(Note: You can find the preceding part of this essay--and links to the two previous parts--here.)
4. A Woman’s Place
There is a sequence in Criminal Woman: Killing Melody that invokes not only the two major elements of pinky violence I’ve discussed so far—the specter of rape and torture & titillation—but a third one also: a woman’s place. Reiko Ike’s character Maki is running a Yojimbo –style double-cross on two yakuza clans, but it is unknown to them that she is behind the scenes pulling the strings to force them into war. In a scene following two or three similarly softcore in their content, Maki seduces one of the yakuza and he takes her home. After watching her shower, he pulls a gun on her and takes her back to his clan’s headquarters to torture her into telling him who sent her.
The torture itself is presented in nowhere near as sexy a fashion as in Girl Boss Guerilla, but as it follows several scenes of rough, panting foreplay, it serves as something of a climax to them. Maki refuses to talk no matter what the men do to her. Miki Sugimoto’s character, Masayo, steps in to take over. The two of them, unbeknownst to the yakuza, knew each other in prison and have a begrudging respect for each other based on the fact that every time they duel, they come to a draw. Masayo knows exactly who Maki is, and she also knows that she’ll never talk, no matter what they do to her. So she takes the opportunity to exact a bit of revenge on Maki. She says that a woman can torture another woman better than a man, then presses a lit cigarette into each of Maki’s nipples.
Here director Atsushi Mihori cuts in a few reaction shots of the goons watching. Unlike the torture scene in Girl Boss Guerilla, where the reaction shots are used to implicate us (the viewer) in the torture of this woman, and throw our own titillation back in our faces, the reaction shots in Criminal Woman: Killing Melody serve only to reinforce the idea that we are supposed to be turned on by what we see. Despite the utter unsexiness that is (for me, at least) inherent in the image of a woman’s breasts being singed with a cigarette butt, the looks on the faces of the goons indicate that the situation is highly sexually charged and they are deriving enjoyment from it. As a male viewer, I am unconciously taking some cues from the men onscreen vis-à-vis my reaction to what is being presented. However, as these men are the badguys (and low-level ones at that), perhaps I am meant to react negatively to their positions.
As Masayo continues to torture Maki, she leans in and secretly hands her a knife. While helping the men oppress her, she slips her the tool of her own liberation. Maki will later use this knife to escape from the same man she seduced earlier when he comes to take from her what she had once freely offered. In an earlier scene, Masayo walks into the bar where Maki’s gang have set up shop. She declines their offer to join up with them against the yakuza boss Oba, who she reveals as her lover. She says though she isn’t in love with him, “I still belong to Oba, after all.” She is only with him for the money, but she doesn’t allow herself to act in her own self-interest until he is dead. In this way, she is similar to the girls in Delinquent Girl Boss: Worthless to Confess.
The girls of Worthless to Confess meet and bond in the same fashion as those in Killing Melody: behind bars; the film follows the same first act structure, as well. Our heroine meets and proves herself to the others in jail, before we cut to some time later when she gets out. In Killing Melody, Mako gets out of jail bent on revenge and the other girls pledge to help her. In Worthless to Confess, Rika, played by Reiko Oshida, leaves the girls’ juvenile detention center with only the vague goal to live a straight life from now on. She finds that her friends from inside are losing that same battle.
Unlike those in some other pinky violence films (e.g. Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter) the men in Worthless to Confess don’t necessarily assert their ownership over the women. The women, of their own accord, are willing to sacrifice themselves for men, whether they are good men or not. Mari’s husband is sick, and she’s willing to get naked to support him. Midori’s husband is a degenerate gambler, and she’s willing to steal from her father to support him. Rika is willing to do “anything” for her employer, Midori’s father, which she has to prove (to the yakuza shaking down the old man) by getting naked. At the last moment, Rika is stopped from showing herself, though she is willing to. Rika is probably the most positive female character in any of the films I’ve been discussing here. Director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi famously decreed that Reiko Oshida would never have to take her clothes off while playing her—but that doesn’t stop the script from forcing Rika to prove she’s willing to take her clothes off.
The representatives of the older generation in the film pay lip service to traditional values. But, unlike many Japanese films of a prior generation, Worthless to Confess doesn’t pay much attention to this conflict. One girl’s mother says “You girls need to work hard and become good wives,” and the girls just smile and say sure, sure, knowing that those old values don’t really apply anymore, and there’s no sense arguing about it. Despite their casual dismissal of those old-fashioned values, all of the girls stick by the men in their lives out of a deeply ingrained sense of duty, as does Masayo from Killing Melody.
When one of them says, “Giving up now won’t do my man proud,” before joining in a bloody raid on the yakuza, she echoes a character from Terrifying Girls’ High School: Lynch Law Classroom. In that film, the only prominent female member of the faculty, Ms. Michiko, says, “It’s a wife’s duty to clean up her husband’s mess.” Her husband is being blackmailed for sexual relations with underage students of the school, costing the Chairman of the district a ton of money. To right this wrong, Ms. Michiko offers her body to the Chairman. He takes the deal and what follows is the most lasciviously presented of any sex scene I’ve yet scene in a pinky violence film. When director Norifumi Suzuki has Ms. Michiko look directly into the camera as the Chairman is rubbing her with an electric massager, the film actually becomes pornography.
Check back in soon for the conclusion to this first stab at a gender analysis of pinky violence.