A failing stockbroker sells his wife off for sex to help pay his debts. After both the wife and husband meet an untimely demise, their young daughter, Mariko (Miki Hashimoto) forgoes her own aspirations to become a sex worker and exact revenge on the businessmen who ruined her father and her life.
From a sensual, establishing scene that plays out like a Maurice Binder credits sequence to a 60’s Bond film, Blue Film Woman hints at something that it never truly reaches. This is a revenge flick tinged with a cautionary tale, but it never accomplishes either to any degree of satisfaction. The first half of the narrative sees Mariko spiralling down a pit of misery that begins as her father becomes indebted to an opportunist loan-shark.
Soon after, there’s a fatal car accident, a suicide, sexual assault involving a mentally handicapped man, it’s all rather grubby and unpleasant. As with many Pinku flicks of the era, the camerawork is leery, lecherous and provocative. It promotes the idea of an oppressive patriarchal system in which a woman cannot end up on top. In which money is the dominating force. In which the house always wins.
On the cusp of the sexualised revenge movies of the 1970’s, Blue Film Woman misses the chance of having an empowered female character win out. Even at her peak, Mariko claims a hollow victory. How she has used her body to exact her revenge but in doing so, has perhaps lost part of herself. This is far cry from the Female Prisoner Scorpion franchise that would come a few years later, in which Mieko Kaji pushes back against an oppressive system and wipes the floor with those in power. If anything, Blue Film Woman is a tragedy.
Visually, this is a movie that uses groovy trickery of the era. From coloured lamps to projected images on naked torsos, there’s a haze of youthful debauchery about the club scenes that are so, “of the time”, but rooted in reality. The score flits between noir’ish rhythms to sitars, which again evoke the summer of love and all things hip. It’s this exotic, mystic quality that director Kan Mukai attempts to imbue his film with. It’s modestly manufactured but it gets the job done.
Of the four Pinku movies I’ve caught recently; Blue Film Woman isn’t the worst, but it definitely feels like a missed opportunity. But then again, I’m pretty sure the filmmakers weren’t really going for the whole, female empowerment gig.
Blue Film Woman is available via Third Window Films.
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