Written by: Michael Den Boer on March 19th, 2005
Theatrical Release Dates: Japan, 1978, 1979, 1981, 1988
Directors: Chusei Sone, Noboru Tanaka, Toshiharu Ikeda, Takashi Ishii
Writers: Toshiharu Ikeda, Takashi Ishii, Chusei Sone
Cast: Machiko Ohtani, Sanshô Shinsui, Kenji Kasai, Megu Kawashima, Yuuki Mizuhara, Keizo Kanie, Eri Kanuma, Takeo Chii, Jun Izumi, Masahiko Abe, Mayako Katsuragi, Naoto Takenaka, Hirofumi Kobayashi
DVD Released: March 29th, 2005
Approximate Running Time: 536 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 and 1:85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese, Dolby Digital Mono Japanese
DVD Release: Artsmagic
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $79.95
By the early 1970’s Japan’s oldest studio the Nikkatsu Corporation had fallen on hard times and the powers that be decided that it was a time for the company to go into a new direction. The Nikkatsu Corporation would shift all of its attention to a new genre appropriately named Roman Porno and over the next eighteen years (1971-1988) the Nikkatsu Corporation would produced approximately 850 of these films. The Angel Guts series is based on a Manga created by Takashi Ishii in 1977 and one year later the first film High School Coed was released. Every film except High School Coed has lead characters named Nami and Muraki that are different incarnations of the same character that are only related in name only. These Roman Porno films have been rarely seen out side of their homeland Japan and Artsmagic’s Angel Guts release marks the North American debut of the five films contained in this collection.
High School Co-Ed: A group of motor bike driving hoodlums Tetsuro, Kaji & Sada follow and harass a rich couple before they finally corner their vehicle. The woman runs away as they are trashing the car and kicking her boyfriends’ ass. She makes them chase her for awhile then they finally pin her down and take turns rasping her. Tetsuro is the leader of the gang and he works at a factory during the day. Nami is a girl that Tetsuro becomes infatuated with which starts to threaten his friendship with Kaji & Sada. After some pushing Kaji & Sada convince Tetsuro that the gang should have some fun with Nami at the train yard and as usual Tetsuro gets to go first. Only this time is different when he is finished raping Nami he refuses to let them have their turns just like they used to in the past with other girls. Megu is Tetsuro’s sister and when Kaji can get his way with Nami he decides to violate Megu to get Tetsuro’s attention.
Some of the look of the film resembles 1950’s American nostalgia with leather jackets and greased back hair. Teen angst has been the subject of many films through the years and in High School Coed it has never felt as dirty. The director fills the screen with teenage girls who look barely legal as they parade around in their school girl uniforms. This film is filled with characters that are hard to sympathize with and the only non sleazy relationship in the film is the one between Tetsuro and his sister Megu. He spends most of the film trying to protect her from men that are his mirror image. The story is pretty straight forward and relies less on rape then some of the other films in the series. The characters are also not that well developed and what little we find out about them leads the viewer to believe that they are sex maniacs. The director makes excellent use of sound as he balances moments of silence with more industrial sounds. Every frame is beautifully composed with shots that let you know that this is not your ordinary exploitation film.
Red Classroom: A young girl runs through the school hallways as their thugs chase after her. They corner her in one of the classrooms as each of them takes turns raping her. We soon find out that the action that we are watching is nothing more then a staged blue movie that a group of dirty old men have been watching. Muraki is the boss of an S&M magazine who becomes infatuated with Nami the girl in the film. When he tracks Nami down and approaches her about working with him he finds out that she is now a prostitute who has no desire to make those ever again. They forge a friendship that is put to the test when Muraki doesn’t show up one day to meet Nami because he has been arrested. Will Muraki be able to gain Nami’s trust again or has he lost her forever?
Red Classroom takes a cold and cynical look at the world of porno as the director never once tries to glamorize this business. Director Chusei Sone fills every composition with sexual symbolism. Overall Red Classroom rapes scenes are not as brutal as the rape scenes in the other films in the series. Nami this time around is more assertive as the nymphet and not the victim that we are at first lead to believe that she is. There is a scene in Red Classroom in which Nami is given a golden shower by one of her lovers. I found this scene to be a bit too much and I felt it pushed the boundaries of decency to the limit. Red Classroom’s abstract plot is blessing and one of the films biggest handicaps. The film comes full circle just as the film began with a rape it ends with another young girl losing her innocence.
Nami: Nami is a reporter who writes articles about woman who have been and their experiences. Muraki is a former editor of hugely successful magazine who has spent the last three years looking for his wife. His wife left him for the man who raped her one night while Muraki was to busy working because the rapist unlike her husband could satisfy her. Along the way Nami and Muraki joins forces as he helps her work on her next feature. While interviewing a former rape victim Nami is assaulted and raped by the woman. Can Muraki help Nami or will she be forever traumatized by the consequences of her violation?
Nami is the most cohesive story in the Angel Guts series and unlike the other films we are given time to get to known the two lead characters Nami and Muraki. Their back stories and motivations have been fleshed out which allows the viewer to sympathize with them during their darkest hour. The story takes an interesting approach as it analyzes how a reporter forcing a victim to retell their story is in a sense a violation in its self. An amusing moment occurs during one of the scenes that takes place at a strip club where a sex show is going on and the man on the stage is wearing an over sized fallace. Nami is a voyeur who by the end of the films becomes a participant in her violation.
Red Porno: An unseen stranger stalks Nami on her way home from work. He calls her up breathing heavily never says a word before she hangs up. Nami who now works a department store is being pursed by one of her bosses. He is a married man and she becomes his mistress on the side. Years before she participated reluctantly in a bondage photo shoot that has resurfaced to bring problems to her current life. When her boss/lover wife finds out about Nami’s past he begins to worry about if her past becomes known at work that his affair with Nami will also be exposed so he fires her. A strange man has been following Nami around and she now fears for her life.
Red Porno clocks in at just barely more then one hour and the films moves at a break neck pace that is never dull. Red Porno is the most erotic film in the Angel Guts series with the sex in which Nami and Muraki have sex under a jungle gym as rain pours on them from above being one of the films highlights. Everything goes in Red Porno as legs from coffee tables are used as dildo’s and in another sensual scene a woman puts an egg in a condom. Director Toshiharu Ikeda use of red light is accentuated by his highly stylized compositions. Overall Red Porno is like a fragment of dream that ends too soon.
Red Vertigo: Nami boyfriend Kinji is porno photographer who is having an affair with one of the girls he is photographing. Nami is cornered at work by two men who rape her. She is forced to leave work early because of this trauma. After Nami arrives home she soon discovers that her boyfriend has been cheating on her. Distraught she leaves and while she is walking down the road she is hit by car driven by Muraki. He is a former stock broker who embezzled millions from his clients. Nami remains unconscious at first and Muraki not wanting to get into trouble for hitting her keeps her captive in his car. When Nami comes too she tries to escape only to be captured once again by Muraki. Will Nami ever escape her captor or has she fallen for him?
The main theme that runs through out the film is Trust. Nami is unable to trust because of her boyfriends’ infidelity and her recent rape which lowers her view of men in general. Muraki has betrayed everyone who has ever come in contact with him and now he expects Nami to forgive him for what he has done to her. The two lead characters Nami and Muraki’s lives seem to intersect each others as they meet at each others lowest point. The film makes good use of its limited locations and first time director Takashi Ishii’s visual style is a tapestry of erotic interludes that leave the viewer begging for more. Red Vertigo has the most graphic sex scenes out of all the films in the Angel guts series and there are several instances of fogging to cover up the most naughty parts (genitals and pubic hair was censored in Japanese films until the late 1990’s). Overall Red Vertigo is a satisfying conclusion to the Nikkatsu Angel Guts films.
Conclusion: Japanese cinema has had a long fascination with rape and the misfortune of others as entertainment. Angel Guts when compared to some of the American raped theme films like Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave is not as sadistic in its portrayal of rape. Angel Guts focuses more on the after math that is brought on by the act then the pure shock of showing senseless violence. All five of these films have been carefully compose and beautifully photographed. There is an artistry that is evident immediately that feels genuine and not faked like most exploitation films. It is amazing how the directors used their surroundings to block with furniture and motor bikes any of the sex acts that may have been censored. The Angel Guts films don’t ever try to glorify these savage acts of violence that are directed towards women. Instead they show rape in its most raw brutal form warts and all. Rain is a common theme that runs through out the series and in many cases rape victims use the rain to cleanse themselves of the filth that has invaded their person. There are so many themes and ideas present in these films which make pin pointing a definitive answer as to what are these films all about impossible without multiple viewings.
Artmagic’s Angel Guts collection presents the following films Red Classroom and Nami in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves their original 2.35:1 aspect ratios. Both films exhibit vivid color palettes with natural looking flesh tones. The black levels remain strong through out and grain is kept to a minimum. Red Classroom does suffer from some minor print damage, still nothing that ever is to distracting. Nami has the best overall transfer out of the five films included in the Angel Guts collection. Red Porno and Red Vertigo are both presented in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves their original 1.85:1 aspect ratios. Both films have strong lucid colors and healthy looking flesh tones. The black levels remain constant and grain is kept to minimum. Overall both Red Porno and Red Vertigo transfers are in excellent shape and details are sharp through out. High School Co-Ed has been given an anamorphic transfer unfortunately the image which starts out about 2.35:1 during the films opening credits crops to ratio of about 1.85:1 for the remainder of the film. For the most part the cropping is not so excessive that whole individuals are missing out of frame; still there are a few moments when the framing does feel a bit too tight. There is some noticeable print damage, still nothing that ever makes the movie unwatchable. The colors are robust and black levels remain string through out. This some noticeable grain which is kept to a minimum and flesh tones look healthy. There are no problems with compressions with any of these films. Besides some minor edge enhancement and the cropping of the High School Co-Ed release Artsmagic has done an amazing job rescuing these rare films obscurity.
All five films in the Angel Guts collection come with two audio options the films original mono mixes and new 5.1 remixes both presented in a Dolby Digital that preserves these films original Japanese language audio. All five of these films audio has been cleaned up as the dialog comes through crisp and there are no problems with hiss or distortion. You really can’t go wrong whether you choose the films original Dolby Digital mono mix or the new Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. The main difference between the two mixes is that the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix has a fuller beefed sound then the Dolby Digital mono mix. English subtitles have been included for all the films and extras for this release. They are easy to read and follow.
Extras include original trailers for the five Angel guts film included in his collection and each DVD comes with the same five trailers. Other extras include original sleeve art for each of the five films and bio/filmographies for all the major cast & crew. There are also seven interviews spread of the five DVD’s. Rounding out the extras are audio commentaries by Midnight Eye’s Jasper Sharp. Each film comes with a separate commentary in which Mr. Sharp lays the ground work for the Angel Guts series and the Roman Porno genre. The commentaries are filled with interesting facts and Mr. Sharp never waists the listeners’ time by analyzing these films and forcing his opinions on the viewers. He also makes some interesting comparisons between the Angel Guts series and other rape oriented films. My only minor complaint about the commentaries is the Mr. Sharp does repeat himself a few times over the course of the five films. It is almost like he was setting up each individual with the same info as if the listener hadn’t seen any of the other films. This would have been fine if the films had been sold separately and not in a box set.
On the High School Co-Ed DVD there are two interviews “Toshiharu Ikeda on Chusei” director Toshiharu Ikeda at first talks mostly about working for the Nikkatsu Corporation before finishing up with some kind words about his mentor in runs about seven minutes in length. The second interview with “Angel Guts and Manga with Takashi Ishii” as the Angel Guts creator Takashi Ishii discusses the origins of the series as well as his failed apprenticeship that happened a few years before he started working on the Angel Guts Manga. This interview runs about twenty seven minutes in length. The Red Classroom DVD also comes with two interviews. The first interview “Takashi Ishii on Angel Guts” as the Angel Guts creator Takashi Ishii discusses further the Angel Guts series and his feelings about the film adaptations. This interview runs about seventeen minutes in length. The second interview “Takashi Ishii on Chusei Sone” is also with Takashi Ishii who discusses in depth Chusei Sone’s contributions to the first two Angel Guts films. This interview runs about ten minutes in length. Nami includes one interview “Noboru Tanaka Interview” in which director Noboru Tanaka discusses working with Chusei Sone and the Nikkatsu Corporation as well as the film Nami. This interview runs about forty minutes in length. Red Porno includes one interview “Toshiharu Ikeda Interview” director Toshiharu Ikeda gives an overview of his career at the Nikkatsu Corporation. This interview runs about thirty six minutes in length. On the final DVD Red Vertigo is included a final interview “Takashi Ishii Interview” with the Angel Guts creator Takashi Ishii who gives his final thoughts on the series as a whole and his first experience as a director on the film Red Vertigo. This interview runs about thirty two minutes in length. Overall the interviews are filled with a wealth of information on the making of these films and the Roman porno genre. The directors are lucid as they reminisce and they appear too filled with a sense of pride with what they have accomplished.
Artsmagic have nearly put together a flawless release with two minor exceptions the cropping of the first film High School Co-Ed from 2.35:1 to 1.85:1 after all the work that they had done on all the transfer and the design of the sets packaging. The Angel Guts collection comes in a digi-pack which have been known to damage easily and they also suffer from the problem that if one of the hub’s that is holding a DVD breaks you can’t replace it since it is part of the package. The cover and inner artwork is seductive as it fully represents the feels of the series. Overall Artsmagic have raised the bar for extra content with their Angel Guts DVD making this their best release to date. They have included about nearly eight hours extras spread over seven exclusive interviews with directors who worked on this series and five insightful commentaries by Midnight Eye’s Jasper Sharp. The Angel Guts series is definitely not for everyone and I can only recommend it those who love their exploitation down and dirty.