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Sukeban Deka: Dirty Mary

November 27, 2009

Sukeban deka: daati Marii (Japan, 1974)

Yasuharu Hasebe was quite a unique director for having pioneered two very different type of genres. Following his success in the Nikkatsu Action genre Hasebe directed the film that set the standard for all modern girl gang movies: Stray Cat Rock: Girl Boss (1970). But it was soon after Hasebe’s pop-art tornado that Nikkatsu nearly went bankrupt, and switched almost exclusively to pink cinema. Most of the studio’s talent found themselves looking for a new employer. Hasebe’s second golden era was, however, nowhere else but at Nikkatsu. Only this time it would not be referred pop-art, but violent pink. The titles of Hasebe’s classics – Assault! Jack the Ripper (1976), and Rape! 13th Hour (1977) – speak for themselves. It was all quite ironic considering it took Hasebe a long time to decide whether he would even like to take part in the studio’s new pink film alignment.

Sukeban Deka: Dirty Mary, which was not related to Shinji Wada’s Sukeban Deka manga that rocked the world two years later, was the last film Hasebe made for Nikkatsu before becoming the leading director in violent pink. This Dirty Harry inspired thriller owed far more to crime cinema than typical Nikkatsu erotica. The audiences, however, rejected the film, and Hasebe’s career took some damage. The preceding years on the director’s career had not been on solid ground either. Unsure of his future with Nikkatsu, Hasebe had worked on TV, made a brief visit to Toei Studios (Female Prisoner Scorpion: Grudge Song, 1973), and, also, one experimentation  at the Nikkatsu pink genre; the miserable Sengoku Rock: Female Warriors (1972).

Dirty Mary, to some extent at least, could indeed pass as one of the numerous Dirty Harry sequels. It’s not a rip off, nor does it make direct references to the Eastwood classic, but it is very much a film of the same genre. The screenplay could actually pass for a mainstream production quite easily. In a matter of fact, among all the violent and sexually explicit action and crime movies of the 70’s Dirty Mary doesn’t stand out as being particularly exploitative. By Nikkatsu’s standard’s it’s certainly short on sex. Keeping in mind some of Hasebe’s other 70’s works have been substantially weakened by sex scene boredom this is nothing but a positive twist.

Unfortunately what was sacrificed in terms of sex isn’t redeemed on the field of action and violence either. Contrary to the action packed poster art, Dirty Mary only comes with a couple of gunshots and no car wrecking mayhem at all. The two chase scenes included utilize fast feet and short distances. There is atmosphere to some of these bits, but only the ending can be considered as true highlight. Another problem is, getting back to the thicker than usual screenplay, the storyline. The battle between a lady detective (Hitomi Kozue) and villain (Tatsuya Hamaguchi) blackmailing his victims with dirty photos, is not captivating and often loses its interest.

Dirty Mary’s most interesting offering is its slight feminism. 1970’s genre cinema is full of fearless katana and karate heroines, but Mary stands out as slightly more realistic protagonist. A super cop she isn’t, but she can stand up against the male opponents most of the time. Defeats are swallowed without melodrama or epic revenge roar. A well crafted main character improves the film, but as a single asset it’s not nearly enough. Sukeban Deka: Dirty Mary is not a complete failure, but it does severely lack punch.

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