The combination of art and horror is an intriguing one, and disturbing, thought provoking films by contemporary directors such as Mitch Davis, Karim Hussein, Christopher Alan Broadstone, Gaspar Noe – and many, many more – not only inspire journals such as Unrated, but make the reviewing job worthwhile. The great Alejandro Jodorowsky told Eyeball magazine during the late 1980’s that horror cinema is the new home for cinematic art, but there has also been another fruitful interpenetration of genres that has been responsible for some equally essential works.
Back in the 1970’s and through to the next decade, the separate strands of porn and artistry became hard to separate, and for all the exquisite European films such as Walerian Borovczyk’s LA BETE, as well as the tackier EMMANUELLE and the indulgent mess CALIGULA, they were outdone by the more hard-edged Japanese. Nikkatsu studios jumped on the exploitation bandwagon, and produced the remarkable ANGEL GUTS series. The second of five films based upon the Manga by Takashi Ishi, RED CLASSROOM features plenty of perverse sex, but never forgets to comment on extreme avenues of the human condition and the process of spectatorship itself.
The film begins as porno magazine photographer Tetsuro Muraki watches among a group of perverts in a makeshift projection room a tough, grainy little porno featuring the brutal rape of a beautiful young woman, which then goes on to depict her attempts to put her clothes on and clean herself up somewhat. Drawn to the combination of her beauty and suffering, he becomes obsessed with meeting her. Eventually securing a meeting, they rendezvous in a park before the lady – a good few years older now – takes him back to her place. After being offered sex, Muraki is informed by the unstable beauty that the rape was in fact for real, and that she is in hiding because too many people have viewed the film.
Undaunted, he offers to photograph her for his publication, in order to help her come to terms with her discomfort at the reception of her own notorious image. The woman, who introduces herself as Nami, agrees to meet Muraki another evening, but he is arrested for photographing a schoolgirl. Although the charge is false, he is temporarily locked up while an impatient Nami waits three hours in the rain before walking off and permanently moving away. Muraki cannot find her, and as the years go by his obsession fails to wane. By coincidence, he discovers one night that Nami is now a nasty whore working in a sleazy bar…
From the beginning, RED CLASSROOM rises far above the usual morally bankrupt sex fest. In the opening moments, when we see first hand images of Nami being brutally raped in the classroom, the film cuts back to the actual projection room that the “snuff film” is being exhibited. This shift in perspectives, which then forces us to watch with the assorted perverts, is an inventive technique that makes the viewer feel as guilty as the other onlookers, and perhaps even the participants, for our possible titillation or attraction to the dark images that are unfolding. (It also prefigures a similar scene in John McNaughton’s still remarkable HENRY.) Although there are only two rape scenes in the film, they remain the centre point of the feature and allows a complex and unsettling psychological drama to unravel.
Muraki, who obsesses over Nami, is a well-drawn character. Like the fellow spectators from the beginning, he appears to be physically attracted to the porno rape film, but more interestingly he falls in love with her through the sadness and beauty of her suffering. Although the film is told for the most part from Muraki’s perspective, Nami herself is without doubt the most intriguing personality. Muraki’s offer to photograph her provides hope of coming to terms with the trauma, humiliation and subsequent shame of the situation, but when he fails to make the rendezvous she spirals off out of control and finds her own twisted solution. Hooking up with a disturbed pimp, she engages in exhibitionist sex. Watched over by paying customers who fondle and drool over her, she is then serviced by roomfuls of men as other, more innocent girls are pulled through holes in the floorboards and raped.
In this bizarre and twisted scene, Nami appears to be in little or no distress, and it seems that through repetition her turbulent feelings, and former misery, have been wiped out and desensitised. This scene, then, does not just exist to inflame the viewer; it evokes Nami’s suffering and complex thought processes by means of her actions. Nami’s emphatic loss of innocence is brilliantly contrasted by the image of another girl being raped, as she just watches on at the near cannibalistic display in a frighteningly impassive manner. Viewers of this superb, affecting and hard-hitting film will not be able to do the same.
Part of the 5 DVD ANGEL GUTS set
Directed by Sone Chusei
Japanese Language With Optional English Subtitles
Japan / 1979 / 80 minutes / Colour
SPECIAL DVD FEATURES
An Artsmagic DVD Release
NTSC / Region 1 / Widescreen Anamorphic / Dolby Digital 5.1
ANGEL GUTS: RED CLASSROOM