Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Abstinence

Withdrawal is a bitch. Not being able to blogg with the regularity that I am used to I feel that I have started to drift away from the blogg, which ironically also means that I don’t watch as many movies, as I can’t process them in my written rants... Which obviously awakens the age old question – is it really worth the effort?

Someone asked me why do you write all that shit on the internet, don’t you have better things to do with your time? Well yeah, but at the same time I love to write about shit, that’s where I get the basis for most of my rants IRL… It’s also where I get to tryout ideas and passages of thought concerning certain movies and genres, and most of all it’s a method of choice to be read, published and possibly recognized for the decades of writing shit but never getting any recognition for it. The damned internet is filled with home made Hemmingway’s so why not me too…

… but is it worth the effort?

I don’t know, but there’s a kinda of scary emotion brooding since I’ve been away from my precious workspace at home - away from the constant clickety click of keyboard keys and flappty flap of reference books, the buzzety buzz of DVD’s being forced into the tiny slot on the side of the Mac – and that frightening groaning that I hear here in my head may be the mental conductor signalling that this may be the end of the line…

This blogging certainly isn’t making any difference in the bigger picture, and it’s not really getting me anywhere either, so perhaps it was all just a platonic drug of choice to act as a substitute for all that other crap I so affectionately cling onto in pop culture.





Friday, July 23, 2010

R.I.P. Jan Halldoff

Just read that Swedish director Jan Halldoff passed away after a short time of illness.

For all of you that don't know who he is let me just tell you that he's one of the best damned scriptwriters and directors that this oblong cold country has ever had. Halldoff started out as a still photographer on movies, before directing a few shorts and then shooting his debut feature Myten - Eller Han snodde en blomma och fick springa för livet. (The D.T.'s) 1966 about a Harry [Per Myberg] who walks on the so called outskirts of life. The movie portays life on the rough side, as Harry roams streets, encountering charming South Stockholm characters and nihilistic coppers. Myten was quite well received by the Swedish press and comparisons where made to the early movies of Bo Widerberg too. Widerberg who directed the phenomenal Elvira Madigan 1967, Kvarteret Korpen 1963 and Mannen på Taket (the Man on the Roof) 1976. Halldoffs last movie was the 1982 road movie Klippet (approx The Fair Deal) about a truckdriver Svenne [Pierre Lindstedt] who finds the possibility of making an amount of cash so that he can retire - a classic "last run" setup if you like - which is what the title refers to. Obviosuly and as the "lat run" movie usually goes the twists of fate and ironies of life become the main obstacle and the movie brings Svenne to a bitter sweet climax

Just like Myten, Klippet and the most of Jan Halldoff's movies, they all explore what at first may seem like characters on the fringe of the norm, and then as the audience reaches insight realizes that they actually rather are more the norm than anything else. From the frustrating realism of Myten, through the haunting Stenansiktet (The Stone Face) 1973, the splendid Rötmånad (Dog Days) 1970 - in which a young Christina Lindberg made her onscreen debut, the debauchery of Firmafesten (The Office Party) 1972, up to his final movie Klippet they all share the same kind of themes and characters. Very typical Swedish characters that easily can be identified with, which is why his movies where enjoyed by the audiences.

Halldoff's passing saddens me as I know people are working hard to have his movies re-released - Yeah Steff-o, captain of my moviequiz team, I know just how much you do for the cultural heritage of this country and perhaps the sweet irony of today is that now with his passing that may be easier. It would be a splendid tribute, because Halldoff's means that yet another of the last true greats of Swedish cinema leaves this world. It's unfortunately becoming more and more evident that we are loosing all our great Swedish directors to time, and there still hasn't been any real revival of these fantastic directors what so ever. There's so much more hidden in the angst ridden darkness of Sweden that isn't all Ingmar Bergman, and it's about time that these guys get the recognition abroad that they deserve. It's a shame because they really shouldbe rediscovered and restudied. At least they where a fresh breeze when they where active and nothing like the rather stagnant Swedish movies of today.

Rest in peace Jan Halldoff, Rest in peace.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

That ain't no ordinary lizard...


Just bought this vintage Godzilla at the local flea market that we go to once a week whilst we hang out in the woods. It's made in China by Imperial - but with a TOHO license stamp under the foot and produced in the mid eighties. Sure it's a bit tacky, but it will look swell on the shelf with the others that make up the ever expanding Gojira collection at home.

And the reason for that, is that this model is exactly the one that most kids in my generation started out with. The first of many Godzilla toys. I never had one myself but hell did I want one even though I was in my mid teens when the Imperial models started turning up. Bizarrely enough, Imperial is still in business, but these days instead of soft vinyl Kanji figures, they are all about Tomas the Tank Engine, Dora the Exploiter and SpongeBob Square Pants. The times have changed my friends, the times have changed.

So there we where at the flea market and furthest away, the furthest possible actually, she almost summoned me to the table where she stood out like an infected thumb on the table amongst some five-ten other toy lizards and crappy broken dinosaurs. I told my wife to grab the Gojira on the table and as she handed it to me we noticed that it was missing an arm. "Oh we have loads of other lizards and stuff if you want to buy one that's not broken..." said the creepy lady selling the items on display "No we want this one - it's special!" we said almost synchronous... "Oh I thought it was just an ordinary lizard!" No mam, this is Godzilla, THE King of Terror. It's definitely no ordinary lizard and I'll have it now thank you!

It cost ten crowns, that's something like a buck.

Happy times.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Pigpen

Pigpen
Original Title: Porcile
Aka. Pigsty
Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Italy, 1969
Drama, 99 min
Distributed by: Studio S Entertainment.

I’ve enjoyed a long time relationship with the movies of Pier Paolo Pasolini and I really do love his movies. For some odd reason they have always been close at hand in my cultural field of reference, be it the big boxed rental video’s with the big yellow censors squares proclaiming that the movie contained “images so vile that we can’t use any on the cover” on the front and back of the artwork to Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (Saló, or the 120 Days of Sodom) 1975 that intrigued me as a youngster in the early eighties and made me take notice of this director and the movie. Or the late summer night screenings of the “Trilogy of Life” during the late eighties, the bizarre situation that arose when Barth David Schwartz came to the Stockholm Film Institute in the early nineties to read and discuss his book on Pasolini - Pasolini Requiem - only to find out that the only film they had brought up from the vaults was a print of Salò – not the movie he had intended them to screen, but I had the privilege to see Saló in a glorious 35mm print with about twenty other people. (I seem to recall that it actually was a rare 75mm print…) Or the insatiable demand for the wholesale tape in the mid nineties when the movie was still banned in the UK. I must have bought at least thirty copies of that damned film only to use as trade fodder with UK cineastes. Then there’s the many and strangely frequent references in pop vulture like the experimental music of Coil that on occasion refers to his life and death, the more recent referrals to him in the lyrics of good old Morrissey, and not forgetting Pinku master Hisayasu Sato’s Kurutta Butokai (Muscle) 1989 where both Pigpen and Teorema 1968 as well as Coil's track Ostia (the Death of Pasolini) are part of the narrative.

Indeed Pasolini made some amazing pieces of art, some fabulous depictions of decadent perversion, and some stunning portrayals of passionate characters unlike the regular gallery of romanticized figures and some shockingly provocative and hilarious movies that are timeless cornerstones of alternative pop culture. But there’s one thing, or rather two that more or less tie all his movies together the two themes of religion and politics.

Pasolini’s own life itself is the stuff that one would merely expect to find in an exaggerated biography movie, over dramatized and pimped for Hollywood, but it’s all true - try child progeny who wrote poetry from the age of seven, soldier in the second word war, taken prisoner of war, making an elusive escape, kicked out of the communist party for on charges of corrupting underage men, and almost his entire body of work was shrouded in controversy and scandal for starters, and then murdered under extremely bizarre conditions. Most recognize him as the director of the provocative Saló, but at the same time even way back before he started with movies, whilst he was a writer for an Italian paper he was a noted persona, and his first novel Ragazzi di Vita approx (Men for Rent) 1955 just like his first feature film Accattone (The Scrounger)1961 - the one Mozza refers to in You Have Killed Me - where both met by criticism for their hardened realistic approach to their topics. So the idea that he went out with a bang, signing off with the profoundly disturbing Saló is completely wrong. Pier Paolo Pasolini was always a man of controversy, out to provoke, raise hell and at the very least open his audience eyes to an intriguing topic of discussion.

Pasolini’s Pigpen is a splendid example of this as it deals with two themes that certainly have made up the basis of many a great exploitation films: Cannibalism and Bestiality.Certainly two taboos not to be broken and Pasolini uses them perfectly as he merely suggests the events than actually shows them on the screen. It’s an intellectual approach that works for the movie and at the same time foreshadows the atrocities to come in the last couple of movies that he would write and direct before culminating with the infamous Saló, a movie that definitely wouldn’t have worked at all with pure imaginative setups. That one demanded the visualisation of key themes as they are of importance to the narrative. And with that reason, it could lead one to argue that Pigpen could have earned from one last harrowing image, that of the pigs eating Julian. This would probably have enhanced the vile former Nazi doctor Herdhinze in his firm position of keeping it all a secret, just like all those actions of his that took place during the war. But being Pasolini, these powerful themes are also elegantly fused with his regular religious and political themes.

Bestiality and Cannibalism - strong themes that a few can get away with using in their movies without being frowned upon as exploitation films. It’s also because of directors like Pasolini that I feel a certain ambiguity towards the splitting of hairs that we commonly refer to as genre. Sure genre is important as long as it stays related to its peers and not perverted into some cultural elitist bollocks that it constantly is twisted into. The stuff that Pasolini was making is easily comparable to the stuff that the so called low budget exploitation directors where making, but that stuff rarely get's referred to as art. It’s all about the same themes and plays within the same genres, even if their movies are looked at as being more exploitation than art. Why is it that movies like Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust 1980 or say Walerian Borowzcyk’sThe Beast 1975 are looked at and referred to as trashy exploitation and not the movies of Felini, Pasolini and Marco Ferreri? I find it intriguing and provocative that this is the case, as I can easily see all these directors’ movies and still find the same level of entertainment value.

Told through the use of two separate non-linear timelines one featuring Pierre Clémenti and Franco Citti as the cannibals in the story that takes place in a non descriptive past and the second featuring Jean-Pierre Léaud as Julian (who later starred in a couple of Kaurismäki movies) his girlfriend Ida (Anne Wizaemsky – once wife of the great J-L Godard), and the magnificent trio of elderly gent’s with dark secrets Alberto Lionello as Mr Klotz, director of Le grand bouffe (The Grand Bouffe) 1973 and La Carne (The Flesh) 1991, also about cannibalism - Marco Ferreri as his mate Hans Günther and Ugo Tognazzi as Herdhinze in modern times (or rather 1969 when the movie was made) both storylines are a fascinatingly constructed so that they break off just when the need to, to keep a natural interest and natural dramaturgical suspense in the lines depicted. If the movie where to have been a two-parter with each tale told separately, the movie would not have been as effective. It’s the interruption of natural flow that makes the narrative engaging as our human min. If you pay attention you will also during the climax of both lines spot Marcchione (Ninetto Davoli who starred in the most of Pasolini’s movies) who connects the past and the contemporary storylines… again Pasolini presents a character of importance, but who takes no real action and mainly observes and comments on the events instead of reacting effectively.

I find it very amusing that in the past times sequences the narrative still stays linear within its own timeframe whereas the modern story uses at the time contemporary approaches like jump-cutting, non-diegetic audio and hard edits over the 180 axis. It sublimely contrasts the two stories further from each other just like the absence of dialogue from the 16th century story – ironically the only line of dialogue spoken in this part of the movie is the line that commonly appears as the famous quotes and citations of artwork. But this doesn’t mean that the dialogue is bad in any way, because the dialogue in the modern part of Pigpen is ferocious and rapid, and just like it is broken up within its own narrative context, this is also reflected in dialogue. The two youths of the modern part of the movie: Julian and Ida, talk in a completely different style, tone and flow than the adults in that world do. There’s an almost a quality of poetic recital in the way Ida and Julian talk to each other and taunting passages if dialogue like the recurrent “Tralla la la la” bring a very distinguished tone to their conversations.

The adults talk in metaphors, never quite making a clear picture of what they mean – although still very powerful as evident in the scenes where Tognazzi’s Herdhinze shifts the balance of power from his supposed disadvantage as Lionello’s Mr. Klotz and Ferreri’s Hans Günther know he’s a former Nazi Scientist - with a passion for collecting decapitated heads of Jews - to a strong hold as he tells Mr. Klotz he knows all about his son Julian’s activities in the pigpen… It’s a haunting scene and even tough it’s never said up front you know exactly where Herdhinze is going with his discourse and it’s like watching a knife being twisted in a wound over and over again.

It’s notable that the two generations talk a completely different language in the only scene where the two worlds really meet, as Ida and Julian’s mother [Margarita Lozano] discuss his coma. What Madame Kloze sees as one reality, Ida punctuates being a second. It’s also quite obvious that Julian’s secret is as well kept as his fathers past, or even Herdhinze’s dark history as a Nazi butcher.

Pigpen is a pessimistic observation of humanity like many of Pasolini’s movies tended to be through the “Trilogy of Life”, the “Mythical Cycle” suite and obviously climaxing with Saló. Although a somewhat tedious movie it’s totally spellbinding due to the two different styles of driving the narrative forth.


There are some fantastic religious references, the most obvious being that one can’t get away with crimes against God – the cannibal is punished, so is Julian, but then there’s also the fascinating Pasolini nihilism – that true evil prevails. There is no punishment in sight for the Nazi doctor for his crimes against humanity, and from his actions at the end of the movie we realize that there will not be either. There are also some superb religious references to be found in the visuals. Whilst editing between the two narrative time lines there’s some very obvious images and symbolism on display – again a great example of how Pasolini interweaves religious themes with political themes in his worlds.

Pigpen may not be among Pasolini’s most popular work, but it certainly is a powerful trip that grows on you with time. It’s a cryptic movie because of the with held dialogue that usually tells us exactly what is going on, and that much is told trough metaphors and innuendos. A fascinating show of just why Pasolini is one of the greatest directors of all time.


Image:
Widescreen 1.85:1 (anamorphic)

Audio:
Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 Italian dialogue with optional Swedish, Finnish, Danish or Norwegian subtitles.

Extras:
Original Trailer, Pasolini biography and filmography.


It's taken me about two days and four hours to post this fucking thing as the accessibility to the internet is crap here in the woods, so I bloody won't be up for this friggin hassle every-time I want to post something here. Screw that. I'll be back in August...

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Deep in the forest...

Photobucket

...is where I'll be for the next month. Take care of yourselves and have a great summer. I'll probably post something but won't be with images until I get back to civilisation.

Laters.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Living Dead Girl


The Living Dead Girl
Original Title: La Morte Vivante
Directed by: Jean Rollin
France, 1982
Horror / Drama, 86min
Distributed by: Njuta Films / Redemption

If you think that zombie movies have to be dark, brooding and saturated with despair, then think again. The last few years’ stuff has been happening to the zombie genre that has been hailed as re-inventive, innovative and groundbreaking. George A. Romero has slowly been infusing a consciousness in the minds of his zombies since Night of the Living Dead 1968, and peaking with Survival of the Dead 2009. Recently Marc Price's independent flick Colin 2008 gave the zombie a modus operandi, and Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead 2004 ended with zombie and man living together in perfect harmony.

But long before the crusty shufflers brought some quasi raison d’être to the scene... even further back, in the eighties, when Italian gut-munchers where on their last legs and the Americans started to bring goofiness to the zombie genre, there was one director who made a movie about a conscious zombie that even had the ability to feel love, grief and remorse, Jean Rollin’s The Living Dead Girl!

Rollin’s The Living Dead Girl is a pretty damned fascinating zombie movie. A zombie movie not a vampire movie like we are used to associating Jean Rollin with, but a zombie film – even if Catherine Valmont does rise from a coffin in a crypt and drinks blood… Rollin directed a couple of movies that could be categorised as films within the zombie genre – and what fascinates me with two of his best entries, Les Raisins de la mort (Grapes of Death) 1978, and The Living Dead Girl - is that he never states that we are dealing with zombies, but let’s us with our programmed minds and strong desires to pigeon hole everything determine that it is a zombie movie. A zombie movie where strong emotions are at play and therefore create one of the most romantic and poetic zombie flicks ever made.

Starting off with a pretty dorky opening where three guys arrive at a chateau to dump toxic waste in the basement – all because the bureaucrats have decided that toxic waste has to be confined – the movie takes a sudden twist into the dark when two of the workmen after disposing of the vats of toxic waste decide to take on a spot of grave robbery at the same time… Yes in the same crypt under the chateau lies the body of Mrs Valmont and her daughter Catherine [Françoise Blanchard – also from Rollin’s Les Trottoirs de Bangkok (Sidewalks of Bangkok) 1984]. A few seconds after lifting a hefty amount of jewellery from the corpses, a tremor shakes the landscape and causes the barrels of toxic waste to spill out on the ground. A small rivulet of green ooze runs towards the casket of Catherine and before you know it she pop’s open her hands out of the coffin and rams her sharp pointy digits into the throat of one of the men as if her fingers where a pair of scissors. He runs away with blood pouring from the holes that once held his eyes. The second man has fallen to the ground during the tremor and when the runnel of oozing chemicals pass by his face it dissolves into a smoky bloody mess, and as the third worker walks into the well lit crypt to see where his mates got to, Catherine slinks in from behind and rams those sharp claws into his neck sending a fountain of blood down the front of her white burial gown. It is an understatement to say that this opening sequence is by far the most violent and vicious of all Jean Rollin’s movies and it sets an auspicious tone that soon will contrast hard against the stronger emotions to be unravelled.

The subplot and secondary cast is set in motion when we are introduced to Greg [Mike Marshall] and Barbara [Carina Barone] who are vacationing in the area. She’s a failed actress trying to create an alternative career and is diddling around with photography when she spots a mystic figure strolling the landscape. She cracks off a few shots of the woman and returns to Greg, puzzled by the female figure she just took photographs of. This will make up a smaller part of the common Rollin theme of “the search” as Barbara will become obsessed with finding out who the strange woman is, and follow that trail into damnation.

With the subplot safely activated, the main narrative kicks in. Catherine returns to Château Valmont and moves through the house whilst a young real estate agent shows two elderly Americans around the place who are interested in buying a French castle. They old man is Sam Selsky, producer of Rollin’s stunning La rose de fer (Rose of Iron) 1973 in a rare cameo and the scene reminds me of the ending to José Rámon Larraz Vampyres 1974, where two Americans are interested in buying Oakley Court in England. It may be a possible statement on the economics of the time. As the old couple leave, the real estate agent makes plans to meet up with her boyfriend and spend the night in Château Valmont before she taking off too. The living dead Catherine starts to recognize items and signifiers in the château and this induces a series of flashbacks that are extremely important within the Rollin universe, the two little girls.

As you may recall from my previous pieces on Jean Rollin’s cinema, the two little girls, sometimes twins, sometimes-just friends, reoccur in most of his work, and they frequently represent the important lost childhood themes that are found in his films. In Perdues dans New York (Lost in New York) 1989 he goes as far as having the two girls wander through important pats of his back catalogue though dialogue which creates a fantastic red line through the works that phenomenally ties them all together. I don’t think that there ever has been another director to give you a rush of insight that spans through twenty odd years and forty something movies. That is something unique to the masterful Jean Rollin.

In The Living Dead Girl the case is the same – the two little girls are the young Catherine and her best friend Hélène seen through flashbacks as they promise a to love each other to the end of time and after becoming blood sisters through a naïve bloodletting ritual, swear to follow whoever goes first into death. There’s also a music box, which figures in the flashback – a gift from Hélène to Catherine – that will play an important part in the movie and almost acts as the inciting incident that makes the movie happen. Whilst Catherine now back in real time painfully tries to figure out what has happened to her and is emotionally tormented by all the mementos of a time past, the phone rings, Catherine more or less automaton knocks the receiver over and it’s Hélène [played as an adult by the lush Marina Pierro] calling. Having just returned from a journey abroad and not hearing of Catherine’s passing until she came home, she calls only to hear that music box playing on the other side of the line. It’s a sound she reads as a sign that Catherine isn’t dead at all, but still very much alive.

This is where the superb platonic love story shifts into gear; Hélène arrives just after Catherine has killed the real-estate agent and her lover Louis who have returned to the chateau for some nocturnal enjoyment. Hélène walks in on the bloodbath and is both shocked at what she sees and relieved that Catherine is alive. She washes Catherine, disposes of the bodies and even let’s her settle her bloodlust in a scene symbolically reminiscent but much more erotic than that childhood ritual. The love story is driven by that strong Rollin theme - loss and the search for it. Hélène thought she had lost Catherine and certainly she did in adult life. But now reunited after Catherine’s death, Hélène won’t let go and will stop at nothing to keep Catherine in the realm of the living, pulling her back to life with her love and human sacrifices that she brings to the château for Catherine.

Barbara continues her search and is the main threat to the two women, as she also knows that Catherine is dead – which is what the whole village told her as she asked around with the photograph she took earlier. Keep an eye open for Rollin’s cameo as a street vendor during this part. But Barbara isn’t only the antagonist of the piece as she also works as a catalyst for Catherine’s insight and realisation that she’s dead. An insight that generates a great paradox as with the realisation that she is dead, Catherine looses all lust to live. Barbara wouldn’t be much of an antagonist without taking some action to disrupt the micro cosmos that Hélène has created with Catherine, and this is exactly what she does, but more along the line of her own search more than to actually destroy Hélène and Catherine’s relationship – although her interference costs her dearly as Hélène won’t loose Catherine a second time.

With the antagonistic forces put out of play it would be easy to let the two women get on with their relationship, but as that seed of despair has been planted in Catherine and she has no longer a lust to live… reluctant to accept Hélène’s sacrifices and most likely unaware of the murder’s Hélène has committed to protect their necrophillic love affair – yeah necrophilia isn’t about shagging corpses, it’s about being aroused by the presence of death, which Hélène obviously is. Catherine tries to take her own life, and die a second time, but still refusing to let go and give in to loss; Hélène saves her and reminds Catherine of their childhood oath one last time. It’s a heartbreaking moment and the movie comes to the only climax that it really could come to. A dark and ironic ending where justice is served, the pact is honoured and Rollin’s themes of loss makes one of it’s most profound impacts ever.

The Living Dead Girl is in many ways a rather unique entry into Rollin’s horror catalogue – gone are the iconic windy beaches of Dieppe, gone are the luscious vampire maidens, gone are the castle ruins and moonlit rendezvous. But this does not mean that he has cast his most important themes aside, merely the settings and locations. The Living Dead Girl is very much a part of the Rollin universe. The themes are there and the two young girls. The main question is really what is it in that misplaced childhood that he is searching for in all these movies? I hope to find an answer at some point in time, because it's been the modus operandi for the majority of his films.

The collaboration between Jean Rollin and Françoise Blanchard is extraordinary and she gives Rollin one of the best on screen performances ever seen in one of his films. Blanchard plays the part just right, really bringing all those delicate emotions to the character. It could have all to easy gone over board and become a parody as it sometimes does in low budget cinema, but Blanchard and Rollin hit the mark perfectly and Blanchard delivers an amazing performance… But also Marina Pierro – from several Walerian Borowczyk films, among them the splendid Docteur Jekyll et les femmes (The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne) 1981 - also gives a phenomenal performance, almost as an anti thesis to Blanchard at times. Perhaps the fact that Rollin was given the luxury to actually go through scenes in rehearsals and take time on set to block obviously shows what a talented director he was when he was allowed to work under the right circumstances.

The movie also features a stunning score by Philipe D’Aram that definitely talks the same volatile language as the wonderfully composed set pieces do. It moves through the same emotions as the characters and reflects the mood perfectly.

Jean Rollin’s The Living Dead Girl is a damned fine example of his rich, moody, atmospherically and emotionally potent cinema outside the frequented Vampire niche that he sternly etched out for him self during the seventies. It's something not to be missed!

For more on Jean Rollin and related news, take time to visit Jeremy Richey's The Jean Rollin Experience. It's a gem of the net.

Image:
Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1

Audio:
Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0. French Dialogue, optional Danish, Swedish, Finnish or Norwegian Subtitles.

Extras:
A slideshow of stills, Original Trailer and trailers for other Jean Rollin movies and a selection of other titles released by Njuta Films.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs


Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs
Original Title: Zeroka na onna: Aki wappa
Directed by: Yukio Noda
Japan, 1974
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 Vol1Sugimoto 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.

Image:
2.35:1 anamorphic Widescreen.

Audio:
Dolby Digital 2.0 Japanese dialogue with Optional English subtitles.

Extras:
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.