ambushed and would have been burnt to death if not for the arrival of his female bodyguards. Dousing their clothes in water, the women roll themselves over the fire. After putting out the fire, the women remove their clothes and leave, all with their hands decorously covering their genitalia. But they meet up with a ninja from a rival clan.

No match for the ninja, the women are easily captured but Shiro turns up. His defeat of the ninja also means the ultimate victory of the Bohachi clan and the Boss now tries to do away with Shiro, by offering the assassin sex and opium.

The film's mix of non-stop violence starts from the opening credit sequence, which also lays out the look of the film. Violent to an extreme, the opening features Shiro in a duel on a bridge, which is soon followed by flying body parts and gushing arterial blood. Stylistically lit, the film's lighting gives Bohachi Bushido a stage-y feel. For example, in a face-off between Shiro and Kesazo Shirakubi (Gorou Ibuki) - the Bohachi's second in command - the set goes dark with only two spotlights, one on each of the protagonist. In the final battle, against a ground of white snow, Shiro is lit by a crimson spotlight.

But it is the naked women who help to sell this movie - from prostitutes at "work", to being manhandled when they are caught, in open arm (and body) combat - this is a feast for the viewers. Add to that a hint of lesbian sex and the church, where one of the Japanese women strips and fondles a European nun who is tied to a cross.

While South-east Asian audiences only remember early '70s Shaw Brothers' films such as King Boxer and Boxer From Shantung for their violence, it is their Japanese counterparts who are more innovative and daring in both depicting violence and sex on screen, even if our hero constantly intones, “To die is hell, but to live, is also hell.”

Note: The Bohachi Bushido: Code Of The Forgotten Eight DVD is banned in $ingapore.

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July 15, 2007


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