Friday, August 15, 2014

RICA (1972)

I don't know much about the "Pinky Violence" genre of Japanese women's revenge movies but I know what I like. And if this is a good example of them then I'm a big fan! Other than the Female Prisoner 701 films I've seen very little of this strange genre and was warned that not all were of the quality of those artistic movies. It's true that Rica doesn't have the high art aspirations of those films but it more than makes up for it by being a relentless, speeding bullet of a tale. Exhilarating and eventually exhausting, Rica is an amazing 'motion picture' with very little time spent without our athletic star either in action or in a tricky situation requiring her to devise an escape. And the nudity helps as well. Not so much the singing...

The time is the early 1970s as we are introduced to half-Japanese Rika Aoki playing (of course) Rica — leader of a small gang of tough girls with yakuza connections. The illegitimate daughter of a woman raped by American GIs, she's grown up as an outsider with a considerable amount of anger directed at the world. Raped herself at a young age by one of her prostitute mother's customers, she certainly has little love for men. So it's easy to understand why, as the film begins, she takes it upon herself to beat the hell out of a low level gangster who'd gotten a girl pregnant but left her on her own. After the girl dies in childbirth, Rica takes the infant's corpse to him and demands he bury the child. During the brawl that ensues the gangster is killed and Rica is sent for her first visit to a prison-like reform school. She is slipped notes from the outside informing her that the rest of her gang has been sold into sex slavery in South Vietnam. The actual turn of phrase used is a sneering "to be fed to the GIs" — that image of girls being imprisoned, used and discarded reoccurs constantly in the film.

Rica makes her first of many breaks form the reform school, extorts ¥3,000,000 from the businessman who raped her and tries to use the money to buy back her friends. The gang boss she deals with, however, is less than honorable (imagine that!) and only through the violent intervention of loner good guy Tetsu (Fuminori Sato) is she able to escape.

The gangsters seek revenge on Tetsu by kidnapping his girlfriend as bait. But Rica thanks her new buddy by striking a deal with yakuza boss Tachibana (Yoshiro Nakadai), in which Rica agrees to dance nude at his nightclub in exchange for the girl's freedom. Strange I know, but in the world of this film it actually makes sense. At least until you realize she sings as well as dances! Some things are more bizarre than others.

Some time after this, Rica learns that her long-absent mother has been spotted working in a nearby department store. But while there looking for her only parent our Amerasian heroine sees one of Tachibana's goons steal secret government papers from an older man. Tachibana doesn't trust Rica to keep silent and orders her killed but he fails to reckon with her feminine wiles. She seduces the thief sent to murder her, cuts off his hand and delivers it to the crime lord to throw it in his face. This leads to another fierce battle and soon Rica is off to reform school again. At a certain point I actually lost track of the number of times Rica escapes from the school. You'd have thought they might have realized she was going to get out somehow and just chain her to a tree or something. But I guess that might have gummed up the plot.

Once back on the outside she finds that the man who raped her as a child is the new gangster running girls to Vietnam. Rica manages to kidnap the man from his legitimate business office and reunite him with her mother, his old lover, who is now ravaged by venereal disease and near death. Using this situation to get the name of the ship being used to transport girls to Vietnam, Rica and Tetsu gather friends and plan an assault to free the women.

Believe it or not this is the short-form story detail for this film. There is so much plot crammed into this 90 minutes that it has the feel of an adaptation of a series of stories compacted down with just the good parts retained for maximum effect. And boy, are there plenty of good parts! An endless stream of fist fights, sex scenes, gun fights, prison breaks, nude dancing, car chases, criminal conniving, ridiculous coincidences and last minute rescues race by so fast its hard to keep track. The movie just keeps coming at you. I don't think I could really call Rica a great movie but it definitely kept me glued to the screen and smiling. Not that there aren't quite a few nastier elements that would make the average inexperienced exploitation viewer squirm. Most of the female characters get raped, only two of the male characters are better than scum and the unhappy fate of several characters is gruesome. But that is the nature of this particular beast. Vicious and cruel, just like the central characters, the Pinky Violence movies showcase a breed of women that were far from the norm at the time the films were made. Rica herself is a perfect example of what I guess would be a nightmare for the very male-dominated culture of Japan. Half Caucasian, taller than most of the men around her, violent and demanding the same freedoms men command, Rica would almost certainly strike fear into people on sight. Add to that a fierce desire for revenge and you have one of the scariest 'juvenile delinquent' concepts imaginable. And the wellspring for dozens of movies!

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