Tuesday, September 8, 2020

On Japanese Sexploitation and Woman as the Great Satan: Crazed Fruit (Kurutta kajitsu) (1981)


directed by Kichitaro Negishi
starring Yûji Honma, Yuki Ninagawa,
Eiko Nagashima, Nobutaka Masutomi, Eiji Okada


What's a man to tell this Chika, this slant-eyed Salome, this lonely little high-society Tokyo girl with the rich industrialist stepfather she's been banging under Mommy's nose since probably training-bra days (despite her claim that it's only been for a couple of years)? She's a vindictive child, this ripe twenty year-old (though her assured manner told you she was older) — given to white dresses and bicycle riding as she slums it for kicks in dingy yakuza bars and incites trouble because it gets her moist to see violence erupt. She wears a shiner or a bloody nose the way Kubrick's Lolita sported shades and toenail polish. She's raped in an alley in the rain, as if it were some Boston Strangler parody of women's erotic fantasies, then she giggles at her befuddled attacker while confessing that she started to like it midway through. She then haunts her attacker's life like the bad luck he can't shake, imploring him to make her his and undressing him as green neon Vertigo light invades their hotel room and colors their sudden tenderness like a warning sent back in time from the broken obsessive he'll wind up by film's end.


Sometimes you want to hurt those you love, she'll tell you — a half-dare/half-revelation from across the unbridgeable widescreen void of one of noir's most desolate snapshots: broken souls suspended in the low-lit murk of God's sadism against anyone human enough to have ever heeded an impulse. And when you bloody her nose in affirmation, then proceed to give her more of what she craves on a cold and dirty backroom floor, it isn't that she crashed your place of business — the one job she's yet to cost you — with her gang of drunken silver-spoon hooligans, nearly getting you killed while causing a pregnant woman's miscarriage, to boot. No, it's that she has the gall to utter the word "love" after everything she's put you through and you're tired of her lies that sound like truth, truth that she tosses out as unwanted pieces of the little girl her stepdaddy corrupted — pathological self-abortions in repudiation of womanly vulnerability. You're tired of the emotional cock-tease of possibilities she'll only kill in the womb as blithely as she'll likely kill the seed from Daddy that she hints was already growing inside her when you first locked eyes: you, trapped in your wage-slave emasculation as Shell station attendant, so unnerved by the instant pull she exerted that you dumped cigarette butts in her lap when reaching over her to empty the car ashtray. You're tired of futures written on the wisp of her exhaled cigarette smoke in the kind of car you could never afford. Tired of her dirty little panties smelling of more past adventures than your fevered imagination could ever keep track of: the way her steely cool is directly proportional to your scrambling about; the way she pauses over you for a gulp of your booze before morphing hotel sex into motherly sustenance; the way she penetrates the tough-guy rapist to suckle his inner loner who anxiously practices martial arts moves when no one's around.


If you're Tetsuo, the virginally tentative working-class mama's boy with the misfortune to have caught Chika's passing fancy, you're not telling her much, but rather you're asking her in your panicked floundering for whatever scraps of clarity or reassurance she sees fit to toss down to you. "Am I that weird?" he sputters as Chika giggles, post-rape, at his half-heartedness with the savagery demanded of him by femme-brats acting out for a reinstatement of the natural order. So you've been using me? he's inquiring through clipped pique on the beach at sunset, in director Kichitaro Negishi's witty curdling of the silver screen's most cliché romantic backdrop, as Chika taunts him that he's merely the ideal actor for the role of fiance she's devised in order to back her stepfather off. "Why?! Why did you do this to me?" he'll gasp at her finally as if beseeching the heavens; as if prefiguring, in his uniquely Japanese simmering-introvert-boiling-over-into-Issei-Sagawa lyricism, the whimpered pleas giving way to shredded-sanity shrieks of Prince's stark electro reckoning with female indifference in 1982's "Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)." Tetsuo's wilting here less from the beating he's just suffered than from the crippling mental exhaustion in which Chika the post-punk femme fatale sees her own permanent estrangement reflected — not Chika the Lene Lovich who castrates her "New Toy" in public by leaving him money on the table to pay a restaurant bill before stalking off, but Chika the confrontation-artist Lydia Lunch who mutters nightmares of Daddy's unwanted visitations in her sleep to Tetsuo's impotent passing notice.


Adapted from the same novel by future Governor of Tokyo and prominent Japanese conservative Shintarō Ishihara that gave us eventual pinky violence-helmer Kô Nakahira's 1956 rich-kid-love-triangle noir of the same name, this Crazed Fruit is no remake apparently but a reboot akin to John Carpenter's The Thing bypassing Howard Hawks in order to draw a purer distillation of the unfathomable from its source. Where Nakahira focused on wounded male emotion as nitroglycerin jostled by the instability of feminine caprice, Negishi sees the core of that caprice as women so emotionally uncalibrated by sexual predation, they need ravishment and teasing at the mouth of chaos just to feel alive, no matter the damage to their own fragile psyches — less "Cars Hiss by My Window" by The Doors ("A cold girl'll kill you/In a darkened room") than the complete mental disintegration of Joy Division's "She's Lost Control." Crazed Fruit opens up the Weegee monochrome of fedora-sporting postwar American noir cynicism turned existential philosophy into alienation-highlighting 'Scope ratio and the vice-hawking colors of Asia's red-light districts — it's got the morally shaky yet hapless protagonist, the absence of redemption, the sex that only spells doom, the lurid neon-lit nighttime world marked by varying degrees of scumbag where moral verities take another sip of whiskey then get handjobbed by easy dames.

What it adds to the formula is uniquely Japanese, per the exploitation dictates of Japan's "pink film" (or pinku eiga) market, which the Nikkatsu studio had come to dominate by the mid-Seventies with its "Roman porno" offerings: softcore bondage and torture (among other delicacies) walked right up to the line of hardcore and protracted into disquieting sociocultural exposures. Crazed Fruit's Japan is unfaithful wives pimped out by hair-trigger husbands. It's fathers who fuck daughters and mothers unfit to sustain life. Most notably, it's rape — rape always and forever — as the still-beating samurai heart of old Nippon tamped down and muffled under the surface composure of born warriors atom-bombed and post-Nanking/post-Unit 731-shamed into self-neutering until it spurts forth in sideways fits of inhuman psychosexual conquest. (A quick flip through 1998's Japanese Cinema Encyclopedia: The Sex Films by Thomas Weisser and Yuko Mihara Weisser yields no less than sixty separate pinkus with some form of the r-word in the title.)


Tetsuo carries this genetic rocket in his pocket like a load of dynamite ready to explode at the slightest bump — he enforces his loner's code, suppressing his violence beneath beta-male dithering, as a means of sealing himself off from the human contact that can only spark fireballs. He jogs throughout; he's like a man already running from something under the opening credits — from the loneliness of his cramped single-guy abode with its soup for one and its phone calls to Mom for company, from his own handiness with extorting businessmen who balk at the inflated tabs presented to them by the owner of the hooker bar where he works at night. As it turns out, he's been running toward the sweet release of inevitability all along: as the cops close in on him, he'll limp straight into their clutches, relieved that the struggle is over at least. He'll make the same ritualistic gesture of blessing over a live fish he slices open as he makes to celebrate his boss' unborn-and-soon-to-be-pulverized-in-a-bar-fight baby. So if bringer of death is his destiny — the film even pauses before he turns avenging angel to hold on the cemetery he lives next to — he'll wrap it in the self-righteousness of giving assholes what they deserve: attempting to extort Chika's stepfather with his knowledge of their affair, then sucker-punching him and grinding his eyeglasses into the carpet; leading his boss to Chika's buddies after they've wrecked his bar and booted his wife in the stomach.


Tetsuo's environment mocks his resistance to rot: his boss at the bar — the man Tetsuo addresses as "Brother" in a nod to his probable yakuza affiliation — is so at home with sin, he's the most jocular scam artist you've ever seen: doing a teasing little dance before roughing up a customer in the back room as a way of settling the bill; offering Tetsuo his pick of the stolen trinkets he keeps in his closet like a treasure chest. Even the boss' childlike wife — foisted onto the bar's horny clientele with the rest of his stable — needles Tetsuo with a titty flash as her husband grins. Their relationship parallels the incestuous filth of Chika's life with Brother's paternal scolding of her later threatening irate-father wrath as she pleads with him not to gamble their money away, or with her excited gallop up to Tetsuo and her singing a children's song before taking him home for some don't-tell-Dad naughtiness. They're swingers or at least exhibitionists: Tetsuo is prevailed upon to join them for song and sake to celebrate the baby and the wife is soon telling Tetsuo how cute he is while pawing his crotch. Soon enough, Brother's undressing her and such is Tetsuo's commitment to Japanese politeness even under discomfort that he sits there, trying not to watch as the couple goes at it in one of those extended Nikkatsu roman poruno fuck sequences with Eiko Nagashima's mocha brown stiffies on an emaciated frame calling glimpses of Laura Gemser to your erection's mind, while Brother tries to impart his jaded satyr's wisdom to Tetsuo about men's need for release. It's not far off from Peter Boyle as the crusty Wizard in Taxi Driver, boiling the cure for Travis Bickle's pent-up rage down to "go out and get laid" but such is the Yeatsian sea of well-meaning indifference in which Tetsuo's ceremony of innocence finds itself a bit waterlogged.


Brother's played by the bulldog-faced Nobutaka Masutomi, a Nikkatsu supporting regular perhaps best utilized as the Monarch sex-slave trainer slap-boxing a tied-up Ran Masaki's pensile squeeze-bags in Masahito Segawa's 1985 BDSM textbook, Beautiful Teacher in Torture Hell. Here, just one glimpse of his affably seedy look sketches in miniature the kind of guy who plucks a mark's cash and wristwatch, only to see the guy off as if walking a party guest to the door — corruption is just the way of the world, my man, nothing personal. Little amuses him more than Tetsuo's clinging to loyalty and a peculiar sense of chivalry in a "Second Coming" hell where the worst are full of that passionate intensity while the best had all conviction drained out of them by soul-sucking whores. Brother calls Tetsuo "idiot" the way you'd call a buddy "dumb-ass," save during the aftermath of the climactic, borderline-guro brawl finish, when Tetsuo and his trusty carving knife have made a speared carp out of Chika's friend — fittingly, the one who's spent the film taunting him as "Potato Boy" and doubting the flame inside him. That's what loyalty gets you in a Raymond Chandler world full of Nip slit for the taking: a murder rap and a final mutual gaze of emotionally battered anti-catharsis with the girl who pushed you to the edge before she wanders the back alleys in a hand-held camera's woozy approximation of her stagger into the abyss. And only God's holy fools — the kind of idiot Brother told Tetsuo not to be — expect otherwise.


Negishi understands the vampiric femme fatale in accord with the Devil of legend: she only offers a man of free will that which he already craves and, to enter one's life, she must first be invited in. Thus, the Great Satan is a choice, a tool of man's own self-destruction, a conduit for the release through anarchy one already seeks. It's Tetsuo's defiant invitation of Chika and her pals to his bar that brings about the fateful dustup; when they arrive in an already rowdy state, primed by Chika's plot for petty vengeance after driving Tetsuo away, he agitates them with an inflated tab and, in fact, throws the first punch. Tetsuo pulls over Chika's (daddy's) car in the rain and the two sit there — Chika yawning between Lauren Bacall cigarette puffs; Tetsuo leaning forward, arms folded over the steering wheel, then peering up at whatever's outside, as if the wall of a random building next to them were some ancient monolith deserving of a scholar's scrutiny. The film is honest enough in its depiction of male anxiety against the impatient brattiness of woman as willing vessel for whatever a man's desires to let the uncertainty of it all play out as it eats away at his frustrated drive to action. All it adds up to is another mini-emasculation: Tetsuo had started to play with himself while Brother and his missus padded out the film's running time but the unbridled joy she broadcast — which he'd apparently never elicited from a woman himself — killed his enjoyment. When he jogged off to the nearest parking garage to finish said wank, Chika and her stepfather happened to be watching from his car; she'd then teased Tetsuo about having watched him and it offended him that Chika didn't impute the same shame to voyeurism that he did, that she'd already seen beyond his mannered-cog front without his permission.

So pent up, then, is Tetsuo that he vaults past simple seduction and explodes instantly inside of her. Only a Japanese film could credibly posit alley rape as first-date sex ruined by first-time-together jitters and make you feel for the pretend-alpha who winds up a veritable Candide: stranded in the rain with Chika's post-rape confession of enjoyment and her chirping of see-ya-later doing somersaults in his confused brain and beginning to cure him of whatever optimism he harbors regarding the fairer sex as strangers to depravity. Negishi's camera even makes its own wry commentary: it pulls back from their deflated, rain-soaked forms in a pitch-perfect transmission of animal passion soured by premature ejaculation then frozen under a pall of shared confusion and embarrassment — the silent participants pulling up their clothes in a hasty re-assumption of that pretense to social respectability in one of the funniest (and truest) portrayals of sexual disappointment that the cinema's ever given us.


Negishi plays nifty tricks with our sense of perspective: having Chika beam her cultivated insouciance into the camera at us, only to reveal that it's Tetsuo's gaze she's meeting; staging her pre-rape silence with Tetsuo as the flip side to her earlier scene in the car with her stepfather, who, like Tetsuo, had positioned himself in the driver's seat. There, her own drawn-out speechlessness and little-girl pout thwarted her pretense to femme fatale cool in breaking up with Daddy, just as they'll give the lie to her emotionlessness in her final moment with Tetsuo. Is Chika the vixen merely an ace mimic of her stepfather's eerie puppetmaster calm? He'd served Tetsuo paella as a guest in his home, then slipped off to fondle Chika and declare Tetsuo a "lowlife" — is this, too, her masquerade? Is the Chika who cheerily announces Tetsuo as a rapist before asking him for seconds merely acting out the Stockholm Syndrome of Daddy having trained her to revel in her own abuse? Or is her lingering in heat as her "Potato Boy" pummels a bar customer but a marker on the journey into the netherworld of female nature itself? Tetsuo embraces the big house like an already-hardened con who can't function in the outside world. What place for a young man, after all, is this dysgenic neo-noir Japan in which the vagaries of pussy leave hopeful souls with no receptacles for all the tenderness backed up inside of them but the ones from which they sprang: doting mothers who'll exact no greater toll than a phone call or the summer bonus it takes to buy them an air conditioner?


Every girl gets what she wants and it's always more than she bargained for. Tetsuo matures into the will to power Chika's been chasing — Chinatown-slapping her before tearing her dress off and machine-gunning his rage inside of her. But this time it's real; there's no dawdling in his approach, no uncertainty to cushion his thrusts, no apprehension at the full flowering of his hatred to grant her the mercy of a quick finish. It's rape as rape reveals itself to callow strumpets who tease at the mouth of chaos: animal grunts over pathetic whimpering for the small eternity of an unbroken take, then the horror of disposability at his cold retreat as she's left limp and heaving in her own discharge — betrayed by cruel biology, her conquered flesh garnished with the shards of a rich-bitch cocoon now irreparably shattered. Yuki Ninagawa as Chika operates on a level here that transcends genre and ascends to the jumbled impulses and rebirth through trauma of Susan George's ravishment in Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs. One feels he could reach through film grain to dab the gore from her chin; indeed, the actress seems at moments, within Chika's futile clinging to the purest passion she's ever experienced, to transcend even acting itself. What she's conjuring is the jungle hypnosis of raw sexual violence as female deliverance; something visceral and turbulent enough for the applause of any feminist who isn't full of shit when she brays about the complexity of the female psyche.


Chika comes apart then wobbles on the precipice of reassembling herself in real time, as Negishi's unblinking and lightly unsteady hand-held stays fixed on her topless frame with nipples as swollen and as ruddy as tumors against the gutter poetry of a lone tear that streaks sideways across the bridge of her nose and over the closed lid of her opposite eye. She draws at last a final, relieved breath in relinquishment of her past self. Essentially, it's psychosexual snuff footage attesting to child sacrifice by crucial primitive rite as woman proper — humbled by weakness, accepting of total submission, respectful of the abyss — stalks the horizon.

©2020 Scott Is NOT A Professional Film Critic

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