• Naked Pursuit (Pathfinder Pictures/Asterix Films) DVD Review

    Released by: Pathfinder Pictures/Asterix Films
    Released on: April 24th, 2007.
    Director: Toshio Okuwaki
    Cast: Masayoshi Nogami, Maki Oaki
    Year: 1968
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    Naked Pursuit – Movie Review:

    Also known as Kofun, director Toshio Okuwaki’s Naked Pursuit was distributed in North America in the late sixties by exploitation pioneer Harry Novak, dubbed into English for North American audiences in a version that differs quite a bit from the original Japanese edition of the film.

    The story is simple – a man (Masayoshi Nogami who shows up in Stacy) shows up at a student protest that soon turns ugly and escalates into a riot. The police come in to do their thing and he unintentionally kills one of them and as such he finds himself cuffed and on his way to the big house. While en route, he makes his escape, the cuff still around one of his wrists, and as he’s hiding out along the coast he comes across a pretty, if melancholy young woman (Maki Oaki in what is, according to the commentary, her only film).

    No, before you get the idea that these two find love in one another’s arms, think again. The reason she’s hanging out at the coast is that she’s going to kill herself, it seems that her fiancé and her mother had a thing going and she can’t bear to live with herself after finding out the truth. The girl has some baggage, but it only gets worse when Mr. Handcuffs comes along as before you know it he pushes her down in the sand and rapes her. This torment continues for the rest of the film, but is he really the one with the upper hand or is she so far gone that this is all turning out to be to her advantage?

    While the continued abuse at the hands of her captor puts the female character in a truly sympathetic light, it’s interesting to see how this cat and mouse game plays out. The script, for the Japanese version at least, is quite clever and while it definitely deals with some obviously exploitative elements, there’s a very pensive feel to the whole thing that makes it more than just a smut movie. The cinematography is top notch and the filmmaker’s make excellent use of the widescreen canvas they’re playing with. The beach where much of the movie takes place is made to feel cold and lonely and as such it’s very appropriate for the more intense moments to take place there. The decision to switch from black and white to color for the last reel of the film is an interesting stylistic choice as you don’t see it coming and it jars you in much the same way that the black and white to color switch in Coffin Joe’s At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul does.

    The English dubbed version of the film is a different story all together, and it’s great that both versions are included here so that viewers can choose between the two. Novak had a lot of the dialogue changed and not only that, he had a lot of dialogue added. Whereas the Japanese version has long, drawn out stretches where no one speaks, especially during the rape scenes, the dubbed version provides voice over in spots to explain what’s happening and how the characters feel about it. As such, we get awkward bits like ‘No, don’t touch me there!’ over top of what should be quiet, brooding moments and these cheapen the film and sensationalize the racier aspects of it. As an exploitation film, however, the American version is definitely sleazier just on the addition of this dialogue alone (the actual running time is the same). The print used for this DVD contains the opening credits in Japanese so it’s obvious that it was taken from a Japanese source but the dubbed dialogue matches up with the film nicely so it’s probably safe to assume (though this is only an assumption) that the running time is the same for both versions.

    Naked Pursuit – DVD Review:

    While the 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen image is not flagged for progressive scan playback, it’s a nice transfer none the less though be prepared for some image flickering during the first reel. Print damage is present in spots but when it is, it’s minor. Contrast is uneven at first but balances out nicely as the movie progresses. Black levels stay strong for the most part but there are spots where they’re more of a dark grey. Detail in both the foreground and background of the image is fine and overall this is a satisfactory effort even if the flagging issue is annoying for those of us with the setup to take advantage of progressive scan playback.

    Two audio options are provided on this release, the original Japanese language track and the dubbed English track that was added by Harry Novak for the American theatrical run, both are in Dolby Digital Mono format. While the range is obviously limited by the source material there aren’t any issues here, both tracks sound fine. The optional English subtitles that translate the Japanese track (which, as mentioned, is very different from the dubbed version) are yellow and very easy to read. The background music sounds fine and what little dialogue there is in the film comes through reasonably well.

    The main supplement on this release comes in the form of an audio commentary track from film critics Luke Y. Thompson and Jess Hlubik. Those expecting a serious dissection of the film will be sorely disappointed as these two play it primarily for laughs. While they do name check a few other films that the cast and crew were involved in, a lot of the commentary is taken up by pointing out oddities about the movie as it plays out, so in that regard it is very scene specific. Most of the humor works and some of the questions they raise, such as why the heroine doesn’t smack the rapist with the milk bottle laying beside her, are fairly justified. Interestingly enough they do a good job of pointing out some of the key differences between the English dubbed version and the Japanese version (and in turn point out that a lot of the dubbed dialogue that’s been added occurs when the person speaking has his or her face obscured by the camera!) and mention that the entire film, not just the last reel, may have been shot in color.

    Rounding out the extra features is the unusually long North American trailer which plays up the more sensational aspects of the film during its three minute running time. It’s presented in widescreen and is taken from a VHS source but it’s perfectly watchable and it is neat to see how the movie was marketed to North American audiences. A brief still gallery of roughly two dozen promotional stills and assorted pieces of advertising artwork from the U.S. pressbook is also present. Static menus and chapter selection for the feature are included.

    Naked Pursuit – The Final Word Review:

    An interesting blend of arthouse direction and roman porno style exploitation, Naked Pursuit is a genuinely odd movie that is never the less rather compelling. The two lead performances are strong as is the cinematography and those into old school Japanese roughies ought to give this one a look as Pathfinder has done a decent job on the disc.