Female Yakuza Tale

Female Yakuza Tale


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

In Norifumi Suzuki's Sex And Fury (1973), kick-ass heroine Ocho Inoshika had devoted her whole existence to avenging her father's murder, tattooing her own flesh with symbols for the three people who owed her bloody satisfaction, and even adopting a new name for herself that encoded their identities; and so at the film's close, Ocho was left to stumble through the snow to an uncertain future. After all, with her enemies now all vanquished and the vengeance of a lifetime fully exacted, she had nowhere else to go.

It is a problem for Female Yakuza Tale, Teruo Ishii's quickie sequel to Sex And Fury. In the film's exquisitely shot prologue, we find Ocho, armed with a bladed parasol and her trusty sword, fending off wave after wave of anonymous male assailants even as her clothes fall aside one after the other. Apparently this sequence, unrelated to the plot that follows, is designed merely to remind us of her fighting prowess - but it is never really clear whether this film is set before or after the events of the original, and while Ocho plays a pivotal role in bringing together several of the new film's different narrative strands, she cuts a far more marginal figure here, enabling other characters to come to the fore.

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Ocho (played once again by Reiko Ike) arrives at Kobe harbour to pay her respects to the elderly boss of the Ogi clan - a man who had once intervened to save her from losing some fingers in a gambling dispute. In fact the old boss has long since been assassinated, and the clan has been taken over and brought into decline by the dissolute Goda (Tatsuo Endo). Yet before Ocho has had a chance to learn all this, she finds herself abducted by three rogue yakuza who mistakenly believe that she is a drug mule. They tie her up, probe her vaginal cavity and then, when their fingers tell them they have the wrong woman, leave her in the frame for the recent spate of 'Crotch-Gouge murders'. Needless to say, Ocho is none too happy about this, and when she asserts: "I'll kill the ones who put me through this", we know she is the sort of person to take such a grudge very seriously.

In her pursuit of the wrongdoers, Ocho crosses paths with others equally bent on revenge. There is Jyoji (Ryohei Uchida), an Ogi yakuza fresh out of prison who is intent on dislodging Goda from his ill-gotten place at the head of the clan; a lethal nun (named Yoshimi of Christ) also recently paroled and now determined to hunt down the Crotch-Gouge killer for mutilating and murdering several members of her girl gang; and the older 'Boss Lady', a local brothel owner who is furious to discover that some men are using her girls' bodies as receptacles to smuggle heroin.

Amid a convoluted plot of yakuza double-dealing, it will take most of the film's duration for these different groups to work out who their real enemies are and to join forces against them, but when they do, you are in for a jaw-dropping climax in which an all-nude army of women scorned will bomb, shoot, claw, slash, garrote, whip, stomp and, quite literally, piss over their male oppressors – before we see the triumphant women following Ocho off into a stylised sunset, to the incongruously sweet sounds of a theme tune sung by none other than Reiko Ike herself.

"From now on we stand together," the Lady Boss declares to her audience of young women, before adding the hilariously improbable qualifier "naked". This couching of feminist solidarity within gratuitously exploitative material encapsulates perfectly the strange, contradictory genre of pinku eiga (or 'pinky violence'), so popular in 1970s Japan. Here women are certainly pornographic objects, but they are also unusually strong and self-sufficient characters (at least by the standards of Japanese cinema), while their cruel male exploiters are portrayed as ridiculous and feeble, and always get their violent come-uppance in the end.

With its emphasis on female nudity, this may be cinema more for the devoted voyeur than the casual viewer - but at the same time it puts the male gaze in its place. One incidental character caught trying to look up a woman's dress is met with the words: "What are you staring at, pervert?", followed by a noseful of phlegm sprayed onto his up-turned face. That's telling him - and us too - while the male yakuza in the film, misogynists, rapists and sadists to a man, will all ultimately be subjected to much harsher and more deadly treatment. Most striking of all, after a lengthy, fleshy sequence in which Ocho is shown writhing in ecstasy before Goda's caressing fingers and mobile tongue, she replies to his question about his technique with the words no man ever wants to hear: "I was acting." It serves as an odd reminder that there is more to these female characters than the salacious curves and carnal surfaces that this film celebrates with such uninhibited abandon.

These are not the only contradictions to be found in Female Yakuza Tale. For although it is crammed with scenes of torture and 'crotch abuse', and ends in a maenadic bloodbath, it is in fact much lighter in tone than Sex And Fury, not least because its unhinged surrealism makes it near impossible to take seriously. One moment Yoshimi of Christ appears declaring "when I pray, I kill", with her black hat and cold-eyed stare a studied imitation of Meiko Kaji from the Female Convict Scorpion films; the next, Jyoji is flinging bullets into his opponents' faces using his bare hands rather than a gun; a mental asylum seems to be inhabited by mime artists (in full make-up), and a mere kiss from one of them is apparently enough to make their guard as insane as they are ("It's too late – our nation is in peril!", he raves, before hitting a colleague on the head with a truncheon); and in a sex scene that defines titillation, Ocho quite literally tickles her lover into a frenzy; while Jyoji, when confronted with naked women, feels a need (twice!) to declare: "Your pussy is going to catch a cold." Whether such bizarre humour makes the film's more unpleasant moments more or less offensive is anyone's guess.

It is also hard to say whether this sequel is an improvement on the original, since, despite a number of common motifs and set-pieces, they are both very different films. Female Yakuza Tale looks cheaper than Sex And Fury, and lacks Suzuki's rigorous aestheticism, but is far and away the sleazier and the crazier of the two (definitely plusses for fans of exploitation cinema) – and its screenplay, though every bit as convoluted in its plotting as the first film, is the better for having less overt exposition to slow things down. Sou Tsukugi's score, with its wah-wah guitar, heavy bass, jew's harp, flute, percussion and theremin, is a vibrant piece of seventies jazz funk. And if you want to know what the acting is like, you are watching for all the wrong reasons…

Reviewed on: 11 Jun 2007
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Female Yakuza Tale packshot
Japanese female fighter, famous for wardrobe malfunctions, takes on a gang of kidnappers.
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Director: Teruo Ishii

Writer: Masahiro Kakefuda, Teruo Ishii, Ikuo Seximoto, based on a story by Taro Bonten

Starring: Reiko Ike, Ryohei Uchida, Tatsuo Endo, Jun Midorikiwa, Taro Bonten, Makoto Aikawa, Akemi Kasuga, Emi Jou, Kaori Hayami, Rie Saotome, Rena Ichinose, Akemi Negishi, Keiko Aikawa

Year: 1973

Runtime: 86 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Japan


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