The Mad Detective of Hong Kong

The quirky detective has a long history in both film & television, dating all the way back to Columbo. Usually presented with observational skills that far outstrip their colleagues, using unorthodox methods to solve crimes or just the ability to see things others can’t, they’re left as outsiders (but not always). Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai take the quirky detective down a much darker path.

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Detective Bun (Lau Ching Wan) has a unique gift (or curse depending on how you look at it) to see the inner personalities of the person he is investigating but it’s left him adrift, he cut’s off his own ear as a retirement gift for his boss and get’s kicked off the force. Inspector Ho Ka-On (Andy On) approaches Bun with the idea of getting Bun’s help in solving a case he is working on, the case as it stands involved a police officer Wong Kwok-Chu (Lee Kwok-Lun) along with his partner Ko Chi-Wai (Lam Ka-Tung) investigating a series of thefts and tracking the thief to a nearby forest. The thief is alerted and heads into the forest, forcing Wong and Ko to give chase. Wong goes missing, his gun ends up being used in a series of armed robberies.

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Bun lives with his wife May (Flora Chan) who is adamantly against him becoming a detective again. Ko realizes how unbalanced Bun has become when he sees him arguing with someone who clearly isn’t there. Bun starts off by following Chi-Wai and discovers that he has seven inner personalities, the most dominant being a woman (Jay Lau) dressed in a business suit, a violent man (Cheung Siu-Fai) and a portly man (Lam Suet) who clearly abhors violence.

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As Bun continues his investigation, all evidence points towards Chi-Wai being the prime suspect in the disappearance of his partner. Bun’s non-imaginary wife May (Kelly Lin) confronts On about her ex-husband not taking his medication and not keeping his appointment with his psychiatrist, leaving On to seriously question Bun’s mental health.

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The re-emergence of Bun’s ex-wife is what gives this film a certain resonance, and also cast doubt on whether Bun has a supernatural gift or if he’s just mentally ill. May is represented in two different ways, one as Bun sees her and the other as she really is. The May as seen through Bun’s eyes is not subservient or demure but she does care for him, she just wants him to be happy when clearly, he isn’t. The May that exists is just fed up with having to be his caretaker. There’s a scene late in the film where the two Mays finally collide and Bun is forced to confront the reality that he is the only one that can see imaginary May. Real May asks Bun if he sees her as a cruel and heartless woman before she walks off, Imaginary May says a tender farewell to Bun and disappears leaving Bun well and truly alone.

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It’s also significant that at the end, On’s inner personality of a scared young boy is replaced by a young woman (again, dressed in a business suit) who guides On out of a tricky situation and On’s wife is presented almost as Lady MacBeth type, she also becomes complicit in a cover-up.

This just as much of Wai Ka Fai film as it is a Johnnie To film, I think it’s one of the best film’s made under the Milkyway banner and a sad and touching exploration of mental illness.

Penny Dreadful & the feminine monster

It goes without saying that horror has never been a safe space for women (or anyone for that matter but women more than most) so it’s kind of refreshing to see a gothic horror provide us with two fascinating female protagonists as they blaze an evil path towards redemption that’s largely kickstarted by one man’s desire and two demonic forces who both want the same thing, a bride.

The first season introduces us to the two principle female characters in the form of Vanessa Ives (ferociously played by Eva Green) and Brona Croft (a surprisingly good Billie Piper) who exist at two ends of the social spectrum. Vanessa is a former childhood friend of Mina Murray, daughter of noted adventurer Malcolm Murray (Grizzled Timothy Dalton). Brona Croft is a working class prostitute, who largely exists as a romantic interest for Ethan Chandler (a surprisingly great Josh Hartnett) so the focus is primarily on Vanessa for the duration of season one.

It’s in the second season where things get really interesting as Brona (who died from consumption at the end of the first season, with a little help from Victor Frankenstein) is brought back to life and re-named Lily,  primarily as a bride for Caliban (Rory Kinnear). Lily, at first appears to be compliant as both Caliban and Victor clumsily attempt to romance her but darker impulses start to emerge following her interaction with Dorian Gray (who Brona had a brief sexual liaison with in the first season) which culminates in Lily going home with a male stranger and killing him, this act ultimately awakens something in her, leading her to reject Caliban in a terrifying scene which leaves him both awestruck and terrified as she lays out her plan to kill Victor and eventually subjugate men. That theme wouldn’t be fully realized until the third season.

The second season introduces another fascinating female protagonist in Evelyn Poole (Helen McCrory, a witch and occultist who just wants to live forever). Evelyn seduces Malcolm as a way of getting at Vanessa and we find out that Vanessa and Evelyn have crossed path’s before while Vanessa was searching for a way to harness her powers which led her to arrive at the doorstep of Joan Clayton (Patti LuPone) a cut-wife (abortionist) and witch. It’s revealed that Evelyn and Joan are former members of a witches coven but Evelyn now serves Satan, in return for everlasting youth. The theme of dominance emerges again as we see Evelyn exerting her power over a prominent local aristocrat (it helps that he’s a vile asshole), there’s a scene where he’s kneeling naked in front of a fire while she stands over him holding a stick and hitting him with it while she taunts him. It’s a total display of dominance in an era where men were clearly in charge.

Frankenstein pathetically makes an attempt to win back Lily from Dorian by confronting her with Dorian present in his house. Lily has embraced her newfound independence, is pretty much sick of Frankenstein’s whiny shit and taunts him until she ends up getting shot. Frankenstein is horrified to discover she is immortal and runs away while Dorian and Lily continue their macabre blood soaked dance. It’s such a defiant fuck off to Frankenstein, who doesn’t love Lily, so much as he loves the idea of her being his perfect girlfriend, his plans to mould her into such a thing has catastrophically backfired.

The third season takes Lily’s adventures even further into the absurd (but so much fun to watch) as Lily and Dorian rescue a young girl, Justine, from certain death , she was about to be tortured to death for the sexual amusement of a group of men. Lily takes Justine under her wing and relays her plan to dominate men, there’s an interesting scene where Lily and Justine watch as suffragettes protest in the street until they clash with the police resulting in an altercation. Lily mocks them and their attempts at a democratic process of change, instead viewing dominance as the real arbiter of power. Lily begins recruiting prostitutes and making Dorian’s place a halfway house (which he seems none too pleased about) and forming a kind of guerilla army. She urges them to go out and cut off the hands of their oppressors, which they quite gladly accommodate her.

Vanessa, after expelling Satan at the end of season 2, visits an alienist Dr. Florence Steward (Patti LuPone) in the hope of exploring her trauma, and ends up re-living her time in the mental asylum through hypnotherapy. Her stint in the asylum reveals the inhumane methods she suffered in order to cure her but also her relationship with her caretaker, John Clare (before he died and became Frankenstein’s monster), they manage to help each other in a fundamental way through empathetic communication. Vanessa’s demon’s (Satan and Dracula) rear their heads in the form of John Clare and attempt to win her over as romantic rivals as they’ve been trying to do since she reached puberty.

Dorian finally reaches the limit’s of his patience with Lily and her army of women and teams up with Frankenstein to basically re-set her like an operating system (men are such dicks) then kicks out the women living in his house and kills Justine. Lily pleads with Frankenstein not to go through with his plan for re-setting her, it’s the memory of her dead child that finally breaks through to Victor and he let’s her go free. She finally returns to Dorian to find a dead Justine and breaks it off with him as well, going to forge her own path alone, leaving Dorian alone with his paintings.

In the end, both Vanessa and Lily are victims of a patriarchal society but they refused to let themselves be victims, Lily didn’t ask to be brought back from the dead just because someone felt lonely (that goes for both Victor and Caliban, they’re both selfish assholes) and Vanessa didn’t ask to be stalked by Satan and Dracula, it probably didn’t help that Malcolm had an affair with her mother (which basically led her down the path to Mina’s fiance and eventually the mental asylum, way to go Malcolm, you asshole) but she fought on to the very end, she chose to go out on her own terms.

Fistful of Dynamite & the human cost of revolution.

In Once Upon a Time in the West, Sergio Leone cemented his love of westerns and it’s mythic storytelling of America, his entire filmography can be seen as one long epic about the birth of America  which makes Fistful of Dynamite an interesting anomaly as it’s set, not in America but in Mexico during the Mexican revolution.

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Before the film begins. a quote from Mao Tze-Tung is emblazoned across the screen “The revolution is not a social dinner, a literary event, a drawing or an embroidery; it cannot be done with… elegance and courtesy. The revolution is an act of violence…” which promptly cut’s to an ant hill getting drowned in a sea of urine as we’re introduced to Juan (a clearly not Mexican Rod Steiger) as he flags down a coach with a sob story about his dying father. The coachman initially waves him off but decides to play a practical joke on the people inside the coach by giving Juan a lift. The reactions are swift and immediate as Juan is placed in an environment where he’s clearly uncomfortable but feigns ignorance as they prod him with questions and mock him. Juan is no fool though as he has planned a robbery of the stagecoach with the help of his family. The privileged are now at the mercy of Juan and his family after they kill the coachman and the guards.

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Juan delivers a form of social justice to his “betters” by first taking the man who mocked him with the idea that he didn’t know who his father was and asking him if he can make a “babeh” then introducing the man to his father then taking the woman behind a house where he whips out his dick (It’s implied that he rapes her but it’s never shown onscreen) before stripping them all naked and putting them into a horsecart which is pushed down a hill where it crashes into the ground, they all fall into a group of pigs.

It’s when Juan meets John (James Coburn in all his shaggy Irish glory) an Irish nationalist, on the run for the murder of a couple of British soldiers (punctuated through flashbacks) that Juan get’s mixed up in Pancho Villa and Zapata’s rebellion. Juan is understandably reluctant to get involved in a conflict which does not concern him and it’s only through John’s manipulation that Juan somehow becomes a revolutionary hero.

Juan’s views on revolution can best be summed up via the speech he gives to John about what a revolution means to poor people “I know what I am talking about when I am talking about the revolutions. The people who read the books go to the people who can’t read the books, the poor people, and say, “We have to have a change.” So, the poor people make the change, ah? And then, the people who read the books, they all sit around the big polished tables, and they talk and talk and talk and eat and eat and eat, eh? But what has happened to the poor people? They’re dead! That’s your revolution. Shhh… So, please, don’t tell me about revolutions! And what happens afterwards? The same fucking thing starts all over again!”  and this point is really hit home when Juan finds his entire family massacred. Leone’s camera hovers over the dead until it finally rests on the face of Juan’s youngest child.

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John H Mallory has already fled one conflict only to join another, mostly due to Juan but his reason’s run deeper than just patriotic ideals as the flashbacks peppered through the film reveal John’s past, from his best friend’s radicalization into the IRA, to his lover, who seemingly shares affection with both John and his best friend. His best friend is caught by the British and, through confession and torture, is forced to point out other IRA nationalists, in a small pub, it’s when he finally points out John that everything goes to shit as John goes on the offensive and fires a shotgun at the British soldiers before finally turning it on his best friend, who is aware of his betrayal and tacitly acknowledges his death is necessary.

Dr Viega (Romollo Valli), a physician and ally of John’s who helps orchestrate attacks on the Mexican government is faced with a similar dilemma as he is caught by an army detachment led by Colonel Gunther Reza, beaten and forced to identify his colleagues then watch as they’re shot in the pouring rain, while John watches in the background. Dr Viega is not presented as a villain, just a man who broke under torture (as a lot of us probably would) before finally sacrificing himself for the cause.

The Mexican government Villa and Zapata are fighting against are presented as the villains, as we see soldiers performing executions in the middle of the day, summarily shooting people by the hundreds and killing children. It’s easy to sympathise with the rebels when the government are presented as just another fascist government who deserve to be destroyed.

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The political climate at the time greatly informs this film as it was made during a time of political instability in Europe. Leone and his writing collaborator’s sought to de-romanticise the idea of revolutions and to a certain extent, they succeeded. A revolution is just like any other conflict, whether the goals are noble, it still comes down to a war of ideals and in war, people die.

 

D.W. Griffith & the birth of a cinematic revolution

On February 18th at the Clunes Auditorium, a film called The Clansmen had it’s official premiere and would forever change the cinematic landscape, for all intents and purposes, it created the epic and would become known by it’s more well known title, Birth of a Nation.

It’s director was D.W.Griffith, who had already established himself as a talented director with his regular collaborator G.W. “Billy” Bitzer. The film immediately attracted controversy for it’s racially charged narrative, the NAACP took it as a clarion call to have the film banned (unsuccessfully) and D.W. Griffith spent the rest of his career apologising for it’s existence.

Before Birth of a Nation fundamentally changed cinema, D.W. Griffith entered the film industry as a struggling playwright and attempted to sell one of his scripts to Edwin Porter of Edison Studios, he found himself cast an actor in a film ‘Rescued from an eagle’s nest’ instead and began to pursue acting as a form of artistic pursuit instead.

Griffith was cast as a stage extra in a film called ‘Professional Jealousy’ for American Mutoscope and Biograph studio (Biograph for short) and it was here that Griffith would finally find his calling as a director. When Wallace McCutcheon (the studio’s primary director) fell ill, his son stepped in but failed to generate any revenue for the studio, as a result, the co-founder ‘Henry “Harry” Marvin offered Griffith a shot at being Biograph’s director.

The Adventures of Dollie was Griffith’s first attempt at directing, a short film about the kidnapping of a little girl by a gypsy peddler and his wife. The film itself is only notable for displaying Griffith’s talent for shot composition and narrative pacing. Griffith would make over a hundred film’s for Biograph in a variety of different genre’s and proved adept at nearly all of them. Griffith would gravitate towards the western and it was the civil war that would remain his primary interest long before Birth of a Nation emerged. Griffith would explore various themes of cowardice (House with the closed shutters) and Class (Swords & Hearts) but it wasn’t just the Civil War that interested Griffith as he also made a number of films depicting Native Americans as more than just villains for the western hero to face.

The film’s are remarkable artefacts of depicting Native American life from ‘The Red Man’s View’ which explored the struggle of a Kiowa tribe are evicted from their land by white settler’s and are forced to find new land to settle on, each time being moved on to Ramona which depicted the love story of a Sioux indian who falls in love with the adopted daughter of a wealthy Spanish family which ultimately leads to tragedy but the sad fact is that Griffith’s still elected to cast white men and women as Native Americans and would go on to dress up men and women in blackface for films such His Trust and His Trust Fulfilled.

This ultimately stains his legacy which is a shame because Griffith also made a number of westerns with women as the leads from The Female of the Species about a miner, his jealous wife, his sister and another woman traveling a desolate stretch of land, when the miner dies the ladies must fend for themselves to The Lonsdale Operator about a plucky young woman who manages to foil two robbers at a railroad station. These two films are both exercises in tension and pre-date Hitchcock by a number of years. In Female of the Species builds up the tension nicely between the three women, as the wife and sister-in-law blame the other woman for the death of the husband and plan to kill her until they come across a baby lying in the arm’s of it’s dead mother and all hatred subsides (I don’t buy that ending but everything leading up to it is a thrilling example of how to execute tension.

Griffith’s also made a number of films about social ills such such as Alcoholism (The Drunkard’s Reformation) poverty (The Song of the Shirt) crime (The Musketeer’s of Pig Alley which could be considered the first gangster film ever made) & greed (A corner of wheat) but he would always return to the western and civil war setting for better or worse.

Griffith’s name has been forever tarnished in the following decades since Birth of a Nation was released but his contributions to the emerging film industry at it’s inception cannot be denied.

 

 

Moonlighting: The Show that broke all the rules

In early 1984, writer/producer Glenn Gordon Caron was offered a lucrative agreement with ABC most writer’s would’ve killed for, this agreement had Caron setting up his own company in order to create television show’s for the network. Caron and producer Jay Daniels already had two pilots ready to go, they both failed. The network came to Caron and Daniels with an idea of their own, a boy/girl detective show, they didn’t care what Caron did with it, just as long as they kept the format. Caron initially baulked at the idea, he’d already dipped his oar into those waters with Remington Steele and wasn’t pleased with the experience. The idea grew on him, or should I say, the idea he could do whatever he wanted with the format and started work on a pilot script, Moonlighting was born.

During the writing process, Caron formed an image of the character Maddie Hayes and kept going back to Cybill Sheperd, he sent a draft of the script to Cybill (who had only just recently returned from treading the boards in Memphis and New York) and she fell in love with it. Caron had found his Maddie Hayes. Maddie’s sparring partner, David Addison was a tougher find, the network wanted a handsome stud, until an unknown by the name of Bruce Willis auditioned and blitzed it, Caron immediately wanted a second audition with Sheperd to see how the chemistry was but she refused (her version may differ), it didn’t matter, Caron had found his David Addison.

Caron’s approach as showrunner was unorthodox to say the least as he began spending more than the allotted budget he was given, in Caron’s mind he was making a movie every week and he believed it should show on the screen. The pilot and first half of the season was rough going until something clicked and the show became a hit, once it did, it allowed Caron some breathing room at budget meetings but the network made their presence known. It wasn’t until the second season that Caron really decided to push the television format and showcase his love of classic movies at the same time, Caron flirted with Hitchcock homages during the first season with episodes such as ‘Murder’s in the Mail’ and ‘The Next Murder You Hear’ which contains a terrific opening sequence but he wouldn’t fully commit until ‘The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice’, a loving homage to film noir and filmed in black and white for authenticity, it was the game changer for the show. When Caron pitched the idea to the network, they wanted to film it in colour and drain it, Caron knew that wouldn’t work and convinced the network to let them film it with cameras and filmstock that would’ve been used if it had been made back in the forties, the process was costly but  the results were spectacular.

Caron had a hit show on his hands, both with audiences and critics but the production schedule was proving to be a nightmare, for both cast & crew. The erratic production schedule meant that episodes would just barely make it to the air date or not at all, having to be delayed until the following week, it became a running joke, so Caron decided to do something truly innovative, he had Bruce & Cybill open the Season 2 premiere by having them address the audience directly as Maddie & David, they would discuss why the network thought the latest episode was too short, get into an argument then storm off, only to have them come back as Bruce & Cybill. This would be occur every few episodes as a way to stretch the show out to it’s allotted timeframe so some episodes would begin with title credits and others with David & Maddie reading fanmail, David talking about his funk video etc but Caron would get more daring as the second season went on, having Bruce & Cybill walk off the set at the end of ‘T’Was the night before Christmas’ into a room full of the writers and their families as they sang a Christmas Carol, having David & Maddie walk into the Blue Moon Detective agency at the end of the episode ‘Camille’ to find that the set is literally being dismantled as Bruce & Cybill try to explain to Whoopi Goldberg & Judd Nelson why this is happening as they all start calling for their agents and in ‘The Straight Poop’ Rhona Barrett took a camera crew into the Blue Moon offices to find out why David & Maddie weren’t talking to each other. The word Meta was invented for Moonlighting.

Outside of The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice, Moonlighting usually kept things fairly grounded but in the third season, Caron introduced another element into the Moonlighting universe, fantasy. Caron indulged himself by staging a musical dance sequence in the episode ‘Big Man on Mulberry Street’ which has Bruce dancing surprisingly well with Sandahl ‘Yes, I was in something other than Conan’ Bergman in a lengthy sequence about the whirlwind marriage of David Addison to a high school sweetheart and it’s ultimate demise, it’s a thoroughly well-done sequence as the episode serves to stoke the David/Maddie romance fires, like ‘The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice’ which included a musical number by Cybill Sheperd, the sequence is seen through Maddie’s viewpoint, she processes the idea of David being married and her slowly becoming more attracted to him through the same sequence, only with Maddie as the object of his affection. Caron would also give us a Moonlighting variation on ‘It’s a wonderful life’ which could be considered the darkest episode in the entire series as Maddie finds out what happens to her if she had folded the Blue Moon Detective agency she originally planned.

The battle of the sexes is the driving force of the screwball comedies of the thirties and forties and is largely what drives the engine of Moonlighting. David & Maddie’s back and forth is probably the show’s greatest strength but it also deconstructs certain stereotypes. Maddie is basically the straight woman of the show, designed to play off David Addison’s childish persona, it’s a running gag that she’s always so serious when all she wants is for David to act like a responsible business partner, but we discover over the course of the series that Maddie is a fundamentally lonely woman, she lives alone and she’s largely seen as a dragon by her employees because she wants to run a business, not a funhouse. This isn’t to say Maddie is completely humorless 24/7 but alot of it is reactions to David’s sexist remarks and behaviour, this was explored in the episode ‘Blonde on Blonde’ where Maddie revealed the constant arguing with David was getting tiresome to her, so she refuses to engage, as David tries to find the spark that will turn on the engine (because that’s what the viewers want) and get’s her to reveal why she’s unresponsive, when Maddie finally does open up and tells him about a sexual fantasy she’s been having, David reacts like he’s hearing it from his sister which leads David to do something he really had no business doing and probably the worst night of his life.

I won’t claim that Moonlighting was the first T.V. show to do this but that one moment was a shot fired for eighties feminism (I doubt Caron saw it that way) then there’s the romance between Bert & Agnes. Agnes DiPesto began as a kooky secretary on the show and nothing more but as the series progressed, it occasionally gave us detours through Agnes world beginning with ‘Next Stop Murder’ a homage to Murder on the Orient Express, ‘North by North DiPesto’ another Hitchcock tribute & ‘Poltergeist III Dipesto Nothing’ where Agnes attempts to solve a case by herself to prove that she’s more just a secretary, with a little help from Bert Viola. When Bert Viola was first introduced to the show, he was being sexually assaulted by Agnes, who for whatever reason just couldn’t keep her hands off him and chased him around the office in a sexual frenzy until Bert finally said, enough, and got nothing but scorn in return. It was all played for laughs with Agnes as the sexual aggressor (which is both positive and negative) and Bert as the unwilling focus of Agnes lust (if the roles were reversed, it would be sexual harassment).

After the third season, the show began it’s inevitable decline, some have blamed it on the David/Maddie/Sam romance and Maddie’s eventual marriage to a total stranger, others blamed it on various factors such as Bruce’s emerging superstardom in the wake of Moonlighting and his constant behind the scenes bickering with Cybill Sheperd but those first three seasons were some of the best television ever created, if the show stopped after the third season, it might’ve been a near flawless show. Moonlighting would remain Glenn Gordon Caron’s greatest achievement, he moved onto a film career which included the films Clean & Sober, Wilder Napalm (which was written by Vince Gilligan) Love Affair and Picture Perfect before going back to Television with shows such as Now & Again (another favorite of mine) and Medium.  Glenn Gordon Caron brought screwball comedy into the modern age and we’re all the better for it.

Girl Boss Blues: The second wave of pinky violence films

By early ’71 Nikkatsu had shifted their focus towards Roman Porno films (which is basically sexploitation), their biggest star Meiko Kaji saw the writing on the wall and signed up with Toei, resulting in the classic exploitation movie Female Prisoner Scorpion #701 and it’s sequels. Toei decided to continue making more Girl Boss movies and handed the reigns to Norifumi Suzuki, a director not afraid to cater to the lusty whims and violent desire of the male audiences who watched these films (and the studio heads looking to market these films). Suzuki’s first effort in this arena was Queen Bee’s Counterattack and he brought with him an actress that would become synonymous with both Girl Boss films and Pinky Violence films in general, her name was Reiko Ike.

The first image we see in QBC is Reiko puffing on a cigarette and pouting like some B-Girl from a 1940’s pulp fiction cover. The following credit sequence shows Reiko and her crew wandering the streets, engaging in gang fights with other girls and taking drugs, it must’ve been a shock to the audience to see teenage girls engaging in such activities and then we get Reiko coming onto a businessman in the street, promising sexual favors in return for money and promises to introduce him to a young girl, Saseko Hayashi (Rena Ichinose), he takes her up on her offer and get’s in the young girl’s car while Reiko and her friend, Mayumi (Miki Sugumoto) get inside the trunk. Sawako takes the man back to an apartment where she sexually teases him before finally drugging him and letting Reiko and Mauymi into the apartment so they can go through his wallet, he only has 3200 yen (which equates roughly to $32). Reiko, Mayumi and Saseko are in the middle of attempting to steal a car when a gang of bikers arrives led by Eiji (Shinsuke Taki), he offers them a ride on their bikes or face the police, so the girls go for the first option. Reiko, Mayumi and Saseko almost get raped by Eiji and his crew but they’re interrupted by a local yakuza gang led by Jiro (Hiroshi Miyauchi) who deliver swift justice. Reiko tells Jiro she doesn’t have any money so she’ll have to sleep with him to pay off the debt. Post-coital Jiro tells Reiko he’s going to be a big man soon so she better get on the Jiro train, she rebuffs him and tells him she belongs to no man (yay feminism) and leaves.

A schoolgirl, Yuko Itogawa (Yayoi Watanabe) asks Reiko if she can join her athens gang, Reiko informs her she’ll have to pop her hymen and offers some lube before Yuko fingers herself in a public toilet, they go shoplifting afterwards. Back at athens HQ, the girls are having watermelon when Jun (Yuki Kagawa) the former leader of the athens gang arrives after a 5 year stint in a reform school. Jun secedes authority to Reiko for the time being but it’s clear there can only be one leader. It doesn’t help that Reiko eventually falls in love with Eiji (the sexual politics in this film are both fascinating and appalling) and has to fight Jun for the right to be the leader of the gang, after being punished by getting tied to a speedboat and dragged around the sea, meanwhile the Yakuza blackmail Eiji’s father (who is the head of pharmaceutical company)  into selling them a chemical needed to create a new drug by holding Eiji hostage, forcing Reiko and Jiro to take on the Yakuza together.

Toei were clearly ready to move in a more exploitative direction compared with the previous entries. There’s a certain rawness present in this first film of the new series as the girls feel much more aggressive, they have more sexual agency. Suzuki later admitted that Reiko was only 16 at the time she made their previous movie Hot Springs Mimizu Geisha, he asked her to keep quiet about her real age and told her if anyone asks, she’s 18 (sneaky bastard) they even fabricated a new birth date for her. There’s a running theme of money and what it means to have it but Reiko and her Athens gang have their own form of sexual currency and they wield it with a certain amount of efficiency, there’s a scene where Mayumi get’s caught shoplifting and brought into the manager’s office, to their utter shock Mayumi takes off her shirt, it’s obvious this scene was filmed for pure titillation but it also it can also read as Suzuki’s contempt for authority figures as Mayumi goes one further and takes off her underwear as well leaving the two men in the office unable to even look at the sight of a naked girl and both Reiko and Mayumi use this to their own advantage. Reiko’s romance with Eiji is kind of puzzling, seeing as he tried to rape her but she seems to forgive him and they go on to have sexual adventures including a “bike fuck” whereby Reiko and her Athens gang each lie on a motorcycle and Eiji and his crew climb on and have a race, while having sex, the last one to come, wins. Norifumi Suzuki and Reiko Ike would go on to make other films together (they’d already worked together before this on the film Hot Springs Mimizu Geisha) but their first real collaboration starts here. Reiko Ike is a new breed of Girl Boss, tough, she truly gives no fucks (unless she wants to) and prefers to remain a stray dog living life on her own terms.

Suzuki and Reiko returned for another installment, Queen Bee’s Challenge which has Reiko playing Maki, the leader of a gang who call themselves the pearl gang. When one of Maki’s girls, Tomok (Miki Sugumoto), get’s into a scuffle with a rival gang, called the Black Lillies led by Yuri (Chiyoko Kazami) they punish her by holding her down, take off her underwear, shake a bottle of coke and shove it in her vagina after taking off the lid, it’s not pleasant as Miki’s screams will attest. Maki and Yuri meet in order to settle things, after the traditional greeting, both gang’s get into a mass brawl, which is broken up by Yuri’s ex Eizo (Tsunekiho Watase) an aspiring racecar driver. Maki and her gang spend their time hustling men, first by using a sexually experienced schoolgirl to give a handjob to a guy and then rob him (it ends with one of the most unsubtle visual gags I’ve ever seen) and then having Maki seduce a priest when she finds out a friend of her’s was cheated by him, said seduction includes undressing while he looks through a keyhole and standing naked in a bath while covered in bubbles, he can’t have her unless he pays her. Maki and Yuri’s feud continues, resulting in a final contest whereby they lie on the ground and a truck drives over them until one of them passes out, Maki wins but Yuri is still not satisfied and allies herself with the Kuroji yakuza group, which turns out to be a mistake as they’re only interested in selling Yuri and her crew into prostitution. Maki and Yuri are forced into an alliance and take up arms against the yakuza.

There’s always been an exploitative element to these films but it’s always been restrained, certainly in the case of Nikkatsu’s Stray Cat Rock series. Toei usually toed the line by offering the occasional flash of nudity (anyone but Reiko Oshida) and keeping the violence and sleaze to a minimum. Norifum Suzuki blew the doors off that idea, in the previous film there was a graphically staged gang rape (an unfortunate constant in these movies), erotica and tons of nudity, it’s like the floodgates had opened. Suzuki’s second effort continued this trend and pushed the envelope even further by staging scenes of violent torture, one involves Miki Sugumoto being all tied up and having drops of hot wax poured on her body, the other has Reiko hanging in a dungeon topless while being whipped with a chain, all in service to make us hate the villain and want to see his violent death all the more. It’s a shame Suzuki couldn’t craft a more engaging film, as the various subplots do nothing to advance the characters except show perverted men are and while Suzuki tries to paper over the cracks by adding more nudity and violence, he fails to create character’s worth caring about.

Norifumi Suzuki made a third film in this series called Girl Boss Guerilla which has Miki Sugumoto promoted from supporting player to lead actress and she proves to be every bit as charismatic as Reiko Ike.

Miki Sugumoto plays Sachiko, the leader of an all female gang of bikers called The Red Helmets, you know they mean business because they begin their day by running into a gang of male bikers (one of them even wears an easy rider t-shirt) and beating the crap out of them, then decide to raise some dough through nefarious means (Miki threatens to rape some poor guy if he doesn’t hand over his dough, she takes it and knees him in the groin). The girls decide to challenge the local gang of girls for their turf which leads to two quite intense fights, the second being Miki’s challenge to the local boss. She wins and takes over the turf. Reiko Ike watches from above and announces she’s the former boss, Reiko also has a brother who happens to be a Yakuza boss who disowned Reiko after she made him lose face. It comes to a head once the Tsutsui group discover the profits from a blackmail scheme and threaten Miki unless she pays up, she doesn’t, she’s beaten as a result. Sachiko is rescued by a local boxer, Ichiro (Tsunekiho Watase) and the red helmet gang follow Ichiro to his boxing camp, but the Tsutsui Yakuza put the squeeze on Ichiro for coming to Sachiko’s rescue leading to a bloody showdown.

The sexual politics of these films have always been iffy, there’s three kinds of men in this film, the love interest, who isn’t a yakuza and get’s a love scene with the leading lady at some point during the movie, the sex obsessed man who get’s seduced by the promise of sex and ends up getting drugged and getting money stolen from his wallet (if he’s lucky, he’ll get a handjob) and the yakuza, who exist solely to die violently at the end of the film but not before they commit horrible acts of abuse against the female characters. The character of Ichiro falls into the first category, a cocky, macho kind of guy who ends up getting more than he bargained for when he meets Sachiko, a female gang leader who is clearly not a fan of caressing the male ego, if she wants sex dammit, she’s going to get it and if he’s not in the mood, tough shit, she’ll physically assault him until he’s turned on and ready to go, it’s a weird, fucked up relationship (Neil LaBute couldn’t make this shit up) and could only exist in the pinky violence universe.

Norifumi Suzuki returned for a fourth and last time and delivered probably the best film in the series, Sukeban Onna Bancho (Girl Boss Revenge) and goes out with style as only Suzuki can.

The film opens with a bus traveling down a highway scored to an awesome funky groove, the bus holds a number of girls who are singing a mournful ballad, except Kanto Komasa (Miki Sugumoto) because she doesn’t give a fuck, her attitude doesn’t sit well with Ryoko (Ryoko Ema) who decides to put Kanto in her place and get’s a switchblade through her hand for her effort, Ryoko tries again but they’re interrupted by Maya (Reiko Ike) who introduces herself with the formal gang greeting, Kanto returns the favor. Their bus is stopped by another truck, and the guard’s let them out while they sort out what’s going on, it turns out Ryoko’s crew have performed a rescue and pretty soon the other girls get the same idea and take off. Maya heads towards a quarry which is about to be demolished with dynamite, she runs right into the heart of the quarry because she’s awesome. Kanto and a few the other girls manage to elude the guards and hitch a ride on a truck, Kanto’s heading for Osaka and she jumps off but the other girls, Momoko (Hiromi Sairaiji) Suzue (Misuzu Ota) and Ranko (Naomi Oka)  decide she’s got what it takes to be their Sukeban and plead with her to take them with her. Kanto agrees and it’s not long before they’re in trouble with the local yakuza, Hokuryukai group, for pulling the old fly in the soup trick at a local restaurant which happens to be run by one of their men. Kanto is beaten and left in the street. It’s not long before Kanto runs into Ryoko again and they resume where they left off until the cops arrive forcing everyone to scatter, Kanto is given shelter by an amateur pornographer, Ichiro (Ichiro Akai).

Tatsuo Terogi (Hiroshi Miyauchi) a small time yakuza working for the Hokuryukai group, extorts money from a young man who happens to be the son of the tax chief, who happens to be on the Hirokuya payroll, which doesn’t sit well with his boss and he get’s a severe reprimand in the form of a beating. Ichiro relays all this to Kanto who decides to help Tatsuo by blackmailing the tax chief in the form of a pornographic movie with the tax chief’s wife in a starring role (staged of course by Ichiro and his friend, who tricked the wife into a sexual tryst). Tatsuo is none too happy at this (understandable, it won’t make things better for him) and berates Ichiro.  The Hokuryukai are also in the sexual slave trade (as if there wasn’t reason enough to hate them) and go on a recruiting spree using Ryoko and her crew. Kanto set’s a trap for a gambling house run by the Hokuryukai by having the police raid it so she can grab the takings, which works until the Hokuryukai show up and she’s tied up and tortured again, and her crew are sent to the turkish bath, which is a cover for their slave trade operation. Tatsuo helps Kanto escape and she thanks him by asking him to sleep with her, which would’ve been fine with Tatsuo if Maya, his girlfriend hadn’t shown up at that very moment. Maya, stabbed Tatsuo’s boss, and now that he knows she’s back in town, he wants to see her, personally and he wants Tatsuo to bring her to him setting off the chain of events that will eventually lead to a showdown with the Hokuryukai group.

This is Suzuki’s best film in the series, and his last, he would go on to work with Reiko and Miki in other non-girl boss related films such as Terrifying Girls High School & Sex & Fury. This is the most action-packed film of the series as we see Suzuki stage a truck chase (Miki randomly grabs a guy and pulls him out of his truck, 20 years before the T1000 pulled the same stunt in T2: Judgement Day) and the explosive (literally) finale in which Kanto & Maya storm the turkish bath armed with dynamite, swords & automatic rifles dressed in style which brings me to another point, these films tend to get overlooked in terms of fashion, going back to the Stray Cat Rock series, Meiko Kaji was usually impeccably dressed in frilly shirts, a huge black hat and black slacks. In Revenge, both Reiko and Miki are decked out in a variety of different and colorful outfits, at one point Reiko, dressed in a psychedelic short skirt, engages in a fight with Miki and goes to battle dressed in bright blue pants and jacket, that I wouldn’t be surprised if she were a fan of ABBA. It’s an interesting aspect of these films that occasionally, there will be woman just as sadistic as any of the yakuza who exists only to torture the heroine or one of her crew and here we have a woman (who is not named) dressed in black wearing bright red lipstick, who delights in torturing women by shoving red hot pokers in their vaginas and sticking needs into the nails of a woman, Suzuki wisely used her sparingly as she makes all the more of a terrifying impression, witness her glee at digging her black clad boot into Miki’s breast. Suzuki could not have ended his run on a higher note than this film.

Norifumi Suzuki’s departure meant there was a vaccuum and it was to be filled by Sadao Nakajima, a film and television veteran who helmed the fifth entry in this series, Escape from the reform school with Miki Sugumoto also returning.

The opening scene of this film has Aoki Ruroki (Miki Sugumoto) on the run from two men, who finally catch her in a waterway and take her back to Shinai reform school, where she’s tied up and thrown into solitary, the man who caught her, Mr Koike (Kenji Imai) voices his displeasure by slapping her around which makes Aoki all the more defiant. A new girl, Ms. Tajima (Yuko Kano) is welcomed by Chairman Hadano (Nubuo Kaneke) in his office and then reveals she had a wealthy patron who donated 1 Million Yen to the school.  As punishment for Aoki’s escape attempt the rest of the inmates have their usual food rations cut in half which makes things tough for Kyoko (Hiroko Isayama) Maki (Rika Sudo) & Yuki (Fujika Omori) as they were tight with Aoki and as a result, Kyoko is beaten in a fight with some other girls who resent being punished for Aoki’s defiance. Kyoko and Tajima visit Aoki in solitary to give her food but it’s kicked over by Kyoko who rebukes Aoki for her selfishness. A guard makes them leave and Aoki eats the rice from the floor while still tied. Aoki is released and let back into the room where Kyoko, Maki & Yuki are waiting. During a routine visit from the inspector’s, Chairman Hadano is confronted by a few of the girls who demand he feed them properly, which in turns into a violent protest. As punishment, he denies them access to food which forces Aoki, Kyoko, Maki, Yuki & Tajima into a plan of escape by knocking out the female guard, lighting fire to some paper in the hallway and taking off in a car while the guards are trying to figure out how to contain the fire. Aoki, Kyoko, Maki, Yuki and Tajima all go their separate ways, Aoki hitches a ride with car thief, Yoichi (Tsunekiho Watase), Kyoko goes home to her mother to discover the child she had, has died, Maki & Yuki tool around the city and Tajima ends up stabbing her patron and through various coincidences they all end up at this boathouse at the beach where they finally have a showdown with Mr Koike and he’s brought the entire police force with him.

The standard villains in these film’s are usually the yakuza but in a change of pace, the villain’s here are the authorities as represented by Shinai reform school. Shinai might look like a private school to the outside world but it’s basically a prison. In the Reiko Oshida films, the authorities were seen as bumbling bureaucrats but ultimately harmless here they are an oppressive force that you cannot escape from. Miki proves she can carry a film without Reiko Ike and she does so here with her usual archetype of the loner girl who doesn’t give a fuck about anyone. Sugimoto imbues it with a certain sense of fragility, especially when she falls in love with Yoichi, there’s a scene where she asks him if he could love her forever, he doesn’t know how to respond so she brushes it off with ‘I’m just kidding…” it’s a brief chink in her armor that reminds you she’s still just a teenage girl much like Maki & Yuki. It’s revealed early on that Maki & Yuki are 14 years old and a topless Maki attempts to seduce Yoichi, who can see this is wrong and rebuffs her attempt, leaving her in tears on the floor, such is the fragility of a teenage girl’s emotions (Yuki rebuking her by asking what would’ve happened if she got knocked up seems pretty callous, as is Yuki tossing a jumper at Maki while she’s still sobbing). It’s a shame Nakajima didn’t make another movie in this series as Escape from reform school is a solid effort.

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The next film had a new director, Isuo Sekimoto and would be Reiko Ike’s swan song.

The film kicks off in typical Girl Boss style with Keiko (Reiko Ike) interrupting an amorous Yakuza boss and his mistress, who attempts to stab him, she blames him for the death of her older sister and only succeeds in stabbing him in the stomach and get’s sent to prison instead where she’s bullied by Miwa the Spade and her gang. Before Miwa is released, she let’s Keiko know she’s the leader of the sunflower gang and she can get her revenge anytime. Keiko spends the rest of her term there basically punching her way to the top of the food chain until she’s finally released, the other prisoner’s refer to her as Bancho (Boss). Keiko finds an old pal, Yuki waiting for her with another friend, Setsuko (Rena Inochise) and they immediately grab a bite to eat and several beers. They’re approached by some yakuza who have some business with Setsuko and take her away, Reiko stops them and tells them she’s Setsuko’s bodyguard. The club where Setsuko used to work tells Setsuko ran up a tab totalling 1 Million yen and she has to pay it back before they’ll let her go. Keiko offers to pay it, the club owner agrees but with the condition that they’ll keep Setsuko as collateral.  Keiko agrees.

Keiko and Yuki make it their priority to find Miwa and cut a swathe through various girl gangs until they come face to face with the leader of the sunflower gang, Eri the Razor, who explains Miwa ran off awhile ago and hasn’t been seen since. Eri challenges Keiko to a fight to save face and loses. The remnants join Keiko and they go on a debt collecting mission, literally embarrassing men who owe Setsuko money into coughing up dough. Setsuko is threatened by Oshima into sleeping with a business associate, when she refuses he get’s violent but she’s saved by Keiko, who is taken out back and beaten by Oshima and his gang (stabbing someone will do that), before Oshima can get really get his kicks, he’s stopped by Kuriko Tatsuya (Tsunekiho Watase), a high ranking yakuza, who is helping Oshima which leaves him very displeased but he chooses to let it go. Eri, stinging from her loss to Keiko, get’s drunk and reminisces about her older brother who left her at the orphanage when she was a child. Keiko tries to seduce Kuriko as a way of paying off the debt by showing up at his hotel room half naked, he’s not interested (the man shows tremendous self restraint) and when there’s a knock at the door, he shoves Keiko into the bathroom. The club owner brings a passed out Eri into the room, the perceptive club owner notices he’s already got company and leaves him alone. Kuriko tears off Eri’s shirt and looks for a birthmark and a scar then asks Keiko to take Eri home. Keiko finally finds Miwa, who is now married to an auto wrecker, Kenichi, and threatens her with a blowtorch, but backs down after she see’s Kenichi step in to protect her and he agrees to let Keiko and her gang stay at his yard. Oshima try to convince Kenichi to sell his place so they can build a bigger factory but he’s not interested, this can only lead to bad things and a bloody showdown between Keiko and Oshima.

The opening sequence of this film has one of the most brilliant visual flourishes I’ve ever seen in this series as we see Keiko standing holding a knife, the background disappears into blackness and we’re left with Keiko and Oshima in a fight to the death in slow motion, she runs to the camera and blood covers the screen. It’s a shame that Isuo Sekimoto is unable to deliver more flourishes like that, instead sticking to the basic visual blueprint of these films which includes alot of handheld camera work and a montage set against a pop song. Sekimoto manages to inject a certain amount of grittiness in this movie among the more lighthearted moments as we witness a man in a porno theatre get a handjob while watching a dirty movie then get extorted outside and we get to watch a girl squat and graphically urinate in an alley before passing out (I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen that depicted onscreen before). He also manages to stage the fight scenes in a visceral manner, one example is the fight scene between Keiko and Eri, it starts with knives but ends in a fistfight, Keiko hits Eri in the stomach twice so hard I’m amazed her first didn’t go through Eri’s stomach. This would be Reiko Ike’s final Girl Boss movie and although she carries the movie, it really could’ve served her with a better story but I think that’s a flaw in most of these movies, they’re pure style, for better or worse.

Toei were obviously impressed with Isuo Sekimoto enough to let him direct what would be the final film in this series, Girl Boss: Crazy Ball Game and in return he delivered a far grittier, brutal film. Sekimoto must’ve felt the series needed some fresh new blood and cast relative unknown Yuko Kano in the lead.

The opening scene starts off with a duel between two rival gangs, the blood orchid gang run by Mina (Ema Ryoko) and Wildcat Kyoko, leader of the Blood Cherry Blossom Gang, who defeats Mina. The police intervene and Kyoko ends up in Juvenile centre, when she’s released hooks up with  Yuki (Ritsuko Fujiyama) an old friend who works as a taxi driver during the day and a nightclub hostess at night. Momoyomo (Harumi Tajimi) and Hiroko (Emi Jo) pull a con in a store by having Momoyomo wear a tight blouse which pops open while two young employees are distracted enough for Hiroko to shoplift. A woman asks Momoyomo to look after her baby while she hits the ladies room but doesn’t come back, leaving them with an abandoned baby, which they leave in a public restroom but Kyoko enters and get’s a better idea and has a woman burst into the funeral of a dead man holding the baby, the mourners shove money at her in order to shut her up. They leave the baby with a random old lady and give her money for necessities. Yuki arrives to tell them, two former members of their gang, Hanae (Keiko Aikawa) and Kaoru (Jun Midorikawa) have been forced into performing a disgusting, lesbian act (her words) for paying customers. Katsu, their boss, clearly unsatisfied by their performance, slaps them around and is about to engage in some raping when Kyoko holds a blade to his throat and forces him to sign a resignation letter.

Mayumi (Rie Saotome) a former member of Kyoko’s gang, now happily married, watches as her husband is hit by a car filled with yakuza goons and left on the side of the road. The yakuza drive on until they find Kyoko and grab her and she winds up at the mercy of Mina and her gang and boy, do they give her a welcome back party, beaten and tortured with a red hot poker, a young man, Goro (Noburo Shiraishi) comes to her rescue. Kyoko responds by ripping off one of Mina’s crew, Mari (Sanae Ohori) after she blackmailed an official. Mina is furious and vows to get revenge on Kyoko. Mina is also sleeping with Koike (Kantaro Suga) an ambitious Yakuza working for Tachibana (Toru Abe). Goro is caught operating on Tachibana’s turf and beaten by Koike, who throws Goro into the street in the pouring rain. Kyoko helps him but they can’t deny their passion. Mina finds out about a diamond company’s plan to transport 1 Billion Yen’s worth of diamonds in order to save their company and uses Koike to help her but it’s not long before Kyoko, Goro and her gang find out about it and get there first and pretty soon, they have Koike and the Tachibana corporation hunting them down.

This has to be the grittiest most brutal film in the series, that’s not to say doesn’t have lighthearted moments, such as a slow motion sequence involving Kyoko and her gang running towards the sea completely naked, Sekimoto even places the camera under each girl’s breasts as they bounce along towards the sea while a gentle ballad plays. Sekimoto might give us a moment of levity here and there but he also gives us scenes of unwavering brutality, which is saying something considering these films are notorious for tying up and torturing their leading ladies at some point during the film. The first scene which gives us an indication that Sekimoto is not fucking around, happens when Kyoko get’s kidnapped by Mina and her gang, it’s bad enough she get’s beaten but they throw in a hot poker (to be fair Suzuki already did this and had the hot poker shoved into a woman’s vagina, at least he had the decency to keep it offscreen) and we get to watch it pierce Kyoko’s flesh, she’s left a bloody mess, the second scene has Kyoko being graphically raped by Katsu and members of the Tachibana gang, it’s a harrowing scene, topped off by Kyoko’s bloodcurdling scream, the third and by far most brutal scene is watching a member of Kyoko’s gang get beaten to death by Koike and the Tachibana gang, the scene is edited for maximum impact as you feel every hit, even Katsu and Mina are shocked to discover she’s dead while Koike could give less of a fuck. It would’ve been interesting to see Reiko Ike or Miki Sugimoto play the lead in this film as the role was clearly written with either one in mind, to her credit, Yuko Kano does her best to fill Reiko’s very big shoes and while she isn’t terrible, she lacks both Reiko and Miki’s charisma. This feels like a far more confident effort from Isuo Sekimoto, it would’ve been interesting to see him make another film in this series.

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Throughout the entire series, Reiko and Miki have been the series largest strength’s, whatever the weaknesses of the story and script, they manage to carry the film through sheer charisma, which is a rare commodity. Reiko is basically the Japanese Pam Grier, she just radiates badassery whenever she’s onscreen, even in her personal life, she was the personification of the characters she played in the girl boss series as she was arrested for drug offences towards the late seventies and illegal gambling which forced her to quit the entertainment industry and disappear cementing her mythic status. Miki followed suit but in a far less controversial manner as she married a high school classmate who became a successful businessman and she went on to become a nursery teacher. These films were never meant to stand the test of time but despite the exploitational elements in these films (at the end of the day, that’s what they were) they presented the audience with girls who did not conform to society’s standard’s of traditional femininity, they were wild, violent, beholden to no man and loyal to a code that the authorities would never understand.

Stray Cats & Delinquent Girls: The First wave of Pinky Violence films

In the late sixties, Toei, an upstart film studio formed in 1956 made a series of movies (largely inspired by Roger Corman’s The Wild Angels starring Peter Fonda) called Furyo Bancho (Wolves of the City aka Delinquent Boss) and largely centred around a gang of youths who call themselves The Capones who ride around on motorcycles and generally wage war with The Yakuza, authority figures and anyone else who stumbles across their path. Toei made fifteen films in this series from 1968-1974. Nikkatsu decided to make their own Furyo Bancho but decided on a more feminine touch and commissioned a film called Alley Cat Rock: Female Boss (Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss) and cast popular Korean-Japanese singer Akiko Wada in the lead role as tough talking, bike riding Ako, Mei (Meiko Kaji) jumps on the back of her bike at a gas station asking for a lift, which Ako provides. Mei hands Ako a business card for a club and heads off to engage in a knife-fight with the leader of a rival crew, which is interrupted by The Black Shirts, a gang of male youths led by Katsuya (Tatsuya Fuji) who proceed to terrorize Mei and her crew. Ako rides in and saves Mei once again. Ako, Mei and her crew chill out at a club HQ where the girls are surprised to find out Ako is also a girl.

Mei runs across a former flame Michio (Koji Wada) who wants to better himself and has decided the fascist Sei Yu group is the way to do it. Michio is given a task to perform before he can join, he must convince an old friend of his, Kelly (Ken Sanders) to throw a fight. Ken initially agrees and it seems like Michio is going to get his wish until Ako injures Ken’s pride and he decides to be a winner instead. Michio is, of course, fucked and get’s severely punished by The Sei Yu group until Ako, Mei and her crew show up to save him then are forced to hide out while The Black Shirts scour the city for them and they’re finally forced to have a showdown with both The Sei Yu Group and The Black Shirts.

The film was an instant hit and, although it was designed as a vehicle for Akiko Wada, it was Meiko Kaji who ended up attracting the most attention. Meiko displays early glimmers of the charisma supernova that would emerge in the Female Scorpion series, she plays Mei as both tough when she needs to be and also vulnerable but it’s Ako who is the firebrand. Ako doesn’t take any shit from anybody, male or female (but mostly male) she chastises Mei for not having the guts to rescue one of her crew who was being tortured at the hands of the blackshirts (and Katsuya’s girlfriend, who hates Mei and her crew) and grabs a random guy at the club to help them, when he refuses she physically assaults him, furious that he would rather make love than war, she she clearly prefers the company of females to males. Ako (and her posse) drag a guy into an alley after he walks into them and proceeds to rough him up while Ako is clearly macking on some girl, her sexual orientation is never clearly stated but director Yasuharu Hasebe leaves just enough room for you to start wondering. Yasuharu Hasebe had already made a number of films for Nikkatsu before signing on for this and was allowed full creative control as long as he met certain specific requirements, this resulted in Hasebe applying various pop-art techniques and hand-held camera-work which gives the film a rough sort of edge.

The success of Stray Cat Rock meant only one thing, a followup, and it came in the form of Wild Jumbo. Akiko Wada was not to return as her pop career in Japan had taken off, Nikkatsu hired Toshiya Fujita to direct and brought back Meiko Kaji and Tatsuya Fuji from the first film. Wild Jumbo is a completely different beast as the focus is no longer on on a girl gang but a gang of a different sort. Meiko plays C-ko, the only female in a group called The Pelican Club. The rest of the club consists of three guys, Taki (Takeo Chii) Gani-Shin (Tatsuya Fuji) Jiro (Yusuke Natsu) and Debo (Soichiro Maeno) and they all spend their days wandering the outskirts of the city trying to amuse themselves in various ways. Taki falls under the spell of Asako (Bunjaku Han) who convinces Taki to rob a religious cult called The Seikyu Society to the tune of $30 Million Yen. Taki and the Pelican Club take off to the beach where he’d forced to reveal what he’s actually planning to the rest of the group and they all commit to the idea leading to a spectacularly grim ending.

This is really kind of an odd duck compared to the rest of the films in the series, as the energy that was present in the previous film is absent in favour of a more realistic tone and a film that’s more interested in following these misfits around, until it’s time for the plot to actually kick in, by which time you’ve lost interest.

Nikkatsu commissioned a third film with Hasebe at the helm once again with Meiko Kaji front and centre, even an absurd title like Sex Hunter can’t diminish what I think is the best film in the series as Meiko returns as Mako, leader of a gang of girls who occasionally hook up with The Eagles, a gang led by Baron (Tatsuya Fuji). During one such session, Baron’s right hand man Susumu (Jiro Okazaki) is rebuffed by Mari, one of Mako’s crew as she leaves, one of the other girls casually let’s it be known that she’s interested in someone else and tells Jiro where he can find her and her new paramour, Jiro takes off with a couple of his men to locate her. Mari is enjoying herself with Ichiro, a half-breed and when Jiro finds them together, his pride takes a hit, so he decides to take it out on Ichiro in an alley. A stranger, Kazuma (Rikiya Yasuoka) intervenes but Jiro is clearly not in the mood to listen and engages Kazuma in a fight, which Jiro loses and runs back to Baron to let him know that he’s been dumped for a half-breed, Baron decides to take action and begins waging a campaign of violent harassment against the half-breed’s who he believes are infesting his turf.

Baron’s anger towards half-breeds largely comes from watching his sister getting gang-raped by a group of mixed race men as a child. Baron targets Ichiro first, who does the smart thing and leaves the city. Kazuma is also mixed race and looking for his younger sister, who may or may not be a member of Mako’s crew. Baron’s obsession soon grows out of control and Mako starts to fall for Kazuma, when Mako makes it clear whose side she’s on, Baron decides to trick Mako and her crew into sexual slavery forcing a showdown between Baron, Mako and Kazuma.

The proliferation of U.S. Army bases on Japanese soil post World War 2 meant that a great number of African-American and Caucasian soldiers conducted sexual relations with Japanese women on a regular basis, the result was mixed race babies. African-American/Japanese babies were largely shunned and abandoned due to the Japanese belief that their blood was somehow tainted, the issue largely went unaddressed and no-one was really interested in bringing it up so for Hasebe to not only bring it up but attack the mindset behind that thinking in Japanese society took some incredible balls, he addressed it and went for the jugular. Baron and his crew tool around in Jeeps and strut around like kings but he’s also presented as impotent in the presence of Mako, she never hesitates to question him about why he doesn’t sleep with her, it’s never fully spelled out but you can tell Baron’s traumatic witnessing of his sister’s rape has left him unwilling or unable to sexually satisfy Mako. The pop group Golden Half, which consists of mixed race members, contribute a performance of their hit ‘Yellow Cherry’ (guess the subtext) during the club scenes, which Hasebe directs with verve and energy, I’d love to get ahold of the soundtrack for this film.

The fourth entry, titled Machine Animal has Meiko Kaji returns as Maya, the leader of a gang of girls (I’m noticing a pattern here) stumble across a trio of guys, Nobo (Tatsuya Fuji) Sabu (Jiro Okazaki) and Charlie (Toshiya Yamano) a deserter from the Vietnam conflict, looking to sell 500 capsules of LSD. Maya decides to steal the drugs off them instead and locates the trio in their car, which they surround but they don’t count on Charlie having a gun and the trio take off. Undaunted, Maya has two of her crew locate the car, who steal it and sample the product. Maya attempts to cut a deal with a rival crew, The Dragons led by Sakura (Eiji Go) but he steals the drugs off Maya and takes it to a wheelchair bound girl Bunjaku Han. The trio explain their situation to Maya, they need the money to get out of the country and head to Sweden via boat. Maya becomes sympathetic to their plight and tries to help them get their drugs by kidnapping Bunjaku and forcing a showdown Sakura and the dragons.

This would be Hasebe’s last film in the series and he continues his interest in political ideas by mixing in concerns about Japan’s involvement in the Vietnam War and drug use. Nobo (short for Nobody, as that’s how he views himself within the world) just wants to find a place to call home and he’ll wander until he finds it. Meiko is unusually ruthless in this film, as this film opens with Meiko and her gang extorting a middle aged businessman in broad daylight and when he doesn’t comply, they just roll him and take his wallet and watch, which brings me to the portrayal of middle aged businessmen in these films, it’s not flattering as they’re usually presenting themselves as a model of decency but have no problem lusting after a young girl in a nightclub, and usually get rolled for their efforts. These films emerged in the early seventies as the younger generation were beginning to question the values held by the previous generation and they didn’t like what they saw and began to rebel, not just young men but Japanese girls as well, the girls in this film are far from the model of Japanese subservience that’s been the model of Japanese women for hundreds of years, they’re both survivors and predators.

Not one to be outdone, Toei commissioned their own film to compete with Nikkatsu and brought Kazuhiko Yamaguchi onboard as director and co-writer for Delinquent Girl Boss: Blossoming Nights Dream. Reiko Oshida was cast in the lead role as Rika, a 19 year old finishing up a one year stint at the Akagi juvenile reform school for girls. Rika finds work and a place to stay at a laundromat run by an emasculated man and his shrewish wife, when he attempts to rape her, she decides fuck this and quits. A bumbling young man, Tsunao (Tonpei Hidari, who will provide comedic relief and general lechery in other pink violence films) attempts to pick her up and quickly get’s told she’s not interested, he’s not a quitter though and begins to follow her (nothing creepy about that, no) and attempts to chat her up again outside a cinema, Rika is approached by a gang of girls (the leader wears the goofiest glasses) who don’t like her attitude and decide to teach her a lesson but find out she’s no slouch when it comes to fighting.

Tsunao brings her to meet Umeko (Junko Miyazono) a bar owner and graduate of the school of hard knocks who takes a shine to Rika and offers her a job. Rika is happy to find her best friend from Akagi, Choko, working there. Umeko explains nearly all the girls (Mitsuko and Harumi, a transgender, Japan always was ahead of the curve in that respect, including herself graduated from Akagi. Mari (Yuki Kagawa), a regular at the bar and a smooth operator when it comes to fleecing middle aged salarymen (this film has absolutely no sympathy for middle aged salarymen, or any middle aged men, for that matter) but has a weakness in the form of her drug addicted sister, Bunny. Umeko receives a visit from a local Yakuza, Ohba and his crew, who wants Umeko to sell her bar so they can demolish it and build a complex but Umeko refuses for sentimental reasons. Bunny pulls a smash and grab on a small drug deal and runs into Rika, who hides her and feigns ignorance when Rika’s nemesis, Oharu, from her stint at Akagi turns up with the girls Rika beat up. (who happen to be Oharu’s crew). Oharu challenges Rika to a fight which she ultimately loses but unfortunately for Rika, Oharu is backed by Ohba which means trouble for Umeko.

The first image we see in this film is a girl dressed like a traditional japanese bride while a charm school lady tells the audience of girls ‘to  look like a bride is life itself’, Oharu motions for a girl next to her to throw something, which happens to be an egg, it hits the girl square in the forehead, not satisfied, Oharu runs up to the stage and tries to tear off the dress. Oharu has no interest in accepting society’s ideas of what kind of woman she should be, Rika and Choko are abit more flexible. The men in this film are presented in largely unflattering ways, from Ohba and his tie dyed shirts and gold capped teeth to Tonpei and his unhealthy relationship with Choko, there’s a scene where Tonpei having dinner with Choko, she’s clearly elevated to be above him. Tonpei brings up the issue of Choko being abit too friendly with the male patrons at the bar, she immediately scolds him and reminds him that he is supposed to be a pimp and he should act accordingly, the scene ends up with him calling her mommy and cupping her breast, it’s an odd scene.

There are two exceptions and they come in the form of Tony and Shinjiro. Tony is a childhood friend of Rika’s from the orphanage and now works as a mechanic and really just fills the role of love interest for Rika. Shinjiro fulfills a similar role for Umeko as a yakuza just released from prison but he also plays a more active role in the film’s proceedings compared to Tony. Yamaguchi opts for a less gritty approach compared to Stray Cat Rock and this film feels more colourful as a result, certain stylistic touches such as freeze framing a character with their crime listed underneath while a fuzzed out guitar note plays makes it sound like a spaghetti western. Reiko Oshida’s youthful energy is a nice contrast to Meiko Kaji’s stoicness but the majority of the film’s heavy emotional scenes are carried by Yuki Kagawa, although Reiko does get one scene where she confesses to Umeko about a catastrophic error in judgement she made and the consequences of it. The girl group Golden Half appeared in the film performing their hit ‘ Yellow Cherry’ (Toei weren’t above poaching from Nikkatsu) but Toei also added what would become a regular thing in their films, the opening credit ballad. The success of this movie proved Toei were more than able to compete with Nikkatsu in this emerging sub-genre.

Toei immediately commissioned a sequel with the previous film’s director and star attached, called Tokyo Drifters. Reiko again plays a character called Rika (it’s never stated whether this is the same character from the previous film) who starts the film at a reformatory school where a doctor is giving a lecture about reproduction but he’s there to primarily to give medicals to the girls, when one of the girls becomes hysterical, Rika and her best pal Otoma (Riri Sasaki) intervene in her defense, which results in the doctor getting stripped to his underwear and chased around the room (*cue Benny Hill music*) and they’re brought before the principal to explain themselves, Rika and Otoma’s pleas not to punish the girl fall on deaf on ears, so they stage a riot instead in order for her to escape, which she does. Rika is eventually released and finds work at a toy factory fixing faulty toys but she soon finds herself out of work after the manager makes a pass at her and get’s a slap for his troubles.

Rika wanders into a local market where a bookseller Shinjiro (Tsunekiho Watase) notices a pickpocket lifting Rika’s keychain. Shinjiro confronts the pickpocket and gives him a warning before sending him packing and hands Rika’s belongings back to her but not before laying on a bit of charm which works as Rika goes on her way with a smile. Rika is offered work by a man on the street and asked to meet his business partner, who also happens to be his sister Nanko (Chikako Miyagi), what follows is a comical parody of a formal greeting, usually between members of the underworld. Rika soon has a run-in with the local Yakuza led by Kuroi (Akira Oizima) when they’re caught operating on his turf, lucky for Rika an old friend Otoma (Riri Sasaki) intervenes. Rika, Yoko and Otoma all re-unite at Nanko’s place and later on, Mitsumi (Masumi Tachibana) whose boyfriend is in debt to the Yakuza. Kuroi pays a visit to Nanko for obvious reasons and it’s game on.

The plot to this film is more or less recycled from the first but played in a much more broad comedic manner, the opening plays out like a Benny Hill sketch with a doctor being chased around the room in his underwear by a gang of girls, then you have Chikako hamming it up in general in every scene and Tonpei Hidari being Tonpei Hidari (he keeps his lechery to a minimum but he does show up in a red bra trying to sell bra’s to the public). Reiko is effervescent as ever but the film clearly lacks a nemesis for her to play off against as the film villain doesn’t have any kind of interaction with Reiko and for the most part, it feels like director suddenly realized, we better add some serious business to this movie so we can get to the action finale and cue the death of a main character so everyone can feel sad then go on a righteous mission of revenge, it doesn’t feel earned. This film did introduce the red overcoats walk of doom sequence though which will be used in subsequent Girl Boss movies so it get’s points for that.

Toei commissioned a third film titled Ballad of the Yokohama Hoods and once again had Reiko heading to a juvenile prison (they might as well make up a room for her permanently at this rate) along with another girl, a bubbly Yoko Ichji. It doesn’t take long for Rika to make an enemy in the form of Yuki Kagawa, who eventually confronts Rika in a rock field which results in a mass brawl. Rika is released later on and Yoko attaches herself to Rika like a tick. A man in a fancy suit and car arrives to pick up Rika and her sidekick and explains he’s to give her a lift into the city where she’s taken to meet Tonpei Hidari and his lover, Yoko Mihara (more low brow humor involving Yoko’s insatiable lust) and performs a visit to her foster father, Hayato Tani, an ex-yakuza. Rika runs into trouble via a gang of girls who ride around on bikes and wear blazing red jackets with the letter Z on the back. Rika get’s into a scuffle with them and it’s not long before Yuki Kagawa turns up dressed in black wearing a black cowboy hat, looking to get even. Yuki is backed by a local Yakuza faction run by Akira Kosoike, who has her gang run around doing his dirty work. A U.S. army deserter pays Akira for passage onto a ship but he get’s a visit from the U.S. army police instead, he manages to escape before they arrive and hides out in the back of Rika’s foster father, which brings Rika more trouble once Akira starts sniffing around.

An improvement on the last film, Reiko returns once again as the eponymous Rika and she’s the sole redeeming factor in this film, her interactions with Yuki and her crew are the film’s highlight. Toei has never shied away from lifting ideas from the rival Stray Cat Rock series and this film is no different except the outcome has a more positive ending than the one in Machine Animal, therein lies the difference, this was a series that just wanted to entertain and not explore social issues too deeply.

Reiko would return for one more film, Worthless to Confess, which would prove to be the best film of the series. Rika is once again a resident of the Akagi girls reform school, watching what is supposed to be an educational film but is in fact, a Ken Takakura film The Great Outdoors. It’s not long before the officers realise what’s going on and attempt to stop the film, resulting in a small riot. During a baseball game, the ball goes over the fence where an old man, Muraki (Junzaburo Bon) hands the ball back but asks a favor of Rika and gives a small gift to give to another girl there, his daughter Midori (Yumiko Katayama). Midori refuses the gift and storms off in a huff. Rika waits for the old man in the pouring rain and get’s punished by an officer by doing ten laps in the rain (*cue enka ballad*). One year later and Rika is free and roaming the streets of Shinjuku where she immediately runs afoul of a local yakuza group. Rika escapes and finds Muraki to give back the gift to Midori. Muraki offers her a job and a place to stay instead.

Rika tracks down another friend Mari (Yuki Kagawa) only to find her circumstances less than ideal as she’s taking care of a sick husband Arai (Ichiro Nakatani) while taking off her clothes for pervy middle aged men, oh yeah, and she’s also pregnant. Midori’s loser boyfriend Hamada owes money to a local boss, Ohya (Nobuo Kaneko) and the debt is being paid by Muraki, for reasons not explained. Rika discovers what’s going on and goes to see Ohya and, for reasons that defy belief, says she’ll do anything if they return the money that was given to them. Ohya decides this is a great excuse for abit of lechery and general misogyny and demands she take all her clothes off, she strips down to her bra and underwear and it’s Midori that saves her, before the rest of the men decide enough with the foreplay, Muraki bursts in and explains he used to be a local yakuza called Tetsu the Razor and the man responsible for giving Ohya his facial scars 20 years earlier in a gang riot. Ohya is terrified and let’s them leave. Arai finds out Mari is pregnant and decides it’s time for them to get out of Shinjuku for good and pays a visit to Ohya to let him know he’s out of the rackets. Ohya agrees on one condition, that he perform one last job, a hit on Muraki.

Reiko Oshida’s Rika is more or less a cipher in these movies, we know she’s an orphan and she was adopted by an ex-yakuza but that’s about it, the emotional heavy lifting is usually performed by Yuki Kagawa or whichever actress they cast in a similar role as the girl who is the film’s emotional punching bag. Rika can take care of herself and has a heart of gold and drifts from adventure to adventure, always ending back at that reform school. There have always been mentor figures for Rika in the DGB series, who occasionally act as surrogate parents, and Muraki is no different, it infuriates Rika to see Midori treating her father with such disdain (even if Midori has her reasons) because Rika grew up with no parent to rebel against. It’s a recurring theme that Rika usually finds herself a surrogate family, and ends up avenging a death of someone in that surrogate family, usually caused by the Yakuza. There are indications in this film that Toei were headed down a more seedier path, that’s not to say Toei were above cheap titillation in the previous films but it feels more pronounced and once Reiko Ike, Miki Sugumoto and Norifumi Suzuki took over, all bets were off.

Nikkatsu would be the first to commit fully to the roman porno genre, forcing Meiko Kaji jump ship to Toei and forever cementing herself as an icon with the female prisoner series. Toei would continue the pinky violence genre without Reiko Oshida, who went on to have a reasonably solid acting career post-DGB but the studio’s willingness to embrace and amp up the more exploitational aspects of this genre meant that both Stray Cat Rock and Delinquent Girl Boss seem relatively tame in comparison. If nothing else, both Stray Cat Rock and Delinquent Girl Boss gave us unique anti-hero’s in Meiko Kaji and Reiko Oshida, two girls from the mean streets of Tokyo, who took on the yakuza and gave no fucks, I wish there were more like them.