The most controversial film ever produced by Shintoho, Magatani Morihei’s horror thriller Bloody Sword Of The 99th Virgin (Kyujukyu-honme no Kimusume) is set in the mountains of Iwate Prefecture - a remote area that might be described as the Ozarks of Japan. The mountain folk are depicted as superstitious, blood-thirsty primitives, which struck traditionally discriminated-against locals and others in their community as discriminatory. Probably as a result, the film has been seldom screened in Japan, and contrary to some speculation, it has never been officially banned.
Magatani, however, was simply making what he hoped would be a scary film, with a story about “civilized” young women falling into the clutches of “uncivilized” mountain folk that could have been lifted from a Tarzan movie, though it had many Japanese antecedents as well.
Two women, Mieko (Mihara Yoko) and Hanayo (Minakami Keiko), have come from Tokyo to the mountains for a holiday, but go mysteriously missing. While searching for them, two male acquaintances grab a suspicious-looking old woman (Satsuki Fujie), but before they can extract information from her, she escapes.
Meanwhile, members of a mountain clan are preparing for the big fire festival, held only once every ten years. The priest (Numata Yoichi) at the local Shinto temple is told by the clan headman that all outsiders must leave the mountain - including him. The unspoken reason: a virgin is to be sacrificed during the festival and the clan members do not want outside witnesses.
But when two charcoal makers on the mountain at the wrong time end up dead, the police come to investigate - and discover 98 long swords on the temple grounds, all forged with the blood of sacrificed virgins.
Meanwhile, the preparations for the festival proceed apace, including the ritual sacrifice for the 99th sword.
Needless to say, this “traditional ritual” is a complete fiction, while the participants seem to have wandered in from a peasant village in a samurai drama. The ritual itself, though, has a certain nightmarish power echoed in later J Horror films with the same heart-of-darkness theme, such as Harada Masato’s Inugami (2001), Okinawa Ataru’s Shrill Cries Of Summer (Higurashi no Naku koro ni, 2008) and Kim Tae-gyun’s Higanjima (2009) - though the locals in the last film want innocent blood because they happen to be zombies.