DVD of the Week: Tattooed Flower Vase

Kashin no Irezumi: Ureta Tsubo (1976)

Kashin no Irezumi: Ureta Tsubo (1976)

There were some good DVD re-releases this week such as the Special Collector’s Edition of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974) and a Deluxe Edition of Richard Lester’s Help! (1965). But my DVD pick of the week is the Kino/KimStim release of the Japanese Roman Porno film Tattooed Flower Vase (aka Kashin no Irezumi: Ureta Tsubo; 1976) directed by Masaru Konuma. Kino released four of Konuma’s Pink films in association with KimStim on Region-1 NTSC DVD this week. The other three Konuma films now available are Cloistered Nun: Runa’s Confession (aka Shudojo Runa no Kokuhaku, 1976), Wife to be Sacrificed (aka Ikenie Fujin; 1974) and Erotic Diary of an Office Lady (aka OL Kanno Nikki: Ah! Watashi no Naka de; 1977). Only Wife to be Sacrificed has been available in the U.S. on DVD before now.

I’ve only had the opportunity to see Tattooed Flower Vase, but it’s a beautiful piece of erotica with a dark sadistic edge. My experience with Konuma’s work is minimal at best, but I’ve found his early films to be visually impressive and smartly done even if they often lack the interesting social and political themes that can be found in more experimental pink films made by independent directors such as Koji Wakamatsu.

Masaru Konuma worked for the Nikkatsu studio system during the seventies and early eighties making Roman Porno films, which are a type of Pink film mainly concerned with eroticism and aesthetics. In particular Japanese eroticism and aesthetics that often confuse and confound western audiences and critics. Konuma still works for Nikkatsu making adult films but the “golden age” of Roman Porno has come and gone.

The director’s 1976 film Tattooed Flower Vase stars the lovely Naomi Tani (often referred to as one of the “queens” of Japanese erotica) as a widowed doll maker named Michiyo with a beautiful daughter Takako (Takako Kitagawa). The two women live together in a sort of quiet solitude and appear to have an unusual bond with sexual undertones. When Michiyo is drugged and taken advantage of by a doll shop owner, her erotic passions are aroused and she begins to obsess over her past sexual experiences with a deceased Kabuki actor. Things get more complicated after Michiyo’s daughter is involved in a car accident with a handsome young man named Hideo, who ends up being the son of her dead lover. Both mother and daughter begin to vie for Hideo’s attention and as the story unfolds Michiyo becomes more and more aroused by her memories. Michiyo’s erotic adventures include a passionate fling with a tattoo artist who covers her body in a beautiful traditional Japanese tattoo. Her elaborate tattoo design represents a classic Kabuki play about a woman who transforms into a snake so she can pursue her lover. In some ways Michiyo undergoes a similar transformation after she gets tattooed.

Kashin no Irezumi: Ureta Tsubo (1976)

Kashin no Irezumi: Ureta Tsubo (1976)

Masaru Konuma began working as an assistant director at Nikkatsu studios in the sixties and he has praised the work of the brilliant Japanese director Seijun Suzuki, who also worked at Nikkatsu. I don’t know if the two men ever worked together during the ’60s, but Konuma’s creative use of light, space and framing seems to echo Suzuki’s work at times. Tattooed Flower Vase is a lovely looking film that makes impressive use of its Kabuki themes and traditional music. I also enjoyed the way the director used traditional Japanese Washi paper dolls in Tattooed Flower Vase to reinforce particular themes.

As I mentioned above, Naomi Tani plays a doll maker in Tattooed Flower Vase and she is often photographed within the film making dolls or caressing them. She has a special talent for making Kabuki style Washi paper dolls, which obviously reference her passionate relationship with a dead Kabuki actor. The dolls also seem to symbolize the way that the women sometimes play and toy with the male characters in the movie

Masaru Konuma’s Roman Porno films are clearly designed to arouse a viewers mind and body, and if you’re bothered by explicit sexuality in films then you should probably avoid them. On the other hand, early Roman Porno films such as Tattooed Flower Vase are more erotic than pornographic, and they contain subtle nudity and censored genitalia. Having some understanding of Japanese erotica will help western viewers better appreciate the films erotic themes and the way Konuma presents various sexual acts, which could probably be seen as misogynistic or even bizarre to some shortsighted viewers.

The Tattooed Flower Vase is currently available at Amazon and it features a beautiful anamorphic (16:9) widescreen print of the film with optional English subtitles. Extras include a theaterical trailer and a brief text biography on director Masaru Konuma, which unfortunately is rather dull and uninformative. It only seems to echo the limited information about Konuma that can already be found at Wikipedia. This is a minor complaint though, and I’m grateful that Kino/KimStim are making these rare early Konuma films available on DVD.

Kashin no Irezumi: Ureta Tsubo (1976)

Kashin no Irezumi: Ureta Tsubo (1976)

You can find more images from the film in my Tattooed Flower Vase Flickr Gallery.

11 thoughts on “DVD of the Week: Tattooed Flower Vase

  1. Greg B. says:

    You like Pink Cinema too? Damn, I think I love you…hehe. Great write-up. I have thought about picking up “Cloistered Nun: Runa’s Confession” and “Wife to be Sacrificed”, now this is on my list too. Thanks!

  2. cinebeats says:

    From the limited amount of Pink films I’ve seen I tend to prefer the earlier movies (pre-78) since the later stuff seems to get sort of obvious, redundant and sloppy. It also seems to loose a lot of it’s subtle artistic edge. Of course that could just be due to my limited experience with the later stuff. I really liked Tattooed Flower Vase and that had a lot to do with the films interesting themes that I personally find really appealing. The other three Konuma films released this week aren’t as appealing to me, but that might change once I get a chance to see them. I hope you’ll review the other Konuma films once you see them since I am curious about them!

    Mike over the Esotika Erotica Psychotica blog (link on the right) has been reviewing some newer Pink films that sound interesting so I recommend checking out his blog if you haven’t come across it yet.

  3. Jeremy says:

    Thanks for this look at the film Kimberly…as you know I have been exploring more Japanese films lately, and this one is in my Netflix que…I am looking forward to seeing it.

  4. Keith says:

    Thanks Kimberly for such a great write-up on this film. I’ve been getting into more Japanese cinema recently. This film is actually in my Netflix queue. The pictures from it are stunningly beautiful. I’ve definitely been wanting to explore more in the way of pink films. Great blog.

  5. Jonathan Lapper says:

    …if you’re bothered by explicit sexuality in films then you should probably avoid them

    I’ll make sure John Ashcroft never sees this film. As for explicit sexuality, it doesn’t seem to exist anymore in film anyway. Through the very early eighties it seemed to be a staple of mature dramatic works by established filmmakers. Then Reagen came in and we haven’t gone back yet, except for the odd venture or two each year but never in a big movie like it used to be (Don’t Look Now, Body Heat, etc.).

    Also, as one who has and likes tatoos I must say the work shown on her back is quite remarkable.

  6. cinebeats says:

    Thanks guys and I hope you get a chance to see it soon! I thought there was some remarkable stuff in it.

    Jonathan – A film like this would never be made in the U.S. probably not in 1976 and absolutely not now. It’s so strange how countries like Japan, France, etc. seem so much more adult in their approach to sexuality in cinema. America has always been rather prudish, but man oh man do we love our violence as you pointed out in a recent post in your own blog!

  7. ADA says:

    never seen any pink film, but just last month i watched a lot japan stuff. kurosawa/mifune classics, lady snowblood,… you know… good ones. but what i saw for the first time was zen-samurai-exploitation “lone wolf and cub”. only two first films from the series (they havent relased the other ones yet). and i liked it very much. little less conversation, little more action.
    must-see for every samurai fan.

  8. Vanwall says:

    I’ll have to look at this one; early Pink is best, I agree. The Seventies were a bit of a high point in Japanese cinema in more ways than one. Hope that snake tattoo wasn’t unbroken – bad juju.

  9. cinebeats says:

    ADA – I think you would probably enjoy some Pink films. I’m not a huge fan of Samurai films myself, but I do love the Lone Wolf & Cub movies. They’re terrific fun!

    Vanwell – I think you’d find the film interesting. The sixties and seventies were really a high-point in cinema all around it seems. Viva la revolution!

  10. logboy says:

    well, i highly recommend all these konuma films. tattooed flower vase made my top 5 of the year, although i’ve bought all the others too and so far only managed to watch erotic diary of an office lady out of the remaining ones. these films, although not easy to square the idea of if you object to the contents of pornography – nudity, sex, naughty bits – are as far from base as you can get in erotica without removing the sexuality and the opportunity to explore.

    that’s a bit of a trick description, because i really want more to realise this genre contains an awful lot of experimentation in the earlier years, and pink films still maintain that unusual edge that can be hard to find enough of in less erotic stuff. also worth checking out what sacrament are releasing of very recent pink films, especially ‘sex machine’, a film which made midnighteye’s top ten list last year or the year before :

    http://www.amazon.com/Sex-Machine/dp/B000XSKDOW/

    i’ve seen the UK disc of it, and it’s a film very similar in approach to a lot of the kooky narrative stuff popular with many – like ‘taste of tea’ for example, as it’s a gentle slice-of-life drama with inventive visuals and offbeat sense of humour, very inventive but not overly lively style of telling a story efficiently.
    lots of sacraments earlier releases can often be found on amazon.co.uk for vastly reduced prices, so that offers more to explore.

    again, ‘tattooed flower vase’ – one of the most interesting of the year, for me.

  11. Chris Nelson says:

    Hmm. I can’t say I liked this one as much (I posted a review on my site if you’re interested in checking it out). Still, the quality of the restoration is astounding. Have you seen the Sadistic and Masochistic Doc on the Wife to Be Sacrificed DVD? Does it cover anything about this film?

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