Sunday, October 30, 2022

Taiji ga mitsuryô suru toki (1966)

... aka: 胎児が密猟する時
... aka: Embrio lovi u tajnosti
... aka: Embrione
... aka: Embryo
... aka: Embryo Hunts in Secret, The
... aka: Quand l'embryon part braconner (When the Embryo Leaves to Hunt)

Directed by:
Kôji Wakamatsu

After having distribution and censorship issues with one of his previous films despite it successfully playing at the Berlin International Film Festival, Wakamatsu moved on from Nikkatsu Studios to form his own independent production company (Wakamatsu Production). This was their first release and it's considered one of the precursors to the popular pink film movement (sex-and-violence exploitation films, though typically with an artistic bent) that would make a big impact in Japanese cinemas the following decade.

It's a dark and stormy night as wealthy department store manager Marukido (Hatsuo Yamaya) and Yuka (Miharu Shima), an employee at one of his stores, get hot and heavy in the back seat of his car. She insists they go somewhere else, so he takes her into a building and carries her up the stairs to an apartment. The naïve and inebriated Yuka doesn't seem to notice (or care about) the huge amount of red flags telling her she may be in danger. For starters, the apartment they go into is clearly seldom used and is nearly devoid of all furnishings. When asked about it, he claims it's a spare apartment that he never spends any time in. So why would he take her there instead of his more comfortable primary home? Second, his behavior right from the start is extremely odd. He stares at her intently and lurks in the shadows as if sizing her up; comparing her to something or someone else. And then, while the two are in bed together, he starts getting so rough she has to repeatedly ask him to stop. As for his pillow talk techniques, demanding to know how many men your prospective lover has slept with prior and not taking "I can't remember" as an answer probably isn't going to be getting anybody in the mood.

You may be wondering how Yuka ended up in this situation to begin with. She doesn't really know the first thing about Marukido. And he doesn't even know her name until they're inside the apartment. It basically boils down to Marukido being an almost mythical figure at her place of employment. He's handsome, well-dressed, rich, mysterious and single, and a frequent topic of conversation between his curious female employees. Yuka was drunk and the opportunity arose so, well, why not? However, unbeknownst to her, Marukido's has other plans for her. She's the spitting image of another woman from his past, a woman he carries a lot of resentment toward. And now that he has a hate surrogate in a vulnerable position, why not vicariously take it all out on her?

Eventually holding her captive, Marukido subjects Yuka to one torture and indignity after another. After slipping her a sleeping pill, he ties her up and lashes her with the "whip of love from God almighty" that he claims will "bring together your flesh and soul." After whipping her bloody, he screams "Women like you make me sick!", calls her "filthy" and "a cheap whore," compares her to a "stinking dog" and belittles her for merely being a lowly clerk.

He withholds food and water as punishment, threatens to shave her head and rip out her fingernails, slices her with a razor, repeatedly dunks her head underwater in a bathtub, terrorizes her with a lit candle and forces her to walk around on all fours and drink from a bowl like a dog. All the while, he insists he doesn't plan on killing her. He merely wants to "train" her so she can break her of her pride and help her regain her "shining purity" so that he can marry her. However, Yuka is more resilient than he anticipated.

Frequent flashbacks to Marukido's previous marriage are used to explain his psychological issues. Viewing the world as being full of hellish suffering, he never wanted to bring a child into it and got a vasectomy, but his wife mysteriously ended up pregnant anyway. Initially believing she'd had an affair, he whipped and tortured her to try to find out the identity of the father, only to learn she went to a doctor behind his back and got artificially inseminated. At least that's what she claimed. Ignoring his pleas for her to get an abortion, she then attempted to leave him to raise the baby on her own. Though it's never shown what happened to the wife, we're led to assume Marukido murdered her at some point. He now keeps a "mortuary mask" / mold of her face, supposedly taken from her corpse, in a chest in the closet along with his whip, rope and other toys.

We're also given another major character insights, namely that Marukido's mother committed suicide after a nervous breakdown and hung herself in the stairwell of the families store. Though it is again left somewhat vague, it's mentioned that she perhaps killed herself due to guilt over an incestuous relationship she was having with her son. All of this has led Marukido to become impotent.

73 minutes of nonstop torture, screaming, whimpering and agony are clearly not going to appeal to all viewers out there (it's not really my cup of tea either), but this has to be recognized for being well-made on a low budget regardless. One can certainly try to pluck a deeper meaning out of the proceedings (the mother fixation / safety of the womb connotations alone should keep you busy), but the target audience is clearly those into bondage and sadomasochism. The female lead is naked and tied up in a variety of rope configs for nearly the entire duration, and the primary emphasis is on "breaking" her into complete subservience. I've seen some viewers describe this as misogynistic and others describe it as feminist (tables are eventually turned), but I personally didn't see it as being either.

Even if you're not into BDSM, if you can approach this as an exercise in style, it does have visual rewards. There's effectively bleak / claustrophobic atmosphere (nearly the entire film takes place inside a dimly-lit apartment), stylish lighting and black-and-white photography and the occasional interesting directorial or editing touch (white light flooding the screen to signal the flashbacks, a few double exposure hallucinations...) to help cut through the repetitive nature of the plot. The lead actors aren't bad either.

This was given a theatrical release in Japan and some European countries like Belgium and France and was also occasionally screened at film festivals. I'm not aware of any U.S. release. Screen Anarchy put it out on a 4 disc set called Kôji Wakamatsu: Volume 1, which also included the same director's films Secrets Behind the Wall (1965), the Richard Speck-inspired VIOLATED ANGELS (1967) and Go, Go Second Time Virgin (1969). The set only includes French subtitles but English supplemental titles are available for download.


Saturday, October 29, 2022

Marauders (1987)

Directed by:
Mark Savage

Did the world really need another “youthful 80s punks go on a rampage” exploitation flick? As far as I'm concerned, not really. Even the ones that are directed, produced and acted with some skill still tend to rub me the wrong way. What we typically get in this subgenre are films that are one-sided, reactionary, comically over-the-top (yet still want to be taken seriously) and dripping with conservative middle-aged bitterness and paranoia. The teenage thugs are seldom given proper characterization and are painted with a broad brush as unruly, obnoxious, physically and sexually violent, crude, murderous, drug-addled, foul-mouthed, cartoonish and ultimately unreachable. The only way to change them is to kill them. Meanwhile, the adults are typically shown to be the moral center and voice of reason, as if these teen “monsters” just emerged out of the Earth as some fully-formed evil monolith as opposed to being a byproduct of their environment or abuse inflicted upon them by adults. There's a good reason these movies usually turn out like this, I think: Most were made by middle-aged or even older adults with a subconscious fear of the younger generation and their differences. These films tend to try to discredit, undermine, stereotype and punish the youth, at least the ones who aren't obediently following in the footsteps of the “proper” adult characters.

What initially interested me most about Marauders was that this was one of the few "killer punks" efforts from this time not made by people three decades past their teen expiration date. This is not violent teens seen through the eyes of adults but violent teens seen through the eyes of their own peers. The director and most of the cast and crew were in their teens or early 20s when this was made. This was also done completely independently on a next to nothing budget. Now none of that means this is going to skirt right past the moralistic fear porn trap the other films in this category almost always fall into, or offer up much of note, but it does at least offer up the potential for a fresh take on the subject matter.

We're first introduced to two teen delinquents, both of whom fit the usual exaggerated criteria of other 80s violent punks and both of whom manage to make us thoroughly hate them after about 30 seconds of screen time. J.D. (Zero Montana), his kid brother and his mother are all involved in some kind of robbery-murder scam. J.D. lures victims to their home and his mother lets him get away with torturing and killing them so long as she's allowed to keep the money. When she threatens to go to the cops, J.D. hits her in the face with a shovel, ties her up and kills her. Punk #2, Emilio (Colin Savage), is sick of his crying baby and wife's nagging about how irresponsible he is. After punching his wife unconscious, Emilio then takes care of the nagging issue by shooting her in the head (in broad daylight and right on their front porch!) during an argument over car keys. Not surprisingly, these two nutjobs are best buds. Also not surprisingly, absurd story details like those just outlined make the film impossible to take seriously from the get-go.

Meanwhile, virginal schoolgirl Becky (Megan Napier) is dating a scrawny shitheel named David (Paul Harrington). She's young and naïve and thinks she's in love. He's banging any girl he can get his hands on. Unbeknownst to her, David has been bringing a new girl to a secluded family cabin once every week, where he coerces or forces them into sex before dumping them and moving on to the next target. His sights are now set on Becky. Before picking her up for their country getaway, David has a run-in with a drunken J.D., hits him with his car and then gives him the finger before driving off. That prompts J.D. and Emilio to hunt him down for revenge. They follow David and Becky to the country and commit one crime after another on their trip.

Broke and unable to pay for the gas, the thugs kidnap the female gas attendant at gunpoint and throw her from their moving vehicle. They steal booze from a liquor store, punch a kid in the face after asking for directions and destroy David's car with a sledgehammer. A female walking alongside the road is chased through the woods, thrown on the ground, punched, kicked, spit on, hit with a tree limb, raped and then has her corpse stuffed inside a wrecked car. As their victim count climbs, an ever-growing angry mob of people congregate and start looking for them. While that's all going on, David proves to be just as scummy as J.D. and Emilio; repeatedly calling his date stupid, trying to ply her with alcohol to loosen her up and, after she rejects his advances a few times, slapping her in the face, holding her at gunpoint, trying to force her to strip and threatening to rape her if she doesn't comply.

Seeing how none of this is believable for a second and the young filmmakers aren't striving for any kind of social commentary (their true intentions are made obvious when The Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave get name dropped), this must be judged solely on how it works as an exploitation film. On those terms, the results are mixed. Though there are some nicely effective / gritty scenes in the first half of this barely 70 minute effort, once it settles at the cabin, we're left with a bunch of annoying, unlikable characters shrieking profanities at one another for an extended period in between frantically running around in the woods. It becomes pretty tedious.

I did appreciate the fact there's no attempt to legitimize any of this with moral grandstanding and the fact this isn't equating punk with criminality like so many other films of this stripe (at least balancing it out by making the preppy kid from well-to-do parents just as bad), but the best thing going on here, quite surprisingly, is the visual presentation. Though shot on video, this has some of the best cinematography and most creative camerawork you'll find on this particular medium from this particular era. The fluidity of the camera movements, well-done shot framing and dissolves and smoothness of scene transitions all far exceeded my expectations. Same cannot be said for the occasional sloppy use of freeze frames, which seem more a means of editing necessity than a conscious stylistic choice. Still, the overall direction certainly shows some promise.

Though usually listed as a 1986 release, the copyright date in the end credits is 1987. I could find no evidence of a theatrical or home video release anywhere in the world until the 2006 DVD from Subversive Cinema, which is no longer available. It came with an hour long documentary on the production as well as a commentary track. The now-defunct outfit also released other films from the same director. Much to my horror, I discovered that Subversive's former url (subversivecinema.com) has been taken over by "The Church of Peace" (!!), a Wisconsin-based congregation that won't let you in the door unless you're either wearing "your Sunday best" or "a clean pair of jeans and a sweater or polo shirt".

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