Another piece in the puzzle of the inimitable Takechi, the first Japanese director to "go pubic", and one which only serves to make the overall picture more confusing than ever. Beginning as a straightforward Meiji period porno, this extraordinary film is a bizarre mish-mash of styles that culminates in an outrageous sequence echoing the Exorcist as our possessed heroine spews forth gallons of white paint from between her legs over a bemused looking American priest. You won't have seen anything like this before, that's for sure...
At the tail end of the 19th century, high class courtesan (the 'Oiran' of the title) Ayame (Shinozuka) is conducting an illicit affair with the lowly Kizuke (Mashiba). During their steamy lovemaking bouts, the couple's pillow talk turns towards dreams of escaping to America to start a new life. The one fly in their ointment is an obsessive tattooist (Azusa), who having dispensed with the services of his latest canvas (Yuzaki), develops obsessive designs on using Ayame's lily white skin as the basis of his latest creation. To this end Kizuke is dispatched by the tattooist's murderous lackeys, but before he can get his hands on his prize Ayame is whisked away to a cathouse in Yokohama used for servicing American sailors and her leg is badly grazed in the fracas. Here she meets the sensitive George, who offers her a hand in marriage as an escape route to the United States. However, Ayame is possessed by the spirit of her murdered lover, whose face materialises on her scarred knee every time her passions are aroused by another man.
Continuing his seemingly one-man crusade against the Japanese ratings board Eirin, rather than being the first pinku to break censorship watermark back home I assume that Oiran originally found its way onto the overseas market (Thomas Weisser states in his not always reliable Japanese Cinema Encyclopedia: The Sex Films that the film premiered in the US territory of Guam, where it played to predominantly Japanese tourists for over a year).
At any rate, it looks like a fare amount of money was lavished on this bizarre project. The initial scenes are sumptuously shot, from the opening credit sequence as Ayame in full courtesan regalia proceeds to her brothel in slow motion showered by falling cherry blossoms, to the sumptuous period sets, which include a bathhouse, where the main bulk of the bump and grind takes place. The full frontal nudity and the numerous extended scenes of clearly unsimulated coitus from the main cast members evoke the passion of Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses without delving into the leering pornography of Takechi's previous remake of Daydream (Hakujitsumu, 1981).
Things take a downturn for the worse in the slapdash final quarter however, which looks like it was crudely grafted on from another film as the dialogue turns to badly synced American English and the plot degenerates into absurdity before the traditional Japanese shamisen soundtrack makes way for the orchestrated softcore elevator music that plays over the end credits.
Which is of course the main part of Oiran's charm. It really doesn't fit into the cinematic landscape of any particular time or place, avoiding the sadistic approach of other Japanese pinkus of the time such as the straight-faced bondage films of Mamoru Watanabe and Banmei Takahashi, and more polished than previous explorations into the twilight zone between pornography and horror in the unpalatable works of European directors Joe D'Amato and Jesus Franco. I'm not sure if it works entirely, but Oiran makes for a peculiar film by any definition of the word, and for those with an interest in investigating the extremes of world cinema, it doesn't get much curiouser than this.