Sep 19, 2012

Attack!! (1978)
Director: Yasuharu Hasebe
Writers: Hideichi Nagahara
Starring: Asami Ogawa, Yōko Azusa, and Shigeru Ichiki

The Plot: Attack!! tells the story of a young female police officer named Kumiko (Asami Ogawa) who gets very little respect. Often harassed while on the job, she has numerous problems in her life. For one, she isn’t very open about her sexuality. She keeps everything bottled up and doesn’t let anyone else know that she accepts or enjoys sex. Second, she is afraid of confrontation. When men approach her in a sexual way, she becomes even more reserved than she normally is. As it turns out, both her fellow police officers and the criminals that she chases take advantage of this aspect of her personality. With all of these circumstances, Kumiko is about to have her life changed in the most unfortunate way possible. While driving in her police car, she has her vehicle rammed into a building by an unknown assailant. He demolishes the car by repeatedly slamming into it, but he isn’t done yet. He gets out of his car and proceeds to violate the young police officer. Having had her eyes and mouth covered with tape, Kumiko has no idea who assaulted her. She doesn’t report the crime to the authorities, but instead decides to take justice in her own hands. As she begins to search through the files of men who she has arrested previously, she finds that her attacker is a serial rapist and that he will be back again.

The Review
Attack!! begins in a tone that is very reminiscent of the other films made during Yasuharu Hasebe’s tenure in the world of “violent pink.” This genre, for those unaware, was an offshoot of the roman porno line formed by Nikkatsu studios. Violent pink was intended to be an even edgier version of the highly sexual dramas found in the roman porno collection. So, Attack!! ultimately begins by showing the audience two female police officers driving in their squad car while having a conversation. One of these women happens to be obsessed with sex, and as they drive down the road, she digs into a pornographic magazine that is mostly of the “rough” variety. The openness that she has with her sexuality tells the audience right away that she isn’t going to be our main protagonist. Sure enough, we meet her stuffy partner only a few moments later. After our true heroine drops off her friend, she finds the pornographic magazines were left in her car. We then watch as she briefly looks at the books with a degree of curiosity. Like the leading women found in Rape and Raping!, our lead here is sexually frustrated and completely not-at-ease with her own desires. This ultimately gives rise to the power that her male pursuers have over her, and this one scene gives us a brief, but very telling, glimpse into her permissive attitude. Although she obviously does not like the oncoming assault(s), the movie hints at an attraction that she might have towards the aggression. With one single scene, Hasebe introduces us to a story that will delve into some very difficult material, but will do so in an intelligent way. I use the word intelligent, but I won’t kid anyone, this is still very much a sleaze-fest.

In Yasuharu Hasebe’s from this era, women are always the target. Although Assault! Jack the Ripper did feature a female co-star, who was every bit as mad as the leading sociopath, it didn’t escape from the fact that every person who is tortured throughout the movie happens to be a woman. Outside of Jack the Ripper, the other films that Hasebe made within the violent pink genre are very similar in structure. They follow a very simple regimen of rape, depression, rape, depression. Attack! follows this pattern, but it isn’t blatantly obvious in its exploitation. With far less forced sex, the film could almost be seen as penance within Hasebe’s filmography. Rape the 13th Hour was perhaps the one film from his filmography that could be seen as an outright glorification of rape. The entire film is focused on two men raping women in as many different ways as possible. Without a female lead in that production, the movie just seemed clouded by a certain air of misogyny. While I don’t personally believe that Rape the 13th Hour is an actual endorsement of rape, Attack!! is easily a more understandable production. While it is hardly angelic in its nature, it isn’t as ruthlessly cruel of a moral fable as some of these previously mentioned films have been.

Just as can be expected from these movies, our lead character takes us through a narrative that can be seen as a wee bit on the episodic side. After her initial attack, our heroine begins her search for the criminal rapist who committed this horrible act, but nearly every man that she stumbles upon is having sexual intercourse. Yet, she does not approach these situations as a dignitary of the law, she approaches them as a mild person who simply wants to question these potential culprits. The reason for this? No one shows her any respect. As a woman in this society, her role is obviously much lower on the totem pole. She commands no authority over any man that she questions or speaks to. The only women who have some semblance of power are those who have control over their own sexual desires. In the previously-mentioned introduction, we meet Kumiko’s partner who has no problems writing a ticket for some man who had parked in an illegal area. Later, when Kumiko stumbles upon a group of young people having sex in a car (literally, two couples having sex), they don’t even bother to roll down their window. It’s just a woman, a tragically unhip woman at that. Later in the film, Yumiko is even further humiliated after being assaulted while in the police station restroom. Further pushing home the lack of respect within this society, but as Yumiko faces these horrors, we know that she will become stronger and more aware of her sexual presence. After her second assault, there is a striking scene that revolves around Kumiko taking a mirror and placing it on the floor so that she may see her own vagina. While she is at first stunned and ashamed by what she finds, she soon discovers her own eroticism. The scene is not so much one of arousal as much as it’s purpose is to focus on the growth of this character. This sort of solidification of a story arch was certainly missing from many other forays into this genre from Hasebe, but this open look at the situation helps give this title a bit more credence than some others within this catalog.

From a technical standpoint, there’s no getting past the flourishes and the artistic achievements from Hasebe with this film. Although this was the start of the eighties, and the big Japanese studios would soon be hurting in many ways, there’s still a ton of polish to be found in Hasebe’s final violent pink outing. There are many one-point perspective shots, a great use of foreground/background comparisons, and there is a stunning use of shadow on display. In a latter scene within the movie, after another assault sequence featuring Kumiko, she finds herself trapped in a dark room where only a handful of massive masks can be seen floating in the background. Aside from these glowing white masks, only Kumiko can be seen in the foreground. It is a shot of pure beauty left for the audience to enjoy in the wake of a truly ugly scene. Accompanying these beautiful shots and visual touches, Hasebe fills his soundtrack entirely with classical music. Opening the film with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, Hasebe looks to create a dichotomy between the visuals on display and the audible surround. We see these horrible things, but are confronted with a beautiful and serene soundtrack that never force-feeds us the horror of what is going on. In the same way that this approach worked in the much-more-brutal Cannibal Holocaust, so do we get the same effect here. The random bits of classical music are completely at odds with the exploitation on screen, but due to the choices made by Hasebe and the very smart editing at play, it all still works quite well.

Although it may be the least known title within this quintet of films, Attack!! is certainly one of the most logical. Although it can be just as divisive, this seems to have the most straightforward thesis out of all the movies within this “series.” Unfortunately, that honor tends to mean very little, because Attack!! can be just as cluttered as the rest. Is the ultimate purpose to show that a woman must accept her own sexuality in order to shove off an authoritative and destructive male-dominated society? If it is, then perhaps Hasebe could have chosen a device that was less polarizing than rape. Even though I believe that the intentions were actually positive within the movie, seeing a woman come to terms with her own sexuality after being dominated through the act of rape is certainly quite controversial. The movie could be take in several forms, but regardless of its hidden meanings (and it seems that Hasebe would argue that there is no symbolism or subtext), it remains a thoroughly engaging and thought provoking piece of exploitation.

The Conclusion
My thoughts on Attack!! are certainly conflicted. I believe that the film could be seen as redemption for Hasebe after the insane misogyny of Rape: The 13th Hour, but it could also be a juvenile look at female empowerment. Either way the audience looks at it, Attack!! is a rough and tumble conclusion to a series of five very “different” sex films. There are ups and downs within the series, but every film has its own merit and should be judged accordingly. Overall, I think Attack!! could inspire some relatively interesting philosophical discussions afterward, and I enjoy that about it. I give it a solid four out of five. A definite recommend for those who are a bit open.

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