The Horror Honeys: A Woman's Secrets are in Her Handbag...

A Woman's Secrets are in Her Handbag...

A Revenge Honey Women in Horror Month Review by Linnie

Sada (1998)

Sada Abe, at her arrest in 1936
"No truth can escape becoming distorted and turning into a glossed-over fictional account once it’s spoken through a person’s mouth."

A Brief History Lesson Before We Begin: Sada Abe was somewhat of a celebrity in Japan in 1936. National spirits were collectively low due to the war, and the shifting cultural personality in Japan was drawing more clearly defined lines between classes and generations. The one thing everyone seemed to agree on, though, was that Sada was a hero of mythological proportions... especially to young women. So what did Sada Abe do, you may ask?

She erotically asphyxiated her married lover to death and, after he was dead, cut off his penis and testicles, carrying them around with her in her handbag until she was arrested.

Yes, Sada, a former Geisha/prostitute, was hailed by many in Japan as a "saint of love," when she chose to murder her married lover, Kichizo Ishida, rather than ever lose him to another woman. Basically, it's the story Fatal Attraction SHOULD have been, in which Dan lost his penis and Alex became famous for standing up for herself. Multiple works of film and literature have been devoted to Sada Abe and Kichizo Ishida's story, including Nagisa Ôshima's classic In the Realm of the Senses. But today, we are taking a look at Nobuhiko Ôbayashi's vision of the story with his film, Sada.

The Story: Unlike most of the films of that came before, Sada chooses to focus mostly on Abe's life prior to the "Abe Sada Incident," as it was known in Japan. We learn early that life was never easy for our heroine. Raped at 14 by soldier, Sada's extensive wounds are tended to by a medical student with leprosy, with whom she immediately falls in love. Yet, as leprosy was a disease which required isolation in Japan in the early 1900s, Sada never sees him again, and instead turns to a life in the world of Geishas and prostitution. For ten years, this is how she lives, finding pleasure from the skills she acquires as a prostitute but thinking little of her self-worth. All of this changes when she begins working as an apprentice in a kitchen, and meets her married master (known in this film as Tatsuzo). This is where the well-known story of Sada Abe begins...

In the Realm of the Senses has long been one of my favorite Japanese films, but what sets Sada clearly apart from Ôshima's movie is Ôbayashi's direction. If you've seen his horror/comedy classic House, you know of what I speak. Ôbayashi has the uncanny ability to take even the darkest and most depressing moment and make it a stylistic vision. His choices in terms of cinematography and art direction are flawless and weird and you will find yourself entranced.

My favorite stylistic choice in Sada involves Ôbayashi's decision to film the worst moments of Sada's life in black and white, but the most memorable or important ones in color. This choice, along with multiple instances of Chaplin-esque silent film mimicry, give the whole movie the look of a grand movie musical rather than the biopic of a killer. And it is design and editing decisions like these that never make the viewer any less than a little bit in love with Sada Abe, regardless of who or what she does. 

One of many awkward, hilarious, Chaplin-esque moments
You may not understand why I view Sada as a revenge film, and to explain why I do might involve getting a little philosophical on your asses. But after a life spent in misery, having her first sexual experience be non-consensual and almost every one after that be a simple monetary exchange, Sada believed that her chance at love had ended at fourteen with the medical student. And then, when she meets Tatsuzo, he is married to another woman and thus, can never really be hers. When Sada takes Tatsuzo's life, she's taking her revenge against the life of love and normalcy she can never really have. When she carves their names into his dead body, and takes his genitals with her when she leaves him behind, she believes it is the only way she can keep him with her forever. The real Sada said she couldn't carry Kichizo's body and wanted the part of him that gave her the best memories. Have we all not been there at one point or another?

You're right to look worried. It doesn't end well for you, dear.
Sada is likely going to appeal mostly to those who already know Ôbayashi's style and favor it. But even if you don't know the director's work, Sada Abe's story is one worth knowing and so far, Sada is the film that tells it most completely. And the most beautifully.

Revenge Honey Rating: 4 Japanese Donuts out of 5
She realllllly likes donuts.
Sada is available on Hulu and Criterion DVD