It's even less of an Evil Dead Trap movie than the second one. It's not even horror, but a police procedural that ends up getting freaky and psychological. I also didn't much like it.
Kimiko Yo plays a police detective who's investigating the suicide and/or disappearance of girls. The first thing that happens in the film is that a headless, limbless torse is washed up on a beach. After that, a girl goes to her university lecturer (Shiro Sano) to tell him that she's pregnant with his child. Sano treats her like a lunatic and tells her she's imagining things. Next thing we know, this girl has committed suicide and the police doctor confirms that she was indeed pregnant.
Just in case you didn't dislike Sano enough already, we learn that five years ago another girl made the same accusation against him, was again dismissed out of hand and subsequently disappeared. No one's seen her alive since. Kimiko Yo investigates.
This sounds like a good start, but unfortunately the movie feels as if it's taking place at the other end of a telescope. I can't find a better way of putting it. It's written by Takashi Ishii, who's as cold as ever and only seems interested in broken people. Yo isn't broken, but she's so bland that she barely exists and only comes alive in scenes where she has an inappropriate sexual interest in her target. The bad guys aren't evil, but only because they're messed up in the head. (The film's original Japanese name is "The Brutal Insanity of Love" and never have you seen a title so appropriate.) Meanwhile Yo's fellow cops are rude and unpleasant enough that you can almost understand her feeling closer to Sano.
We might perhaps have survived another Ishii exploration of unlikeable damaged people if Toshiharu Ikeda's direction had been a bit less dispassionate. He's trying, mind you. He throws in odd camera angles and so on. However it's mostly shot in that arm's length fashion that suggests to me a director without the money or time for much in the way of camera set-ups. I'm sure they got it in the can fairly quickly.
One debatable upside of this is that the film feels less exploitative than you might expect. The lesbian bar didn't convince me, seeming more like a man's fantasy idea of a lesbian bar than what I'd imagine the real thing is like... but oddly without actual sleaze. The lesbians stay clothed. Another scene has a naked woman (with a tiny life expectancy), but we only see her from a distance and not her boobs. That's it, I think, unless you count nudity from dismembered torsos. It's far less exploitative than, say, X-Men: First Class
The reason I called a "debatable" upside is simply that in a dull film, a bit of honest sleaze might at least have helped to keep me awake.
The cast are better than you'd guess. The main characters (Shiro Sano, Kimiko Yo and Megumi Yokoyama) are all still much in demand today and very busy actors with full CVs. There's a supporting role for Tatsuo Yamada (Crazy Thunder Road
). They're also getting to explore deep psychological problems, as you'd expect from Ishii. Nonetheless to me this still didn't feel like much of a showcase for them, because of that "arm's length" effect I was talking about. Maybe I'd have felt differently if I'd been watching a better-quality print? This was VHS-level, at best.
There's stuff I like here, in an abstract way. Ishii's use of kendo is interesting, giving samurai-like resonances to the Yo-Sano relationship and also letting Ikeda create an image where two characters trying to beat each other with sticks look as if they're in a romantic embrace. I also notice that it fits well into Ishii's pet themes and motifs, with another use of literal freezing and yet another female character called Nami. All the rape victim protagonists in Ishii's Angel Guts films were called Nami. Kimiko Yo has played characters called Nami in three Ishii films (this, Gekka no Ran and A Night in Nude) and Megumi Yokoyama would play one too in Gonin
Theoretically, this isn't a bad film. The cast is good and the story is twisted. There are always chilly things to appreciate about a Takashi Ishii script, even if he's not that interested in making you care about them. However this film didn't grab me, instead drifting past in the middle distance and inviting my mind to wander. If you're in the right mood, it might be okay.