Review for Stray Cat Rock - The Collection
There’s no doubt that the ‘Stray Cat Rock’ really ticks all the boxes for cult movie lovers. Comprising five films, all lovingly gathered into a single box-set for our convenience, the truth is that, once the excitement at seeing psychedelic Yakuzas riding motor-bikes, crazy Japanese bands that make Jimi Hendrix sound like Hank Marvin and Grrrrrl Power personified with the coolest girl gangs ever outside a Russ Meyer movie this is could be argued as a case of diminishing returns. In other words, things start off great but viewed one after the other they start to become slightly less fun. Which is not to say that any one of the films is particularly bad, it’s just that none are particularly good either.
Apparently all five movies were shot in quick succession, over a single year, almost like producing a TV show, and it’s not hard to see them that way. Yasuharu Hasebe (Female Prisoner Scorpion Grudge Song ) directed three (Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss, Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter and Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal) whilst a second director, Toshiya Fujita (Lady Snowblood) made the other two ( Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo and Stray Cat Rock: Beat ’71).
Though the films use pretty much the same ensemble of actors, a groovy bunch of Japanese hipsters, models, actors and musicians, arguably the main attraction in each is Meiko Kaji who you’ll recognise from countless other Japanese cult movies from the period – most notably Lady Snowblood. But that was all to follow. All five films also feature Bunjyaki Han (New Female Prisoner Scorpion:#701) and Tatuya Fuji (In the Realm of the Senses).
This Blu-Ray set from Arrow puts the first three films on Disc 1 with the last two on Disc 2 along with some extra features.
Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss
Probably the most enjoyable of the five films in my view (though this may just have been because it was the first) this film features a girl gang led by a slightly manly, uber-tall biker chick called Ako (who is also a decent rock singer as we see and hear at several points in the film). She helps out when she sees the leader of a gang (Mei) being harassed by another all-girl gang who unfairly call in their male counter-parts who arrive on bikes to clash with the rival girl gang. Seeing the injustice of it, Ako wades in with her bike and disrupts the clash, eventually escaping with Mei as a passenger. The rival gang is a part of a criminal consortium, a mini-mafia, who want Mei’s boyfriend to persuade his close friend, a boxer, to throw a fight. The friend agrees and all is set for a big win for the gang – until the boxer friend decides to fight back and win the fight. The gang beat Mei’s boyfriend to within an inch of his life and she sets out to rescue him and take vengeance on the gang.
Despite the film being far from politically correct (it was made in the very early seventies after all) it is a great example of allowing the power to rest with women for once. The real role models in this film are certainly the women who come across as generally tougher, smarter and righteous.
The film rattles along apace and doesn’t feel like a 90 minute movie. There are lots of decent bike / mini-moke chases up and down stairs, through shopping precincts and across industrial wastelends. A close challenger to ‘The French Connection’ – well, almost.
All in all, just good unadulterated fun, as long as you’re not too squeamish about violence. Quentin Tarantino and Takashi Miike must have watched and taken notes!
Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo
A lesser movie than the first in almost every respect, Wild Jumbo is pretty much a heist movie.
I was expecting some real continuity from the first film though was sorely disappointed. Despite a weird momentary appearance of Ako at the start of the movie, not a single character from the first movie appears in this. So the ‘Stray Cat Rock’ continuum is more a vibe than a narrative.
Not only is it a different group characters, the film has a different director, Toshiya Fujita and therefore, a totally different, almost comedic vibe. Of course the cast all look spookily familiar – I guess the way a Carry On film works with same actors, different roles, and the story-line very loosely links to the first in that the group want to rob the criminal gang featured in the first outing.
This means training together and some pretty extreme risk-taking, but only after some typical teenage japery on a busy beach (where the group expose their backsides as they drive through the crowds).
There is more than a little violence, some of it quite explicit – so be warned.
Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter
This movie, above all the others, has a righteous narrative involving the cruelty of racism and it uses this to great effect. A ‘half breed’ named Kazuma comes to town in search of his lost sister Megumi, also a ‘half-breed’ despite the fact that, unlike him, she doesn’t look like one.
Mako leads an all-girl gang that fights with a male gang called the Eagles. The Eagles head, mysteriously called ‘Baron’ is in love with Mako, though we learn is unable to consummate that love due to impotence. Baron has an irrational and ugly hatred of ‘half-breeds’, one of who whom he believes raped his sister years ago, and he isn’t happy that Mako’s gang appear to be helping Kazuma. As a result (and this could only happen in a Japanese Pinku movie really) he ‘sells’ the girl gang to some men who then believe they have the right to rape the girls. When Mako learns of this she pays a visit – Molotov Cocktails in hand.
Sadly, initially Kazuma’s sister denies any knowledge of him – she believes that being a ‘half-breed’ is disgusting. But when she sees how much he is prepared to fight on her behalf, the truth begins to dawn on her about where her loyalties should lie. Mako was never in any doubt.
Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal
Well, just when you thought things had got pretty strange in the series, they’re about to get even stranger. What are the chances of this happening in Tokyo?
Two friends in an old car are trying to help an American Vietnam War deserted escape to Sweden by selling a large consignment of LSD. When the Maya and the girl gang get wind that the out-of-towners are holding 500 tabs they’re quite keen to get them for their own use. In the meantime, a rival gang isn’t happy about someone else dealing on their turf. By far the druggiest of all the films, with plenty of pot smoking and other drug references throughout, ‘Machine Animal’ is also a film about compassion and empathy where the duos motives (helping their friend) is seen as good enough to deserve respect.
There are some great bike chases in the film, a feature of the Stray Cat Series really.
Stray Cat Rock: Beat ‘71
The fifth and final episode represents a real gear shift with the group now existing as a single boy/girl gang of free-wheeling hippies, living a commune lifestyle. There is even a small child, of questionable parentage, who appears throughout the film.
The local mayor, a corrupt and wealthy man devoid of any morals, frames his son’ s girlfriend Furiko for murder that his own son committed . When she breaks out of the prison she goes in search of her man, only to find that he has been brain-washed by his Father’s gang and no longer wants to see her. As a result, the whole gang believe he is being held prisoner and set off to rescue him.
The whole thing culminates in a deserted mining town, very much like a western, with guns or sticks of dynamite being the weapon of choice.
Although my review check discs were Blu-Ray, this could easily have passed as a decent DVD in my opinion. Yes – I know it wouldn’t have been 1080 pixels, but the film’s dated and scratchy look belies the usual pristine gloss of Blu-Ray. They’re not bad by any stretch, just full of seventies grain which was the popular grading for the era, as well as a little bit of wear and tear. Well, this set was never going to get the frame-by-frame re-mastering treatment!
Audio is Japanese with very clearly displayed English subs. This is thr first time these translated versions have been officially available.
Apparently the box-set is limited to just 2000 copies so I can see it selling out almost immediately though I guess there may be separate movie releases in the offing. The booklet (from where all the images here were taken) is a nicely presented, well-designed and well written piece (Jasper Sharp) and well worth having.
Other extras include a lengthy interview with the now quite elderly Yasuharu Hasebe, director of Delinquent Girl Boss, Sex Hunter and Machine Animal, who still seems to think well of the films. As he says, he was only interested in action, not kissing and romance, and as a result, his films are full of action and fighting.
There’s also an interview with actor Tatsuya Fuji, star of Beat ’71, who gives some background to why he used his trademark joker-like laugh.
The trailers you see here are also included.
All in all, a really worthwhile set and great value for the price. If it sounds like your type of thing then it almost certainly will be. Don’t wait too long before picking up the set. The claim is – when they’re gone, they’re gone.