Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hunting Sex Nikkatsu-Style

This rape- and revenge-themed nugget (Sex Hunter: Wet Target) cured me of the Lincoln blues. King Spielberg's nonsense left a bad taste in my eyes and ears with its pointless sentimentality and romanticizing of Abe, so I was keen to write new data over the old inner hard drive. I started with Red Dawn, which wasn't a complete disaster, although, like the first one, it struggled to find novel things to do after the bad guys (North Koreans this time) dropped in for a firefight. For some reason, John Milius's original is remembered as some sort of classic. It wasn't. It was average. It opened operatically with Russians fluttering down from the sky into a schoolyard, but then it languished with a long second act in which both sides engaged in pyrotechnic displays. And that was about it.

Killing Them Softly, caught on the same day as Lincoln, is a more honest look at America because it doesn't feel the need to add romance to harsh times. "America isn't a community, it's a business," mumbles Brad Pitt's character in the film's concluding moments. I couldn't help agreeing with him in light of the country's last twenty years of corporatization.  The film focuses on low level crims facing financial hardships not usually presented on screen, except in Buddy Giovinazzo flicks like Life Is Hot In Cracktown. Pitt plays a fella working for a "mob" of sorts who's been employed to organize some hits on two bozos who robbed other bozos. The drama's kept very much in the family here.

The film is talky and slick and director Andrew Dominick, who gave us the overrated Chopper and the fine Assassination of Jessie James By The Coward Robert Ford,  enjoys staging stylized shootouts and positively revels (hand down pants masturbating furiously, I suspect!) in the gloriously sickening street beating of old Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) by two thugs. The sound design and lighting in this sequence took my breath away. Easily the second best on-screen beating of the year after Guy Pearce's beating of Shia LaBeouf  in John Hillcoat's Lawless, this scene and Killing's more literary attributes make it a flick worth catching.

Which takes me to Yukihiro Sawada's Sex Hunter: Wet Target, a '72 shocker from Nikkatsu, the latest in Impulse Pictures' line of films mostly worth your time. Personally, I have no interest in the comedy-themed stuff Impulse is releasing in tandem with the harsher titles like this one, but I imagine there's a market of pussies for those, too. Each to his or her own.

Director Sawada made some of the most engaging and unique titles that Nikkatsu funded and distributed. His Retreat Through The Wet Wasteland ('73), conceived as a pink flick, became a crime thriller with an  obligatory and justifiable rape, and a helping of gratuitous eroticism. It had a story that is not a simple frame to hang sex scenes on, and a dark vein permeated its narrative. Without the sex, it still stood tall.

Sawada's Flesh Target: Rape ('79) was disturbing for its premise alone. An office employee crosses the line with his boss at a bar and gets demoted. In retaliation, he pulls up his socks and proceeds to rape as many of his female colleagues as possible.

In my imdb review, I wrote:

***An office "loser" becomes a "winner" by sexually assaulting and raping the women he works with at work and on the street.

Yukihiro Sawada, director of the brutal ASSAULT!, a truly gritty pink film, makes no concessions to political correctness in this mostly riveting sex pic.

Not quite as stylish as Hasebe's RAPE!, a film with a similar theme, it is, nevertheless, required viewing for fans of cinematic sex and violence hybrids.

Sawada's background in hard-edged crime/yakuza films gives him the good sense to successfully probe the warped psychology of the office environment the movie takes place in.

FLESH TARGET: RAPE is an alternative title, as is the simple FLESH TARGET.

There is something gloriously anarchic and wrong about this film and that's why I respect it (and its brethren) so much ***

I first saw Sex Hunter: Wet Target, made before the above films, on a crappy Japanese bootleg tape. It was unsubbed and the unfortunate victim of particle shedding. As a result, I was impressed but not blown skyward by the experience. Having now seen Impulse Pictures' superb DVD, which boasts a sensational color grade of a pristine source, I'm doubly impressed, but still not blown away.

The oddly named actor George Harrison (a Japanese who wasn't part of successful British rock band) gets some bad news just before he's released from prison: His sister has been found dead. Found hanging, in fact.

Harrison spends the next seventy minutes tracing his sister's last days, and discovers that it was a trio of American soldiers who beat, raped, and urinated on her before leaving her to die. We get a series of flashbacks documenting her degradation, and, to create some balance, we watch Harrison killing the bastards who aren't dead already. The rape and murder took place before the soldiers shipped out, so the fate of one member was sealed in combat.

Assisted immeasurably by cinematographer Teruo Hatanaka's stunning photography, Sawada delivers a taut little thriller that, once again, rises above expectations and shows a director not content to meet just basic genre requirements. The American GI angle adds a disturbing dimension to proceedings, infecting the tone with something more disturbing than sheer human savagery. The violence is reasonably harsh and graphic, although, thankfully, we're not forced to suffer through endless blowjobs and fogged fucking scenes. The erotica is plentiful, but it's skilfully integrated into the story's beats.

Most problematic aspect of the production is George Harrison's ex-con character.  He's out to avenge his sister, but we know little else about him. He's a bit of a nothing really running from one scenario to another.  An older man wanders in to help him on a couple of occasions, but George's relationship with him remains fuzzy.

The Impulse DVD includes a reproduction of the original  theatrical poster and some excellent liner notes by Jasper Sharp. I recommend it.  

Impulse's second December release, I Love It From Behind, is a softcore comedy featuring a stable of very attractive women. I can't find other reasons to recommend it. Not my style. just silly.


  1. Love these movie roundups, Phantom. Always interested to hear your opinions.

    LINCOLN was sentimental but there was a craftsmanship to the writing and performances that I enjoyed... at least for the first two hours and change. My big problem with the movie was my problem with Spielberg movies for many years - he's forgotten how to end a movie properly and inevitably pads them out with 15 to 20 minutes' worth of unnecessary epilogues.

    And I loved KILLING THEM SOFTLY. No wonder the multiplex audiences hated it: it's a brutally honest piece of work. James Gandolfini was AMAZING in his bit role, best thing he's done in years.

  2. Schlockmaniac -- I agree that there was craft, but I found it to be overly self-important. And Lincoln was portrayed as some sort of potential saint. The four endings didn't help matters, either. Should have ended with Tommy Lee in bed with his black partner. That would have left audiences with something strong and powerful.

  3. I know! The ending sucked! I hate it when they kill off the main character.