• Angel Guts - The Nikkatsu Series (Artsmagic) DVD Review



    Released by: Artsmagic
    Released on: March 29th, 2005.
    Director: Chûsei Sone, Noboru Tanaka, Toshiharu Ikeda, Takashi Ishii
    Cast: Machiko Ohtani, Sanshô Shinsui, Megu Kawashima, Yûki Mizuhara, Keizô Kanie, Jun Aki, Eri Kanuma, Takeo Chii, Mimi Sawaki, Jun Izumi, Masahiko Abe, Kyoko Ito, Mayako Katsuragi, Naoto Takenaka, Hirofumi Kobayashi
    Year: 1978/1979/1979/1981/1985
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    Angel Guts - The Nikkatsu Series – Movie Review:

    The Angel Guts series, all based on some unusual erotic horror manga by Takashi Ishii (who would later become familiar to Japanese film enthusiasts as the director of the Black Angel films, the Gonin films, and Freeze Me) are not particularly accessible films – at least not by the standards of western viewing audiences. On the surface, they blend sex and violence (something still rather taboo on these shores) and they all deal with the act of rape, never shying away from depicting it either.

    While at first glance these films are nothing more than the crass glorification of sexual violence towards women, when one takes a closer look at them and gives some thought to the context in which the events in these films occur, it does become obvious that although these stories are told very graphically, there’s a lot more to them than first appears. The ‘guts’ in the title of the series doesn’t represent a woman’s innards but in fact refers to the courage they portray by surviving their predicaments. Hardly something you’d want to show at a rape survivor support group meeting, but not quite the gratuitous sexploitation that the titles can infer either.

    HIGH SCHOOL CO-ED:

    Tetsuro, Kajima and Sadakuni are a trio of no good biker punks who are out to do nothing but cause trouble around town. When they force a car off its path, they mug the male driver and brutally rape his female companion. Once this is done with, we see some scenes of Tetsuro in his home life. Oddly enough, he’s quite gentle with his family, his teenage sister specifically who he is almost a guardian to in many respects.

    One night, while out on a rape spree with the boys, Kajima forces himself on a girl (a high school girl, to be specific) that reminds Tetsuro a little bit too much of his own beloved sister, and the three bikers are all of a sudden not such good friends anymore. Things cool down and Kajima tells Tetsuro that to make it up to him and prove his loyalty and friendship to him that he must rape that same girl, and that he must do it in front of the other two guys. Tetsuro agrees to Kajima’s terms, but when it comes time to do the deed, things change and head in an altogether different direction leading up to a bloody conclusion that will test their loyalty to themselves and to each other.

    As much a film about the loyalty of the three gangsters and Tetsuro’s love for his sister as it is about serial rape, High School Coed is a nasty little movie that has a strange heart underneath its violence. The sexual violence in this movie leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination, and it draws an interesting paradox in portraying Tetsuro’s actions towards his family, compared to those he doesn’t know.

    The cinematography in the film slightly resembles some of the shaky handheld camera work that Kinji Fukasaku used in some of his better known Yakuza films like Yakuza Graveyard and then again later on in Battle Royale. Performances are decent enough, particularly the young man who plays Tersuro, who is sufficiently crazed throughout.

    RED CLASSROOM:

    The film begins with the screening of a film of a high school girl being brutally raped in her classroom. A photographer named Muraki for a popular men’s adult magazine is one of the men in attendance, and he is struck by the performance that the female lead gives in the film.

    He becomes interested in her and sets out to find out more about her. He eventually finds her, finds out her name is Nami, and that she is all grown up now. Nami confides in him the fact that her performance in the film he saw was only all too real – she was neither acting, nor was she there of her own free will – when he watched that porno film, he was watching her actually being raped.

    She’s been plagued by the films popularity her entire life and would do anything to disassociate herself from it. Muraki offers to photograph her legitimately to help her overcome the stigma she has had to live with all these years, and Nami is overjoyed with the idea.

    Unfortunately, a situation arises and when Muraki is supposed to meet Nami so they can work together, he ends up getting there a lot later than he had hoped and by that point, all of the baggage that Nami has had to carry around has come boiling to the surface.

    The use of color as symbolism is important in understanding where this movie is going, and it does a good job of portraying the events in a rather unusual context. Nami is a very sympathetic female lead and what she goes through in this film is horrific – the movie makes sure we know that and while her brutalization takes up a good part of the film’s running time, the underlying pathos and morality cannot be understated.

    NAMI:

    Nami is a very well-known female reporter for a high profile Japanese news magazine. When the movie begins, she’s working on a series of articles entitled ‘Rape And Its Consequences’ that looks at why rape happens and how those it happens to are able to move on (or in some cases, aren’t able to move on). For research purposes, Nami interviews a few different women who have survived rape attacks, and she’s not afraid to ask some rather probing questions about how the feel about the whole ordeal. One victim, who just wants to be left alone, is literally chased by Nami and her photographers and she goes after her subjects very aggressively.

    Her publisher allows her to operate this way because her articles sell copies. Nami continues to act this way because she has an unhealthy obsession with rape and may even carry her own rape fantasy that she is unable to come to terms with in a normal, healthy way (if there is such a thing), even going so far as to take matters into her own hands while in the shower one night, thinking about her research. When Nami’s hunt for the perfect rape story brings her to the local hospital and then down into the morgue where she comes face to face with a victim who can’t take it anymore, Nami snaps too and her fantasies take over.

    Slightly more erotic (the shower scene is hot stuff, even if it is twisted when you really think about what’s happening) and once again full of a strange moral, Nami lets more of the violence happen off screen this time, which works in its favor as a serious statement. There’s still no shortage of beating, raping, and nastiness on display as the interviewees relive their experiences for Nami’s readership and her own personal fetish.

    RED PORNO:

    The most explicitly titled of the four films reviewed, Red Porno follows yet another woman named Nami who helps out a friend in need at her job, filling in temporarily at her request. What Nami doesn’t realize until she shows up for work is that the job is modeling for a bondage magazine named, you guessed it, Red Porno. She’s even less stoked about the situation when she finds that she’s going to be tied up and photographed in the nude.

    Nami isn’t comfortable at all with the idea but survives the shoot unscathed (fighting and shrieking the entire time, which seems to affect her photographers not one iota) but her life is thrown into a whole different world of pain when her photo graces the cover of the magazine and it hits the newsstands. She’s none too keen on the fact that a lot of people are recognizing her, and one fan is starting to get a little too close to Nami’s personal life for comfort.

    Again playing around with primary colors as symbolism (reds are a big one in this entry obviously), Red Porno is a mean spirited little movie that almost seems to be asking its audience why it continues to watch. Its look towards the Japanese bondage porno industry seems to be with disdain in much the same way that Cannibal Holocaust seemed to be saying something about Africa Addio, but Red Porno falls into the same trap that Cannibal Holocaust did in that it stoops to the same levels as its subject matter.

    While Ruggero Deodato was lashing out at the Mondo films popular in Italy by presenting real death on screen, Ikeda Toshiharu points his finger at the bondage industry by showing nasty scenes of bondage. It’s an odd form of commentary and not an altogether affective one in my opinion, but at least Toshiharu didn’t kill any turtles in his film.

    RED VERTIGO (a.k.a. RED DIZZINESS):

    The final film in the series to be produced through Nikkatsu, Red Vertigo marks the directorial debut of Takashi Ishii, who would later go on to some critical acclaim with his two Gonin films, his pair of Black Angel films, and his recent rape/revenge film, Freeze Me.

    The film follows an overworked and stressed out hospital nurse named Nami who spends much of her spare time helping out her boyfriend, who makes a living by taking erotic, sometimes BDSM themed, photographs of women. Nami, when she's not at the hospital doing her nightly duties, spends a lot of time in the dark room helping out her man.

    Without wanting to spoil anything, the more Nami works both at the hospital and in the dark room, the less rest she gets and once this starts to compound, her world develops (pun intended) into a psycho-sexual surrealist world of rough sex and strange symbolism.

    Takashi Ishii's penchant for interesting camera angles and strange lighting can be seen running full tilt in this early entry in his filmography. Considering he was the man behind much of the source material on which these five films were based it makes sense that his feels the most like an adult manga - it's also one of the more explicit entries in this set despite the optical fogging over the genitals present in the series as mandated by Japanese law.

    CONCLUDING THOUGHTS:

    The Angel Guts series are strange. They deal with and comment on rape by portraying it explicitly in much the same way that Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible did, but with an odd Japanese coldness to them that make them a little hard to digest at first. If you sit down and really think about what is happening to the characters and why though, the films become less about exploitation and more about self-examination.

    Why the subject of rape continues to fascinate not only Japanese audiences but viewers from around the world (the French seem to make have jumped on the bandwagon lately not only with Noe's film, but also with Baise Moi, which translates into 'Fuck Me' and features some full on hardcore scenes) is a strange and poignant question, and one that isn’t really answered with any of these films but one that isn’t shied away from either. How much you'll get out of these films depends entirely on how much you're willing to look below the surface and think about the implications of what you're watching. At first glance, this material is smut, but if you pay attention to some of the themes and unusual morality plays working themselves through the series, you'll come to the realization that there is a whole lot more under the surface - whether it be a statement on the way men treat women or the strange way that men tend to view pornography not so much as an art form but as a cultural phenomenon.

    Angel Guts - The Nikkatsu Series – DVD Review:

    Red Classroom and Nami are all presented in anamorphic 2.35.1 widescreen transfers, and Red Porno and Red Vertigo are presented in 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfers. Oddly enough, High School Co-Ed starts off 2.35.1 then switches to 1.85.1. for some reason. It doesn't affect the framing too much in the film, but there are a couple of scenes that look a little tight.

    For the most part, all five films in this set look very nice, much nicer than I'd expected them to look after viewing some of the films previously on DVD-Rs taken from VHS sources. Obviously I expected an improvement over those versions but I simply didn't think that the final versions in this set would look as good as they do on these five discs. Despite the fact that none of the films have an unusually high running time (anywhere from sixty-seven to eighty minutes in length depending on which entry we're talking about), Artsmagic have still put one film on each disc allowing for the bit rates to remain pretty high throughout on each of the five films. The first film does look a little smeary at times, particularly in the darker scenes, and is noticeably softer than the other entries.

    Especially impressive are the colors. The screenshots give you a rough idea of how important the colors are to the mood of the films in this series. They sometime use some very heavy colored filters to bathe the images in reds, blues and greens and these transfers do justice to those color compositions quite nicely. The reds don't bleed into the other colors and the greens, especially in the first movie, look nice and bright and natural. There is some very minor print damage evident in the form of the odd speck of dirt here and there as well as some mild edge enhancement, but overall, the Angel Guts films come shining through on this release and there's really not a whole lot worth complaining over in regards to the video transfer. By the standards of a DVD set from 2005, these look quite decent.


    Each of the five movies comes with your choice of a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix or a newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix. There isn't a whole lot of difference between the two as these films weren't really created to use 5.1 channels in their mix, but the remixes do open the soundscape up a little bit and allow for some mild directional effects from time to time.

    What's important most of all though is the fact that these mixes are nice and clean. There aren't any problems with hiss or distortion and the optional English subtitles that are on the set are easy to read and free of any typographical errors.

    On each of the separate DVDs in the set, we start off with a full length running commentary from Midnight Eye writer, Jasper Sharp. Essentially what Sharp does is give the viewer a crash course in the history of the Roman Porno genre through this and the other four films in this boxed set that he lays down commentary tracks on. He's got a wealth of information to share and covers all manner of things relating to the series from historical facts about the Nikkatsu studio system, the cast and crew involved in making these movies, the genesis from Manga to film, and even smaller details like some of the sets, and information on various camera angles and framing techniques that are used throughout.

    The commentary tracks on these films will make a lot more sense if you watch/listen to them in the order that the films are presented in the set, as they very much build off of one another and some of the information gleaned from the earlier films in the set will help you with some of the later entries. While at times the delivery may seem a little bit on the dry side, it's quite apparent that Sharp knows what he's talking about and listening to these commentaries honestly did open up my mind a little bit and allowed me to appreciate the films a little bit more. The first time I saw the movies, I had trouble getting past some of the grizzlier rape scenes and saw them as very little more than base exploitation movies capitalizing on violent sex. The more I learned about the films as I plowed through this set over a few days, the more I saw the artistic merit in the series. It was actually quite an interesting little journey, and with that in mind, I do highly recommend giving these commentaries a spin.

    On the High School Co-Ed disc, there are two interviews. The first is Toshiharu Ikeda On Chusei Sone (7:14). Ikeda discusses the various directors who have influenced his career, and the direct influence that Sone had on his work at Nikkatsu. The second interview is Angel Guts And Manga With Takashi Ishii (2:10) in which the former manga artist discusses the origins of his comic work, where he got some of the ideas for the series from, and how they were received.

    Red Classroom has an interview with Takashi Ishii On Angel Guts (17:16) in which he goes into even more detail on the manga to film adaptations of his work, as well as a second interview with him entitled Takashi Ishii On Chusei Sone (10:06) where he details his thoughts on Sone's work, and makes some interesting comparisons between his and Seijin Suzuki's work in terms of color schemes and lighting gels (especially their use of the color red in their work).

    Nami has a lengthy Noboru Tanaka Interview (39:58) in which the film's director talks about his career in film and how he got his start as well as a few specific colleagues who influenced him in his early days. He doesn't shy away from the questions and is happy to talk about the films that he worked on throughout his career, as well as who he worked with and how he feels about them. Also of interest are his thoughts on the Nikkatsu studio's more popular genres and how the studio in its later days went ahead and restructured itself to stand out from the other big Japanese studios like Toho and Toei.

    On the Red Porno DVD we find a very comprehensive Toshiharu Ikeda Interview (36:18) that covers how Ikeda got his start as a director (there's a good drinking story here!) as well as his outspoken opinions on the Roman Porno genre in general. He makes some interesting points on how the Roman Porno films directly affected the Yakuza movies. Interestingly enough, Ikeda feels that the Roman Porno films 'express true human nature' and he feels that they had a positive impact on the Japanese film industry as a whole because of the way that they portray honest and genuine human feeling.

    On the last of the five DVDs in the set, Red Vertigo, we find another lengthy Takashi Ishii Interview (32:30). This is probably the most interesting interview out of the lot as Ishii made his directorial debut on this film, based on his own manga work. He explains the unusual naming conventions used in the film (Nami being the one used the most often for the female leads) and why they're repeated so often. Ishii also explains why there is a constant use of rain during many of the night time scenes in his work. He also gives his thoughts on the first four films in the Angel Guts series and makes some interesting contrasts and comparisons to how they stack up beside his own source material.

    Each of the five discs also contains a selection of trailers for all of the five films in the Nikkatsu Angel Guts series, some well written and interesting biographies for the key talent involved in each of the productions, filmographies for the key talent involved in the productions, and a reproduction of the original Japanese sleeve art.

    Angel Guts - The Nikkatsu Series– The Final Word:

    The amount of work that Artsmagic has put into this release is pretty amazing. Not only do the films look and sound just great, but the extra features that they have supplied for this set are interesting and quite relevant to understanding the series better. The films are not going to be for everyone, that's for sure, but those who appreciate the rougher side of Japanese cinema will definitely enjoy the Angel Guts - The Nikkatsu Series boxed set.