Click here to read part 1: introduction and here to read part 2: Girl Boss Guerilla, Torture & Titillation.
3. Sex Hunter and the Specter of Rape
Girl Boss Guerilla sometimes compromises the viewer's identification with the girl gang who are its protagonists by switching point of view when it comes time for the demands of the exploitation film to be met. However, its heroines are allowed to win, the tragic demise saved for the one likable boy in the plot. And the film ends on a note of sisterly unity, the Red Helmet Gang riding out of town the same way they rode in. The girl gang in Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter are not privileged in such a way. They are constantly protesting their independence and strength, and the men in Sex Hunter are always telling the girls that they own them, or fighting other guys for them, or rescuing them. Despite their protests, the girls are pretty ineffectual and non-central to the plot, which turns on a boy-boy rivalry ostensibly over race but really over who is loved by head chick Mako (Meiko Kaji).
Sex Hunter is basically a teen melodrama. It participates in many elements of the genre established by Rebel Without a Cause, with one important difference: there are no parents in the equation. Indeed, there are no authority figures at all. The difference between a film like Rebel Without a Cause and this one is that Sex Hunter is not interested in setting up an opposition between society and the teenager and depicting the protagonist’s struggle for acceptance. Instead, it presents actual delinquents, real tough chicks that hang out with criminals, do drugs, and commit petty robberies. The moral universe is defined by the participants of the subculture—not by society or any opposition to society. The film doesn’t make any moral judgments on the characters (at least the ones we are supposed to be rooting for) but as a viewer it is sometimes difficult to maintain the same neutrality.
Sex Hunter, to its credit, is a rather complex film, and director Yasuharu Hasebe manages to load it with ideas. The aforementioned “rivalry ostensibly over race” cries out for an analysis by someone who is much more conversant with the sociopolitical situation in Japan in 1970, especially as regarding race relations. My interest in the film—and the true concern of its villain, Baron—lays elsewhere. Baron’s intention is to run all of the “half-breed” children of American G.I.’s out of town, by force if necessary. He declares this goal after the girlfriend of one the Eagles (Baron’s gang) falls for a ‘half-breed.’ Baron tells of a childhood scene, witnessing his sister being raped by G.I.’s, as an excuse for his vehemence. Baron’s rival Kazuma is a half-breed also on a mission determined by love for a sister. He has come to town to find his long-lost sister, armed only with the memory of what she looked like as a child and the fact that her name is Megumi. There is a scene early on in Kazuma’s quest that, as mentioned above, seriously shakes the neutrality of the viewer’s moral judgment.
Outside of the club where Mako and her gang hang out, Kazuma confronts a girl named Megumi he thinks may be his sister. She tells him to get lost and pulls away from him. Just then, Mako and the girls walk up. Thinking they’re interrupting a sexual assault, the girls grab ‘Megumi’ and throw her in the back of a parked car, telling Kazuma, “Do it. We’ll watch for you.” When he recoils, having not intended to rape anyone, one of the girls says, “Shit. You’re a wimp.” So we have, again, this juxtaposition of ‘sister’ and ‘rape,’ and we have the disturbing complicity of the supposed protagonists in the rape of another woman.
Matt Kennedy, president of Panik House, a company who released several pinky violence films on DVD in the U.S. before going out of business, says on the commentary track to Girl Boss Guerilla, “Rape is always presented in Japanese film as a cause and effect punishment. It’s not used necessarily salaciously… It also doesn’t have the same horrific stigma as it does in the U.S. and Europe. It’s just a cultural difference. I’m not quite sure how I think about that as I say it, but it’s definitely a cultural difference.” A major plot point in that film involves a character handing over his sister to his yakuza superiors to be punished by rape. Near the end of Sex Hunter, Baron is incensed that Mako and her gang have sided with Kazuma and the half-breeds against his Eagles. In retaliation, he pimps the girls out to some businessmen for what he later describes as a “gang rape.” I cannot say that the small percentage of pinky violence films—or Japanese crime films in general—that I have seen thus far necessarily support Kennedy’s statement. However, the idea of rape is always present in these stories, looming like a specter over the female characters.
These pinky violence films are fascinatingly contradictory contraptions. They are undoubtedly “sexploitation” films: motion pictures that are produced and marketed with a high degree of female flesh on display. But they are also often about exploitation of women as well. Male domination over and use of the female body is a recurring plot point, as well as an economic imperative, throughout these films. Female Yakuza Tale hinges on the use of the vagina as a transportation device for illegal drugs. Lynch Law Classroom shows how the patriarchy uses one part of the female population for sex and turns them against the part of the female population they can’t use for sex. In Sex Hunter, the more Baron is confronted with the fact of his physical impotence, the greater his need to control and dominate women, and lash out violently at his surroundings. Eventually the Eagles degenerate into rapists—presumably to give the girls what they didn’t get when they escaped from the businessmen—and though Baron can’t participate, he oversees the scene and exhorts his right-hand man to join in. When his buddy says they are all acting like a bunch of “impotent losers,” then reveals that he, too, is a half-breed, Baron goes off the deep end and kills him.
Check back in tomorrow for part 4: A Woman's Place.