This film did a number on me. I've seen some pretty extreme stuff in Japanese films over the years, but it looks as if I'm not jaded yet. Is this an exploitation film? I'm tempted to say no, despite the over-the-top content, because it's also genuinely good and I don't want to use words that will make people think it's trash. That said, though... yeesh. It's a revenge film and a strong one.
THE TARGET: Hamazaki's son (played by Noriaki Kamata) is the kind of sicko who can make necrophiliac sex the least disgusting thing about one of his scenes. Good grief, that was vile. He got kicked out of Japan by the criminal syndicate he was supposedly leading, but he's not too bothered. He's living in Los Angeles, with a gang of bodyguards and an ever-growing number of victims. One day, he raped and murdered a woman in front of her husband, then beat the husband (Kairi Narita) so badly that he crippled him.
THE HUSBAND: Narita wants Kamata dead, unsurprisingly. I wanted him dead too. More precisely, though, Narita really, really, really wants Kamata dead. He comes up with a plan and is willing to do lots of horrifying and disgusting things to make it come about. These include:
(a) buying a junkie (Asami) and turning her into a weapon. He doesn't see her as a human, but just a sort of knuckleduster with legs. "You are my tool. If you die, I'll just buy another woman."
(b) using knives and guns as teaching aids. And when I say "use", I mean "on a person". The second one of those was insanely disgusting and a scene that would probably be rightly regarded as unwatchable by most audiences. "Shoot her. If your bullet can hit her, I'll set you free." (The target is Asami, whom he's chained to the wall only about five metres away.)
(c) his skills as a surgeon. Don't ask. Suffice to say that his plan includes an emergency transfusion and that there's an appalling reason why Asami will only have 22 minutes to do her job.
The film has a fair amount of nudity, incidentally. Asami's naked for pretty much all of Act Three, but it's not arousing. Terrifying, panic-inducing, hard to watch... yeah, it's all of those instead.
Why did I call this a good film? Not many people could sit through it, after all. Well, firstly it's not just being extreme for the sake of it. You believe in all the characters and the dark psychological places they're going to, which is why the film has the weight it does. I believed in Kamata, absurd caricature of a performance though it is. I believed in Narita. He's turned himself into a monster almost as bad as Kamata, but you understand why he did that to himself and you can tell that he used to be a good man. (He's also a brilliant doctor.) I was reacting honestly to the gross things that happened, responding as I would if real people did those things in a serious drama. I wasn't just laughing it off as another gore film, although I should admit that there are a couple of moments when the gore shots look a bit rubbery.
Then there's Asami. I was already a huge Asami fan, by the way. She used to do hardcore porn, but these days she's just an actress and I regard her as a reason to go watch a film. Admittedly she'll often star in things like Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead, Bikini Ramen and St. Zombie Girls' High School. Those aren't high art. However you can rely on her to bring enormous energy to them, with the ability to take her performance up to eleven and make it the coolest thing in the film. (Most actors who try that merely become unwatchable.)
This isn't one of those films, though. What she does here is proper acting. She's getting almost no dialogue, but you hardly realise as she carries the film anyway in a physical performance that doesn't need words. She transforms. I didn't recognise her on first seeing her. You can watch her take the character from human wreck to "whoah, she's got scary" to more and more.
Half the film's in English. The director lives in America and a lot of the time you're just watching another American film. There's a framing story with a hitman and his driver, in which the hitman's telling us what happened. I paused to check that I was watching the right film. The driver doesn't believe half of what he's hearing and often performs the "sense check" role, asking the practical questions you'd get from people in the audience who think the plot doesn't make sense. That works well, actually.
"Gun Woman will return," says a caption at the end, but that might be overestimating a general audience's ability to sit through this film.
It's remarkable. It also won the Special Jury Prize at the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival and went on to a surprising level of international attention. I admire it, although I'm in no hurry to subject myself to it again. There's a ton of trash cinema that wants to be this film, but you could be waiting a long time if you're looking for another that does it with this much sincerity and power.