starring Rika Aoki, Kazuko Nagamoto,
Masami Souda, Michi Nono
Masami Souda, Michi Nono
Make a drinking game out of the horrors that teen bad-girl Rica endures at the hands of men in this film, and you'll wind up dead from alcohol poisoning by the thirty-minute mark. Studio logo fades then — bam — she's spawned from the rape of her Japanese mother by an American G.I., she's walking in on her kept-woman mommy doing the work that puts ramen on the table (and groaning for "more!"), she's having her own teenage virginity raped away by the same lecherous pig she caught pounding Mommy, she's being accosted in a bar by some (no doubt) rape-eyed lust monkey and shish-ka-bobbing his hand in response. It's enough to make you hack off your own penis and donate it to some poor kid in a third-world leper colony.
To hear '70s exploitation films tell it, though, we men had quite a bit to be ashamed of. Over in the 'hood, we hooked Pam Grier's little sister on smack, then told Pam to get down and crawl like the black trash that she was before tying her up and leaving her for dead. In Roger Corman's Philippines, we kept the fairer sex chained up in our stinking, rat-infested jungle prisons, forced them into back-breaking labor under the merciless heat of the sun, tortured them when they wouldn't obey and then watched, smirking, as they turned their frustrations on each other in vicious catfights to the death. We stalked beautiful lady writers all alone at their country cabins. We turned porcelain-skinned waifs into deaf-mutes prowling the streets of New York in nun's habits. We kidnapped a concert-bound hippie, violated her, then snuffed her out like a solitary bar match before staying the night at her parents' house — and worst of all, we hee-hawed our way through a badly shot Ingmar Bergman reenactment to do it.
As a gender reflected in the warped mirror of ye olde grindhouse, we didn't just unfurl our big, veiny rape appendages and machine-gun women's guts with our bitter seed; we injected them with our inherent moral savagery, the birthright bequeathed to us by our Injun-slaughtering, slave-owning, land-conquering forefathers. It wasn't enough that we men had to maim and shoot and bomb each other, from the rice paddies of the 'Nam to the revisionist plains of Peckinpah's Old West. We had to bring the violence home to our neighbors' wives and daughters, turning the fair maidens of our own cozy American backyard into cinder-eyed vengeance zombies — debauched parodies of man's animal imperative. Oh, that judge-and-jury frontier justice we admire so much coming from the holster of a Clint Eastwood or a Charles Bronson? Let's see how "give 'em hell, Harry" we are when it's coming from a rape victim with some artfully exposed cleavage and a sawed-off aimed at the family jewels.
Of course, Japanese cinema had its own gleefully disreputable take on the heart of disenchantment beating beneath the female breast. Enter "pinky violence" flicks like Rica the Mixed-Blood Girl. Essentially, the genre was an offshoot of the pinku eiga (or "pink films") of the Sixties and the formula was quite simple: softcore nudies mated hard and sloppy with the revenge flick, digested through an old-world patriarchy that viewed deviation from the geisha archetype as titillating heresy, and then splatter-shat onto theater screens in a fevered stab at propping up a moribund Japanese film industry. To summarize the backs of a thousand video boxes: a lone woman, wronged by men, takes up sword and proceeds to slice the offending parties like so much sashimi.
Granted, this is Japan: home of schoolgirl panties in vending machines, tentacle rape hentai and porn videos where drenching a whimpering trollop in a bukkake circle of piss takes decided preference over actual sexual intercourse. So the usual '70s exploitation ingredients — rape, tits at the drop of a hat, rape, vengeance at all costs, abattoir-crude violence, rape, adorably low-grade special effects, rape, the barest of bare-bones character motivation, rape, utter howlers in the dialogue department, rape — get served up omakase in a bewildering kaleidoscope of juxtapositions straight out of Nutsville. (Or, rather: a land where mushroom-cloud fallout forever altered the genetics of basic storytelling.) Call it Kung Fu meets Yakuza meets The Samurai meets Women in Prison meets the teen delinquent film meets an endless parade of easily dispatched henchmen meets badly lip-synched musical routines by adorable Jap nymphs who'll probably have their clothes ripped off in the next scene by grinning baddies with transparently dubbed Dr. Evil laughs. Top the whole Frankensteinian concoction off with a gallon of pinkish goop for stage blood and run through it about a dozen times with a nice, sharp wakizashi. Then, garnish with an extra dollop of rape. Bon appétit.
Accordingly, Rika Aoki stabs, kicks and skulks her way through Rica the Mixed-Blood Girl like the fantasy of every pervy old businessman who's ever paid a prostitute to kick him in the balls or shit on his chest. Aoki's baby fat and baby face tell us she's an honest-to-God teenager here, caged like a go-go-booted tiger within Kô Nakahira's occasionally masterful 'Scope compositions. She's every teenage babysitter a man's wanted to diddle on the couch while the wife's upstairs — a pouty little defiance cocktail with a twist of spite; goth-chick sullen with the beady, distrusting eyes of a street cat that's unused to human contact. Page one of the script might well have read: "Rica, 17. Womanly finesse rising from an evaporating pool of clumsy jailbait insouciance." And nothing — neither Meryl Streepy "thespian instinct" bullshit nor the self-protecting distance that a real actress might have applied — could have better embodied that.
Is Aoki's performance is a particularly good one, then? Well, no. In both appearance and acting skill, she comes off as if the producers had yanked her from the street moments before filming. (Indeed, she was a first-timer who — if the internet is to be believed — fell into a black hole after completing the other two films that make up the Rica trilogy.) It's as if, rather than give her direction, Nakahira simply shouted out each situation from behind the camera, trusting her to pull up the feral rage he needed from her life's experience as a comely lass all too accustomed to velvet-voiced men in suits with their easy promises and talk of "modeling" while they size her up like the day's fish. (Feminists call it the Every Woman Is An Actress Theory.) Perhaps, she was aware of — on some level, peeved by — whatever element of personal exploitation there was in casting her as a beleaguered action heroine who shivers through a blizzard of soul-crushing indignities and spends at least a third of the film flashing wine-hued Amerasian nipplage at all and sundry.
There's a story here, somewhere — something to do with Rica busting up a prostitution ring and saving members of her girl gang who have been kidnapped by yakuza planning to ship them off to service American G.I.'s in Vietnam. Per its threadbare genesis and fast-food intentions, though, that's merely the clothesline Nakahira uses to hang one camp-yet-exemplary pulp setpiece after the next; outsized moments of cartoon bad-assery, every one of them. One doesn't take the mechanics of an expertly sketched plot away from this film, what one puts on instant mental recall is Rica strutting into the lair of a fearsome yakuza to drop at his feet the stillborn baby that resulted from him raping her friend. Or Rica clawing said yakuza like a rabies-infested alley cat during the resulting brawl. Or Rica bedding the yakuza-employed pickpocket who's been sent to kill her for having witnessed the theft of some secret documents, only to hack off his forearm and toss it at his stunned superior seconds later. Or Rica blowing up your stilted wedding with a basket of firecrackers, then riding off on a motorbike with her own theme music on the radio. Or Rica simply being Rica, knockin' Japan out with those American thighs. ("You have a big butt," the only good man in the entire movie tells her.)
Rica bounces in and out of the girls' reformatory, always finding time to roll around a dirty floor with her girl-gang nemesis Reiko. When a thrown knife during one of their brawls results in the (hilarious) death of the reformatory's warden, followed by Reiko's escape, Rica sets out to capture her in order to prove her innocence. Somehow along the way, she runs into bad-girl buddy Hanako — like Rica, spawned from the union of a Japanese woman and an American G.I., though the brown shoe polish on Hanako's face tells us her daddy was black. Hanako's trying to run off with her beau Jimmy, a black soldier (this time, an actual black actor) who ditches impending service in Vietnam only to be tracked down and shot in his back by MP's. What all this has to do with Rica's one-woman vigilante mission is beyond me — or rather, I forget. Nakahira throws pure plot at you — one breathless, comically busy development after another — until it ceases to matter. The end result: your brain shuts off, your giggle reflex goes through the roof, you develop a sudden desire to hang out in Little Tokyo and pick up Japanese girls who'll squeal like skewered rats from the slightest bit of penetration.
If a Kubrick or Woody Allen film is that tasteful blonde you marry and have kids with and proudly claim your allegiance to, then Rica and its ilk are the fat Mexican bitch you bang "on the down low," the one who jets over with no questions asked after a last-minute text at 11:30 on a Friday night. Ten minutes through the door, and she's got your eyes rolling back from the kind of expert blowjob that pretty girls just don't give — straight, simple and right down to business. Sure, keep her a secret from your friends, keep her segregated from your "official" movie collection under a pile of Emanuelle DVD's. Just don't deny that the little slut delivers.
©2012 Scott Is NOT A Professional Film Critic