The Films (4/5, 3/5, 4/5, 5/5, 2/5)
STRAY CAT ROCK: DELINQUENT GIRL BOSS
Mei (Meiko Kaji) leads a gang of kickass chicks who run afoul of some yakuza who specialize in fixed boxing matches. Luckily, Ako (Akiko Wada) rolls into town on her motorcycle to help the girls defeat these bozos. This is a great way to kick off this boxset! The melodrama, shot through a kaleidoscope of style, is spiked with some brutal gang violence including a blowtorch being taken to a girl’s breasts. There are some nice surprises like some unexpected musical numbers from singer Akiko Wada. This film is a lot of fun and features all the tacky fashions and psychedelic editing that 1970 had to offer.
STRAY CAT ROCK: WILD JUMBO
Released the same year as Delinquent Girl Boss, Wild Jumbo is quite a departure from the tone of the first film and was probably never meant to be a Stray Cat Rock film in the first place. Four friends have a secret club called The Pelican Club. They like to prank people and do some crimes until their leader (Takeo Chii) starts chasing a rich girl. She inspires him to plan a major heist and all hell breaks loose. Equal parts sweaty, funny, weird, and sad, this film has a tone all its own. This is very slowly paced but is quite good.
STRAY CAT ROCK: SEX HUNTER
Mako (Meiko Kaji for the third time in this boxset) is a pimped out gang boss with some lovely ladies as her soldiers. Her flirtation with Baron (Tatsuya Fuji) the leader of The Eagles, an all-male gang, turns into a dangerous love triangle when Kazuma (Rikiya Yasuoka) comes to town. Kazuma is half-Japanese, half-African American and he’s looking for his long lost sister. Due to a traumatic event in his childhood, Baron is a horrible racist and has his sights set on making trouble for all mixed race people. The situation completely deteriorates when Mako and her gang try to help Kazuma out. Sex Hunter is easily the most depressing film on this set as it confronts racial prejudice head-on and has a super downer ending that must be seen to be believed.
STRAY CAT ROCK: MACHINE ANIMAL
After an invigorating and super fun opening, Machine Animal hits the ground running. Two drug dealers, Nobo (Tatsuya Fuji yet again!) and Sabu, along with their American Vietnam War deserter pal are trying to sling some LSD to pay their way to Sweden. They run into not one but two gangs who want their drugs. This is easily my favorite film on this set and I just can’t wait to watch this again. The editing is fantastic, everything onscreen is super stylish and over-the-top, and the story is so kooky and wonderfully weird. This film alone is worth getting the set for and is easily one of my favorite movies I’ve watched all year.
STRAY CAT ROCK: BEAT ‘71
Furkio (Meiko Kaji) busts out of prison after getting framed for a crime her boyfriend, Takaaki (Takeo Chii), committed. Takaaki’s crappy family has political aspirations for him and will stop at nothing to see his former hippie ass in the mayor’s office. Furiko enlists the help of a band of her hippie pals to free Takaaki. Longwinded protest scenes and maudlin dialog ensue and I just couldn’t connect with this film. The inconsistency of tone really kills Beat ’71 for me. It’s all over the place with its tepid love story, muddled political message, beyond offbeat comedy, obnoxious characters, and ponderous plot. I really thought that Wild Jumbo (which shares the same director as this film) was going to be my least favorite on this set but this film just pissed me off. The final Stray Cat Rock film starts off very promising and then just gets lost in the hippie reverie. Very disappointing, despite an explosive ending.
Arrow Video really, really impressed me with this set. All five films consistently look and sound extremely good considering their age. Colors are super vibrant and the flesh tones of the actors look natural. Even when a film like Delinquent Girl Boss has several way-too-dark nighttime scenes and a seemingly drunken and listing camera operator, it still looks good! The dialog and the music for the entire set is very nicely balanced in the audio mix. The films’ rock and pop songs really kicked ass through my speakers and I never had to adjust the volume for dialog scenes. All of the films have Japanese audio with English subtitles.
The interview with director Yasuharu Hasebe (Delinquent Girl Boss, Sex Hunter, and Machine Animal) was insightful regarding the Stray Cat Rock series. If I have to be nitpicky, this extra is a very sedate experience and was hard to get excited about. The same goes for the interviews with actors, Tatsuya Fuji and Yoshira Harada. Great information, bland delivery, especially at a combined time of over 90 minutes. Insights into Nikkatsu Studios and how this series came to be is good stuff but don’t quiz me on it. There are trailers for three of the five films (Wild Jumbo, Sex Hunter, and Beat ’71) and they all look great. I would have liked to see more trailers from this sub-genre and interviews with at least one of the actresses involved. The packaging also contains a pretty elaborate booklet with an essay on the history of Nikkatsu, and the Stray Cat Rock films.
My first taste of the “Girl Gang” movies was on Panik House’s The Pinky Violence Collection. That taste got me super hooked. These films tend to be more fun than yakuza films and less revolting than the more explicit Pinku genre. And yet they somehow fall somewhere in between both genres. They often feature women kicking ass and leaving men in the dust. It’s pretty great. If this is your first time dipping your toe into this sub-genre, you’re in for a treat. Even though I’ll probably only rewatch three of the five films in this set, I consider them absolutely essential if you dig this stuff. All five Stray Cat Rock movies are a fun peek into early-1970s youth culture from one of Japan’s most prolific movie studios.