Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs
Original Title: Zeroka na onna: Aki wappa
Directed by: Yukio Noda
Crime/Pinky Violence, 88min
Distributed by: Discotek
Pinky Violence… Don’t you just love it! Just like euro trash, Pink Film started out amongst the smaller independent studios and eventually became sanctioned by the major movie studios when they realised that there was money to be made there... and a second chance to keep the old monsters of production still in the game. I think the closest comparison that we have in the western world would be 20th Century Fox and Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls 1970! And don’t you just love those movies – the Pinku – resting provocatively somewhere between Adult Video and arty farthouse exploits! Outrageous stuff brilliantly choreographed soft-core eroticism and profound violence, not to mention really warped political correctness.
Miki Sugimoto, one of many fabulous actresses to knock out audiences with her parts in sukeban [female delinquent themed Pinky Violence] flicks is a delight to watch in Yukio Noda’s brilliant Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs. Sugimoto, who had previously worked in television and came from a background as a model, made her big screen debut in as a supporting actress in the infamous Norifumi Suzuki’s Onsen mimizu geisha (Hot Springs Mimzu Geisha) 1972 against Reiko Ike.
Sugimoto who originally started out in minor supporting parts in the movies she featured in had a great turn of fate when Reiko Ike went out in the media and stated that she was not going to act in pinks movies anymore as she had had enough of the nudity. Toei reacted to her statement by banning her from acting and instead Miki Sugimoto – most likely due to her similarity with Ike – was given the opportunity to step up to the leading lady slot in Suzuki’s sequel the first Hot Springs, Onsen suppon geisha (Hot Springs Kiss Geisha) and Ike was out of a job. I only know of one actress actually pulling a stunt like that and then actually managing to pull it off – the unconquered goddess of Japanese cinema Meiko Kaji.
A few months later Suzuki cast Sugimoto in the lead of his Sukeban gerira (Girl Boss Guerrilla) 1972 which saw her as the leader of all girl biker gang The Red Helmets, driving the bike and performing all the stunts her self, and the movie was more or less an instant hit. When request for a second movie was posed around the same time that the ban on Reiko Ike was lifted, the two actresses started a second string of movies that saw them cast against each other, although this time as leads.
But in 1974 Miki Sugimoto was the star of Yukio Noda’s phenomenal tour de force Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs. Starting out with an asskicking intro where Rei – the zero woman – is shaking her stuff at a discothèque, a blonde westerner buys her a shot of scotch, which she downs, in one single gulp. He flirts with her and moments later – after downing a second shot of liquor – the two end up in his bed, although Rei appears to be unconscious. He goes to his briefcase and starts arranging a variety of sexual aid toys, bondage paraphernalia and his pistol as he prepares for his depraved session of kinky sex. Although Rei has a different agenda altogether. As Richard Saxon has his back turned she pops her eye open, goes through his passport to assure herself that he is Saxon and then confronts him with the sex murder of her friend Emi. He obviously denies and a naked struggle starts, but soon enough Rei pulls out her signature red handcuffs and has Saxon strapped to the wall. As he grabs for his gun and aims at her, she moves fast and shoots him in the crotch. He falls back into the pool and dies having paid the price for his crimes.
But where crime busters usually receive a pat on the back for their methods, Rei is damned by her superiors and tossed into jail as the man she just killed was an English ambassador and the cops “don’t” kill people. In jail previous felons that she has busted confront her and as the titles start to roll Rei receives the first of many presumed beatings.
That’s how this splendid movies starts out. It’s a ferocious and breathtaking intro that definitely will catch your attention and draw you in. Following the opening credits complete with a theme song sung by Sugimoto - Onna no Tsume-ato (Claw Marks of a Woman) - much like Meiko Kaji who also used to sing her own theme songs, and even if Shunsuke Kikichi wrote this one and also the classic Urami Bushi (My Grudge Blues) for Joshuu 701-gô: Sasori (Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion) 1972 – later used by Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill Vol1 – Sugimoto isn’t Meiko Kaji and it’s not for her singing that she will be remembered.
After the credits the antagonist – or at least part of the antagonistic force - is presented, Nakahara [Eiji Go] the gang leader who only moments after being released from Kangawa prison with a stern warning not to come back meets up with his gang of rouges, beats up a couple who are talking in their parked car, kill the man, gangbang the woman and kidnapper her with intent of forcing her to work in Madame Sesum’s brothel Manhattan. Sesum [Yôko Mihara] who you may recognise from Suzuki’s Seijû gauken (School of the Holy Beast) 1974, Furyô anego den: Inshika Ochô (Sex and Fury) 1973, Shunya Ito’s Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion 1972 and Kenji Fukasaku’s Koyokatsu kos Waga Jinsei (Blackmail is my Life) 1968. From here on the movie moves fast and a dark plan is set in motion a as the gang and Sesum realise that the kidnapped girl Kyoko actually is the daughter of politician Nagumo [the great Tetsuro Tamba] and she’s supposed to be marrying the president’s son – which obviously will bring great fortune to her father.
After meeting with the police, the politicians want to keep the lid on the kidnapping and demand that nothing ever be told to the media as this would be devastating to the politicians if the scandal where to be exposed, so Nagumo demands that they leave no witnesses – kill them all and bring back the kidnapped Kyoko. This ignites yet another fascinating ingredient of the movie – the unwritten moral code that seeps through the film – Cops can’t kill, it’s simply not an option and also the reason why Rei is in prison facing a death penalty to start with. It also returns several times through out the film like when the cops execute one of the kidnappers after luring him away from the rest – he cries and moans that cops can’t kill, it’s not allowed. Also later when Rei starts her task of taking out the kidnappers the same conflict is commented upon, cops can’t kill… but the do in Yukio Noda’s Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs. There’s also a moral code within the band of kidnappers and even though gang members point this out to Nakahara he breaks the codes and it all starts to fall apart rapidly.
The Cops approach Rei and offer her a pardon for her crime if she takes the assignment – which she obviously does. And from there on she starts the hard task of infiltrating the band of kidnappers so that she can rescue Kyoko. It ‘s in no way a simple task as the kidnappers are all pretty damaged good with their own set of problems. After rescuing Nakahara from being nicked by the cops during the exchange of a false ransom Rei is taken back to the kidnappers hangout, where obviously none of the other kidnappers trust her and put her through a horrific ordeal before becoming convinced that she’s not an undercover cop. But the most fascinating subplot here is that Sesum is one of the women that Rei encountered in prison during the opening titles. I feel that the subplot could have been used better and built a much more intense suspense round instead of just using it quite briefly as they do. But it’s good stuff and it all leads up to a fantastic naked knife fight that leaves you gasping for more. Eventually the kidnappers loose their cool and take to the road after a series of events start tearing the band apart from the inside, but it’s not only the foulness of the criminals that make this such an entertaining movie, because when you least expect it that old moral code theme plays one last devastating trick on the narrative. I can’t give it away but in a scene that is very shocking, sad and true to the “keeping face” mentality that is so strong in Japan everything is toppled over on it’s ass and again respect and keeping face force people to take actions that eventually will be fatal to them, but at least they stayed true to the moral codes, showed respect and kept their face. Perhaps somewhat confusing for us in the western world, but it makes for a brilliant last twist that certainly make the build to that blood spraying finale worth the wait.
Based on a manga by Tooru Shinohara, the same Shinohara who wrote the manga which Ito’s Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion 1972 and sequels where based off too and also has the same screenwriters Fumio Kônami and Hirô Matsuda. Much like those great Sasori flicks and the Lady Snowblood movies too, Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs tells a similar tale of a woman standing strong on her own and taking on everything that does her wrong, and nothing builds up to that final showdown as a series of degrading and torment full ordeals does it.
Just like Bo Arne Vibenius ditched Christina Lindberg’s lines in Thriller – A Cruel Movie after coming to the insight that Lindberg's strengths where not in her delivery of dialogue, Yukio Noda did the exact same thing with his leading lady Miki Sugimoto, hence her response to much of the stuff happening around her is grunts, moans and slight gestures. The scenes where the gang take turns abusing Rei to find out if she’s a cop or not are brilliantly shot, and the use of very strong colours to create moods are very much obvious inspirations of the pop art chic fashion of stuff like Seijun Suzuki’s movies and the style of Kenji Fukasaku with flashbacks, freeze frames and all - the movie is a splendid showcase of the finest of imagery and style that saturated this fantastic time period of Japanese Cinema. It’s also fair to point out that the garage torture scene definitely was an influence on Q.T.'s Reservoir Dogs 1992 and the movie could certainly have inspired Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita 1990 as they both deal with similar themes.
Yukio Noda’s Zero Woman: Red Handcuff’s is a splendid piece of Japanese pinky violence. It holds an intriguing narrative, some superb cinematography, a kick ass Japanese rock soundtrack and a movie that I easily will recommend to anyone with an interest in pinky violence, it’s a great starting place or a continuation of a exploration of one of the most fascinating genres to come out of Japan.
2.35:1 anamorphic Widescreen.
Dolby Digital 2.0 Japanese dialogue with Optional English subtitles.
Trailer for Zero Woman : Red Handcuffs, Live action version of Lupin III (remember that Hayo Miyazaki made a anime of that story a decade before Totoro, Kiki, Porco Rosso Princess Mononoke and Ponyo…) a booklet with promotional materials and an essay on the film and the genre by the now sadly defunct Asian Cult Cinema’s Thomas Weisser.
Here's the trailer to give you a sample of the madness and magnificence of this great movie.