Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Click here to read yesterday's introduction.

2. Girl Boss Guerilla, Torture & Titillation

The breast tattoos sported by the Red Helmet Gang in Girl Boss Guerilla are a perfect visual illustration of the central organizing principle of the pinky violence film. The heroines are always strong, and independent (often to the point of being literal outlaws), but they are also always made to display their bodies and be exploited for the very fact of their femaleness. At the beginning of Girl Boss Guerilla, the gang of girl-biker protagonists are annoyed by some biker boys who are following them. The girls lead them to an empty lot and kick their asses—but not before leader Sachiko whips out her naked breast to display the tattoo on it. The tattoo is a symbol of street authenticity—the yakuza that the Red Helmet Gang will eventually come into direct conflict with also decorate their bodies with this kind of tribal marking. But the fact remains that Sachiko’s tattoo, because of its placement on the breast, is also a symbol of femininity—possibly denied femininity. In order to signify her authenticity to these guys before beating them up, she must reveal her body to them.

Later, we see the biker girls of the Red Helmet Gang inducting a new member: they are all naked from the waist up and three of them hold the new girl down while Sachiko tattoos her breast. It is the first of several scenes in Girl Boss Guerilla when the audience is confronted with the cross-section of titillation and the visible fact of pain inflicted upon a woman. This is a major motif in the pinky violence film; rare is the film that doesn’t contain at least one scene of torture. The title of a genre-typical film like Female Yakuza Tale: Inquisition & Torture gives away its intentions. The trend is taken to insane levels in Girl Boss Guerilla director Norifumi Suzuki’s Terrifying Girls High School: Lynch Law Classroom. In that film, though, all of the violence is inflicted by other girls—albeit at the instruction of the all-male faculty.

In Girl Boss Guerilla, the female-to-female violence is not of the same type as in Lynch Law Classroom, where the Disciplinary Committee chases down individual girls and subjects them to bizarre and imaginative torture techniques. The violence between women in Girl Boss Guerilla is all of the “catfight” variety. Three such scenes—where two girls face off in a one-on-one duel to settle a score—happen in fairly rapid succession, the first two in back-to-back scenes. The first is merely brutal, with the girl from the Red Helmet Gang choking the local girl until she gives in. The very next scene presents the same situation with two different girls—and punches up the sleaze factor considerably. Sachiko rips the shirt off of the other girl (who is wearing a long, tight, and possibly leather, skirt to a gang fight) and the other girl attempts to do the same to her.

The climax in the series comes a few scenes later with the face-off of the two stars of the genre, Miki Sugimoto as our heroine Sachiko and Reiko Ike as the returning boss Nami. Sachiko slaps Nami and we cut to the middle of a river, apparently Nami’s chosen spot for a rumble. However, the possibility of the scene having the mood and tone of a wet t-shirt contest— despite the similarity in content—is severely complicated not only by the music, but also the presentation. It is not uncommon in Japanese film to get a sequence scored to a musical performance featuring one of the actors in the film, and pinky violence is no different. In Girl Boss Guerilla, this fight is chosen for the centerpiece musical moment. The song is a mournful one, the female singer intoning, “No matter how senseless the fight, I’ll accept/Even a woman must follow the code/A girl boss, a drifter…” Meanwhile, the visuals are becoming more and more romantic, the fight becoming less defined, explication giving way to more abstract representations of physicality. As the song fades out, the girls stop fighting and begin giggling, sitting together, soaking wet in the middle of the river. In the next sequence, they are friends.

It soon becomes apparent that not only does Miki Sugimoto’s character Sachiko only give respect to other women after an equal display of violence, but that the same violent display must precede her attraction to a man. Sachiko’s relationship with the boxer Ichiro is the only overtly sadomasochistic relationship I’ve seen so far in my contact with pinky violence films. After Ichiro saves her from the yakuza guys beating her up, Sachiko tells him, “I want you.” He rebuffs her but she insists. He says, “I’ve never heard of a girl rapist.” She responds: “I’ll attack you,” and there is a quick cut to a hotel room where she throws him on the bed. Ichiro gets up, punches her in the face and starts ripping her clothes off, saying, “I’ll do the attacking here.” This is followed by a lovingly and intimately photographed sex scene between the two of them.

In the same way that the catfight scenes and the S&M love scenes build into romantic climaxes, Girl Boss Guerilla presents a series of scenes in which the men of the yakuza punish the girls for overstepping their bounds. The whole Red Helmet Gang is rounded up and beaten with sticks in a scene that turns out to be mere foreplay for a much more brutal and intimate beating of our heroine alone. The camera lingers over images of Miki Sugimoto’s body being endlessly assaulted with a series of wooden stick-like weapons of different types. She’s hanging from the ceiling, naked but for her panties. By the time she has been tied to the table and they begin to beat her there, the viewer has been seriously confronted with a contradictory rush of arousal and disgust.

But then director Norifumi Suzuki does something remarkable by doing something ordinary: he cuts in two reaction shots. They are off-kilter, from a low angle (possibly through Sachiko’s eyes) and careen from extreme frame left to extreme frame right, or vice-versa. Each presents a yakuza henchman leering salaciously, one chewing gum and giggling, the other rolling a cigarette suggestively around in his mouth. What is striking here is how the point of view has so swiftly and inextricably shifted. The viewer (provided he is male) is confronted with two images of himself, and it is not a pretty sight. Immediately after being sort of punished for sort of enjoying the torture of the woman we’re supposed to be rooting for, Reiko Ike’s character Nami bursts in and saves her, completing the reversion of point of view back to the girls.

Check back in tomorrow for part 3 of the pinky violence gender analysis, The Specter of Rape.

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