It's another of Toie's Pinky Violence films and it's kind of disturbing. However on the upside it's also brutal, horrifying and impressive.
The plot's simple enough. Miki Sugimoto is a cop who gets thrown in prison for killing a foreign diplomat who deserved it. Shortly afterwards, a psychopath (Eiji Go) gets released from prison, meets up with his old gang and enjoys a spot of recreational beating, murder and gang rape. Unfortunately Go and his gang are a bit stupid, as well as being monsters who deserve death. Their first victim is the daughter of a politician who's running for Prime Minister and is even scarier than they are.
Ten minutes later, the police have been given a "no survivors" order and Sugimoto's being offered a free ticket out of prison if she'll do a small job.
The disturbing bit is the treatment of women. I'm starting to get the idea that Pinky Violence is, um, transgressive. Almost every female character gets gang-raped and is frequently naked. Go's gang doesn't trust Sugimoto when she shows up, so of course they strip her naked, chain her to a pillar, whip her and rape her. Is this supposed to make her trust them? I don't remember anything like that in 'How to win friends and influence people'. Sugimoto though just takes it all it as part of the job and goes through the entire film with a cold, almost psychopathic detachment that suggests she's put her mind in a place that's not connected to her body. Torture? She doesn't blink.
However it should also be pointed out that the women almost get off lightly. Look at the men's fates. Look at who's alive at the end. Women get gang-raped and traumatised, but men get shot, stabbed, beaten to death and worse. The most extreme scene involves one of Go's gang who's fallen into the hands of the police, who've thoughtfully brought along a blowtorch, a vice and a water hose.
It's a plunge into hell. Go's gang is, without exaggeration, possibly worse than Alex's from A Clockwork Orange. However, as in that Burgess novel, the authority figures might be even worse. Eiji Go was clearly going to be back in captivity within weeks, given for instance his bubbleheaded approach to collecting ransom money. Twice someone from his gang goes to pick up a suitcase full of cash. Both times the police show up in force and jump on him. The gang's crimes are unspeakable, but at least you can hardly accuse these lads of doing anything cold-bloodedly. They're not level-headed enough for that. That politician and his pet policemen, on the other hand, know exactly what they're doing.
Note that policeman's twitch, by the way. I think he's a nice guy who thinks he has no choice but to obey orders.
I was surprised by the lack of involvement for Sugimoto. She's the title character and you'll think you'll know how this is going to play out, but despite appearances this isn't going to be a one-woman show. Instead she ends up caught between two warring sides as the police get, um, pro-active. They don't just sit and wait for her to do her job. In one case, in fact, their stupid intervention all but gets her killed.
However, that said, she's still clearly the most important character in the film and you'll have trouble forgetting her. She spends quite a long time getting brutalised and/or not really doing very much, but you're never in doubt that payback is coming. She's sufficiently powerful, in fact, that you'd have to be paying attention to realise that her plot role isn't as big as you might think.
The film isn't merely sleaze, although that it most certainly is. It's intense, it's got a terrifying line-up of bastards and it bears comparison with Western films of the same era like Dirty Harry. It's saying evil, nihilistic things about society. Furthermore the characters aren't just one-dimensional, with Eiji Go in particular being given a meaty acting challenge, with trauma and a weird tendency for the film to give him flashback montages. I'm sure many Pinky Violence films feel like jumped-up trash, but this feels like a heavyweight movie that happens to have been spawned from a "boobs and beatings" genre.
We see lots of nudity, by the way, but run away hard from anyone who finds this film erotic.
Unfortunately the film begins with that foreign diplomat I mentioned. As a general rule, anyone speaking English in a Japanese film will be barely capable of line delivery even in their first language. This guy's not the worst I've seen, but he's still bad enough that you could show him to your friends and get laughs. Well, the good news is that he's going to die.
It's based on a Toru Fujiwara manga, i.e. the guy who also wrote Female Convict Scorpion. Both spawned film series and both star a sexy heroine who'll kill you. It wouldn't occur to you in a million years that this was a comic book film, but on reflection it does make sense of a couple of details. The first is that Sugimoto's weapon of choice is handcuffs. She kills people with red handcuffs. I'm sure this looked fine in the manga, but in live-action it's... odd.
The second point though is an aesthetic one, which is probably 1970s cinematic style rather than anything related to the manga, but to me still felt a bit comic-booky. There's strong use of red. Sugimoto wears a red coat, kills people with red handcuffs, carries a red gun, wears a red ring and spills lots of red blood. This isn't a big deal and comes across as a stylistic twitch in a 1970s Grime Aesthetic, but I wouldn't be surprised if Yukio Noda meant it to carry some kind of symbolism.
I mentioned a series. It's a slightly unusual one, though, because the sequels didn't start coming for more than twenty years. It wasn't until the mid-1990s that someone decided that Zero Woman could be turned into a straight-to-video money-spinner. This was around the time of La Femme Nikita and a worldwide wave of similar films about female assassins, e.g. Hong Kong's Black Cat, or Japan's Prisoner Maria and Metropolitan Police Branch 82. There's even a Takashi Miike one (Silver). However I'm not aware of any with a strapline as brilliantly trashy as "Red Handcuffs".
So far, the best Pinky Violence film I've seen (of two). It feels like a proper movie, not just sleaze strung together on an excuse for a plot. You might struggle with all the rape, though, and I wouldn't blame you if you did. Not for all audiences, to put it mildly, but it's powerful.
Some people have fluffy dice hanging from their rear-view mirror. Eiji Go's gang have a model of a naked woman, being hanged.