Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Gift of Wakamatsu

blaq out, a French distributor, has recently released three DVD box sets containing a dozen films by legendary Japanese director Koji Wakamatsu. I say "legendary" because his legend does precede him and he is a truly original filmmaker who has produced a huge body of work over a fifty year period. Unfortunately, most of his films remain unseen in the West and many are not even available in Japan.

The features comprising the first volume of this sensational venture -- Violated Angels, The Embryo Hunts in Secret, Secrets Behind the Wall, and Go Go Second Time Virgin -- are subtitled in French only.

The features in the second volume -- Ecstasy of the Angels, Sex Jack, Running in Madness,Dying in Love, and Season of Terror -- have English as well as French subtitles.

The third volume's films -- Naked Bullet, Violent Virgin, Violence Without a Cause, and Shinjuku Mad -- are also subtitled in French and English.

The cause of the violence in Violence Without A Cause is frustration. Isn't it always?! The title is deliberately provocative. It's difficult to argue that violence has no cause. It's always an expression of something. In this strange, flawed work, three sexually frustrated men spend their days wishing life were different. They bemoan the fact that handsome men get more pussy, and rally against the limited options they see down the road.

In typical Wakamatsu style, these men begin a very informal "revolution" against the state of things by raping any girl they see and awkwardly propositioning those they have some association with. Their efforts don't bring much happiness, and they usually end up where they started -- in a tiny apartment with porno pictures for company.

The trio are a sorry, homely, and mostly unsympathetic lot. They whine constantly and botch every opportunity to get laid that comes along. Two survive on handouts from parents and one has a factory job. I couldn't quite decide what exactly Wakamatsu was saying about youth in this film. Was he criticizing their lack of drive? Or criticizing the rigid structure of Japanese society? Perhaps both. And both criticisms seem valid.

I couldn't help contemplating the human brain's lack of invention while watching this film. Yes, society is rigid and we are herded about like cattle from an early age, but aren't there ways to subvert the norm? Must we accept everything placed in front of us as absolute? Any situation can be changed if you're willing to chuck what's familiar to you.

The sad thing is, most people just accept the norm and complain occasionally.

Clearly, Wakamatsu doesn't accept shit!

This brave filmmaker and provocateur made many, many films about personal and political revolt and railed against the often moronic society we help shape with our sickening desire to conform.

As fascinating as the film is, it's handicapped by some unfortunate script contrivances. Out of the blue, a girl the boys went to primary school with just turns up at their apartment. Angered by her "haughty ego", they set out to rape her and "teach her a lesson". Of course, they screw up. A second contrivance involves the boys stalking a porno model who, unbelievably, invites them into her apartment without a care, leaves them alone while she goes shopping, then agrees to bed them all. Naturally, this seemingly perfect scenario comes undone and the boys take a beating from some local yakuza.

The conclusion is downbeat.

Exploring similar themes, but executed with greater dash and daring, is Season of Terror.

In this, two detectives camp out in a pretty girl's living room so they can observe a suspected terrorist in the  building opposite. Placing a listening device in the suspect's apartment allows them to listen in on his daily routine.

The routine of the suspect, a young man living with two gorgeous women, involves sleeping, eating, and fornicating in creative positions with the two lovely women. Sometimes the group romps as three, sometimes as two. When the women are working, the man (known affectionately as "Idle Sod") even romps on his own.

The detectives, who live ordered, traditional lives, become fascinated, then bored, then angry with the suspect. One constantly suggests they go around and beat the hell out of him simply because he's not living a "productive" life. The other is convinced that the suspect will eventually say something to convict himself.

How the suspect got two women to become his slaves is never explained. When he says "Beer!", the women bring him one. When he takes a crap, they wipe his butt. This guy has built himself a personal utopia where he's serviced like a king. When the women raise the subject of having a baby, he gets angry and broods like a teenager.

Wakamatsu doesn't let any cats out of the bag about the suspect until he gets a visit from a former colleague. The colleague preaches revolution and invites the suspect to join him in a protest, but the suspect tells him that revolution is pointless, and makes it clear that living with two pretty sex slaves is better than the end result of any revolution.

This fascinating tale is resolved in an unexpected way, and Wakamatsu's perspective on "Utopia" is thought-provoking.

Both films were surely made for next-to-no money and shot in confined spaces. They are black and white, although color is employed occasionally and very effectively.

Sex is a constant in Wakamatsu's world, and it is often depicted as something to chase when you're bored or in need of a temporary fix -- not unlike drugs. Ultimately, it doesn't deliver anything lasting or deep. It's just a very attractive and powerful narcotic.

Naked Bullet, from the third set, is the most interesting of this trio.  A yakuza flees from his boss with a young waitress and is tricked into returning to the fold. For his efforts, he is tortured and beaten, and she is raped and discarded like trash. Five years later, a similar scenario presents itself -- only this time, the ex-yakuza has learnt from his mistake. The director employs a subtle, documentary style and switches between color and black and white. The women in this film are gorgeous, and there is a plethora of nudity. Structured much more conventionally than many Wakamatsu pictures, and feeling more like noir than pink, it's a humble little gem from a truly maverick director.

The above paragraph, taken from my imdb review, doesn't touch on the fact that Wakamatsu made a number of brutal yakuza dramas that wouldn't have been out of place on the recent Nikkatsu Noir compilation from Criterion.

As usual, even this yakuza pic is stylistically adventurous and Wakamatsu-esque in every way. The director/writer's empathy for desperate, outmoded, lowlife characters is strong, as is the ever-present sexual component. Sex and rape are tied together and one always seems to lead inevitably to the other. The filmmaker's world is a world without guarantees where rebellion is fraught with its own consequences.

Upcoming from Wakamatsu, and already released in some parts of the world, is the highly praised Caterpillar. Beyond that will be a film based on a novel by Japanese political thriller writer Yoichi Funado. I can't wait for either of these.

These three Wakamatsu's volumes are highly recommended, as is supporting legitimate versions of them. If you're going to download them via torrents, then you have nobody to blame but yourself when the well for unseen cinema like this runs dry.

Distributor blaqout deserves much praise for stepping up to the plate and investing in this massive restoration and distribution of Wakamtsu titles. I hope many more volumes come to fruition.


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  1. I have a sheet of paper on which I had 2 year old ideas for a review on Embryo Hunts in Secret. I will have to return soon. Right now, rewatching Cold Fish!


  2. Soiled -- Very keen to read your take on it. COLD FISH... dying to see it.

  3. the sneering (homo-phobic) snobMarch 19, 2011 at 9:43 AM

    Phantom, have you seen "THROW AWAY YOUR BOOKS - LETS RALLY IN THE STREETS" (1971) ?, i`ve heard that its slightly spoilt by some pansy queer bull-shit (i`m not sure, i hope i`m wrong), but i know how much you like Japanese movies from the early 70`s and its supposed to be a bizarre cult item par-excellence, thats why it would be good to hear opinion on it (irrespective of w-HEATHER or not there are any pansy queer bastards in it).