Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Meiko Kaji at Japan Society: Stray Cat Rock Sex Hunter

She dressed like Zorro and she might cut you if provoked. She is the leader of the Alleycats, an all-girl motorcycle gang, who should not be trifled with. Her impotent street gang lover will find that out the hard way in Yasuharu Hasebe’s Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter (trailer here), starring Meiko Kaji, which screens as part of the Japan Society’s weekend retrospective, Cruel Beauty: A Romantic Weekend with Meiko Kaji.

This is the third of five Stray Cat Rock movies, so the characters are well-established by now, but not yet stale. As the film opens, Mako and her running mates are rolling any square lech with money foolish enough to buy them drinks. However, during a rainy interlude, Mako meets and flirts with the mixed race Kazuma. Much to her surprise, she genuinely likes the earnest lug, which automatically provokes the ire of her pseudo-boyfriend, Baron, the anti-social leader of the Eagles gang.

Unfortunately, Baron is a fighter, not a lover. Frankly, he is suspiciously undemanding of Mako, preferring to spend his time bashing mixed race Japanese (whom he blames for his sister’s assault years prior to the film), while reading lurid press coverage of the Vietnam War. Baron will beat the snot out of Kazuma several times during the course of the picture, but he never succeeds in running him out of town. It is not Mako that makes him stay. Kazuma is looking for his long lost little sister Megumi, who may or may not be a member of the Alleycats.

The title is a bit overstated, but Sex Hunter is definitely a ruckus little exploitation time capsule, fueled by Kaji’s badassery as Mako and the groovy sounds of Hajime Kaburagi’s soundtrack and frequent musical performances by the chart-topping girl group Golden Half. It is definitely sleazy, but also politically informed—though not necessarily in a way that aged well. Frankly, Baron’s anti-American-anti-imperialist-rooted hatred of mixed-race Japanese now looks like psycho-jerky behavior with a little distance and time (which is indeed a cautionary warning for our own rhetorically overheated times).

For a stone-cold street fighter, Kaji’s Mako is surprisingly sensitive and vulnerable. She also rocks the black cape and wide-brimmed gaucho hat, while developing some messily ambiguous but potent chemistry with Rikiya Yasuoka’s Kazuma (whose incomparable credits include Tampopo and Toxic Avenger Part II). Completing the isosceles love triangle, Tatsuya Fuji plays Baron with such cold clamminess, viewers will start to eagerly anticipate his death.

Cinematographer Muneo Ueda makes it all look trippy and disorienting, as so befits its era. A wild ideological muddle redeemed by its unapologetic payback violence, the third Stray Cat Rock outing is an effective representative of the franchise and Kaji’s career. Enthusiastically recommended for exploitation fans, Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter screens this Saturday (2/11) as part of the Japan Society’s Valentine’s Day weekend tribute to Meiko Kaji (you won’t find any grey ties here).