It must have been wonderful to have been a biker way back when. Movies from Easy Rider to Psychomania, books from Chopper to Wheels of Rage tell us how easy it was to straddle two wheels and ride into an orgy of sex, violence and drugs with very few repercussions. In Japan, it only took three ted/rocker cultural hybrids astride two hogs to raise total hell and still get away with it. The first scenes of High School Co-ed see Kawashima, Kaji, and Sada doing what 70s bikers did best - chasing a car down the street to a one-riff garage-punk track and pulling out their tongues at the occupants. When they finally run the car off the road, they drag out the female passenger and give her a damn good seeing to. Twice. And when it’s all over, the leather-clad trio ride off into the sunset without the slightest recrimination.
When he’s not tearing up the asphalt, Kawashima is working in the factory to pay off his debts whilst also looking after his school-age sister, Megu. Sharing a bedroom in some grubby shithole, he doesn’t bat an eyelid while she’s wandering around with her breasts out - surprisingly restrained for a weekend rapist but I expect we’re meant to see a different side to him here - a sensitive but confused man whose perversities are nothing more than a cry for attention in an uncaring world. It’s hard to know where you stand; Kawashima flits from bad guy to slightly-better guy like a moth round a strobe light. One moment he’s chastising his fucked-up buddy Kaji for trying to rape a schoolie - the next he’s nuts-deep in her himself. Then, he falls in love with her, becomes protective. In fact, he appears to be much more protective of her than he is of his own sister; his reaction at hearing that Megu has become Kaji’s latest victim is subdued to say the least.
Fans of Angel Guts, a series of “pink” films (read “softcore sexploitation”) based on Takashi Ishii’s manga series are quick to distance themselves from those sleazy wretches perving over more lurid Japanese fare such as Guts of a Virgin and Guts of a Beauty. Oh, Angel Guts is not about Guinea Pig-style dismemberments presented as entertainment, no, no, no! These are proper movies with proper characters and proper storylines and maybe even some profundity along the way; indeed the “Angel Guts” of the title refers not to splattered intestines and a hacked-up colon but to the more metaphorical “guts” of the films’ gutsy rape victims who are, allegedly, so courageous in the face of their attackers!
Alas - as if you need to be told - this is complete bollocks. To a hardened cynic like me, attempts to justify such shocking rape-revenge melodramas as I Spit on Your Grave, Ms.45 and Angel of Death as hardcore feminist diatribes are nothing short of contemptuous, but for outright hypocrisy High School Co-ed really takes the biscuit! Of the three rape victims here not one of them retaliates against, or even stands up to, her attackers and the preferred method of coping is merely subdued acceptance. Malevolent viewers, screaming for vengeance will feel even more abused at the finale when they discover justice most certainly will not be done - of the three villains, only Kawashima suffers adequately in an incident only barely related to his crimes - Kaji, the most evil of all, gets away scot-free.
The biggest problem with High School Co-ed is its sheer incomprehensibly. Not only are certain plotlines left unfulfilled, many of them don’t seem to start anyplace to begin with - things just happen and you have to accept it. Even somebody watching for nothing more than a cheap sex and violence fix will eventually become pissed-off by the amount of unanswered questions here. A little background on Kawashima and Megu wouldn’t have gone amiss, for example - perhaps we could find it in ourselves to feel a little sorry for him, who knows? And that guy Sada, what a psycho! He’s got a problem, a real, presumably sexual, problem that’s constantly threatening to burst forth from his grease-covered denims at any minute - but Sone chooses not to fill us in on the ghastly details. Don’t get me wrong, a film that makes one think is a damned good thing, but when it expects you to make up the plot as well? Fuck that…
To many people, the attraction of Japanese cinema - or indeed, all Asian cinema - is its independence to that of the west, by no means moving the opposite direction but nonetheless taking a completely different road. High School Co-ed, however, could easily have been made as grubby drive-in fare in 70s America or Italy. This in itself is surely enough to put-off many potential viewers craving something a little out-of-the-ordinary; to his credit, Sone does try to add a little imagination to the proceedings - a couple of black and white weirdo flashback sequences here and there… the seemingly significant backdrop of cleansing, heavy rain to accompany the schoolgirls’ rapes - but, like much of the narrative, he quickly and inexplicably casts it aside leaving yet another hole in the movie‘s sponge-like constitution. For me, ironically, it’s something of a change - to see a Japanese movie that doesn’t look like a Japanese movie; the fact still remains though that High School Co-ed differs little from a slew of other movies of that era, many of which are much more entertaining and occasionally in even poorer taste. As such, it’s nothing more than a relatively fun slab of gutter-level 1970’s sleaze - just don’t expect the earth to move.