Mondo Macabro presents
Assault! Jack the Ripper (1976)
"Don't be shocked. It's only blood. You bleed too."- The Hitchhiker (Yuri Yamashina)
Stars: Tamaki Katsura, Yutaka Hayashi
Other Stars: Yuri Yamashina, Natsuko Yashiro, Runa Takamura
Director: Yasuharu Hasebe
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (gore, violence, nudity, sexuality, sadism)
Run Time: 01h:11m:53s
Release Date: 2008-10-28
DVD ReviewDuring the 1970s, the Japanese cinema first turned to the pink movies and roman pornos, giving the viewers a healthy heaping dose of sex. One of the foremost practitioners of the genre was the Nikkatsu studio, with a glossy product that outclassed most of the rest of their competition. When the market started to sag, however, Nikkatsu combined often extreme violence with the sex, resulting in the "violent pink." This offbeat picture is one of the more intriguing entries of this grouping.
A surly waitress (Tamaki Katsura) finds herself attracted to a withdrawn pastry chef (Yutaka Hayashi) at the restaurant where she works. Their relationship deepens in an unexpected way when they pick up a hitchhiker (Yuri Yamashina), who slits her wrists in the back seat of his car; when they throw her out, she clings to the vehicle and ends up killed. Before long, the twosome realize that blood generates sexual excitement for them both, sending them on a killing spree to produce heat for their relationship. But things take a turn for the even worse when he starts to take lives on his own, culminating in a massacre in a nurses' dormitory.
Loosely based on the crimes of Richard Speck, this movie obviously has nothing to do with the English serial killer of the title beyond the use of a knife. It has more in common with Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, since although there's plenty of gore and nudity onscreen, the central relationship between the chef and the waitress is the key to director Hasebe's interest. That's most clearly expressed in a humorous sequence in which they noisily eat spaghetti, in extreme closeup, after a brutal killing. The fact that neither they, nor any of their victims, is ever given a name emphasizes both their anonymity and suggests that we as the viewer of their atrocities may conceal within us some of their bloodlust, albeit safely kept on the screen. Indeed, although there's copious nudity (especially for the voluptuous Katsura), and blood flows freely, it's judiciously kept camouflaged or maintained offscreen. Nevertheless, the impact of the stabbings is even more horrible thanks to some particularly nasty sound effects.
The waitress's initial disdain turns to passion as the chef makes himself a man through bloodletting, like some pagan ritual. But it's also a source of friction, for when he doesn't kill on her command, but targets his own victims, she's increasingly jealous, which in turn drives a wedge between them. The final butchery is almost like spitting in her fact, especially as the chef uses the knife implicitly as a phallus, committing adultery through homicide.
There's enough variety in the killings to hold the viewer's interest, even though none of the murders are particularly inventive. The chef is lucky more than anything, as he cruises to homicide in his employer's car, with the name of the restaurant emblazoned all over it; he also hardly gets a drop of blood on him, despite the fact it's spraying everywhere. This feature lends a fantastical air to the otherwise gory proceedings, suggesting that what we're seeing might be more fantasy than fact. The ambiguity of the ending suggests that what the chef is really seeking is liberation from the waitress, though it's certainly open to interpretation.
Katsura is quite effective as the waitress, enough of a temptress to motivate the chef to murder for her gratification, and nasty enough a piece of work to make it clear she certainly might enjoy such practices. At the same time, she convinces the viewer that she really loves the chef, and can't bear the thought that he's going ahead without her. Hayashi plays his role as withdrawn enough that it's hard to get a read on him, letting his actions speak instead. Runa Takamura has a small role as a seamstress victim who very nearly turns the tables on the chef, until the waitress, disturbed at her exclusion, shows up. While it's obvious exploitation fodder, there's more going on here, and offers more substance than one might expect.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B
|Aspect Ratio||2.35:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture generally looks pretty decent, with some good detail and acceptable levels of texture; in particular the skin tones look fine (the chef's complexion wanders into the greenish on occasion, but that seems to be intentional). Blacks are a bit weak, and the picture has a washed out quality on occasion, but it's nevertheless quite watchable. The source print is in excellent condition, with no significant damage present.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The Japanese mono track sounds acceptable for what it is, though there's little depth to it and it has a rather thin quality. The insanely pop-tinged and optimistic soundtrack comes across well enough, and is clean and free of significant noise or hiss.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Watcher in the Attic, Naked Rashomon, The Sins of Sister Lucia, Female Prisoner: Caged
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Layers Switch: 00h:59m:04s
Extras Review: The most substantial extra here is the documentary The Erotic Empire (23m:52s), which introduces and explores in some detail the history of these sleazy Japanese films. Nikkatsu in particular is given more attention in an interview with author Jasper Sharp (8m:29s), and especially the work of director Yasuharu Hasebe (though surprisingly little actual coverage of this feature is included). A set of anamorphic widescreen trailers (all unfortunately unsubtitled) and a brief set of production notes round out the package.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsAn intriguing, gory and sexy turn through one of the weirder episodes in Japanese mainstream moviemaking, with a nice transfer and some good supporting extras.
Mark Zimmer 2008-11-07