Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Final Rapeman

THE REIPUMAN 7 (RAPEMAN 7) was the last contemporary entry, and certainly the most emotionally powerful of all the Rapeman films from series director Takao Nagaishi, and writer of five films Jun Kojo. From a production standpoint, it is equally the slickest alongside the sixth entry.  Sadly, the brand ended its contemporary storylines after this entry, and switched to two mostly forgettable spin-offs.

The series, a clever satire, has never been fairly evaluated, and is often dismissed due to its premise. If you can cast your hysteria aside, it is a humble but very fine series filled with everything you want from pulp: political intrigue; a heart-warming relationship between the Clark Kent-like anti-hero Keisuke/Rapeman and his uncle; darkly modest action scenes; and inventive rape sequences that are never terribly brutal and certainly not explicit. Unlike the original manga, this live action Rapeman is a softer touch, surprisingly well written and plotted, but is bizarre enough still for fans of wild and wooly cinema, and never overreaches in terms of its scale. A spare, infectious electronic theme always compliments proceedings.

It took four or five films for the series to find solid footing, so by this seventh entry, the delicate balance of satire, thrills and honest emotion was achieved –– and that's what makes it all the more frustrating that there was no eighth film set in present day Tokyo. I don't know why production company Pink Pineapple decided to set its final two entries in historic Edo, but, for me, they did the series no favors as an historic Rapeman just feels silly and tonally odd, and the heavy-handed slapstick is a real turn-off. On top of that, Rapeman wears a cape and resembles a future version of Batman.

The seventh film involves Keisuke's relationship with a childhood friend whose concern about his girlfriend opens up a hornet's nest of plot twists. Keisuke's "Rapeman Services", which he runs with his lovable uncle, takes on the task of getting to the bottom of his friend's problem, and Keisuke dons his mask once again to "Right Wrongs Through Penetration" (the series motto).

In our ultra-PC age where nothing is considered ironic anymore, Rapeman (all 9 films) walks an even harder road to understanding or acceptance now than it did when released on video in Japan between '93 and '96.  The original manga series debuted in '85 and ran 'til '92 with 13 issues in hand. A fictitious 14th issue appeared as a plot device in an episode about rape in the deadly serious, humorless, moralizing Law and Order: SVU. 

Unfortunately, Rapeman star Hiroyuki Okita, who was a leading teen idol in his earlier years, committed suicide in '99, three years after the series ended, and production company Pink Pineapple re-dedicated itself to sexual-themed anime.

In the film's final minutes, director Nagaishi stages a scene in which Keisuke's friend, the film's true "hero", returns home and finds his girlfriend gone. In her place is a giant Betty Blue poster and an empty chair with a letter on it. The image really resonates as the plot in this episode parallels the mental illness theme of the famous French movie. The follow-up scene in which the friend searches for his girlfriend on the waterfront and finds her is beautifully staged and acted. If you're not a rotten cynic, it will move you as much as it moved me.

Despite the hysteria surrounding this series, which has never been released legitimately outside Japan, a viewing of all seven contemporary entries leaves one with the impression of a unique piece of V-cinema that is, at heart, sweet, heartfelt, and unexpectedly humanist.

That it has never been distributed in a boxed collection outside Japan is most unfortunate.

***I owe my first exposure to the Rapeman series (in '97) to my dear Japanese friend and fellow filmmaker/otaku Tomoaki Hosoyama, the director of Weatherwoman***

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