Monday, March 3, 2008

RICA Movie Review

RICA (1972)

Born a half-breed, the result of her mother being raped by an American G.I. in post-WWII, Rica’s life has been filled with nothing but taunts and misery. Her anger leads her straight into gang life, where she quickly becomes the leader of her own gang. But when she is arrested during a fight, and thrown into reform school, the rest of her gang is kidnapped by the local yakuza who plan to sell them to Americans now stationed in Vietnam. When Rica learns of the outrage, she busts out of the reform school to try and buy back her friends’ freedom. Rica is given just half a day to raise three million yen, and although she miraculously finds the money, she just misses the deadline set by the yakuza boss. It seems that all hope is lost for her friends, who are now boxed up in crates on a cargo ship. But Rica is determined to get her friends back, even if that means aligning herself with a rival gang leader, and dancing in the yakaza’s night club!

With Toei’s near stranglehold on the "pinky violence" genre in the late sixties and early seventies with their popular DELINQUENT GIRL BOSS, TERRIFYING GIRLS’ HIGH SCHOOL, and CRIMINAL WOMAN among many others keeping theatergoers enthralled with their mix of sex and crime, rival studio Toho wanted to get in on the action, and thus the RICA series was born. Their choice for starring lead was first time actress Rika Aoki, who herself was a mixed-race woman (the alternate title for the film is aptly named RIKA THE MIXED-BLOOD GIRL) and towered over all those around her to begin with, and that was before putting her in a pair of go-go boots. Rika Aoki may not have the beauty of her actress rivals over at Toei, but her ability bare all (and sing the movie’s theme song!) was no less impaired. But Rika Aoki truly comes alive during her many fight sequences, with a fire burning behind her eyes and a force behind her kicks.

Director Ko Nakahira brings a dizzying and breakneck speed pace to the film, and offering up an truly insane amount of content to digest in the span of the film’s ninety-five minute running time. At times the jumps from one scene to another are ludicrous, and it takes nearly half the scene to catch up to what is happening, before being thrown into the next scene and starting all over. Ko Nakahira must have clearly seen a slew of current pinky violence movies before jumping behind this project, as he tries to get a little bit of everything into the picture. Ko Nakahira had over twenty films under his belt, mostly dealing with crime and exploitation, when he made RICA, and clearly wanted to deliver to a rabid audience and take advantage of the lax movie regulations.

On the violence side, Rica stands against a girl gang in the reform school, hold her own against a yakuza gang, brawls on board a ship with the rest of her gang, and thats just for starters. While the choreography and believability of the sequences leaves much to be desired, there is a certain charm and energy that can not be resisted. Ko Nakahira delivers up everything but the kitchen sink in scene after scene of colorfully clothed combatants with a riveting jazz soundtrack ripping along underneath. And of course there is the copious amounts of blood spraying whenever someone is shot, stabbed, or has their hand garishly removed with a dull knife!

On the pinky side, things get quite rough for Rica and her female compatriots. Rika Aoki unapologetically sheds her clothes in multiple sequences, and many of the sex scenes are nothing more than rape. Both Rica’s conception and loss of virginity are played out as the ugly and violent acts they are (and the only saving grace of the scenes) and much of the nudity is via forced strip. There is no sense of arousal for these scenes, which at least shows that Ko Nakahira has moral courage to treat the material properly, and those that are responsible for the attacks all get their comeuppance.

While Ko Nakahira delivers up standard exploitation fare through the film, what sets RICA apart from the crowd is its nasty anti-American sentiment, with a particular sting at the military occupation in Japan and the then-current Vietnam War. G.I.s are set-up as nothing more than power-hungry rapists who take women when they want them, or buy them like property. In one particular sequence, a young soldier is even killed by M.P.s when he tries to escape from being shipped out to Vietnam. This is of course after he gets a chance to spout off about how he is just being shipped off to die.

RICA feels like a condense version of two or three films, that have been stripped down to the best (and in some cases worst) sequences, with the shoestring budget hidden beneath its breakneck speed. As an entry into the pinky violence genre, it falls pretty much flat in the middle. It is certainly not the first film you’d want to seek out, but if you’re looking for something that takes a little effort to find, and have already torn through everything that Panik House has released in the US over the past few years, this is the series to go to next. Fortunately for you, RICA is currently available on DVD (and ready to pick up on Amazon), courtesy of Exploitation Digital. Check it out, and bask in the sleaze that is 70’s Japanese cinema.


JD said...

This sounds like a good one.
Another one I have to add to my list.
Very good review.

Anonymous said...

This one sounds great! I'm putting it in the queue. Thanks for the excellent review!

DJ SOUL said...

Classic... Watched it earlier tonight...

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