Original title: XX: Utsukushiki karyuudo
Director: Masaru Konuma
Starring: Makiko Kuno, Koji Shimizu, Johnny Okura, Katsuo Tokashi
In a culture where women are traditionally demure and reserved, its surprising how many Japanese movies feature strong-willed women kicking ass! This lethality combined with femininity is a potent combination, and perhaps goes some way to explaining the increasing popularity of Japanese exploitation.
The rampant nudity doesn't hurt either, of course ... something notably missing from most Hollywood action flicks (which is kinda strange given that males must surely be the target audience). But that's another story ... here we have a Japanese exploitation flick that ticks all the right boxes for its intended audience. And what might that be? Well, take a closer look at the DVD cover above...
Masaru Konuma was a prolific director of Pinku films in the 1970s, including titles such as (the original) Flower & Snake, and Wife to be Sacrificed, often with an S&M theme and highly sexualized. This direct-to-video action film from 1994, towards the end of the director's career, retains a sexy and perverse aesthetic that will be of interest to genre fans, and in particular Girls with Guns aficionados.
The film opens inside a convent, where the young orphan Shion is forced to execute a man at the prompting of the Father (Koji Shimizu) - part of her training to become a Holy Warrior. Exactly what the Holy Warriors are supposed to be fighting for or against, is never really explained - although the Father's modus operandi seems closer to the Yakuza than the Holy Roman Church, perhaps indicating that the church is itself little more than a Yakuza front.
Cut to 10 years later, and Shion (Makiko Kuno) has grown up. The director's method of visually portraying this fact is the epitome of elegant simplicity ... the gratuitous boob shot! And we only had to wait 4 mins and 43 seconds.
She is now the group's most accomplished assassin, and it's during one of her jobs that photographer Ito (Johnny Okura) secretly captures her on film executing one of his colleagues. Shion quickly realizes the threat he poses and hunts him down intending to kill him. However, a chance remark from Ito exposes the vulnerable and needy side of the young woman ... she has never had a boyfriend. And she's horny!
Ito-san is a smooth dude with a penchant for white suits, and while kneeling at her feet begging for his life, he manages to save himself through the remarkable technique of ripping her clothes off and administering a little oral gratification! Poor Shion is in two minds ... she knows she needs to kill him, and her boss is insisting upon it ... and yet it seems she has fallen in love.
On returning home her mind wanders back to Ito as she proceeds to masturbate with her gun. While this may seem like a cheap and gratuitous excuse to show more nudity, this subtle scene actually contains many shades of allegorical meaning that poignantly foreshadow Shion's change of heart.
In addition to being a cheap and gratuitous excuse to show more nudity!
However, as previously foreshadowed, Shion decides to follow her heart and goes on the run with Ito to escape her boss. Said boss however, is not likely to let her off that easy.
If you thought the film was freaky enough up to this point, well that's just the first half hour. What follows are more killings, more sex, more nudity, and some fairly exploitative S&M-based torture featuring foreign objects and the indiscriminate placement thereof.
All in all its a good time. Which is not to say that its a great film. Other reviewers have noted that without the beautiful Makiko Kuno in the title role, the film has little to offer. Admittedly, Makiko is a total sex-bomb and is often naked - elevating the film considerably with her looks alone.
But to say that the film would suck without her, would be equally unfair. This is a competent action flick - while not overly deep, how many action flicks are? It also features some creative photography - with certain scenes featuring fantastic Girls with Guns imagery.
On the downside, its quickly apparent that this is a film from the 80s, despite being made in 1994. The music, the clothes, the hair - all seem quite dated. But give yourself 15 minutes to settle into the groove and you won't really be noticing.