Saturday, May 23, 2009

XX: Utsukushiki karyuudo AKA Beautiful.Hunter

While Hong Kong's female action films tended generally to have simplistic unadorned plots from which to unleash displays of wonderfully agile and satisfying physicality, their Japanese counterparts in the 1990's were much darker in mood, psychologically twisted, more sexually flagrant and kept the action boxed within small discrete bursts of violence. This very different approach created two very distinctive types of actresses in the two film industries. In Hong Kong a number of actresses became identified with action films and gathered large armies of loyal fans who wanted to see them in more films. Japan on the other hand didn't foster this type of identification in the 1990's with any particular star and the actresses in these films became quite fungible – in fact variation was a selling point because it was sex appeal that mattered, not action skills and with a Playboy centerfold mentality it was important to have a new fresh undiscovered face and body in these films.

Certainly, the star of this 1994 film, Makiko Kuno, has enough sex appeal to raise the dead and she flaunts it like a new party dress. Prior to this her biggest films were in two video productions, "The Guard from the Underground" and "Oretachi wa tenshi ja nai" – neither very well known at the time but both directors, Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Takashi Miike, would go on to much bigger things within a few years. Not so really for Makiko – though after this film she was in one more exploitation type of film – "Sugar: Howling of Angel" – but interestingly she was in at least two mainstream films that received good reviews – "How Old is the River" (1995) and "The Mars Canon" (2001). In this film she is little more than an enigmatic blank faced killer, but a very beautiful one.

Shion is having her confirmation in the church – the young girl is brought in by the nuns and the Father blesses her – then places a gun in her hand and orders her to shoot a man bound to a chair. She hesitates, but only for a moment. Her hair is then shorn and she is welcomed into this sect of the Catholic Church. By the time she reaches her early twenties some ten years later, she is a loyal servant to the church and an implacable killer who follows orders to the tee. She is an empty vessel – a "Warrior of God" as the Father (Koji Shimzu) calls her. She is also still a virgin. She efficiently takes out a dinner party before desert leaving as many dead bodies as dirty dishes to clean up. Her kills though are witnessed by the maid and two reporters who were nosing around this religious cult – she takes out the maid and one of the reporters, but Ito (Johnny Okura) escapes – for the time being.

When she tracks him down and points a gun at his head he gets down on his knees and pleads for mercy – but all her victims do that – but then he puts his arms around her and presses his head against her body – she likes it – before she has a chance to pull the trigger her top has come off and he takes advantage of this in hopes of putting off his death a little longer. She likes that even more and walks away without finishing her job and goes back to her room to make out with her gun. Who needs a man if you have a good gun at hand? In this case happiness really is a warm gun. This small piece of human contact awakens feelings inside her and she finds the man again and asks him to take her on a date – he is in no position to say no – and so he takes her out to dinner and she soon discovers the wonders of eating meat, television and sex – all the good things she has been missing. Of course the Church doesn't like this and orders her to kill him or be killed – she checks her hormones at the door and takes him for a ride in the country but killing your first and only man isn't so easy.

The director of this film, Masaru Konuma, is quite famous for some of his earlier works in the 70's - in particular two S&M "pinku" classics - "Wife to be Sacrificed" and "Flowers and Snakes" that he made for Nikkatsu. He was still making these types of films in the next decade with "Rope and Breasts" and others. In all he made over 40 films for this production company, but by the mid-80's low budget shot on video films and hard-core pornography were making these higher stylized films unprofitable and they came to an end. Masura, now reaching his sixties was forced to take on other types of films - still erotic - but of a tamer version - though he still manages to have a lengthy torture scene in this film. In 2001 he made a children's film, "Nagisa", that won the Children's Prize at the Berlin Film Festival (though Midnight Eye gives it a big thumbs down). A documentary has been made on his life and films called "Sadistic and Masochistic" by none other than horror filmmaker Hideo Nakata, who had been Masuru's assistant at one time.

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