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Recently seen movies #74

August 6, 2008

Stray Cat Rock: Girl Boss (Japan, 1970) – 4/5

Nikkatsu studios faced serious financial problems and drifted to roman porno in late 1971, but for the preceding years they kept churning out some of the hippiest crime and gangster films in the world. Male super stars like Akira Kobayashi and Jo Shishido had dominated the box office, but now it was time for a more feminine approach. The five part Stray Cat Rock series set the trend for delinquent girl action films. Other studios, especially Toei with their sexed up pinky violence films, would follow Nikkatsu’s example.

Unlike many of the exploitative girl gang films of the 70’s, Stray Cat Rock does not lean on sex and sleaze. Girl Boss contains no graphic sex or nudity whatsoever. Instead the mix is as follows; tough as nails delinquent girls, fast action, fashion, motorbikes and almost non-stop good music, including on screen performances by bands such as The Mops and Andre Candre. A celluloid recording of the early 70’s rock n’ roll feel in Japan in other words.

The storyline kicks off when a new girl (Akiko Wada) rides into the town. She immediately gets in bad terms with the Seiyu gang, and makes friends with a local girl group lead by Meiko Kaji. Things get more complicated when Meiko’s boyfriend (Koji Wada) decides he wants to join the Seiyu gang. He’s given simple terms; to talk over his friend, a boxer played by Ken Sanders, to lose a boxing match. If everything goes well, he will receive a full membership and the gang will make loads money with bets. If not, he will lose his life.

Although often recalled as Meiko Kaji movies, she is not the lead actress but a supporting player in the first film. The real heroine is ’pop star turned actress’ Akiko Wada, who plays her role in the similar fashion as Reiko Oshida in her Toei movies. She’s not quite on par, but good enough to carry the film. Her songs are not quite on par with the rest of the soundtrack, though. Kaji and the other girls – often wearing sunglasses size of a football – give good support. Tatsuya Fuji, the future star of In The Realm of Senses, gives a good villain performance simply by looking arrogant and laughing like a madman.

Another important cast member that needs to be mentioned is the vehicles. These girls don’t walk, they ride a motorcycle. From the opening scenes to the last frames motorcycles are found in almost every outdoor scene. There’s enough ”girls on bikes” shots to make a promotional photobook. Also worth mentioning is the red Daihatsu Beach Buggy that Tatsuya Fuji’s character is crazy about. A classic scene shows Fuji chasing our heroines Wada and Kaji through the underground passages of the Shinjuku Station. Try getting a permission to shoot such a scene today!!!

Girl Boss was directed by Yasuharu Hasebe, who had already been delivering Nikkatsu with several stylish action films in the late 60’s. Later in the 70’s he became know for his violent pink roughies, but Stray Cat Rock remains his most remarkable achievement. Although Girl Boss isn’t as wild and technically cutting edge as some of the later films in the genre, it’s a quite a thrilling piece of pop cinema. Hasebe later returned to helm two more instalments, parts 3 and 4, with the remain two going to Toshiya Fujita (Lady Snowblood).

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