With its combination of sex and nastiness, HIGH SCHOOL CO-ED might sound like a teen sex film that can be downloaded off the Internet for a $3 trial. But such a moniker does this ANGEL GUTS instalment a disservice. What plays out is a bizarre concoction of Hollywood-style heated melodrama with the Japanese fetish for schoolgirls, mediated through a biker movie infected by the porno rape theme. Heavy stuff, yes. But thanks to an inspired relationship between stylistic approach and subject matter, the film is far more palatable and fascinating than expected.
Bored bikers Tajina, Kaji and Sadakuna spend their free time causing trouble. Unperturbed by laws or regulations, the amoral trio do whatever takes their fancy, the favourite pastime being to accost young women for the purpose of gang rape. Schoolgirls are favoured, but it doesn’t stop them going for married women, as demonstrated at the film’s opening. Distracting a driver until he pulls his car off the road, they beat the man and then chase his lady before raping her into orgasm.
Working part time at a factory to both take care of his sister Megu – whom he has an unhealthy fixation with – and to fend off the loan sharks, Tajina appears to be the most redeemable of the trio but his emerging scruples are constantly put to the test. Ready to take his sister out for dinner, he bumps into Kaji and Sadakuna who have waylaid fellow schoolgirl Nami. Prepared to force Nami into sex in an alleyway while Megu is distracted, he pretends otherwise and lets her escape when his sister walks onto the scene.
After sending his sister away, he and Kaji come into conflict. Infuriated at the escape of his prize catch, Kaji tries to fight Tajina, but the heavy of the trio, Sadakuma, keeps them apart. Feeling he has let his friends down, Tajina later visits Kaji at his love nest. In what comprises one of the most idiosyncratic pieces of dialogue ever heard in extreme cinema, Kaji tells him “If you’re really sorry, will you rape that chick (Nami) in front of us? Then I’ll accept your apology and forget about it, eh?”
Reluctant to do so – he appears to be falling in love with Nami – but loyal to his friends, Tajina accepts the offer. But catching Nami proves the most difficult part, as the girl is collected by her father and driven home from school every day. After a bit of surveillance, Kaji realizes that Nami goes to the same phone box day by day to call her dad, and eventually intercepts her along the way. Confused and angry, Tajina half strangles and then rapes Nami at a deserted stretch of train track, who then bathes and cleanses herself under the torrents of rain.
After his friends demand their turn, the lovesick Tajina refuses to allow it. Taking Nami home, he causes an irreparable rift between he and his friends, who conspire to grab the poor Nami again after her school day to get their fix. After fending them off a second time, Kaji sets his sights toward Tajina’s sister and all hell breaks loose.
The second film in the ANGEL GUTS series, HIGH SCHOOL CO-ED is a remarkable mixture of exploitation and commentary. Scenes of rape, no matter how cold and objectively they are presented, will undoubtedly titillate viewers, especially when female “victims” in the film achieve orgasm and demand, “If you’re going to do it, you’d better hurry” to prospective offenders. But, like the best of extreme films, it has something interesting to say in the face of a controversial premise. After Nami cleanses herself in the rain later on, she is doing so because what happened was a nasty, ugly experience from her standpoint. The rapists ultimately come to no good, and Tajina’s decision to ignore his conscience and indulge in sexual assault is seen as a weakness that leads to personal tragedy.
The ability to aggravate a wide range of interpretations and responses in fact makes the film daring and essential. The sequence in which Nami is attacked and then raped by Tajina is a fitting example. Although his actions are unspeakable, his remorse at his behaviour and Nami’s submissive beauty allows the viewer to engage with this controversial subject matter quite freely. The desolate, wonderful sense of place - coupled with a score both romantic and melancholy - entices the spectator into the fiction and forces us to accept the film on its own bizarre terms.
The complexity of the film extends toward characterisation, which is extremely rich and enhances viewing pleasure. When Tajina visits Kaji at his love nest in order to make friends, Kaji’s outlandish demands – for him to rape Nami – are greeted with severe trepidation. Although Tajina answers with a positive response, the use of character placement and camerawork cuts to the truth of his feelings. Drawing on the stylistic flourishes of the celebrated Hollywood director Nicholas Ray, the two are alienated due to being placed on opposing sides of the widescreen frame and crucially are separated by a staircase, a prominent Ray motif that can be seen from routine westerns like THE TRUE STORY OF JESSIE JAMES to film noir classics ON DANGEROUS GROUND and IN A LONELY PLACE.
Given that the makers of this film are almost certainly Ray fans, it is appropriate that various references are made to the director’s most famous film: REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955). As if to hark back to James Dean’s landmark turn in that film, troubled protagonist Tajina has slick, brushed back hair, a similar styled dark jacket and skin-tight white T-shirt. As with REBEL’s main character, Tajina cannot come to terms with his feelings about his place in the world around him, and his inarticulate personality leads to violent confrontations with his peers. But while REBEL was a forceful film that posited the estrangement between parents and children as the root of trouble (Oedipal), Tajina’s and his friends’ is an existential problem – having too much to do – caused by the lack of work and career opportunities. Indeed, as if to withdraw itself from REBEL’s explanation, parents are absent in this film.
With an absence of parents, Tajina acts as his sister’s guardian. In an odd relationship, they share a room together and change their clothes in front of one another. His obsessive protectiveness of Megu possibly hints toward incestuous feelings that he cannot come to terms with, leading him to rape other girls her age such as Nami. Nami could well be Tajina’s fantasy of his sister Megu, on whom he can displace his sexuality. A bizarre film of wonderful intensity, there’s no excuse not to see HIGH SCHOOL CO-ED.
Although the film was shot in the 2.35:1 widescreen ratio, this release by Artsmagic has been cropped to 1.85:1, thus reducing the film’s marvellous compositions and robbing it of a considerable amount of its excellent visual sense.
Released as part of the ANGEL GUTS 5-Disc collector’s edition
Directed by Takashi Ishi
Japanese language with optional English subtitles
SPECIAL DVD FEATURES
Artsmagic DVD Release
NTSC region 1 / 1.85.1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Japanese in Dolby Digital 5.1 and Mono.
ANGEL GUTS: HIGH SCHOOL CO-ED