In recent years US DVD companies like Media Blasters, Panik House and Discotek Media have introduced American audiences to the amazing and controversial world of Japanese “Pinky Violence” (or “pink violence”) cinema. Before these companies started subtitling films and making them easily available to American audiences on DVD, Japanese cinema obsessives like myself had to make due with bad VHS bootlegs bought in Chinatown or on eBay that often had no subtitles. If you couldn’t understand Japanese you were often completely clueless about the plots and characters of these films and the prints were sometimes barely watchable.
Thankfully there were fanzines like Thomas Weisser’s Asian Trash Cinema and Asian Cult Cinema available in the early ’90s which made it a little easier for non-speaking Japanese film fans to find some information about unusual Asian cinema. But for the most part Japanese genre films were often ignored and completely neglected by American film critics. This has slowly started to change in the last 10 years as critics and film audiences discover that many early Japanese genre films were created by talented and creative filmmakers who clearly enjoyed exploiting innovative ideas and film techniques that had been established by the Japanese New Wave (Nuberu Bagu).
Even though early Japanese genre films are finally getting some much deserved attention and respect, I still come across their detractors. Unfortunately there are still many foreign film fans who think directors like Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi are the only Japanese directors whose work should be considered seriously. This kind of limited understanding and lack of appreciation of more modern Japanese cinema might be partly due to the fact that so many Japanese directors from the period such as Seijun Suzuki and Kinji Fukasaku were forced to work inside the Japanese film studio system so it’s assumed that their work could not possibly be all that thought provoking or inventive but frankly nothing could be further from the truth. It can also be argued that Japanese film criticism in the West is still in its infancy and there are many great directors still waiting to be discovered and countless films and filmmakers that need to be reconsidered.
Pinky Violence is a genre that developed out of the Japanese New Wave in the late sixties and blossomed into it’s own during the early seventies. The term came from the way the films mixed the erotic elements found in Pink Films (a.k.a. Roman Porno) with the action and violence found in Yakuza crime films. Here’s a brief introduction borrowed from Panik House’s own Pinky Violence website that attempts to sum the genre up:
“What is Pinky Violence? It’s a line of sexy, action-exploitation thrillers begun in the late sixties in Japan. These films featured female yakuzas and girl boss guerillas duking it out for their freedom, their pride and their own piece of the pie. This electrifying genre mixed titillation with social commentary, predating its closest American and European counterparts by several years.”
Its American and European counterparts could include films like Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965), Burt Kennedy’s 1971 western Hannie Caulder, Jack Hill’s Coffy (1973), and Bo Arne Vibenius’s Thriller: They Call Her One Eye (a.k.a. Thriller – En Grym Film, 1974), but Pinky Violence cinema has its own charm and an amazing style that is particular to the genre’s country of origin and cinematic roots. What fascinates me about Pinky Violence cinema is that even though the movies were clearly made to titillate male audiences and in turn feature plenty of eroticism, nudity and stylized violence, many of the films also manage to flaunt their New Wave and avant-garde sensibilities. They’re also willing to explore topics like race relations, poverty and sexual discrimination. The best Pinky Violence movies are often critical of post-war Japan and littered with references to the war and the American Occupation. Unfortunately the genre’s noteworthy qualities are often completely overlooked by film critics as well as fans.
It’s nearly impossible to imagine what life was like in Japan after WWII. People were living in a country destroyed by war and occupied by Americans who brought their own rule of law and culture to the “Land of the Rising Sun.” Between 1946-1947 women in Japan were finally given the right to vote and a new Constitution was constructed by the occupation authorities, which included an equal rights clause and a revised Civil Code that gave women the right to chose their own spouses, retain their property rights, receive equal pay and get equal education opportunities. It must have been a complicated and extremely difficult period for Japanese women who were no doubt suffering the effects of the war, while also benefiting from the changes that these horrible events had brought. I’m positive that the women of Japan would have preferred to have made their own progress on their own terms without any American interference but it’s important to keep in mind when watching Pinky Violence cinema that the beautiful and tough female stars of these films such as Meiko Kaji, Reiko Oshida, Miki Sugimoto and Reiko Ike were all born and raised in the aftermath of this significant and critical time in Japanese history. These actresses represented a new generation of Japanese women who were determined to live life on their own terms in post-war Japan.
It can be argued that Pinky Violence is a result as well as a reaction to WWII. Genre defining films such as Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter (a.k.a. Nora-neko Rokku: Sekkusu Hanta, 1970), Delinquent Girl Boss: Worthless To Confess (Zubeko bancho: zange no neuchi mo nai, 1971) Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion (a.k.a. Joshuu 701-gô: Sasori , 1972), Girl Boss Guerilla (Sukeban Gerira, 1972), Sex and Fury (a.k.a. Furyô Anego Den: Inoshika Ochô , 1973) and Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs (a.k.a. Zeroka No Onna: Akai Wappa, 1974) could have never been made in the pre-WWII Japan found in Ozu’s early films.
The latest Pinky Violence film being released in the U.S. is Kô Nakahira’s Rica (a.k.a. Konketsuji Rika, 1972) which was produced by Toho Studios. Kô Nakahira is a talented director who is often considered one of the leading filmmakers of the Japanese New Wave. His early films helped usher in an important new era in Japanese cinema but very little is known about him in America. Unfortunately Nakahira’s films are criminally unavailable here in the US. The only Nakahira film you can currently find on DVD is his critically acclaimed modern masterpiece Crazed Fruit (1956) which was released by Criterion in 2005. Kô Nakahira’s Crazed Fruit is a pivotal Japanese film that influenced French directors like Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut so it’s unfortunate that more of Nakahira’s films are not readily available. Thankfully that will change a bit with the release of Rica from Exploitation Digital (a new subdivision of Media Blasters) this week.
Original Rica poster art (1972-1973)
According to various sources I’ve read, Kô Nakahira’s 1972 film tells the story of a “half-breed” (mixed race) woman named Rica (played by Rika Aoki) who was the product of a Japanese mother raped by American G.I.s. After Rica is later raped herself as a young girl, she develops a deep hatred for men and sets out to take revenge for the horrible and violent events that have shaped her life. Rica seems typical of many Pinky Violence heroines who run with gangs and spend time in jail while becoming dangerous female figures in the Japanese underworld.
Rica is the first film in a trilogy and Media Blasters (Exploitation Digital) has plans to release all three of the Rica films in the future. Kô Nakahira only directed the first and second film in the trilogy called Rica 2: Lonely Wanderer (1973) and it will be available on DVD in October. As far as I know these movies are not even available on DVD in Japan so Media Blasters should be commended for making an effort to release these hard to find films. According to Toho Kingdom the new Rica DVD from Media Blasters will contain the original Japanese dialogue with English subtitles and extras include a photo gallery and trailers for all three of the Rica films.