Angel Guts: The Nikkatsu Series Review
Nikkatsu has had a long, rich life in the world of filmmaking, often breaking new ground. The 60's kick-started their greater ambitions and moved them on to producing "Nikkatsu Action" - a long running series of violent action flicks which ended up making stars out of Hideki Takahashi, Akira Kobayashi, Annu Mari, Jo Shishido and many more. In addition Nikkatsu had some superb directors helming their films, notably Seijun Suzuki, whose later film Koroshi no Raikuin (Branded to Kill) in 1967 would earn him a dismissal from the company and a blacklisting from every other top studio, until he managed to return to filmmaking ten years later.
During the 60's Japan's major production companies were in the midst of financial struggles. Audiences were slight, money was being lost and only several independent companies were profiting. The films in question were exploitation ones, those that dealt with the ever popular issue of sex. In 1971, Nikkatsu came up with a new strategy and decided to venture into the world of sexploitation, after seeing how popular the "Pinku Eiga" genre had become. In the same year, powerhouse studio Toei had started their "Pinky Violence" series of films with the likes of Sukeban Blues. Nikkatsu took a different route and began their Roman Porno (Romantic Pornography) series. These were films made on the cheap, in shoots of mere days, the output was phenomenal and as a result Nikkatsu became the number one distributor in Japan. By the mid-70's Nikkatsu had ventured into more sexually violent movies, with their brand known as "Violent Pink". These films dealt with the issue of rape and proved to be very popular in underground circles and managed to see the studio through financial difficulties, though from early on films such as the Stray Cat Rock series had already begun to tackle similar themes.
In 1977 a young man by the name of Takashi Ishii had joined Nikkatsu as a part-time worker. After marrying he became inspired to write a manga, which would soon change his life. Ishii always had dreams of becoming a film director but having not been given the chance at this point he wrote several stories and gave them filmic qualities. These stories became known as "Angel Guts". Each one dealt with rape and consequence and each featured a different woman who shared several things in common. Her name was Nami Tsuchiya and she had determination. The title for these stories were symbolic, they referred to women with inner strength, a hardened edge, in fact in many ways they became pro feminist despite their fierce subject matter. Ishii painted realistic women, based on his own wife. They did real everyday things, had real everyday jobs and dressed realistically. Pantyhose hadn't been seen a great deal in films before it, certainly not porno ones where getting right down to the nitty gritty was more important. But Ishii's series opened up new possibilities, the manga became popular and it wasn't long before Nikkatsu approached him to collaborate with them on a series of films based upon his work. Between 1978 and 1988 Nikkatsu produced five "Angel Guts" films, with the help of some of its finest directors.
These films have finally been collected and released in the west for the first time on DVD.
High School Co-ed (1978. 79 Minutes)
Starring: Sansho Shinsui, Kenji Kawanishi, Tatsuma Higuchi, Megu Kawashima, Machiko Ohtani and Tokuko Watanabe.
Director: Chusei Sone.
|Three greased lightning youths, Kawashima (Sansho Shinsui), Kajima (Kenji Kawanishi) and Sadakuni (Tatsuma Higuchi) spend their days riding around on their bikes and terrorizing young girls whom they frequently rape. Outside of gang life Kawashima is a level headed young man and an overly protective brother to his little sister, Megu (Megu Kawashima) who has no idea of the kind of activities he and his friends get up to.
One day while taking Megu out for a meal, Kawashima runs into Kajima and Sadakuni who are about to rape a school girl named Nami (Machiko Ohtani). Not wanting Megu to discover what is going on, Kawashima jumps in and rescues the poor girl before telling her to head back home. This sends the gang's relationship into turmoil and later that night Kajima tells Kawashima that in order to make up for his insolence he must wait for Nami one day after school and rape her. Kawashima soon finds his world turned upside down as his friends become further distant and his beloved sister is drawn into a terrible situation.
|High School Co-ed takes the sexploitation movie genre and explores certain themes by showing horrific acts, in this instance rape and the misogynistic views that come from its stock characters. This is also a contradictory tale in that the very things that Kawashima does he tries to prevent his sister from becoming mixed up in.
Director, Chusei Sone depicts a very real world, he takes an exploitative movie and adds a surprising, thematic storyline which isn't solely confined to rape scenes, though drastic as they are they serve as an uncomfortable companion to that which he ultimately wishes to resolve. Here we see the lives of a chosen group who are part of a youthful Japan, who disrespect authority and have no goals or direction in life. Each character is defined through his own inadequacies; Kawashima loves his sister but is loyal to his gang, Sadakuni is sexually inept and carries a knife as a means to show off his manhood, while Kajima is ultimately a sex crazed misogynist whose girlfriend, Natsue (Tokuko Watanabe) isn't enough for him.
The film can be deemed as a societal study, its explorations are true to its sentiments but naturally for a product that spawned from Japan's Roman Porno/Violent Pink era the film spends a great deal of time in prolonging its scenes of sexual violence, depicting them in a typical Japanese fashion that fuels the male fantasy. Controversially this may upset viewers who are not accustomed to viewing rape scenes in which the female becomes more aroused than would normally be expected. While Sone covers up what he can he goes for emotional intensity, placing his shots on the faces of the abused, showing us the real horrors and the emotional scarring that results. His actions might not be justified but then these scenes are not titillating, even if they were designed to be and it is because of the film’s morals that they don't deface the story, they have purpose however disturbing or clumsily played they might be.
High School Co-ed even goes so far as to show a great amount of style, in many ways it is an artistic piece of work, one that plays more effectively when it shifts from its coloured reality to its diffused, tinted sequences which are reminiscent of director, Shinya Tsukamoto's (Tetsuo) work. These scenes are the most disturbing of all, depicting brutality, bloodshed and rape within dreamscape and yet are filmed so elegantly that they're amazing to witness. In the end, Chusei Sone gives us a film torn between sexual politics, delinquency and drama, which takes it an extra step beyond being glorifying, exploitative trash.
Going on 27 years old, High School Co-ed looks acceptable enough here, given its budget and relative obscurity. While the film stock is understandably a little soft it's the actual authoring which leaves a little to be desired. The transfer is just too dark which kills shadow detail and leaves an overall murky look. Aliasing is also a large problem, with road and shirt stripes suffering the most. Edge enhancement appears minimal and on a final note I'm concerned about the 2.35:1 opening sequence suddenly reverting to 1.85:1. I cannot tell if this is cropped or something which occurred during filming. Overall this is a transfer which should have been bettered.
Japanese Dolby Digital Mono and 5.1 options are available. Neither is particularly great, with the 5.1 track sounding far more harsh and offensive. The Mono track does the job but it carries a slight tinny sound, with plenty of crackling and out of sync dialogue, which is natural by the way, just a case of poor post dubbing. The dialogue is clear enough but motorbike/car sequences sound a little worse off. With this film there isn't much more to expect really.
There are also optional English subtitles which are generally good but do carry a couple of grammatical errors.
Audio Commentary by Jasper Sharp
For his first commentary Jasper Sharp introduces us to the world of Roman Porno. He briefly explains its roots without going into much detail, before mentioning Nikkatsu and their involvement with the "Pink Eiga" industry. As an introduction it’s not too bad but after about ten minutes things begin to falter. Sharp then concentrates on telling us what is happening onscreen and proceeds to talk about the issue of rape in Japanese cinema. The commentary wavers between trying to provide us facts and trying to pad itself out by offering too many obvious insights. Though it could be considered worthwhile for those who have never seen films of this ilk there is nothing of real worth here for someone with even the slightest of knowledge of the genre. Sharp pauses a great deal and it’s apparent that commentaries are not something he's accustomed to as his tone and delivery is quite off putting at times.
The main draw to this piece is a decent length biography for director, Chusei Sone which comprises 11 pages. Next up are three very brief and practically useless filmographies for Machiko Ohtani, Megu Kawashima and Sansho Fukami - the first two having not seemed to have made anything since this production.
An Insight into Chusei Sone - Toshiharu Ikeda (7.14)
The first of Jasper Sharp's conducted interviews. Screenwriter and director Toshiharu Ikeda talks of his assistant director days, working with Chusei Sone of whom he speaks very highly of. This is a very honest account of what their daily routines were like as he explains struggling with budgets and deadlines, which they could never afford to go over.
Angel Guts & Manga (21.24)
Manga artist and director, Takashi Ishii starts of by telling us about how he became a manga artist after failing to get into film directing in the 70's. He wound up writing a few stories for underground magazines, putting his dreams on hold as he was now making money at this time to support his family. Soon he came up with the Angel Guts series and the rest as they say is history. It's interesting to note the way in which he approached this series, by drawing more realistic characters and steering clear from the stereotypical Lolita-type school girls that were and still do dominate comic books today. Drawing upon his own wife for inspiration when it came to his art style and designing his manga to look like a film , with women portrayed realistically this would ultimately help to make the series as successful as it was.
Original Sleeve Art
Here you can view the original VHS cover art for the release, complete with handy translation notes.
These are the original theatrical trailers for the five features presented here: High School Co-ed, Red Classroom, Nami, Red Porno and Red Vertigo.
Red Classroom (1979. 78 Minutes)
Starring: Keizo Kanie, Yuki Mizuhara, Namiko Mizushima, Jun Aki and Reibun Hori.
Director: Chusei Sone.
|When Teruro Muraki (Keizo Kanie), writer for the pornographic magazine Guravaru witnesses a mock-rape "blue film" that takes place in a school he becomes infatuated with the lead actress and attempts to track her down. Arriving back in Tokyo he still can't get her out of his mind and just by chance as he arrives at a hotel for shooting he meets the girl, who is working behind the reception desk. Her name is Nami (Yuki Mizuhara) and after some reluctance she agrees to meet up with Teruro to discuss the possibility of them working together. However when Nami drags Teruro to her rooms she immediately advances him, thinking that he merely wishes to use her for sex like so many men before him. She tells him that she was really raped during that video he had seen and he tells her that he wishes to help. Scarred by her many ordeals at the hands of men, Nami has become sexually confused and promiscuous, where she sees no way out for herself but to entertain those very people who placed her on a downhill spiral.|
|Chusei Sone enters harsher psychological territory for his second film that takes the theme of rape and humiliation and places it on the head of the victim, giving us a story about emotional turmoil. The symbolically titled Red Classroom looks at the ills of the underground porn industry and the manipulative attitudes of those who lure women in to become models, in turn leading the girls into a life of despair and desperation.
In a twisted kind of fate, Nami takes her revenge by giving men exactly what they want, she no longer cares about her own life as for her it had already been taken away from the moment that first camera rolled. She serves only to pleasure those who contribute to an industry that can be largely considered as depraved. The film is poignant, it warns of the very real dangers that cause much corruption of both the porn industry and its victims.
And it isn't entirely dependent on showing graphic scenes of rape and violence, to stray slightly from the point what it does show is well handled and covered up, though by no means is it any easier to take in. In one instance during the final five minutes there is a particularly depressing scene in which Nami witnesses a young school girl being raped in front of her by several men. Here Sone cuts deep into the psyche as on one side of the room a helpless girl screams for help, while on the other Nami is being used for a stranger's sexual gain, helpless to even put an end to the girl's suffering.
Red Classroom's steady influx of sexual encounters, of which aside from the opening sequence are consensual, are, like High School Co-ed founded on a central message. While it is easy to deem them as being nothing more than cheap thrills (and these are very cheap) the truth is that they're here to serve purpose. There's a certain amount of angst and pity that the film is built upon, there's no titillation, no sense of enjoyment from what is happening onscreen and nor should there be. Director Chusei Sone once again provides a film that is all too aware of its actions and as such Red Classroom escapes the drudgery of many of its contemporaries.
Red Classroom is presented a lot better than the first film in this set. This time the full 2.35:1 aspect ratio is presented anamorphically and seems to be taken from an altogether better print.The transfer is very solid; black levels and shadow detail, which are very important as a lot is filmed at night come across far greater than High School Co-ed. There's a similar softness to the picture which is through no fault of the transfer and aliasing isn't half as bad as before.
Again we have the option of Japanese Dolby Digital Mono or 5.1 surround. Likewise neither of these tracks is better than the other, though they are a considerable improvement over the first film with a finer clarity and no major interfering noises. The optional English subtitles presented here are of the same quality as before and are easy to read and well positioned.
Audio Commentary by Jasper Sharp
Jasper Sharp begins this one by telling us that for the next 70 minutes or so he'll take us through the events as they unfold on screen. True to his words he does exactly that in-between illustrating obvious qualities the film has to offer. He refers to Japanese films of this type not going down too well in the west and talks a little about how sexual violence is used in film. He explains this by referring to onscreen actions, which isn't very compelling. The failure to elaborate on what he's trying to say makes this track dull. Sharp interestingly goes on to mention how the "blue film" would often be watched in underground circles and makes a few references to Seijun Suzuki's work, but his so called history lesson is too sporadic as he happily takes long breaks and takes us through many a scene we’re witnessing and can figure out ourselves.
Aside from the identical Chusei Sone bio we also get brief filmographies for Minako Mizushima, Yuki Mizuhara and Keizo Kanie. The latter is actually a decent enough piece on Keizo and amusingly mentions how he became largely typecast as psychotic rapists. One funny quote comes from when he was asked how many such roles had he played - to which he replied "More than ten but less than two hundred."
Angel Guts The Nikkatsu Series - With Takashi ishii (17.16)
Takashi Ishii picks up from where he left off, starting out by explaining his move to Nikkatsu due to the popularity of his manga. He talks about why he called the series "Angel Guts" and says how it has a metaphorical meaning - real women, angels with guts. Interestingly he mentions the roman porno industry and how the company had to turn to making these films or face bankruptcy. It paved the way for many people however.
Takashi Ishii on Chusei Sone (10.06)
Ishii talks about the director's vision, how he makes the film in his head as he's writing the screenplay seeing exactly how it should be. Having to hand over directing to Chusei meant that certain things were lost in the transition, with another director’s vision taking precedence resulting in aspects that weren't completely to Ishii's liking. He does say that Chusei's approach was still an interesting one that gave a new interpretation of the story.
Original Sleeve Art
Here you can view the original VHS artwork, complete with full translation notes.
Like the previous DVD we have accompanying trailers for the Nikkatsu series, which are High School Co-ed, Red Classroom, Nami, Red Porno and Red Vertigo.
Nami (1979. 93 Minutes)
Starring: Eri Kanuma, Takeo Jii, Minako Mizushima, Miyako Yamaguchi, Kyoko Aoyama and Masato Furuoya.
Directed by Noboru Tanaka.
|Nami Tsuchiya (Eri Kanuma) works as a reporter for the popular ladies magazine "The Woman". Recently she has been writing a series of articles based upon rape victims and how they have coped during the time since. When she goes to interview a stripper she becomes witness to a bizarre sex show which she finds unsettling, prompting her to leave despite a strange man telling her to see it through to the end. The next day, Nami goes to visit another rape victim and proceeds to take photographs until she confronts the same man from the sex club. His name is Muraki (Takeo Jii) and he claims to work for a huge publisher that specializes in pornography. Muraki warns Nami of her growing obsession with covering rape stories, fearing for her safety as the very thing she is reporting might one day haunt her. Nami continues to delve deeper into her research but soon becomes overpowered by fantasies of rape and horrifying hallucinations as she draws closer to a fate that would seem worse than death.|
|It's clear by now the Angel Guts series refuses to trivialise serious issues such as rape, and with that refusal comes the addition of using the media as in this instance where it is used in contradictory terms. Nami comes around full circle to address the issues that might otherwise be considered distasteful and exploitative but in actuality it is perhaps the most poignant and emotionally charged film of the series so far.
The film addresses rape in terms that are from light, like the previous films in the series this goes on to show several unpleasant acts as relived through the minds of the helpless victims, but what of the victims themselves? Well most of them have moved on and started new lives, they no longer wish to remember their ordeals and it's because of media interference that they are once again plagued by memories that they fought so hard to lose. This in turn brings a surprise turnaround of events in which Nami herself begins to fantasize about such lurid acts after listening to the victim's stories, starting a chain of events that soon place Nami in danger, not from those around her but her own self. The saddest aspect of all though is that due to the media's non stop harassment these poor women are often subject to even more humiliation than they felt at the time of being attacked and the dangers of this are highlighted in several instances when the woman return in deranged states as they take revenge on those who report such events.
Taking over the series for this third outing is director, Noboru Tanaka who brings a fresh, new angle and altogether different edge. As sexploitation films go in terms of storytelling, Nami can easily be considered as being developed more than most when it comes to well told, psychological stories, after all this is about one successful woman's downfall at the hands of her own doing, though she doesn't deserve it. The film also manages to tap into Takashi Ishii's original manga a lot more effectively than the first two films. As Ishii explains the series is meant to portray women as realistically as possible and it's easy to see that Nami captures that realism and emotive content highlighted in his stories.
As far as performances go Nami consists of a fine line up of actors, bettering previous films and bringing forth some very emotional moments, particularly when we spend time with the victims in what sometimes becomes a gut wrenching experience. These range from the first time Nami meets "Victim Y" to the moment when she meets her last in a hospital, culminating with some horrific flashbacks that take place in the morgue before bringing Nami into a similar situation. Of special note is Kyoko Aoyama who has a tremendous presence as an emotionally scarred, psychotic nurse and is an actress we should have seen a lot more of (not in a nude sense), rather than in a few more porn films. Eri Kanuma herself does wonders with the material given as she starts off as a strong willed, self assured woman who becomes a self destructive mess and Takeo Jii puts in a considerably likeable performance as the man who tries to look out for her.
Nami is an arduous piece of psychological torture. Effectively directed with elements of horror, sadism and even humour it traverses its subject matter carefully and highlights its complexities in a hard hitting but effective manner.
Nami is presented in an anamorphic aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and exhibit's similar flaws to those seen in High School Co-ed. Black levels aren't as strong as they could be often losing a lot of detail for night shots but the image manages to hold up well enough. Detail wise this is stronger than the previous films though a soft look is still present and aliasing once again makes a comeback. The print has the odd spot of dirt which is acceptable as nobody expected a thorough clean up job for these films.
Japanese Mono and 5.1 Surround tracks are on offer again. As previously mentioned there is hardly anything between them. The newly mixed 5.1 track offers little in the way of spatial effects and is as artificial as it sounds. The mono track is clean, with no major defects and does surprisingly well on its own, particularly with some harsher use of sound toward the end.
Optional English subtitles are provided and for the most part they're fine. There's the occasional grammatical error, for example "lose" being "loose" but they’re minor quibbles for what is an otherwise good translation.
Audio Commentary by Jasper Sharp
These commentaries are very hard going, with Sharp telling us nothing we don't know already. For the third film he shouldn't be telling us who Ishii is and what these films are about. That's easily covered material for the first film, making the commentary here a laborious and repetitive one. Sharp pauses all too often and when he is speaking it sounds like he's reading notes, fluffing lines and talking in an almost patronising tone, explaining every action that's happening on screen. Sharp is really clutching at straws here and struggles to pad out this track, going back to saying how many films there are in total and who directed each one.
A seven page biography for director, Noboru Tanaka is present, with filmographies for Takeo Jii, Eri Kanuma and Kyoko Aoyama. I'd have liked to see a proper biography for Kyoko Aoyama, who later changed her name to Kyoko Aizome. She became famous for being the first actress to have real sex on film (Daydream) and has had quite a rich past when it comes to hitting headlines.
Noboru Tanaka Interview (39.58)
"What made you want to become a director?" starts this interview off. As good a question as any I suppose and Tanaka tells us. He begins by saying how he applied for an assistant director's job at Nikkatsu before the sound drops out for a few seconds and then it starts back up all out of sync. It eventually corrects itself and Tanaka finishes up talking about life as an AD. He goes on to talk about Nikkatsu's financial troubles in 1967, forcing them to stop making films for a duration of 3 months. Sexuality and exploration is elaborated on as Tanaka speaks of the ways in which Nikkatsu hoped to tap into these themes. The rest is made up of the usual subjects - budget, shooting times, actor's performances and the films' themes of love between man and woman.
Original Sleeve Art
Complete with full translation notes this is the original VHS cover from 1979.
As with the other discs we get trailers for High School Co-ed, Red Classroom, Nami, Red Porno and Red Vertigo.
Red Porno (1981. 64 Minutes)
Starring: Jun Izumi, Kyoko Ito, Masahiko Abe, Miiko Sawaki, Yuri Yamashina and Yoko Kurita.
Director: Toshiharu Ikeda.
|Hitomi (Yoko Kurita) asks her co-worker, Nami (Jun Izumi) to help her out for the evening doing some modelling, while she goes out on a date. Nami agrees and on the night she is stripped and forced into posing for a pornographic magazine that specialises in S&M fetishes, titled "Red Porno". The latest issue becomes a huge success, with Nami starting to become highly sought after not only buy the magazine asking her to do more but also by fellow readers. Nami begins to receive strange phone calls and is soon relentlessly followed by a lonely man named Muraki (Masahiko Abe) who hopes to start a relationship with her. Meanwhile Nami’s job is threatened when a copy of the magazine is found by her boss at the office, leaving her with few directions to take.|
|Voyeurism and sexual fantasies play out this time in Red Porno - Toshiharu Ikeda's vividly intense offering in the series. The film outdoes its predecessors in terms of sexual content; a lot of the film is built upon drawn out scenes that depict various forms of voyeurism as well as one woman's self consciousness.
This time our Nami goes on a psychological bender as she suffers from the repercussions of taking part in an S&M shoot. Having taken part she begins to think of herself as dirty and can barely stand her own body. When confronted by her boss for sex she initially says no as she doesn't feel desirable and this brings about a semi-forced sexual encounter which she eventually yields to. Nami then sees herself as nothing more than a sexual object, exactly the kind of thing she's been exploited as. Nami’s admirer meanwhile sits in his lonely room, spying on a young girl opposite as she masturbates with an egg and a set of pencils, before turning to Nami's Red Porno issue and thinking about her.
Red Porno thus explores sexual exploitation and the way it inflicts itself upon society. It takes several angles from each character respectively and shows how affected they become as a result of their actions. Nami represents these women who are so unashamedly exploited for the sake of a cheap thrill, those who have no idea what they're getting themselves into but as much as it says this is terrible it also warns woman against doing such a thing in the first place, whereas Muraki is the kind of guy that this sex industry tailors itself toward. It becomes interesting then to note how the sex industry is looked upon in such a fashion. It's not like it'll ever disappear, with a strong market fuelled by desire but it mustn't be forgotten that it’s not all roses and the Japanese industry itself is perhaps the most notorious of all. In a further twist though we see things from the perspective of Nami's friend who does this for a living. She's comfortable with what she does and this brings out something of a contradiction between figures.
Red Porno's main failing is that it doesn't quite reach into other psyches. Nami's friend, Hitomi sees no reason for not doing what she does, she simply says the job is easy and you just have to sit there. Her mentality though perhaps suits those who do take part in this sort of thing for a living. It's a very mechanical approach that reflects women who are practically bred into the industry and see it as nothing more than earning a wage. There's a certain truth there but it might have served the film better had it been more deeply explored. At the end of it all the film just folds in on itself and ends on an uncharacteristically funny note as both stalker and victim are brought together.
Ikeda may not flesh out some aspects but at least he leaves the film with a great look. Red Porno is shot with an eye for detail and composition, showing some of the more memorable sequences from the series so far, a few of which look as if they had been pulled directly out of a comic book, and perhaps they were. Red is very much a prominent colour in these films and none reflect it quite so well as Red porno, as both an artistic piece and stark warning.
Red Porno is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and like the films before it suffers from some slightly poor contrast, with blacks faring a little better this time around. The transfer does hold up well in other areas and is even striking during particular scenes as it highlights various colours used. Detail is good and the keen directing style is nicely matched.
Japanese Mono and 5.1 are available again but do yourself a favour and avoid the latter. The former offering is clean and does the job well enough. Optional English subtitles are available and these are well placed and easy to read, with little in the way of errors.
Audio Commentary by Jasper Sharp
I don’t think I've sat through such frustrating tracks in all my time watching DVDs. Nothing personal to the guy but why sit him in front of five of these films? Here Jasper goes over everything we already know about these films, of their social critiques and so on. Sharp gets a few dry jokes in and pauses between certain actions on screen which only makes the track even more unbearable. He covers a little history about some of the actors and the director, mostly information we learn in the interviews provided elsewhere and he talks about assistant directors who worked on these films, mentioning Hideo Nakata's involvement with Nikkatsu later on. So there are some facts of worth but stuff that should have gelled better instead of having the listener suffer through Sharp telling us once again what's happening on screen.
First up is a 14-page biography on director, Toshiharu Ikeda followed by two brief filmographies for Jun Izumi and Masahiko Abe.
Toshiharu Ikeda Interview (36.18)
Ikeda begins by telling us how he started off as a director when he met a screenwriter at a bar and they both got drunk. She offered him the task and things went from there. Proof that you really need to be at the right place at the right time, though amusingly he never really wanted to become a director and was glad he first got turned away. He goes on to talk about breaking film conventions, not sticking to rules and filming differently depending on the length of the film he's making. Ikeda seems like a fun guy to interview, he's enthusiastic and funny and reveals much about film making at the time, his appreciation for Ishii's works and his overall feelings about Nikkatsu.
Original Sleeve Art
This is the original 1981 cover art for the VHS release of the film, featuring full translation notes again for the back, front and spine.
Trailers for the original five Nikkatsu "Angel Guts" films: High School Co-ed, Red Classroom, Nami, Red Porno and Red Vertigo.
Red Vertigo (1988. 73 Minutes)
Starring: Mayako Katsuragi, Naoto Takenaka, Jun Izumi and Akira Emoto.
Director: Takashi Ishii.
|Nami (Mayako Katsuragi) is a hard working nurse, seemingly happy in her relationship with glamour photographer boyfriend, Kenji (Hirofumi Kobayashi). One day at work Nami is attacked by two men who attempt to rape her. She manages to escape but is left traumatised by the event and upon heading home to receive support from her boyfriend finds him in bed with another woman. At this point her day can't get any worse. Meanwhile across the city, Muraki (Naoto Takenaka) whiles away his time in bars, after embezzling clients money and becoming tired of receiving abusive telephone calls. When he leaves the bar he sets out in his car, quickly distracted he accidentally crashes into a woman - it's Nami. At first he thinks she's dead and he puts her in his car and drives, refusing to take her to the hospital in fear of possible punishment. When he discovers she's in fact alive he attempts to force himself upon her but is unsuccessful when she wakes up and runs out of the car. Muraki feels guilt and he tries to apologise but Nami refuses to listen. He takes her to an abandoned building and tries to rape her, once again he's unsuccessful and this time he tries to make up for his actions and have Nami forgive him for his sins.|
|In 1988 Takeshi Ishii was finally given the chance to realise his dream of becoming a director by starting with the very thing that earned him fame, his Angel Guts series. Past directors had attempted to stay true to his source material and by large they did so, with a few obvious reinterpretations. With Red Vertigo, again featuring a highly symbolised front made up of reds, Ishii gets right to the heart of his series. His angelic like women with determination and strength ("guts") are echoed in the last of the Nikkatsu produced series, although he would later go on to direct one more in 1994 with Red Flash, which was made for TV Tokyo. In addition to this Ishii worked on three more films that are considered to be part of the same world though disassociated by name - Rouge (1984, Jiroyuki Nasu), Red Rope Until I Die (1987, Junichi Suzuki) and Alone in the Night (1994, Takashi Ishii).
With a long life, carried over the course of sixteen years the Angel Guts series has been remarkably successful, achieving what few roman porno/Nikkatsu movies could.
With the series tackling different themes over the years it's only fit that Ishii continue the trend and now we see the reactions of both sides - the rapist and the victim. Morally the film is subjective; its illustrations of right and wrong, motivations and despair are in accordance to its visuals interpretive. Ishii's tale is by far the most spiritual of the five presented here, displayed rather ambiguously but highlighted toward the end when Muraki's fate leads up to the important denouement. Throughout this tale of varying emotions Ishii brings a strong sense of characterisation toward the main players and provides many a counteracting scenario, depicting each character's faltering through their relationships or otherwise.
Ishii has always impressed in the way he displays women on screen, he always frames them beautifully and coming from an artistic background you can understand the way he thinks when he takes a scene in his mind and transfers it from the pages of a comic to film. Although this was his first it is clear that he has had years of experience built up in his mind. He gives his central figures plenty of ambiences during the story and in line with other Nikkatsu films he manages to provide a healthy amount of sex to go with that. The sexual encounters here are filmed admirably, making Red Vertigo at times one of the more erotic pieces.
The film is also notably commendable for its acting, not least of which is famed actor, Naoto Takenaka in one of his earlier film roles. Many of you might know him from Takeshi Miike's works, being a regular player, or from some other brilliant pieces including the self directed Tokyo Biyori. Here he brings enough to his character to ensure a performance carried out with utmost delicacy. Muraki is an interesting and conflicted character and when placed alongside Nami's Katsuragi a great partnership is formed.
Red Vertigo is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, which has been enhanced anamorphically. This is the best looking transfer of the lot, with decent enough black and contrast levels it looks as good as we can probably expect. There is a consistent but natural grain throughout and occasional moments of noticeable pixelation. It may not be perfect but there's little to complain over.
Japanese 2.0 and 5.1 tracks are again available, the former of which is again the clear winner. I hope in future that Arts Magic don't feel the need to provide higher mixed tracks as they do the films no justice whatsoever, especially in these cases when the mixing is done so poorly. As it stands the 2.0 track is better adjusted, with a natural sound and enough in the way of atmosphere to make use of the front speakers.
Audio Commentary by Jasper Sharp
Sharp doesn't seem able to let go of the things he's mentioned previously, all too often repeating himself yet again. There are fleeting moments when he manages to provide a little information about a particular actor or how many films Nikkatsu would release at a given time but for the most part he sticks to the obvious, addressing Ishii's career again and the ideals behind these films and what they stand for. Sharp would have been far better suited to one commentary where he could cover everything in a single sitting rather than being made to struggle with a series that he can't deal with in great detail.
First up we get a 12-page biography for Ishii, followed by filmographies for Jun Izumi, Hirofumi Kobayashi, Mayako Kutsaragi and Naoko Takenaka.
Takashi Ishii Interview (32.30)
This is one of the best interviews in the set. Jasper Sharp starts off by asking Ishii why he chooses to use the names Nami and Muraki for his leads in every story, with Ishii soon following up by mentioning how Nami's looks were often based upon his own wife. On a sad note we learn that she passed away a few years ago and as a result Ishii has never been able to go back to the character and draw her face. Moving on Ishii gives his thoughts on Red Vertigo, a film he's still proud of though wishing he had a larger budget to express himself better. Despite this he speaks of how they worked around such limitations, completing the film in an impressive five days. Ishii goes on to talk a little about directing, with a great story involving Takeshi Kitano who appeared in Gonin - the secret of the eye patch is revealed. Finally he talks about Hollywood cinema and the way it contrasts against Japanese, how the visual medium is exploited more, leaving little substance, thus "brainwashing" its audience.
Original Sleeve Art
Like previous ones we get a scan of the original VHS sleeve that comes complete with full translations in English.
The original theatrical trailers for High School Co-ed, Red Classroom, Nami, Red Porno and Red Vertigo are once again covered here.
ArtsMagic present the series in a thematically coloured pink, red and white digi-pack that contains five discs. The set is light and not too sturdy and the disc holders are tight, proving removal to be a little tough. The inside of the box is also adorned with various quotes from several review sites. There are no booklets, inlays or cards included, making it a fairly average pack.
The Angel Guts series is a remarkable collaboration between the mind of an incredible artist and a studio who dared to be different. It's rare to see something like this last so long but Nikkatsu and Ishii pulled it off, its subjects whilst certainly taboo are handled with finesse and the understanding of its subject matter is evident. The series reaches heights far beyond what some might say about it; transcending beyond exploitation it creates an overwhelming sense of reality, handling sexuality in ways that have rarely been tackled quite so effectively and in the process it makes heroines out of its victims. These films provide messages of hope throughout desperate situations and pushes artistic boundaries to its limits.
Arts Magic have done a great job in bringing these films to western audiences, they're important pieces of work and I only hope that we see more of their kind, particularly Ishii's other Angel Guts associated projects that were not produced by Nikkatsu. Japan's pinku industry deserves to be seen by a wider audience so we'll keep our fingers crossed. I do feel that some of the extras are fairly worthless, with Jasper Sharp's commentaries being the main offender, leaving me dubious as to his expertise on the series, at least not enough to flesh out five films. I understand that finding information on these films might not always be easy but then that serves as reason to not simply fill in the blanks with pointless comments. That aside we have a collection of fascinating interviews from some important directors, conducted by Sharp which makes up for his efforts elsewhere.