It's a borderline Pinky Violence. The nudity is so mild that we don't even see boobs, while most of the hooligan girls are compassionate, gentle and warm-hearted. You'll be disappointed if you're expecting anything even ten per cent as lurid, offensive and eyeball-frying as Terrifying Girls' High School
or Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs
It's also superb and it made me cry.
For starters, there's no Miki Sugimoto or Reiko Ike. Instead we have Reiko Ohshida, who never went nude in her films and probably as a result didn't drop out of the business at the end of the 1970s, instead still working as late as 2005. That's a forty-year career, albeit a sparse one from the mid-seventies onwards. (Did she move into theatre?) She's not as scary as Ike, let alone Sugimoto, but she's prettier than either of them and she's convincing as a tough foul-mouthed gangster chick who also happens to be the moral heart of the movie and a pillar of integrity. She'll do anything for her friends, who include:
(a) Yumiko Katayama, who despises her father (Junzaburo Ban) and steals from him. She and her boyfriend run up hundreds of thousands of yen worth of debt under his name, which Ban then has to pay off or lose his business (and probably get his legs broken). She's also moody, hostile and capable of attacking the other girls on little provocation.
(b) Junzaburo Ban, who'll break your heart.
(c) Yukie Kagawa, whose yakuza husband is ill (perhaps terminally) and is taking her clothes off for money to support him.
The girls met in prison or reform school. I'm not sure which it was, but they were loud, brash and enjoyed annoying the staff. (Pinky Violence films often include pompous little men with Hitler moustaches and a higher status than our heroines. One of these here is the prison governor, who objects to their film club.) Ban comes to the prison fence and tries to see Katayama, who'd sooner see her father dead in a ditch than talk to him. Ohshida is the unlucky go-between, so after she's been released a year later, she goes to visit Ban and return a present of his that Katayama wouldn't let her deliver.
Ban responds by turning into a surrogate dad and giving her a job. This means a lot to Ohshida, who's an orphan.
The story continues in a simple, deceptively deft way. Different characters' stories are interweaved and it feels natural and organic. You could imagine a similar tale being told among neighbours in a sleepy country village, although you'd have to lose the nudity and organised crime. Ohshida finds a sort of boyfriend, although they get no further than liking each other and they express their feelings by being rude. (Note the Vegetable Insult scene with the idiot.) People try to help each other, even when the people they're trying to help are responding with unpleasantness or hostility.
Meanwhile the yakuza are relatively low-key. They're not starting a war with anyone and they even have enough humanity to stop each other from hitting women. However they're throwing their weight around in, oddly, a way that makes them more hateful. They're bullies. They walk into clubs and demand protection money, because they can. The gang boss is unimpressive, but his henchmen include one repellent fat guy who's note-perfect as that kind of human flotsam.
It's about relationships and what we'll do for those we love. Our girls have fathers, boyfriends, husbands, fellow ruffians they met in prison and blokes they met in the street who don't owe them a thing. That broken-down yakuza has a wife and a brother who used to admire him and want to be like him. Sometimes our heroines are doing what they do because of powerful ties, whereas in other cases they're putting their heads in the noose simply out of loyalty to a friend. It ends in violence, of course. However more specifically it's the kind of unsubtle frontal assault that in other Pinky Violence films might be the heroine's first, doomed effort in a pre-credits sequence while she was still innocent and naive. The police will be coming and it wouldn't be as powerful if they didn't.
It's an apparently simple film, about good (but rough) people rather than bloodbaths, exploitation or outrageous revenge schemes. It has lovely scenes like the swaying of the nightclub owner or a man saving his own killer without even having noticed his assailant's knife. It also has an unusually unsettling whorehouse, or at least something that looks like it. I really liked Oshida, but the cast has no weak link and everyone's good. (I quite liked the snorting halfwit.) Outstanding.
"You girls need to work hard and become good wives."