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  Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter Girl gangs get wild
Year: 1970
Director: Yasuharu Hasebe
Stars: Meiko Kaji, Rikiya Yasuoka, Tatsuya Fuji, Jiro Okazaki, Mie Hanabusa
Genre: Musical, Sex, Action, Thriller, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Of the many amazing “pinky violence” (sexploitation/action/horror) movies made in Japan throughout the funky Seventies, this was the most eagerly anticipated on DVD. Third in the five film Stray Cat Rock series that made Meiko Kaji a cult film superstar, for years cult movie writers raved about its psychedelic style, gruelling ultra-violence and daring anti-racist subtext. Yet, while it dazzles in parts, the film is somewhat disappointing.

It opens fantastically, like a female A Clockwork Orange (1971). Super-chic bad girl Mako (Meiko Kaji), dressed to kill in her iconic cowboy hat, and her all-female gang the Alleycats harass and rob a middle-aged salaryman. They strut through downtown Tokyo in shiny boots and miniskirts, smoke endless joints amidst the swinging, psychedelic splendour of their local nightclub, while Mako reasserts her authority via a vicious knife fight with a young upstart. The girls enjoy friendly relations with rival gang the Eagles, headed by shades-sporting cool cat, Baron (Tatsuya Fuji). But when Alleycat Mari spurns Eagle Susumu in favour of her half-black boyfriend Ichiro, it sparks memories in Baron of his sister’s rape at the hands of black soldiers from an American military base.

The Eagles embark upon a hate-fuelled orgy of destruction, determined to purge their town of its mixed-race population. When a handsome stranger (Rikiya Yasuoka) wanders into town in search of his long-lost sister, Mako takes a fancy to him, which aggravates the sexually dysfunctional Baron. His self-righteous fury is further fuelled when he learns the stranger is a “half-breed”. Soon, it’s all out war and pretty Mako and her Alley Cats are caught in the crossfire.

Produced by Nikkatsu studios, this astonishing exercise in pop art storytelling has plenty going for it. From the inspired visuals, energetic fights and stunt-work, to touches of genuine pulp poetry and psychedelic wonderment. It is also a musical, with plenty of sexy, go-go dancing interludes from popular girl group Golden Calf, whose mixed race parentage (together with that of half-Italian Rikiya Yasuoka) illustrates the ingenuity behind Yasuharu Hasebe’s approach. At a time when racism was still a touchy subtext in Japanese cinema, this film drew critical praise but suffers from a lack of moral fibre.

While the Alleycats eventually become the unlikely voices of tolerance and reason, they remain powerless in the face of Baron’s indifferent cool. You wouldn’t think these girls would fawn over a racist, impotent, homicidal maniac, but that’s what happens and Hasebe dwells on his revenge-driven rampage with the detached air Stanley Kubrick brought to his own super-stylized gangbang. Many admire this non-judgemental approach, but given an incendiary subject like racism one would argue Hasebe needed to nail his colours to the mast.

There’s a throwaway moment where Baron shatters a portrait of Martin Luther King, but the most impressive sequence involves a midnight soiree (with Mako breathtaking in a silver gown) that turns nasty when the Alleycats are sold into sexual slavery. Mako rides to the rescue with some handy Molotov cocktails. Caught between the inflexible Eagles and sleazy Western gangsters, the delinquent girls develop their own, idiosyncratic moral code. However, all too often, Hasebe sidelines the real star of the series. Established as a badass early on, the climax disappoints with Mako simpering on the sidelines while Fuji and Yasuoka blaze away at each other. For the sake of a typically downbeat, seventies ending the hero pointlessly guns down several good guys along the way.

Nevertheless, the good stuff still outweighs the bad, including a manhunt filmed with dizzying handheld cameras, Kaji’s neat way of obscuring the camera with her cowboy hat as we fade to black, and those amazing musical sequences. Golden Calf’s finger-snapping, mock innocent pop ditty “Yellow Cherry” includes some lovably lascivious lyrics (“Pinch it. Suck it. Mmm…”).

Hasebe made one of Nikkatsu’s most delightful action films, Black Tight Killers (1966), but struggled to keep afloat once the studio switched exclusively to softcore porn. His sexploitation variant on Kurosawa, Naked Seven (1974) was a hit, but Dirty Mary (1974), a porno take on Dirty Harry (1971) was not and he went on to a string of deeply misogynistic rape thrillers. Astonishingly, he made a comeback with Lesson (1994), a rom-com that is Japan’s answer to Chasing Amy (1996)! His co-screenwriter Yukihiro Sawada later reworked the premise of Stray Cat Rock into Sex Hunter: Wet Target (1972) and played the leading man under the alias George Harrison!
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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