This murder-mystery, set in 1947 Japan, showcases the presence of sexploitation.
One could argue that, aside from murder-mysteries, no other genre takes pleasure in the deaths of its characters for the sake of a satisfying puzzle as much as the pink film. Chusei Sone’s film “Case of the Disjointed Murder” combines these two cinematic elements in a striking and brutal manner. While it falls short in its attempt at depth, “Case of the Disjointed Murder” is memorable for being a conflicted project made during Sone’s ironic attempt to move away from pink filmmaking – a journey that ultimately resulted in his own mysterious disappearance.
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Sone’s interest in foreign films distributed by Art Theatre Guild (ATG) at the beginning of his career may have solidified his preference for arthouse cinema. Despite establishing himself as a seasoned director in Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno series by 1977, his constant dissatisfaction with the exploitative nature of the genre led to a succession of unsuccessful projects in search of more creative opportunities. Unfortunately, these attempts resulted in financial struggles and ultimately forced him out of the public eye. However, the success of “Case of the Disjointed Murder” demonstrates Sone’s skill in creating provocative pink films that fully embrace their exploitative nature, relish in the present moment, and playfully discard unsatisfying endings.
Sone’s dining room mystery, while charming, is also confusing. It begins with realistic scenes of post-war Tokyo and explores themes of morality. However, it quickly turns into a typical mystery, delving into sexual subject matter. The story takes place two years after World War II in Japan, where a group of unlikeable, selfish, and lustful characters are invited to a western country mansion by young patriarch and heir Utagawa. Despite his respectable appearance, Utagawa’s family has a history of infidelity and incest, revealed through a comical handwritten family tree. (A modified version was included in a promotional flyer for the film.) The guests Utagawa keeps company with behave just as poorly. The first evening is full of sexual tension and jealousy among the characters, who all have intertwined pasts. Utagawa confides in his friend Yashiro that, aside from himself and his wife, the guests were not actually invited; they received fake letters from someone with a hidden agenda. Then, the next morning, a murder occurs. One by one, people start dying in strange and seemingly unrelated ways.
Although “Case of the Disjointed Murder” is made up of different elements that don’t completely come together, it still stands out with an interesting concept and beautiful visuals. The jumbled pieces of this experiment make it a mix of a murder mystery, a sexually provocative film, a social commentary, and yet it doesn’t fully embody any of these genres. This creates an artistic conflict that mirrors Sone’s own journey and raises the question of whether pink films can have a lasting impact beyond their pornographic origins.
The group of wealthy individuals, including artists, poets, writers, lawyers, and scientists, attempts to criticize the influence of Western culture in modern Japan. However, their efforts are weakened by the halfway point. Following the trend of murder-mystery films in the 1970s, the story includes hints of rejected love and a desire for revenge, creating a complex and dramatic game similar to Cluedo. The majority of arguments and accusations take place around a dining table, with Masaru Mori’s camera capturing as much as possible in the frame. This results in a visual composition reminiscent of an aristocratic painting or a chessboard in motion.
However, Sone’s version of Cluedo does not have a satisfying ending. He focuses on the buildup, without any resolution. The players, especially Junko Natsu and Junko Miyashita, give exaggerated performances, resulting in dramatic screams, tears, falls, and dances. This adds to the suspense of the mystery, but ultimately creates a disconnected viewing experience that lacks impact. We, as the audience, are merely observers rather than actively involved. Despite its strong sexual themes, the film surprisingly lacks any explicit scenes.
This is a part of the enjoyable aspect: a tasteful sensuality that consistently avoids crossing into explicit pornography, with only subtle hints of flirtatious aggression. Even in simple actions like closing one’s eyes or asking a question, sex serves as a means of communication, a perspective for exploring and comprehending the world. This type of unexplained atmosphere is commonly found in pink films, occasionally welcomed in ATG’s more artistic endeavors, but generally rejected in mainstream genres. The evidence is clear: “Case of the Disjointed Murder” may be classified as a pink film, but it refuses to conform to the typical traits of the genre. Therefore, the question arises: Can the language of pink films survive within the realm of arthouse or mainstream cinema?
This question challenges the concept of pink films as a distinct genre. Unlike murder-mystery movies, which can be adapted to fit into other genres like comedy or horror, sexploitation films are not as versatile. Sone’s portfolio was primarily influenced by Japan’s eroduction industry, which could be seen as a result of certain circumstances and economic factors. It combines elements of softcore pornography, genre conventions, and commentary, resulting in a unique blend that blurs the boundaries between each label. Many individuals who have worked in pink films have also transitioned into other areas such as art or commercial industries in Japan (such as Takahisa Zeze), but for Sone, his involvement in sexploitation may have defined and restricted his career.
Returning to the topic of “Case of the Disjointed Murder”, it appears that when sex is no longer the dominant focus, Sone falls short. He half-heartedly criticizes bourgeois society while also indulging in its petty conflicts, pretentious pursuits, and untimely deaths. Sone seems to enjoy the very elements he claims to condemn: a wealthy world filled with promiscuity at every turn. Despite seeing Roman Porno as a mere stepping stone, Sone’s work ultimately became centered around it. In 1978, he returned to Nikkatsu to release his two most notable films in the genre: the “Angel Guts” series.