Bloody Territories & Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter

Year: 1968. Running time: 89 minutes. Color. Directed by Kinji Fukasaku. Starring Akira Kobayashi, Ryoji Hayama, Tadao Nakamaru, and Hiroshi Nawa. Aspect ratio: 2.35:1. Mono. In Japanese with optional English subtitles. DVD release by Home Vision Entertainment.

Year: 1970. Running time: 85 minutes. Color. Directed by Yasuharu Hasebe. Starring Meiko Kaji, Rikiya Yasuoka, Tatsuya Fuji, and Jiro Okazaki. Aspect ratio: 2.35:1. Mono. In Japanese with optional English subtitles. DVD release by Home Vision Entertainment.

Review by Derek Hill

Director Yasuharu Hasebe is probably best known for his lurid, sometimes explosively violent, pink films (sex films) that he made for Nikkatsu Studios throughout the 1970s. Films such as Rape!, Assault! Jack the Ripper, Sukeban Deka: Dirty Mary, and Rape! 13th Hour were just some of the many offerings that pulled in the crowds during Nikkatsu's reign as the leading manufacturer of violent pink films. In fact, due to dwindling audiences for their action films, Nikkatsu made nothing but sex films from 1971 onward.

But before Hasebe chose to wander down that rather profitable street of flesh and cinematic depravity, he got his start working with famed and notoriously iconoclastic director Seijun Suzuki, among others. Later, Hasebe got a chance to direct his first film for Nikkatsu in 1966, Black Tight Killers. In the following years, he made a series of action films for the studio, including the very successful youth-oriented Stray Cat Rock series, which mixed in a little sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll into the mix. Hasebe's fate and notoriety may have been sealed with his violent pink films, but his talent as a director of action films is arguably more representative of his cinematic legacy.

Bloody Territories, made the year before Hasebe would helm the first of his Stray Cat Rock films, is a hardboiled smack in the face that ends with some of the most brutal, unflinching yakuza-styled violence outside of Kinji Fukasaku's brilliant Battles Without Honor and Humanity series. Starring legendary, super-cool actor Akira Kobayashi (Kanto Wanderer) as the dutiful yakuza soldier who will stop at nothing to maintain his yakuza clan's honor in the wake of some serious criminal downsizing, Hasebe's Bloody Territories is-like most yakuza films quite honestly-the same story you've seen a hundred times before. Yakuza Clan #1 makes a truce with Yakuza Clan #2, the deal goes sour because of Yakuza Clan #1's (or #2's for that matter) greed and/or will to dominate the streets of Shinjuku (as in the case of Bloody Territories), and some lone wolf (of either clan, it doesn't really matter) rises to the occasion to slice up anyone stupid enough to get in his way. Oh, and there's lots of honor and tradition to uphold.

That simplified assessment is in no way meant as dismissive or as negative criticism of the yakuza genre. For the most part, a similar bare bones formula could be made about a number of different genres, most notably the western. But as any fan of westerns or yakuza films would tell you, their love of the genre usually has less to do with plot as much as it does with character, emotion, and that purest of cinematic forms, action.

Kobayashi struts through the streets like the icon that he was, ready to dish out some serious whacks but willing to take some as well. Like Fukasaku's take on the yakuza genre, Bloody Territories was filmed utilizing real street locations, lots of grit and detail, naturalistic acting, and plenty of unromantic violence (which ironically always makes yakuza film fans even more wistful). Unlike the wildly subversive and visually dazzling films of Suzuki, Hasebe's film dutifully serves up strictly the meat and potatoes--nothing fancy yet thoroughly satisfying.

Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter is just as powerful and entertaining. This youth gone wild film was the third in the series, and from all accounts the best (I have not seen the other films). Starring the delicious Meiko Kaji (who would later go on to star in other of Hasebe's films as well as the classic Lady Snowblood) as the leader of a lawless gang of Japanese girls, ready and willing to fight, drink, do drugs, and everything else in-between. Definitely not your average, modest Japanese schoolgirls. But between nights of go-go dancing and getting wasted, girl gang leader Mako (Kaji) must keep her boyfriend, Baron (Tatsuya Fuji)--who is the leader of his own gang The Eagles--from killing a mixed-race stud named Ichiro who is in love with one of Mako's girls. You see, Baron hates "half-breeds" because of a rather traumatic incident that happened to his sister in the post-war years (she was raped and murdered by a mixed-race gang). And to make matters worse, Mako eventually falls for a mixed-race stranger who wanders into town looking for his sister, which only feeds Baron's dementia to kill every last living "half-breed" in town.

Flashy, violent, and surprisingly thoughtful in its depiction of Japanese racism and the fear/fascination of the outsider, Sex Hunter is far more indicative of Hasebe's style and the influence that Seijun Suzuki played in developing it. The film's frank and rather non-judgmental view of drug use and sex is also refreshing, as the last thing that you want to see in an amoral exploitation film such as this is any sort of moralistic intrusion, whether it comes down from the studio heads or the filmmaker himself.

Home Vision Entertainment has released both films onto DVD in excellent no-frills editions, though trailers, filmographies, and liner notes are included. Yasuharo Hasebe's contributions to the Japanese exploitation film cannon may not be as well known or have the dynamic appeal of Suzuki's or Fukasaku's brilliant productions, but to ignore them for their better known brethren would be a crime indeed.

Bloody Territories and Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter are now available on DVD from Home Vision Entertainment in new high-definition digital transfers that have been enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Special features: both discs includes a director biography and filmography. In addition, both discs include original Japanese trailers. Suggested retail price: $19.95. For more information, check out the Home Vision Web site.