Monday, January 26, 2009

The Force of Desire

My first exposure to Yasuharu Hasebe's Assault - Jack The Ripper (Boko Kirisaki Jack) was a VHS tape from Japan. A Japanese director, who has become a great friend, sent me the tape in '97. He was sure I would love it.

He wasn't wrong.

Until recently, Hasebe was best known in the West for Black Tight Killers, a girl gang film with a whodunit plot. It's watchable and inventive, but nothing extraordinary.

Assault- Jack The Ripper is one of four Hasebe classics that revolve around the subject of rape -- hetero- and homosexual rape. It is most certainly extraordinary.

Nikkatsu produced hundreds of low budget films under the "roman porno" (Romantic Pornography) label. All are focused on sexuality, usually of a deviant nature. Some, such as 1979's Star of David -- Beauty Hunting (Dabideno hoshi: Bishojo-gari) are brutal, erotic, and bloody.

Others, such as Toshiharu Ikeda's Sex Hunter (1980) are elegant and twisted.

Hasebe's unofficial "rape quadrilogy" is comprised of: Rape (Okasu!)

Assault - Jack The Ripper (Boko Kirisaki Jack)

Raping! ( Yaru!)

...and Rape - 13th Hour (Reipu 25-ji: boukan), easily the most unusual of the bunch as it features homosexual biker rape.

All four films were made quickly between 1976 and 1978. They redefined the genre so thoroughly that Nikkatsu copped a lot of flack for their vicious, unrepentant content. The studio did not produce anything quite so vicious again until Koyu Ohara's Zoom Up - Rape Site (Zuma appu: boko genba).

In Assault - Jack The Ripper (1976), a homely but sexually precocious young woman encourages a shy man to commit acts of rape and murder with her. They form a partnership that is doomed.

The mixture of sex and violence is powerful and erotic; Hasebe does not attempt to de-eroticize the violence; nor does he depict it explicitly. The film is big on crotch stabbings, but not once do we see a knife penetrate flesh.

As is common and natural for art depicting sexuality, especially Japanese art, garments and undergarments are heavily fetishized. When the film's "heroes" knock a tennis player off her bicycle with their car, Hasebe jumps in for a close-up of her white, cotton panties as she falls to the ground. He emphasizes sexual anticipation, but denies it completion.

All sex in Hasebe's violent pink world is forced and unwelcome. When it is not, it is the subject of voyeurism. In Rape (1976), the heroine, who is recovering from a rape, gets turned on by secretly watching her boss screw a co-worker. Her excitement incites her desire, yet also reminds her how easily sex can become brutality. She is conflicted. This conflict is a consistent theme in the director's work.

The heroine of Assault becomes more desirable to the hero because she allows (permits?) him to express his anger and sexuality without boundaries.

Trouble enters paradise when his cravings, now fully unleashed, exclude her participation... and no longer require her "permission" -- so the bond is severed.

Psychology aside, Assault - Jack The Ripper is a truly great horror film with a rousing, 70's-style jazz score, beautifully staged violence, and stellar performances.

If Hasebe is referencing even one American film in his violent pink masterpiece, it is Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). A scene involving a mental patient who is given a ride by our heroes has many similarities to the hitchhiker scene in the '74 film. Where Hooper emphasized physical and mental violence, Hasebe emphasizes sexual violence and desire as a type of delicious but deadly contagion.

Even though Assault is the best of a fabulous four, I rate Raping! (1978) very highly, too. It is easily the most erotic of the bunch and exceptionally inventive. A lengthy sequence involving voyeurism and two-way mirrors at a love hotel is brilliantly directed. Rape features an excellent villain and a moody, glum atmosphere that was imitated slavishly in Yojiro Takita's Serial Rape (Renzoku Boko; 1983). Rape - 13th Hour suffers from stop/start pacing and lackluster direction (it feels like Hasebe's well of invention had run dry by this 4th installment).

The Geneon DVD (Japan, GNBD-1296) of Assault is a flawless presentation of the film; it is not subtitled.

The Mondo Macabro DVD (USA, MDO 135) also features an excellent presentation of the film; it is subtitled in English.

The Geneon DVD of Rape - 13th Hour (Japan, GNBD- 1327) is flawless also, but not subtitled.

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