Of all the 'Roman Pornos' that Impulse Pictures/Synapse has released so far, Zoom In: Sex Apartments is the jewel in the crown. Bearing atypical hallmarks of originality, it serves as a reason to celebrate dark art, not find fault with its morality.
Director Naosuke Kurosawa, working with cinematographer Masaru Mori, takes Nikkatsu's trademark rape/murder subject matter and presents it as a frenzy of almost giallo-like surrealism.
Yoko Azusa, who starred as a burgeoning rapist in Yasaharu Hasebe's Assault - Jack The Ripper four years earlier, plays the mysterious role of a suspected rapist. Betrayed five years prior by the film's female lead, Erina Miyai, a woman married to a professional cyclist (!), Azusa reconnects with her carnally and becomes involved in a spate of unusual crimes. Adding spice to the film's sexual violence is a fire theme: The rapist torches the vaginas of the women he's raped, and goes several steps beyond said item in one memorable scene.
To be frank, the story isn't big on logic and the lead female's inability to put two and two together is frustrating. Despite both these deficits, however, Kurosawa's treatment of the material excuses his sins (for me, anyway).
These Nikkatsu pictures existed to excite audiences with their erotic audacity; they were never meant to be realistic, and they were never meant to be much more than reliable programmers for the studio that switched its focus from mainstream product to erotica with a sucker punch. Occasionally, as in the case of flicks such as Assault - Jack The Ripper, Secret Chronicle - She Beast Market, Beautiful Girl Hunter, and the film currently under discussion, Nikkatsu produced some remarkable works that transcended their genre requirements.
I'm keen to know when exactly Joseph Ellison's grimy Don't Go in the House ('80) was released in Japan because this Zoom In entry smells of that film's delightfully foul embers both tonally and visually. The rape/burning scenes in both films are downbeat and nihilistic, leaving us with no hope for the human race. The callous indifference both killers have for their victims is uncannily similar in both pictures also. This nihilism is both disturbing and exhilarating, making it essential art.
Giallos were clearly an influence on Kurosawa, and the cutting style employed in Argento's early work (Deep Red, Tenebrae, Suspiria) is slavishly imitated here.
At the other end of the spectrum are the films this one clearly influenced; the most obvious is Billy Tang's Cat III shocker Red To Kill, surely one of the most maligned and Roman Porno-esque of the former colony's horror flicks. Kurosawa's focus here on the concrete edifices where the mayhem takes place is carbon copied by Tang in Red. Most obviously, Red's chilling, driving score sounds like a direct bit of thievery from Zoom In. The visual characterization of the rapist here is also echoed in Red, and leaves me convinced that that film's writers saw a tape of this film and were more than impressed with its potent credentials.
Zoom In -Sex Apartments (original Japanese title: 'Zoom In: Rape Apartments') achieves a heightened place in the pink pantheon because it's consistently inventive, audacious in its conceits, and unabashedly vile. It's not a terribly graphic film and the nudity is restrained, but it's a ballsy exercise by a director with an arthouse approach to his material that made me reflect on Koji Wakamatsu's best works such as Dark Story of a Japanese Rapist, The Man Who Assaulted 13 People aka Serial Rapist, and Go Go Second Time Virgin. There's not a celluloid moment here where Kurosawa isn't exploring a strange or powerful idea. They don't all work, but they make for engaging cinema.
For years, the film has been available as a decent boot, but now is the time to throw that away and support Impulse's stellar presentation with flawless subs, terrific liner notes by Jasper Sharp, and an insert of the original poster art.
I have no idea where Impulse is going next with these releases apart from the imminent release of The True Story of a Woman in Jail: Continues, a must-have sequel. Personally, I'd like to see them forging ahead with darker material like this and other unreleased (with English subs) Nikkatsu product such as the above-mentioned Secret Chronicle - She Beast Market, Zoom Up - Rape Site, Zoom Up - Rape Report, White Rose Campus - Then, Everybody Gets Raped, Raping, Rape, and Sex Hunter.
Yes, yes, yes, as monotonous as these titles sound to the uninitiated, they are all blisteringly unique efforts.
For now, rejoice in the fact that Zoom In -Sex Apartments is available to own and has never looked better.