Fabulously funky fuzz guitar and organ lead the pumping soundtrack to Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs, a rabid, out of control, “Pinky Violence” classic. Our heroine, ‘zero woman’ Rei (gorgeous, pouting Miki Sugimoto) shakes her stuff on the disco floor. The voluptuous beauty doffs her clothes and does the dirty with a German tourist (“Let’s haff a good time, ja?”). Then blows him away with her little, but exceptionally powerful, red handgun. Turns out the creep was wanted for rape and murder. Rogue cop Rei is thrown in jail where frumpy inmates beat her up over the opening credits. Meanwhile, a monstrous criminal gang led by the crazed Yoshide (Eiji Go) kidnap and molest a young woman, before taking her to a whorehouse. Madame Sesum (Yoko Mihara - the Diana Dors of Japan) recognises her as the daughter of politician Nagumo (Tetsura Tamba - whom you may know as Tiger Tanaka in You Only Live Twice (1967), but he’s been in virtually every movie made in Japan). Rei is given a second chance, sent to infiltrate the gang and rescue the girl.
If you’ve a strong stomach, Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs is one hell of a ride. Violence, rape and torture erupt from every frame. Bullets rip bodies apart. Flesh is burned by blowtorch and cigarettes. A naked catfight climaxes with one unlucky lady drowned in a bath full of her own blood. Most outrageous of all, Rei uses her crimson cuffs like flying guillotine as heads explode in geysers of gore. After a while the relentless misogyny grows wearying, with rapes happening nearly every ten minutes and horrors perpetrated by both vile gangsters and brutal cops, with only Miki Sugimoto’s avenging angel rising above the mire. Toei aimed their Pinky Violence movies at hip, urban males and structured them like pornography. Foreplay, copulation and money shots are re-imagined as shamelessly eroticised violence. You either dig it or you don’t - simple as that. A heroine’s toughness is measured in her ability to withstand torture (foreplay) before she takes vengeance (orgasm). Here, Rei shrugs off sexual abuse with almost supernatural nonchalance. Sugimoto displays a mesmerizing screen presence, less a character than a force of nature, although the sheer nastiness of what she endures remains a turn-off. More fun are her scorching sexploitation antics in Sukeban: Girl Boss Guerilla (1972), Criminal Woman: Killing Melody (1973), and Terrifying Girls’ High School: Lynch Law Classroom (1973). Newcomers are advised to start there first.
Yukio Noda was normally a slapdash director (best known for Golgo 13: The Professional (1977), starring Sonny Chiba), but pulls out all the stops for the most stylish film of his career. He indulges a few socio-political asides like focusing on a rapist’s US Navy jacket while American fighter jets fly overhead and making Nagumo a reprehensible cad willing to sacrifice his daughter to avoid a political scandal. Gruelling digressions often slow the narrative, foremost among these - the rape (told you there was a lot of it) and torture of an amateur dramatics club (?!) and their American tutor (Misquote of the month: “Romeo, Romeo, why are you called Romeo?). After endless pain and humiliation the poor things wind up burning to death while we overhear their agonised screams. It builds a slight theme of innocence victimised amidst a society going out of control, but Noda isn’t as accomplished a satirist as Shunya Ito or Norifumi Suzuki. However, the ending is magnificent with Ruri handcuffed to Yoshida in a life or death tussle, before she confronts Hideo Murata’s horrifically burned, mutant cop. Watch out for those red handcuffs!