A high school student called Ranko is attacked by a vagabond on school grounds late one afternoon. Her beloved teacher Sayuri rescues her, only to take her place as the victim. Ranko tries to get help from a piano tuner who is just leaving the school. They eventually find Sayuri and her attacker in a classroom, but the man refuses to go in and save her, saying to do so would risk her life. She is raped, and after the vagrant shoots his load and shuffles off, they clean Sayuri up and agree never to speak of what happened. Not long after the incident the piano tuner offers Sayuri a ride home from school, abducting her in the process and imprisoning her in his basement. As he subjects her to various forms of sexual torture, Ranko manages to figure out where she is being held – but risks being captured and violated herself.
The source material for Female Teacher in Rope Hell was provided by Oniroku Dan, author of hundreds of S&M novels and screenplays. Flower and Snake (1974), which was adapted from one of his books, was a major success for Nikkatsu, kickstarting its S&M subgenre and spawning numerous sequels and remakes. Star Naomi Tani made many more Oniroku Dan films with the studio, before retiring at the end of the 70s. One of the actresses to step in shortly after Tani’s departure was Junko Mabuki, whose career in the Roman P**no genre was brief but significant, and one of her last films was Female Teacher in Rope Hell.
Mabuki plays the ill-fated schoolteacher Sayuri, whose rape early in the film is witnessed by a doting female student and a mysterious young man. When talking with him not long after the incident, he mentions how beautiful her face looked when she was being raped. This doesn’t seem to be enough to alert her to the fact that the guy is a complete wacko, however, and minutes later she is locked up in his basement – which he has fashioned into a kind of luxurious cell. He cooks for her, washes her, clothes her and, of course, pleasures her. The idea is that she will eventually learn to accept her new role as his wife.
Once we see the ropes, bondage suits (get a load of the double penetration outfit) and table full of squirming vibrators, we know we’re in familiar Japanese territory. What follows is a plethora of S&M imagery: endless suspensions, whippings, grimaces, sweatsoaked hair, dangling breasts, candlewax, a pubic shave, enema, modified (i.e. penetrative) gym equipment, and plenty of lube, as Sayuri’s captor methodically explores her every orifice and strips her of all dignity. Similarities abound with other Nikkatsu films, such as the basement torture chamber of Star of David: Beauty Hunting (1979) or the dildo-induced distress of Lolita Vibrator Torture (1987). The kidnapper keeps himself zipped up while waiting for Sayuri to give in, thus allowing censorship regulations to be bypassed through endless shots of erect dildos instead of the real thing, flaccid or otherwise. You can degrade your heroine in the most misogynistic fashion – but to include shots of actual genitalia in the process would just be distasteful.
Rope Hell evolves into another variation on the theme of Stockholm syndrome, which has provided meaty subject matter for such Japanese classics as The Woman in the Dunes (1964) and Blind Beast (1969). While Sayuri remains defiant, Ranko, the young student who eventually finds the lair and is herself captured, responds to the torture and humiliation very differently. Her burgeoning sexuality is stimulated by her own captivity and the sight of her teacher being abused. She pledges to be with Sayuri throughout her ordeal, begging to be subjected to the same treatment as her beloved teacher. This results in Sayuri’s mortifying realization that her role as educator and guide, as seen in the beginning of the film, has been distorted by all the episodes of sexual deviance Ranko has witnessed; the young girl has been corrupted to the point where she chooses to submit to the commands of the authority figure in charge.
The film then degenerates (or ascends, depending on whether you are further aroused or now simply numbed by the material) into unapologetic lesbian softcore, replete with deep kisses, dual bondage, hot wax, mutual muff-munching with a side order of whiplash, and a moody score that owes much to classic Italian soundtracks of the era. Just when Female Teacher in Rope Hell has no further to go, it is halted by a jarringly sudden climax dripping with feeble irony. The normally cautious and efficient torturer fails to notice the proximity of the curtains to the candle he’s using while double-dipping his own wick. The flames of desire, now well and truly out of control, inevitably engulf both madman and his victims, teaching us a lesson he never learned – moderation is the key.