Beautiful, yet sickly, Otsuyu (Setsuko Ogawa) and her handmaid, Omine (Hidemi Hara), are walking home in the rain. Otsuyu stops to take a rest under a small shelter, and a handsome samurai named Shinzaburo (Hajime Tanimoto) gives the pair an umbrella to shield their walk home. Otsuyu and Shinzaburo are smitten with each other, and Omine aids her mistress to bring the two together. Otsuyu is the daughter of a wealthy but widowed samurai, and the head of the household, Oyone (Yoshie Kitsuda), is plotting to kill her master and his daughter in order to share his wealth with her lover. Omine eventually brings the two lovers together, and they consummate their love. Oyone takes the opportunity to tattle upon her mistress which forces the young couple’s confrontation with an enraged father. Incensed that the meager samurai (he makes umbrellas for a living) has seduced his daughter under the roof of his home, he pulls his sword and strikes down his daughter. Shinzaburo removes himself to his home, heartbroken, while Oyone is successful in killing both Omine and her master. On August 13 [a Japanese holiday, Obon, where the living commemorate their dead ancestors], Otsuyu appears at Shinzaburo’s door for Shinzaburo to keep his promise: to consummate his eternal love for Otsuyu.
Thomas and Yuko Mihara Weisser write in Japanese Cinema Encyclopedia: The Sex Films, “Although a period film, director Sone’s fairytale stylings provided the movie a visionary charm which appealed to the college crowd. Students embraced it as a cutting-edge movie, turning this venture into Nikkatsu’s first youth-oriented pinku eiga hit. At the same time, Chusei Sone’s camerawork was hailed for its creativity by numerous tough critics. The film won many industry awards and became a bonafide hit.” (*)
Indeed there is a true juvenile spirit to Hellish Love. Ogawa and Tanimoto, who play the two lovers, are young and attractive and their courting reflects this: when Omine is able to get Shinzaburo to visit, she is unable to get Otsuyu to leave her room: Otsuyu covers herself with her blanket, afraid that the handsome samurai will not like her. Likewise, brooding Shinzaburo sits alone in his workshop, afraid to go and visit the young beauty, because how can the daughter of a wealthy samurai ever be interested in a meager and lowly one? Of course, adults are the ones who really fuck things up for the youngsters: they are the plotters and schemers, like Oyone; the killers, like Otsuyu’s father; or meddlers, like the couple of dimwits who live next door to Shinzaburo. The ending of Hellish Love would be a tragedy: however, almost all of the adults in the film die from nefarious means; and in ironic fashion, the ending for the young couple actually elevates them above the rest.
Chusei Sone’s camerawork is stellar. In Otsuyu and Shinzaburo’s fateful love scene, Sone composes the couple behind a dressing screen. With a close-up, his camera focuses on the curled toes of Otsuyu in an ecstatic moment and pans quickly across the dressing screen to capture the look of pleasure in her face. Sone’s eroticism is built primarily through tension: a glance or a naked shoulder captured takes upon a lot of weight. [Indeed, when Otsuyu completely removes her kimono in her love scene with Shinzaburo, the two bodies are completely obscured by optical blurring. Little nudity was shown possibly due to censorship.] Most of the sets are austere. The characters and their fetishes stand out: Otsuyu’s combs and sashes and Shinzaburo’s sword and umbrellas. The settings feel organic which makes Hellish Love focus more upon its characters, which in turn make the film much more intimate.
Despite the fact that Hellish Love is a pinku eiga film, it hardly seems an exploitation film. It is only an exploitation film, because it has more than one love scene and has nudity. However, Sone’s eroticism, I believe, elevates Hellish Love above the exploitation elk and creates compelling cinema. Hellish Love is no longer provocative today: in fact, I would go so far to say that it is shy eroticism. Sone’s direction and the performances by the actors give Hellish Love from me a high recommendation.
* Vital Books, Inc. Asian Cult Cinema Publications. Miami, Florida. 1998: p.133.