Tuesday, September 27, 2011

NYFF 2011: Woman With Red Hair (1979) (Nikkatsu Centennial)

This was the first film screened for the press at this years New York Film Festival. When it was over I heard one of the critics in attendance describe it as follows "If this ever appeared on one of those 1000 films you must see before you die lists, this one would be the last one to see." I kind of can't fault the sentiment. Actually the only way I would ever recommend this film is if one of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 spin-offs picked it up.

In The Japanese Cinema Encyclopedia: The Sex Films Thomas and Yuko Mihara Weisser give the film three and a half stars and say:

Regarded as one the very best Nikkatsu pink films and it's director Kumashiro's most accomplished movie.... This one was critically acclaimed for the camerawork and the intricate use of color, especially during the provocative rain sequences.

The write up then goes on to praise the acting of stars Junko Miyashita and Renji Ishibashi.

If this is the best, I'd hate to see the worst.

I can agree with the critical acclaim for acting and technical achievements but outside of that this film is dreadful. Even by pink* film standards, this film isn't very good.

A spoiler filled plot synopsis follows, so if you don't want to know skip it.

The film begins with two truck drivers raping the boss's virginal daughter. Three months later as the girl haunts the pair, they pick up a red haired woman at a road side noodle stand. They take her along and she ends up moving in with the older of the two. Its a very violent and sexually charged relationship where the woman lives for nothing but sex. The pair fall in love. In the meantime, and as a minor distraction between the main coupling, the boss's daughter, now expecting, is pursuing the other driver and they become a couple. Drama occurs when the woman drops a pair of panties on the head of the downstairs neighbor, a junkie who screams all night. The junkie then comes upstairs and breaks in and beats the red haired woman up before the junkie is carried off by her boyfriend. Later the woman's husband/boyfriend/ something shows up, beats her up and then leaves. As the younger man and the bosses daughter talk about leaving, he decides he wants to sleep with the red haired woman, so he talks his friend into letting him rape her. Eventually true love finds a way as the young couple run off and the older couple decided to just continue on as always, screwing morning, noon and night.

End spoilers.

This is 75 minutes of sex and often violent misogynistic behavior punctuated some of the loopiest dialog you'll ever hear. The sequence about buying cheap instant noodles is topped by a later sequence about how cheap the market is down the block and how the people in the area don't understand how good they have it... of course both sequences lead into sex. These sequences, as well as much of the rest of the dialog, resulted in loud audience laughter.

I'm not going to lie, the sex is interesting for a very short bit (in the non-violent non-rape sequences) but then it kind of becomes all the same and dull since most of sex in this film is the same monotonous twists and turns over and over again. For me the most interesting thing about the sex scenes were the shifting shadows and added censor blocks that were put in place to block out the pubic hair and other offending bits.

To me the violence against women was extremely unpleasant. The upbeat rockabilly music that opens, and plays through much of the film, didn't prepare me for the ugliness of the opening rape. The later smacks, punches, rape and verbal abuse just made me wonder who the hell is the audience for this film?

Between films I could hear several of the women attending the screening complaining loudly at how nasty and unpleasant the film was. They were shocked and horrified by the film. I say this not as a challenge, simply to warn you that if you don't like that sort of thing stay away.

Actually this a film I can't recommend. If I wasn't intent on reviewing all the films I see at the film festival I never would have written this film up. It simply wasn't worth the effort to even see.

Take a pass on this one. Yea it looks good, and yes it's well acted but the rest of it is really bad and not worth your time and effort.

(*Pink films are essentially softcore sex films. The studios in Japan used to crank them out at such a high rate that many studios didn't care what happened in them so long as there was sex every so many minutes. The result was a great learning ground for directors who could do their thing so long as they had the right amount of sex. This of course resulted in many films where the sex is secondary to the plot as the story just stops for sex before picking up again afterward.)

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