Teruo Ishii may never be regarded in the same exalted terms as fellow Japanese cult heroes like Norifumi Suzuki or Koji Wakamatsu (though to be fair much of his work remains pretty rare), but he was certainly no slouch, a solid and stylish contributor to many genres. The Joy of Torture is probably the best I've seen from him so far, the start of his eight strong ero guro series. An anthology film indicting Edo era savagery, while not especially graphic its a classy and even moving work with some memorable scenes.
The first story is the weakest of the three, seeing a woman driven to desperation and aberrant love by her injured brother. Interesting enough but little developed, it's a set up that would have benefited from a full length treatment or at least greater levels of emotional intensity, high melodrama should have been the style but its actually relatively subdued. Still good stuff though and its theme of love binding characters to their doom leads nicely into the next story, a tale of nuns driven wild with lust for a neighboring monk. This one really ups the ante, with escalating hysteria mounting into interesting torture scenes and bloodshed, including a hilarious use of loaches. The best is saved till last though, a dedicated tattoo artist seeks to create his finest work by watching the torture of Christian missionaries. This segment combines interesting obsession with the most protracted torture scenes of the film, lots of beating, wheeling, burning and so forth of a multitude of screaming semi naked ladies to unsettling yet undeniably erotic effect. Plus the close is (relatively speaking) pretty upbeat. So its a decent mix, but at the same time somewhat flawed. Some inconsistencies nag, most notably the aforementioned slightly flat opening story. The film is thematically inconsistent too, flitting from the tragedy of love to the mania of excess to the excess of torture, taking in the harshness of social strictures, cruelty of individuals and passion of torture along the way. Although the stories are united by recurring torturer Nambara and his (relatively) nice guy assistant, there's a slightly scattershot feel to the general critique that detracts from the overall effect. The social justification is a tad cheesy as well, which wouldn't be a bad thing but the film is exploitative enough to seem hypocritical while not exploitative enough to be hilarious in having higher pretensions. There isn't much gore either, but then its still fairly strong for its time. Altogether still a very worthy film, nudity, nastiness, solid plotting and beautiful cinematography, definitely worth a watch for vintage Japanese exploitation fans.