With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Thursday, October 13, 2011

ACF 1187: The Woman with Red Hair

Junko Miyashita (left) and Renji Ishibashi
 The Woman with Red Hair / Akai kami no onna
Directed by Tatssumi Kumashiro
Japan, 1979, 73 minutes

Velvet Bullets and Steel Kisses: Celebrating the Nikkatsu Centennial, a NY Film Festival Masterworks series of 37 films from Japan's oldest studio continues through this Sunday, October 16th. The Woman with Red Hair will play tomorrow, Friday, October 14th  at 9:00 pm (tickets here) and on Sunday evening at 6:20 pm (tickets here).

Synopsis: Seventies icon Junko Miyashita plays a redheaded woman who is picked up by the side of the road by Kozo (Renji Ishibashi), a driver for a construction company, in this dark, celebrated erotic drama. Dubbed “one of the very best Nikkatsu pink films,” The Woman with Red Hair becomes a marathon session of obsessive desire and unsatisfied dreams, acted out in a down-and-out working-class milieu. One of the best works by a major director in the genre.

ACF Review: The quote cited above is from Japanese Cinema Encyclopedia: The Sex Films by Thomas Weisser, my former editor/publisher at Asian Cult Cinema magazine, and Yuko Mihara Weisser, his wife. Jasper Sharp also has a positive take on it in his book Behind the Pink Curtain: The Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema. (Both are very fine books, by the way.)

I wasn't that impressed after watching the film at a press screening before the NY Film Festival began. While the Weissers are probably correct in their assessment, being the best of Nikkatsu's Roman Porn (for "Romantic Pornography") isn't really the highest praise for a film in general.

I'll grant you that the film has a good bit more of a story to it than most films of its ilk (at least those at that time). There are a few nice comic touches, such as when Kozo wakes up in his bed, senses something amiss, and lifts the covers to reveal "The Woman" asleep between his legs with her head nestled in his crotch! And occasionally there's a striking cinematic composition, such as an overhead shot of the couple walking along a pier.

For me there was just too much sex shenanigans. Don't get me wrong: I'm no prude, far from it. It wasn't for nothing that my column in Asian Cult Cinema was named (by T. Weisser, himself) Trash Taken Seriously: Scholarly Reviews of Exploitation, Guilty Pleasures & Junk. But there wasn't enough going on aside from the sex to interest me, and let's face it, simulated sex can get old after awhile, at least when you're watching it in public.

When the film had ended, and paraphrasing the title of Nagisa Oshima's most notorious film, I retitled it "In the Realm of the Boring." (I'll admit that this initial reaction was a good bit on the harsh side.) Discussing this in the lobby with Charles Meyer, contributing editor at Cinespect.com, he retorted with "In the Realm of the Senseless," though to be honest he did have a higher regard for The Woman with Red Hair than I did.

Bottom line? The Woman with Red Hair is not a great film, but it's definitely one of the best in its genre, certainly for its time. And it does hold an important place in the history of pinku eiga (pink films). ACF Rating: 3 out of 4 stars, a decent enough film that's surely worth seeing.

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