Posted: 11/27/04
© 2003 Filmmonthly.com
The 'Angel Guts' Series (2004)
by Shaun Manning



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From ArtsMagicDVD comes a series of Japanese films unlike anything possible in America. The Angel Guts banner houses brutal yet stirring films about the rape of a high school student, Nami, and examines the underlying causes and conflicts of men who perpetrate violence upon women.

In High School Co-ed, a gang of young bikers revels in stalking unsuspecting prey, robbing the men and violating the women. Kawashima, their leader, is cool and precise about his work, whereas Kaji and Sada are more playful, the reckless joyriders and rakish villains. Whereas Sada is intensely loyal to Kawashima, Kaji has begun to resent his second-string status - particularly when Kawashima prevents him from engaging in his favorite sport with Nami. To make amends with Kaji and keep the gang together, Kawashima will have to prove his mettle by destroying the virtue he's just saved. But has the raw cynic Kawashima fallen in love?

With absolutely no sentimentality, this shocking portrayal of Japanese youth will be a wake-up call to both disaffected youth and those frightened of them: in this world, nobody wins. Kawashima professes to care for nothing, but affection for his sister leads him down a path that will destroy even the rough comfort of his thuggish life. Like A Clockwork Orange, there are no heroes in HSC, only villains and victims, and a Big Bad from within the pack of protagonists.

Directed by Chusei Sone, this installation of Angel Guts features some clever cinematography and a disturbing level of attention to what is revealed and what concealed.

For Red Classroom, Sone changes gears and looks at the life of an honest man in a dishonest industry. Muraki is the editor of Gravura Magazine, a monthly publication of hardcore pornography. Demanding an "aesthetic" his photographers can never understand, Muraki struggles against himself to portray women with style. When Muraki sees a "blue movie" at a backroom party, he becomes infatuated with the actress and seeks her out. When he discovers that Nami, the star of the rape film, was not acting at all, Muraki resolves to show her the decency and respect that Nami swears does not exist.

Muraki is a flawed hero (too strong a word - flawed protagonist, perhaps?), for even as he professes love for Nami he maintains an abusive affair with a former girlfriend. He runs into serious trouble with the law, and oscillates between romantic idealism and craven cynicism without missing a beat.

The film-within-a-film opening sequence sets up Red Classroom beautifully, as this is a movie about life intersecting with film, with the men and women involved in the production of pornography fighting to tell the difference.

Red Vertigo varies significantly from the others in that Nami is a much more conventional character, but the plot, if anything, is a dark parody of the rest of the series. The first Angel Guts directed by Takashi Ishii, Red Vertigo follows a new Nami on a really, really bad day. Working as a nurse, Nami is nearly raped by two of her patients. Coming home, she finds her photographer boyfriend in bed with one of his models. Fleeing that scene, she is hit by a car driven by scandal-clouded salaryman Muraki. Unconscious from the impact, Nami wakes up with her hands tied and Muraki fondling her lasciviously. After a good fight, a chase, and another heroic battle, Nami is raped again. Muraki, though, isn't as strong and confident as he would like to believe. Failing to "come out on top," he confesses to Nami that he really just wanted to be with someone. Still bound, Nami accepts a ride back to Tokyo - but first, a stop at a hotel to freshen up.

The desperation of both Nami and Muraki in Red Vertigo is palpable, such that the viewer will want to embrace them and slap them in the face all at once. Nami, most unfortunate soul, evokes both sympathy and pathos, as her day from hell leads her to a questionable relationship with her attacker.

Also included in the ArtsmagicDVD set will be Nami and Red Porno. These were not available for advance review, but Nami is of particular interest for its history in Japanese cinema. Viewers attending the theatrical release would frequently faint away from distress, as Nami becomes a willing participant in the corrupt world established through the other Angel Guts films.

It is worth noting, of course, that Nami is not the same character from movie to movie, but the continuity established by using the same name and actress for each film is unsettling. This device establishes Nami as any woman, or none at all, as the reactions to rape can be as varied as the reasons for committing the act. What is clear, though, is that the series does not in any way condone this violent crime - in every case it is a life-altering event for Nami, and frequently for the men as well.

Shaun Manning is a writer living in Chicago.

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