Bohachi Bushido: Code of the Forgotten Eight
(Porno jidaigeki: Bohachi bushido) (1973)
Directed by Teruo Ishii

Artistic Value: * * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * * * ½

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One night, Shiro (Tetsuro Tanba), a samurai who is living in the age of the Tokugawa Shogunate and who is wanted by the law, is attacked by a host of his enemies on a bridge. Although he does slaughter a great many of his assailants, Shiro, convinced that life is hell, despairs and leaps into the river below, only to be fished out of the water and saved by prostitutes working for a criminal gang, the Bohachi clan. Shiro is then informed that he will be given a chance to become part of the gang, if he is able to forsake certain ordinary human virtues, such as mercy, shame, and loyalty, the abandonment of which is a prerequisite for joining the group. Shiro is tested to discover if he has given up such feelings, but fails when he refuses to torture a young woman. Before he can be killed for this, however, the leader of the gang intervenes. He allows Shiro to live as a guest in the Bohachi compound, on the condition that the wanted samurai will help him destroy the brothels competing with those run by the Bohachi. Shiro agrees and begins butchering the Bohachi's enemies, although he does have enemies of his own within their ranks, who see him as a useful tool to be employed and then discarded.

Teruo Ishii's outrageously lascivious, grotesquely violent Bohachi Bushido: Code of the Forgotten Eight is, without a doubt, an exploitation film. Happily, not only is it, with its beguiling sleaze and exciting action sequences, a consistently entertaining work, but it is also well realized and often beautiful. The director has enlivened his film with some genuinely gorgeous moments that give the lurid content of his spectacle a subtle loveliness.


There is hardly a moment during the whole of the movie that is not exquisitely realized. Whether Ishii is showing rows of naked women attending a banquet, elaborately coiffured prostitutes sitting behind lattice windows to attract clients, the silhouettes of nude women fighting a lone man before an indigo sky, or some other captivating image, the director reveals an aesthetic sensitivity that elevates his work above most exploitation films. Bohachi Bushido might be vicious and leering, but, with its sumptuous sets and costumes, its often weird lighting, its skilled cinematography, and its focus on both the charms of the human form and the cruel nature of the human condition, it is imbued with such beauty that even the ferocious violence and the brutal sexuality with which it is filled are given a sort of ethereal grace. Scenes of murder and torture, though disturbing, are, at the same time, elegant and pleasing. Oddly, their very beauty makes them even more disturbing that they would otherwise have been.

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I might now add that when I say that the film is violent and leering, I do mean it. In scene after scene after scene, Ishii revels in exposing the jiggling breasts and bouncing buttocks of virtually every woman who appears in his movie. Whether these women are prostitutes servicing their clients, sword-armed killers attacking or doing battle with some man or another, apparently innocent victims being assaulted by libidinous gangsters, or simply female lackeys sitting about, they are almost invariably naked (I suppose that it is more comfortable to eat or lounge around in the nude and more effective to fight in the nude than it is to do such things dressed). What is more, the director does not just keep his actresses uncovered, he makes sure that the cameras filming them linger on their breasts and buttocks as much as is possible.


Bohachi Bushido's violence is just as intense as is its sexuality. The protagonist engages in one confrontation after another. Sometimes, he kills defenseless men or women. At other times, he duels some single opponent or another, and, frequently, he takes on whole armies of foes. Whatever the fight Shiro finds himself in, he inevitably severs heads and limbs, after which geysers of blood spray from these wounds. The movie's fights are extreme. They are also invariably well choreographed and exciting to watch.


I will hardly claim that Bohachi Bushido is not an exploitation film. I will, however, say that it is a well made and engaging one. It is certainly well worth watching.

Review by Keith Allen

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