Archive for the ‘Girl Gang’ Category

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Kanto Woman Yakuza

April 2, 2017

Kanto Woman Yakuza (Kanto onna yakuza) (1968)

Nikkatsu Noir meets Girl Gang Films at Daiei. Michio Yasuda, one of the studio’s few female action stars,  leads a group of three girls who make their living playing on the clubs. They soon run into trouble with the yakuza. The film has a phenomenally energetic opening with great music, fantastic cinematography and Yasuda kicking ass. It’s just a shame the storyline gradually takes a more conservative turn with emphasis shifted towards the male characters, who do the dirty work in the climax. It’s still a very stylish film with superb cinematography and amazing moments where director Akira Inoue sets scenes to a blazing rock score. The film also does great job capturing the streets and clubs populated by the lower class. This is a small discovery, although more noirish and down to earth than the likes of Stray Cat Rock that would make a passable comparison point.

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Hell’s Angels: Crimson Roar

July 23, 2010

Jigoku no tenshi: Akai bakuon (Japan, 1977)

A skillfully mismarketed piece of Toei action from the late 1970’s, Hell’s Angels: Crimson Roar is no more genuine biker gang film than it is pure pinky violence entertainment. The film does attempt to cut in both genres – and a few others as well – but the blade only scratches. Bikes are featured in the beginning and end, the only girl gang is beaten in the opening scene, and the fashionable jailhouse visit is taken care of, in its entirety, during the opening credits.

The action bits, which are sparse, and just enough to provide an explosive artwork for a theatrical poster, hide a relatively serious minded crime drama behind them – something of a bit more mature than Toei’s typical girl gang films. The storyline, which follows former bad girl Yoko – now straitened by prison, and taking a try at honest life – leaves out the more over-the-top genre elements. A couple of more exploitative knife fights are there though – perhaps as a legacy of the pinky violence genre – but nothing in the line of clothes being ripped off in all female brawls.

For the main part, however, Hell’s Angels (another title the producers pulled out of their ass), sticks itself in the drama genre. Action is there only as a spice, and it never reaches a high level of quality. Furthermore, near the end the film uses a cheap old trick for a couple of times: the high speed motorcycle shots are a carbon copy of the ones seen in Teruo Ishii’s Detonation: Violent Riders (1975). Indeed, it’s Kouichi Iwaki (or his stuntman) cruising in the scene – it’s all archive footage shamelessly inserted into a new movie.

Previously having gained credit as the director of Etsuko Shihomi’s sought after karate classic 13 Steps of Maki (1975), Makoto Naito doesn’t quite manage to breath fresh air into the film. The main problem is the mediocre screenplay that would serve an average Toei action fest fine, but can’t quite carry a film that is meant to work on story level. Nevertheless, the director has inserted plenty of good music into the film – including screen visit by famous pop star Yasuko Naito – and the cinematography manages to catch the attention with skillful framings a few times, too.

Leading lady Yuuko Iruka – unknown in her native country as well – isn’t entirely bad in her role. She avoids the bigger mistakes, but real energy and captivating persona are lacking. Certainly she’s doesn’t live up to the “Violence Queen” crowning given to her by the film’s original Japanese trailer. This of course has something to do with the screenplay, too: the character was never quite intended as the yakuza beating one woman powerhouse in the tradition of Reiko Oshida or Miki Sugimoto.

The film’s real savior is supporting man Hiroshi Tachi. A popular actor and pop-star alike, Tachi gives an engaging performance as a miserable, drug shooting small time crook. Contrary to what would be expected from a star actor of Tachi’s status, he doesn’t try to steal the show with over-done manners, but instead reads his lines with the broken voice of a man who has flushed his life down the gutter. It should be noted though, that one reason for his sensitive articulation may be the fact that his character is stabbed in the stomach already in his introduction scene.

Hell’s Angels takes its final redemption in the very last scene. The brief climax is as impressive as it is ice cold. The truth is, however, that without this scene, and Tachi’s superb acting performance, Hell’s Angels would be little more than an average crime drama among all others. As it is now, Hell’s Angels is rather a decent time killer for those that have already browsed through their 1970’s biker, pinky violence and japano-crime genres. For beginners, however, all of the fore mentioned genres contain superior films to explore.

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Terrifying Girls’ High School series

October 29, 2009

The Terrifying Girls’ High School series (1972-1973)

Hitting the Toei theaters in the midst of their second Pinky Violence wave (preceded by Teruo Ishii’s period movies in the late 1960’s) Terrifying Girls’ High School movies were basically a high school variation of the Sukeban girl gang movies which ran from 1971 to 1974. The main difference was that the girl bosses would now wear school uniform, and the villains would include corrupt high corrupt school officials rather than just ordinary yakuza. The opening installment, Violent Women’s Classroom (1972), stars Miki Sugimoto as a heroine who must fight Ema Ryoko’s ruthless girls for the supremacy of the school. Reiko Ike co-stars as a sukeban who has not yet decided her side. This was the basic casting also in most of the Sukeban films, where Ike and Sugimoto would take turns playing the heroine / guest star. Poor Ema Ryoko was destined for villain roles and fight scenes where her shirt gets ripped for life.

Violent Women’s Classroom features little if any deviations from the genre conventions. It’s an enjoyable, fast paced exploitation film full of violent girls beating each other and making fools of their senile teachers. Typical to Suzuki, there’s a lot of humor included, and none of it can be described as very sophisticated. Nudity is plenty as well, but thankfully there are no long sex scenes interrupting the minimal storyline – something director Norifumi Suzuki has been found guilty of a few times before. Technical execution is of relatively high standard, as expected from a Toei production. The stylish theme song is performed by supporting actress Rika Sudo, and was re-used in the superior sequel, Lynch Law Classroom.

Lynch Law Classroom (1973), Norifumi Suzuki’s second attempt with the Terrifying Girls’ High School series, counts as one of the high points of the genre. Compared to its predecessor the follow up is a much darker film. Occasional silly comedy now walks in hand to hand with torture scenes that make reference to the Vietnam War! At the same time the film manages to be wildly entertaining (Reiko Ike’s introduction scene with a motorcycle is a small genre benchmark) and even beautifully shot at times. Dull moments are almost entirely missing for the film. The primary casting is the same as before (Sugimoto as heroine, Ike as guest star, Ryoko as villain), with Tsunehiko Watase’s sunglass wearing lone wolf yakuza being the most notable addition. The film’s most satisfying scene by far is the ending, which is high school anarchism at its best.

After Lynch Law Classroom the series lost two important talents; actress Miki Sugimoto and director Norifumi Suzuki. In Delinquent Convulsion Group (1973) Reiko Ike carries the lead role, leaving the film without a strong guest star. Probably standing out most (and not due to their acting talents) are the American actors who play evil drug dealers and rapists. Yes, this is yet another film that does not improve cross cultural understanding. Director Masahiro Shimura is no first timer in the field of exploitation cinema. He worked as an assistant director in the previous two films, and was also involved in screenwriting several Toei action films such as The Street Fighter (1974). His directorial filmography is short, but perhaps for a reason. While not a bad movie, Delinquent Convulsion Group is not among the genre’s best films, and this would appear to be largely Shimura’s fault. His direction is a bit sloppy, lacking the intensity and visual style of Suzuki’s best movies. Delinquent Convulsion Group is mainly saved some memorable scenes such as the sailor suit and machine gun finale.

The Terrifying Girls’ High School series ends with another Shimura effort. Unfortunately Animal Courage (1973) is the weakest of the four films. It suffers from similar problems as the previous film; Shimura directing features no sharp edges, and there are no strong supporting characters (although lead star Reiko Ike almost becomes one). The storyline is all over the place, and gives more room to sex scenes than action. There are visual highlights, but they tend to be inconsistent, and often the follow up doesn’t live up to build up. The soundtrack is somewhat restrained but does feature one rather stylish spaghetti western tune. Another ear pleaser is the language mix on offer; you’ll get to hear the girls speak French and English on language lessons. Yes, we are trying hard to find positives here…

Somewhat interestingly the film spends a considerable amount of time mocking Christianity (Yankee Mark Darling returning as a dirty priest), immediately making one suspect Suzuki had his fingers involved with the screenplay. Another cast member one might recognize is Harumi Tajima, who later made a rather memorable beach run in the final Sukeban movie (1974). Finally, and literally so, the film’s very last scene is quite excellent. Animal Courage may not have been the best way to end the series, but the last 30 seconds couldn’t have been better (rviewer note: it’s been approximately 2 months since I viewed this film and wrote this review, and I can no longer remember how the film ends).

Verdict:

Violent Women’s Classroom (Japan, 1972) – 3.5/5
Lynch Law Classroom (Japan, 1973) – 4/5
Delinquent Convulsion Group (Japan, 1973) – 2.5/5
Animal Courage (Japan, 1973) – 2/5

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Stray Cat Rock Redux

August 22, 2009

No, Nikkatsu is not planning to remake their classic girl gang / youth film fusion. Thank God for that. Instead it’s me who’s apparently running out of topics to write about. I recently rewatched the entire 5 film series, and decided the remake my reviews. I left the review of the first film relatively intact, but the others should now provide a bit more information, plus corected ratings since – seeminly affected by some nihilist critic syndrome – I managed to underrate many of them last time.

Stray Cat Rock: Girl Boss (1970)
Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo (1970)
Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter (1970)
Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal (1970)
Stray Cat Rock: Beat ’71 (1971)