Angel Guts: High School Co-Ed (1978)
Director: Chusei Sone
Writers: Toshiharu Ikeda, Takashi Ishii, and Ryuusaku Shinsui
Starring: Tatsuma Higuchi, Kenji Kasai, Megu Kawashima, and Machiko Ohtani

The Plot: Angel Guts: High School Co-Ed follows around a trio of bikers led by a rough and tumble young man named Kawashima. The gang is notorious for their brutal ways, and on average their day consists of attempted murder, rape, and whatever other foul deeds they manage to come up with. However, things begin to go awry for the group whenever Kawashima begins to develop a conscience. Between his little sister Megu, who is beginning to enter into adulthood, and his developing feelings for the group’s latest victim, a girl named Nami, Kawashima is actually beginning to leave behind his sociopathic ways. However, his partners aren’t feeling the exact same way – and a brutal conflict is stirring on the streets. Can Kawashima simply drop his former lifestyle, or will he pay for all of his wrongdoings?

The Review
Some movies grab you by the throat right from their start. They establish everything that the viewer needs to know and they do it with the visceral impact of a shotgun blast to the chest. Angel Guts: High School Co-Ed is a movie that falls into this category. Opening with a black and white montage that is highlighted by a thick and thudding rock soundtrack, the movie is wholly unlike anything else from the roman porno genre. This is style stacked on top of style and it shows that these filmmakers were doing their best to try and replicate the look and feel of the manga that this story was based upon. Although it would have been amazing to see the rest of the film shot in a super high contrasting black and white, the technicolor mayhem that is further unleashed upon the audience is also a visual treat. Once we see the fully colored backgrounds of Japan appear, the movie begins to show off its exploitative roots. Opening with a gang rape sequence that nearly eats up ten minutes of screen time, the movie first hypnotizes us with its energy and style, but then confounds us both with its depravity. The most shocking part of this brutal rape sequence isn’t solely in the actual rape, but the fact that one of these disgusting monsters also happens to be our lead protagonist.

Angel Guts, despite starting relatively late in the roman porno cycle, seems to exemplify the non-traditional mentality that the original pinku films, which started in the independent market, were known for. It deals in taboo and touchy subject matter, but at the same time delivers a very artistic and often-beautiful cinema. The perfect moment to encapsulate this is in the sequence where we see our group of bikers corner the “Nami” character and proceed to victimize her in a train yard. In what begins as a vulgar and horrific moment quickly becomes something more difficult to explain. As the scene is intensified due to a downpour of rain, the music becomes sentimental, and our lead character becomes much more complex as we watch him strangle the girl until she falls unconscious. Yet, as she falls limp, he drags her away from his fellow thugs and finds a more intimate setting. Here, he begins to caress and kiss the unconscious girl. Unwilling to show his affection in front of his friends, and without knowledge of true intimacy, his character does not become immediately sympathetic, but it does become obvious that SOMETHING is going on with this character. The strange depth of personality that is painted onto this character becomes part of what makes High School Co-Ed so engaging. The audience is unable to tell where this story is going, but due to the surreal nature of the events taking place, they can’t help but feel the strings of curiosity dragging them away.

High School Co-Ed is a film that defines the broad spectrum of good and evil. Sometimes one person inhabits both qualities, but more often than not it becomes difficult to gather who is more villainous than another. Ultimately, if you go into the movie expecting to find any single winner within the entire story, then you are bound to find nothing but disappointment. The little sister within the story, Megu, is easily the most obvious representation of absolute good. Within the context of the story, she seems to be the least corrupted. However, as soon as the audience catches a glimpse of her and sees the protection afforded to her by her big brother, we know that she is going to be devastated at some point. Nami is a character who plays the middle ground. This is an interesting development, since the Nami character is normally our lead protagonist within the Angel Guts series, but in this film she is only a supporting character who holds a little less impact on the overall plot. She comes across as someone more familiar with the nastiness of the world surrounding her and she develops a rather apathetic feeling towards life as the movie progresses. Kawashima is the most complex of all the characters. His actions near the beginning of our story show him to be the embodiment of evil, but we soon find out that this character is just as human as his victims. He fears for his little sister and his past sins seem incapable of allowing him to find love on his own. He is a demented, but rather sad, character.

After delving so heavy into the world of Japanese exploitation, I feel somewhat embarrassed to have not gone through the entire Angel Guts series at this point. It is especially worse since I have owned the DVD boxset from Artsmagic for years at this point and I am even quoted on the box due to my review for Red Dizzyness. Yet, I never went back and watched the films in chronological order. I had started High School Co-Ed in the past, but never finished the film until now. So, I have a great deal of catching up with the series, and I intend to do that right here on Varied Celluloid. So, getting back to High School Co-Ed, everything that I have described up until this point within the review probably makes the film sound like it’s a technically well-made movie with some characterization, but really High School Co-Ed is a much more lively film that that. When it hits the screen, it lives and it breathes. The movie takes life’s harsh realities, artistic sentiment, hip rock music, and genuine character depth, then throws it all into a centrifuge and separates any other elements that do not work. This is everything that the roman porno genre can be, and I certainly count it among the better titles out there.

The Conclusion
While anything made under the roman porno banner isn’t going to appease all audiences, I have to say that this is a movie that deserves a recommendation to a much broader spectrum of viewers. It’s a shame that Artsmagic didn’t end up sticking around, because films like this are precisely why the world needs companies like theirs. I give the movie a high four out of five. It may very well deserve that additional point, but for now I’m sticking to my guns and being a bit more conservative. This is great cinema and certainly worth a watch.