Monday, November 5, 2007
TOWARDS A GENDER ANALYSIS OF THE PINKY VIOLENCE FILM: introduction
A few months ago I was introduced to the Japanese exploitation genre known as pinky violence at Cinebeats. In that article, Kimberly Lindbergs traces a brief history of the sociopolitical environment Japanese women were facing in the late 60's and early 70's. I searched around for other material on the genre and found this great article by David Wilentz, which covers mostly different films from the ones I will be discussing. In it, Wilentz writes that these films "seemed to prove that the quickest path to female empowerment is paved with misogyny and bloodshed." This is a prescient observation, and Wilentz goes on to argue--as do most other commentators on the subject--that the pinky violence film cries out for a gender-based discussion. This essay, presented in five parts over the duration of the week, is my attempt to lay some groundwork for that analysis.
As the 1970’s dawned, several lines of development in Japanese film converged with world cultural changes to allow for the unique environment necessary for the birth of the exploitation genre known as “koshoku rosen” or pinky violence. In the booklet included with Panik House's Pinky Violence Collection boxset, Chris Desjardins, author of Outlaw Masters of Japanese Cinema, defines pinky violence as "a Japanese pop slang term for ultra-violent movies featuring female protagonists and varying degrees of softcore sexuality." The ‘pinky’ half of the equation comes from the pinku eiga, a particularly Japanese brand of sex film that came to be in 1962 with the appearance of Flesh Market (Nikutai no Ichiba). In retrospect, the early pinku eiga look extraordinarily arty when compared to contemporary American equivalents and extremely tame when compared to contemporary European equivalents.
At the same time, major Japanese film studios like Toei had begun to treat stories of the yakuza (Japanese organized crime groups) in a similar fashion to the traditional samurai film. These were called ninkyo eiga, or chivalry films, and were most often period pieces set in the years from the turn of the 20th century to the 1920’s. Meanwhile, director Kinji Fukusaku was busy trying to inject a level of realism into treatments of modern-day yakuza with pictures like Wolves, Pigs and People (1964) and Japan’s Violent Gangs—Boss (1969). A new term for this genre defined by its documentary-like nature, jitsuroku eiga or “true account film,” was coined when Fukusaku began basing such films on true stories in Battles without Honor and Humanity (1973).
As the 1960’s continued, Japanese film studios faced a similar predicament to that faced by American studios in the 1950’s: the ubiquity of television. The content levels of both sex and violence were ramped up in order to draw the public back to the theater. Mixing the two made for spectacular financial rewards and by the end of the decade both Toei and Japan’s oldest major studio Nikkatsu had gotten in on the action. The pinku eiga spawned a violent strand, exemplified by Toei’s eight Joys of Torture films (1968-1973.) Each film in the series was directed by Teruo Ishii; they were an inciting incident for the pinky violence films, and Ishii himself would go on to direct a full-blooded pinky violence film with Female Yakuza Tale (1973). Nikkatsu, meanwhile, were throwing their hat in the ring with the sukeban film, soon to become another major element of pinky violence.
Sukeban is a Japanese word meaning “delinquent girl” or (more literally, as it is a contraction of “suke” and “bancho”) “girl boss.” Toei had apparently originated the genre in 1960 with the Bad Angel (Zubeko Tenshi) films, but none were successful until Nikkatsu’s Stray Cat Rock (Nora Neko Rokku) series began in 1970. It is here that my study begins. The pinky violence genre mixed elements of both types of yakuza film, jitsuroku and ninkyo, with the more violent pinku eiga, and had main characters who were sukeban.
The following is an opening—and obviously limited—attempt at a gender analysis of the pinky violence film based on the six examples of the genre I have seen thus far. The selection of the films was based on availability and personal interest. As I see more films in the genre, my perceptions of it may change. But with the six films I've seen so far, five different directors are represented, as are all four of the women considered the major stars of the genre (Reiko Ike, Miki Sugimoto, Meiko Kaji and Reiko Oshida). The chosen films cover a four-year period, spanning the genre’s beginning and acknowledged highpoint. They are:
Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter (Nora-neko rokku: Sekkusu hanta) (1970) dir.: Yasuharu Hasebe
Delinquent Girl Boss: Worthless to Confess (Zubekô banchô: zange no neuchi mo nai) (alt. English subtitle: Unworthy of Penance) (1971) dir.: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Girl Boss Guerilla (Sukeban Gerira) (1972) dir.: Norifumi Suzuki
Female Yakuza Tale: Inquisition & Torture (Yasagure Anego Den - Sokatsu Rinchi!) (alt. English title: Story of A Wild Elder Sister - Widespread Lynch Law!) (1973) dir.: Teruo Ishii
Terrifying Girls High School: Lynch Law Classroom (Kyofu joshikoko boko rinchi kysoshitsu) (1973) dir.: Norifumi Suzuki
Criminal Woman: Killing Melody (Zenka onna: koroshi-bushi) (1973) dir.: Atsushi Mihori
In the days that follow I will attempt to open up areas of inquiry and create several lines of flight towards a gender analysis of the pinky violence film. I will be discussing, amongst others, the following elements of the genre: torture & titillation, the specter of rape, and a woman’s place.
Check back in tomorrow for part two: Girl Boss Guerilla, Torture & Titillation.