This is an amazing movie. This is as mind-blowingly good as it gets. Somehow a whirlwind of disparate influences syphon through a digital video camera and lands on its feet, teeth bared, ready to can-can kick your ass into submission. It should be impossible to watch: a horror of bad writing, cheesy costumes and production values normally found in camcorder theater; the actors read lines and then trail off, converse in choppy exchanges and set themselves for shots; the music is recycled from a third rate funk soundtrack filtered through the heartless interpretation of a session band and a Pro-Tools studio.
But it ties together, commands your attention and then slaps you in the face. You’re laughing hysterically and your hand wants to cover your eyes before the next ludicrously profane act but there’s no way you’ll miss what’s coming. There’s rampant nudity, extreme violence and an ever present sense that a line will be crossed which will forever change the viewer’s ability to act like an upstanding member of society. The real world will forever be a boring place with muted colors, distant sounds and an utter lack of the absurd. You’ll feel lonely, wondering where the gangs of schoolgirls have gotten to and why no one laughs anymore.
Sukeban (Asami, recently in The Machine Girl) has been cursed with a pretty face which leads to his daily torment by classmates and random beggars on the street. His only defense is to become a violent sociopath which leads to his expulsion from every school in town and his disappointed single father/biker to confront his son (in the bathtub) and send him off to an all-girl’s school. Suffering the humiliation of dressing like a girl Sukeban struggles to hide his roguish ways and avoid detection but is immediately challenged (by a thrown knife or two) and forced to protect himself. Another student and fellow outsider, Mochiko (Emiru Momose), reveals to him that the school is overrun with gangs and they become best friends with severe sexual undertones. Their first date? Visiting the new school club which teaches girls to be more feminine through humiliation.
Humiliation? Yes, girls strip naked while crying how ashamed of their bodies they are as their classmates taunt them. Mochiko is coerced to strip to her underwear but Sukeban, being a boy (although one played by a girl), knows he cannot do as is expected of him. This leads to a stand-off with the club leader Kanko (Saori Matsunaka) while Mochiko’s clothes are torn apart by half-naked girls wearing football padding and helmets. A fight ensues, and respect is earned. Suddenly Mochiko finds she isn’t the only girl with a crush on Sukeban and there’s something about her quiet consideration and tendency towards rumination that promises this competition will be for keeps.
After an orgiastic tea-party Kanko is tricked into being ambushed by a member of the Naked Gang who wears a bizarre head-dress and little else. Extreme violence follows and Sukeban is blamed, a marked man in a school-girl’s outfit. More gangs appear (one of which incorporates ancient Japanese mythology and nipple clamps made from clothespins), Sukeban’s father re-emerges with his own cross-dressing gang, blood flies, skin shows and then weirdly Japanese mutations (designed by Yoshihiro Nishimura who’s made a name for himself with Tokyo Gore Police) burst from people’s bodies and start shooting everyone. Add a little incest and some strange hormonal injections and we’ve got the homo-erotic credits sequence set to bouncing low-grade J-Pop.
One surprise is Asami who attacks the role of Sukeban with aplomb. She swaggers, hangs her arms like and ape and drops her voice to exaggerate her masculinity. When violence erupts she’s kicking and cursing, thumbing her nose and sneering with an evil glint in her eye. It’s not an award-winning performance and she’ll probably never be as known for her straight roles as she is for her porn work but her gleeful interpretation of the character is vital. It would seem that in Japan being a blue-movie starlet isn’t as stigmatized as in the west with cross-over from one world of production to the other a more acceptable than here, regardless of the chatter surrounding Sasha Grey’s recent casting in a Soderbergh flick. Jenna Jameson will always be a porn star regardless of how many zombie movies she’s in, regardless of any role she takes. This could be the result of a robust direct to video industry in Japan or it could be the country’s addiction to pop-stars which allows this water under the bridge acceptance; maybe I’m way off here.
Director Iguchi has become world famous after handling The Machine Girl but prior to hitting the festival circuit he was working mostly in porn which might explain why he has cast this movie with known and unknown AV girls. You might think that having a set-full of people more accustomed to blowjobs than dialogue would ruin the film but there’s a refreshing amount of fun and enthusiasm that’s infectious. Everyone’s obviously having a great time and no one seems at all awkward about being naked and sprayed with fluids.
Nothing seems mishandled in Iguchi’s capable hands, and he accepts that he’s making a fun movie for a niche audience. There’s no attempts to justify this as art or anything other than what it is– very weird entertainment. What’s surprising to me is the amount of influences he brings to the table. The foundation of the movie is built on equal parts 70’s martial arts (weird clans with uniform styles popping out from nowhere with great purpose) and Blaxploitation (the awesomely bad fight scenes, character’s delinquent attitudes and the soundtrack) with an overall aesthetic which combines the campiness of both Roger Corman and Troma. The balance is key to the movie’s success because it couldn’t function as any one of these genres. The action is too weak for a kung-fu flick, there’s none of the edginess or overdone social commentary of Blaxploitation, it would be a boring Roger Corman production and Troma would beat you over the head with bad jokes and spoil everything by being too stupid for its own self-important self.
It’s a delicate flower. It’s an in your face fetishistic piece of exploitation. It doesn’t work as porn, slapstick or a horror movie but it has elements of all three. At an even sixty minutes it can’t even function as a feature length movie but knowing the limitation of the source material and the script Iguchi’s restraint matches the exuberance of his cast and it becomes a perfect movie. I can’t recommend it enough, although I wouldn’t watch it with your mom.
Oira Sukeban was released domestically last week and is available on Netflix. Someone burned me a copy from a torrent which might have been stolen from the all-region released last year by Unicorn out of Hong Kong but I can’t say for sure. Whatever I watched has horrible subtitles full of typos and poor translation but even that couldn’t ruin anything. I’m sure the new release is quality.
Unfortunately I couldn’t find a trailer to embed but you can watch it at Nippon Cinema. Thanks to them for existing because that’s how I found out about this movie.