She sends criminals to Hell - on wings of justice!
It’s 1972: The Pinku craze is aloft; the Toho Merry-Go-Round goes around and around and prolific directors are quickly snapped up to boost the genre further with a cataclysmic surge of naughty action. Just who could be behind one such movie that dares tell the story of a juvenile slut named Rica? Well, Kaneto Shindo, actually! Shindo, famed for directing some of the greatest horror films of all time, with masterpieces such as Onibaba and Kuroneko, in addition to having envisioned wonderful dramas like The Naked Island, was also noted as an important screenwriter; having written three times as many screenplays than films he’d directed, he would go on to work with other highly regarded directors including Yasuzo Masumura and Seijun Suzuki. Certainly an impressive gun for hire, then, and a man who proved that he didn’t really have many scruples when it came to pleasing the studio system - and his wallet.
Likewise, Koh Nakahira became something of an oddity after his resounding and controversial debut with Crazed Fruit in 1956, subsequently putting out an eclectic mixture of flicks for Nikkatsu. Not one of the most widely reported directors of his time; it’s awfully difficult to find a great deal on the man, who after ten years then upped and left for Hong Kong where he directed several flicks - including a remake of his own Crazed Fruit as Summer Heat - under the moniker of Yang Shuxi for the Shaw Bros studio. Returning to Japan at the beginning of the seventies his output rapidly decreased, although 1971 marked his first major offering back home when he teamed up with Kaneto Shindo for Toho’s Chimimoryo: Soul of Demons. Which then brings us neatly to Rica. At least Shindo and Nakahira shared common interests; their works often featured contemporary social commentaries and with regards to the Pinku scene that was certainly a genre ripe for picking.
Though written by Kaneto Shindo, Rica (its international title using a “c” instead of “k”, taken from Konketsuji Rika) is in fact adapted from an original manga by Taro Bonten, perhaps a name familiar to fans for his work on Sex & Fury and Female Yakuza Tale, and a chap who made regular cameos in productions based on his writings. The story concerns seventeen-year-old delinquent Rika Aoki (Rika Aoki): the product of a rape carried out by a nameless American G.I. on an innocent schoolgirl during mid-fifties post-occupied Japan. A poor upbringing from a woman who never wanted her in the first placed has turned Rika into a mentally scarred victim belonging to a society she doesn’t feel welcome in. She lives her life hanging out in a gang and getting into trouble a lot, and one such instance will draw her into the seedy underworld of the Yakuza.
When Rika chases down Hiroshi (Goro Daimon) - a member of the Tachibana gang - and presents him with the foetus from a woman he raped, who subsequently committed suicide, she opens a whole new can of worms. Hiroshi gathers his men together and confronts Rika one night when she’s all alone, which eventually results in Hiroshi getting rather messed up and Rika getting sent to a woman’s reformatory in Tokyo. But Rika can’t seem to be able to stay put, and after an encounter with a tattooed prisoner named Reiko (Kazuko Nagamoto) she escapes and heads back home. When she returns she finds her mother (Kazuko Imai) is missing, along with learning that her girlfriends have been taken hostage and sold as slaves for sex-hungry soldiers serving in Vietnam! Rika takes matters into her own hands, heading out to find answers with the help of some of her ex-prison buddies, soon coming face to face with several gang bosses in the hopes of rescuing her gang chums. Luckily for her she’s helped along by a stranger named Tetsu (Fuminori Sato) - who actually doesn’t want her just for her body…
Though he gets it anyway.
Rica tries somewhat to be different than the majority of Pinku flicks cropping up during this pivotal period in Japanese cinema, what with its central figure being something of a taboo herself: a half-cast young woman born out of a disgraceful act which has tainted her very soul. At face value of course it is just another film dealing with juvenile delinquency taking place during post-occupied Japan in which pot-shots are aimed at U.S. authoritarianism, while subconsciously warning future parents that if they want their kids to behave normally then they bloody well better start acting like they give a damn. Granted, there’s not a great deal that Shindo and Nakahira can achieve in addressing social concerns, given that they’re undoubtedly contracted to deliver at least two or three rape scenes and a good handful of bloody violence along the way. And that’s something of a shame, even when looking at a genre designed to follow such a stringent path. Normally it wouldn’t be such a problem, but Rika’s concept is an intriguing one; a girl coming from such a poor background with the mental implications affecting her better judgement, thus shaping her into this automatically driven wrecking machine could have been handled remarkably well. Rika is such a pitiful creation with no sense of direction in life and no true understanding of moral ethics, who only fights because it’s the only thing she knows how to do. Meanwhile her junkie whore of a mother wallows in a darkened room, face painted like a clown as her daughter dishes out tasty vengeance on society’s scum lords. Alas, Rika isn’t particularly sympathetic; less of a character we should empathise with and more of a pastiche we end up laughing at. I just wonder if Nakahira himself felt any frustration in working on a movie that by rights he could have done so much more with.
It doesn’t help matters when the flick’s star Rika Aoki is about as talented as a bee that can’t produce honey. But hey, while she’s here we might as well enjoy her for what she’s worth, and the rest of the story’s unabashed delights for that matter. Rica’s narrative, for wanton use of a better word, might not be classic material, but there’s no denying its energetic stance throughout. It truly is one of those “so bad it’s good” films. Koh Nakahira keeps the pace zipping along and it’s technically pleasant to look at, with some striking good use of over the top violence; I defy anyone not to enjoy Rika doing away with a gang boss after he shoots one of his own men in the head - to much gratifying spurt-age. But then I don’t think anyone would argue its aesthetic appearance over its criminal displays of acting (unless you fancy taking a dig at the god-awful closing credits featuring Aoki not really riding a motorcycle, while the camera tilts from left to right now and then). As mentioned, Rika herself is permanently on standby, showing no real grasp of understanding emotion, displaying physical prowess or delivering dialogue. She fights badly, dances even worse (though her character does allude to as much) and spends most of the time looking passive, with her only obvious quality - her ethnicity - suiting the needs of the script. Though perhaps I’m being a tad unfair. The acting is laughably poor across the board, from the unsurprising U.S. participants trying to “sell it” and several stock Yakuza types being played rather typically over the top. Then we have a bevy of poorly choreographed fight sequences and uncomfortable looking sex scenes involving literal face-sucking and awkward holding.
Other areas, however, delight simply due to their own absurdity. In some oddball subplot involving Rika’s continual run-ins with a rival prisoner named Reiko (Kazuko Nagamoto chanelling a little Reiko Ike in the process), which mostly take place at a reformatory with the worst security ever, we’re treated to no less four encounters, each one instigated by Reiko, despite the fact that Rika kicks her arse every time. Certainly an area which could have been trimmed in order to fit in some meatier characterisation. For what it is though, which is an excuse to get girls rolling around in the dirt, it aint too shabby. There’s also a slight detective story underlining an event which sees Rika dart around, thus giving composer Jiro Takemura his cue to unleash his ridiculously funky beats. And let’s not forget Masami Souda trying to perform under a layer of black make-up and an afro wig! Incidentally she’d turn up again for the third Rika outing under the name Masami Muneta - sans make-up.
Rica is part of yet another sub-division of Media Blasters. How many bloody divisions do they have now anyway? Enter: “Exploitation Digital”.
Bit of a tough one to call, this. The film is presented in an anamorphic 2.35:1 aspect ratio and represents the colour palette very well indeed, along with a decent amount of detail and acceptable contrast levels to be had. That’s the good stuff out of the way. The bad is that it’s another shoddy interlaced effort, exhibiting combing and ghosting. I’m concerned about the authoring in general, and it’s possible that this came directly from an analogue source as I’d expect far better treatment had we been talking about the original vault elements. Rica showcases a lot of grain, which to my eyes looks artificial and presents itself as scattered noise, with hints of cross colouring at times (tiny examples of yellow specks for instance), but I’m having trouble in pinpointing exactly what causes it. Naturally it plays havoc when trying to judge the film stock’s appearance; usually I find these old Japanese titles to be extremely well preserved with nice levels of natural grain. Furthermore the transfer suffers terribly from macro-blocking, which is often distracting during quick panning and chase sequences. So far Media Blasters haven’t exactly proven themselves to be at the top of the game in this area, despite being obviously loaded, with smaller companies such as Synapse and Panik House showing them how it’s really done.
As far as the Japanese mono track is concerned there are no presentable problems. Rica sounds crisp enough in all areas, while not being particularly demanding, but then there’s little else to expect really. Optional English subtitles are also included and again, there are no flaws in sight.
Media Blasters don’t tend to go too crazy with extra features, so they’re fairly consistent here. We get a small stills gallery featuring poster art and lobby cards, along with a trailer reel covering all three films in the Rika series.
Yes, Rica is something of a dip in quality for Kaneto Shindo and Koh Nakahira, but sod it, fair play to them. Besides, everyone was doing it at the time. Rica certainly doesn’t offer anything new, but it’s a lot of fun…in a crap sort of way.
6 out of 10
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