Monday, June 11, 2018

Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss (Nora-neko rokku: Onna banchô; Yasuhara Hasebe, 1970)

Biker chick Ako (Japanese-Korean pop star Akiko Wada) gets involved in a fight between a teenage girl gang led by Mei (Lady Snowblood's Meiko Kaji) and the debs of the male Seiyu Gang. Ako is welcomed by Mei's gang as one of their own. Mei's boyfriend, Michio Yagami (The Streetfighter's Last Revenge's Kôji Wada, no relation to Akiko) seeks to join the Seiyus, to Mei's chagrin. To earn membership, the Seiyus order Michio to persuade his friend Kelly Fujiyama (Ken Sanders), a half-Japanese, half-black boxer, to take a dive. Kelly also has feelings for Mei. Kelly reluctantly agrees to throwing the fight, but after taking a beating from his opponent, he marshals his abilities and wins. The infuriated Seiyus, led by Hanada (Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla's Gorô Mutsumi) and his shades-sporting lieutenant Katsuya (In the Realm of the Senses' Tatsuya Fuji) try to kill Michio for not making good on his promise, but Ako convinces her new friends to come to his rescue. Mei's gang and Michio find themselves fugitives from the Seiyu Gang.

I love Japanese cinema of the '60s and '70s. From Yakuza to samurai to martial arts to kaiju to pinku-eiga, I love pretty much every genre they delved into in that era. I've wanted to see the Stray Cat Rock series for years, and luckily for me, Amazon Prime has all five films. I really dug the first one (aka Alleycat Rock: Female Boss, Female Juvenile Delinquent Leader: Stray Cat Rock, and Stray Cat Rock: Woman Boss), and am very much looking forward to watching the others. The series ran from 1970-1971. Yasuharu Hasebe directed the first, third, and fourth films. The second and fifth were directed by Toshiya Fujita, who directed star Meiko Kaji's most famous film, Lady Snowblood, based on Kazuo Koike and Kazuo Kamimura's manga.

Interestingly, Kaji stars in all five Stray Cat Rock films, but plays a different character in each one. There's no overt shared continuity between any of the films, as far as I know. Meiko is one of the most divine goddesses of my Japanese cinema pantheon, but the film's sole flaw is that she takes a backseat to Akiko Wada. To be fair, Wada is a talented actress, and a talented singer judging by her musical numbers in the film, and Ako is a memorable character. It's just a little disappointing that Kaji isn't more take charge as Mei, given her portrayal of such powerful and deadly women as Lady Snowblood and Sasori from the Female Convict Scorpion series. Wada also appeared in the next film, Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo, but only had one song. According to Hasebe in an interview in Chris D.'s absolutely awesome book Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film, the series was originally supposed to be a vehicle for Akiko, but the studio, Nikkatsu, became more concerned with grooming the next generation of star, Kaji took over as the series' headliner, and Wadi didn't return for the last three films. The underutilization of Kaji is the one imperfection in this otherwise impeccable film.

Unsurprisingly, Hasebe doesn't shy from depicting brutality, such as when Katsuya's girlfriend uses a blowtorch on a captive member of Mei's gang. The presence of the obviously biracial Ken Sanders adds an interesting touch to the film, though his heritage is never brought up. The third film, Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter, which as I said before was also directed by Hasebe, apparently does explicitly touch on the subject of mixed-race Japanese, so I'm curious to see that one. There are some groovy scenes in a nightclub featuring bands performing in both English and Japanese. I hope the rest of the series lives up to the high bar this one sets!

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