The Plot: The Red Helmet Gang is a all female biker gang from Shinjuku, lead by the tough yet beautiful Sachiko (Miki Sugimoto). When the group hits the road and lands in Kyoto, they start their hustling campaign. Their scams start off small but they quickly garner the attention of another all female gang in the territory, the Kyogoku group. After Sachiko dispatches of their girl boss, it turns out that this gang isn’t as respectable as the Red Helmet Gang and they almost turn our girls into pin-cushions. Fortunately for the Red Helmet Gang, Rika (Reiko Ike) the former boss intervenes and acknowledges Sachiko as the new boss of the group. Rika and Sachiko begin a friendship that will carry them to great success, but Rika’s brother who is a yakuza may stand in the way of their riches. This Yakuza gang wants the girls to slack off and leave the territory to them, but the Red Helmet Gang won’t go without a fight. Meanwhile, Sachiko is finding love in the form of a young boxer who knows how to treat a woman. So while the group is committing acts of blackmail and threatening violence, the Red Helmet Gang will have to keep the Yakuza off of their back, Sachiko will have to look after her man and Rika will have to confront her very own brother and force him to pick sides between blood and the gang.
The Pinky Violence genre of Japanese cinema has quickly become a personal favorite of mine. They can in many ways be obscure and hard to define, but I think what makes these films so special is the strange concoction of genre types that they deliver. They are films that mix social commentary with strong doses of action, but they are also universally appealing due to their love of common exploitation themes. Coming from a society that is generally male dominated, certainly in the sixties and seventies, these girl power movies that showed women standing up proud and powerful right next to the men who are supposed to be authority figures; these were very unique and daring movies. Ahead of their time by decades, really. Yet, as I type this, my mind wanders to the plethora of excessive sex scenes and the four tons of nudity that are usually jam packed in every other title that fits the definition. There’s a dichotomy at work that I personally find intriguing as a viewer and I doubt I’m the first to have picked up on it. Unlike most American exploitation at the time, most of which were shot on miniscule budgets with very little thought put into the visual presentation of the films, the technical merit of these films were all top notch. To go with the beautiful ladies, the cinematography in Japanese films of this era were all so gorgeous. All of these things I have said so far are true in the case of Girl Boss guerilla. In almost every sense of the word this is an atypical example of the genre in question, which is not necessarily a bad thing. That just means all of those good things are at play in this one, but unfortunately there seems to be less truly stand-out moments.
Norifumi Suzuki, as a filmmaker, is quite the interesting character. He crafted the delinquent girl formula with his many notable entries into the genre, but his focus on class systems and defiance of social norms made him an auteur of the exploitation film world. Girl Boss guerilla jumps out of the gate with an axe to grind, taking on any authority or moral figure that it can possibly think to shake a finger at. Staking its story on this group of delinquent girls, Suzuki is actually very clever in his purposes behind the film and the shots that he takes at social taboos and etiquette are delivered in such succession and in such quick order that its easy to look over a lot of this stuff. His poking fun at religious leaders in particular, which I am assured is a continuing theme throughout his work, is just one aspect of this utter defiance he has with any single person atop the totem pole. These stories about women inside of the underworld surely appealed to his love of the societal misfit and the girl biker gang in Girl Boss guerilla are the perfect marionettes for him to play with. The all girl gang is an interesting concept for Japanese society, especially in the time that these films were made. Inside of the underworld, where the Yakuza are king, women are relegated to wives and at-home support. Yet, here in Suzuki’s world – these girls assault, hurt and win against these dominating tough guys. They are the misfits within a society of outcasts. A veritable sub-subculture.
The girl power angle is something that is given a certain amount of mileage in these films, but the aspect that might turn off some modern film-goers would be the exploitation aspects that originally packed the theaters. For diehards and film geeks, especially those who understand the context or at least try to keep up with the culture, it’s easy to look past the over-abundance of sexuality. Modern viewers might be thrown off by the sexual domination and the obviously exploitative moments that were only meant to draw in the male audience. You have to give films like this credit however, despite their confines of having to deliver the sex and violence expected of them they still managed to pack in their message and empowered women within a world where men were expected to be those in total control. It’s a strange mix where you have these very pro-women films that will inevitably have a sequence at some point where one of the girls will be stripped topless, find herself in ropes or chains and have her breasts either lashed, burned or beaten. The breast is treated as a truly sacred body part in these films, their importance is best displayed in the sequence where our girls induct a member and give her their matching tattoo: which unlike the yakuza, who have giant murals on the back, is instead placed over the left breast. It’s a predictable ploy in these films that if anything is to happen to any body part on these girls, the breast will receive the punishment.
Yet, for all of the sleaze a film like Girl Boss guerilla seems to ring out more for me as a celebration of beauty more than anything else. The sex isn’t what I would personally consider explicit and it seems as if the majority of focus on these girls is placed mainly on their use of sexuality in their characters. Their sexuality for the most part is used to intimidate the male characters that surround them. These girls are the antithesis of what Japanese society considered to be ‘good’ girls and they display that with vigor. The use of wardrobe is another expression of this attitude, but ultimately all who live within the ‘underworld’ of Kyoto dress so incredibly fashionable. Girl Boss guerilla delivers all of the giant sunshades and bright colors you could ever expect from a Japanese film of the era, and the style of it all is simply amazing. Miki Sugimoto and Reiko Ike have never looked more beautiful than in this film, with Sugimoto wearing a tight-fitting green shirt which she is all too ready to pull up to display her petite and well tuned mid-section. I don’t find myself drooling over actresses often, but Sugimoto could ask me to commit murder and I’d probably consider it.
The film originally opened as the B-Picture on a double feature with Kinju Fukasaku’s original Battles Without Honor & Humanity.
Although not the first pairing of Miki Sugimoto and Reiko Ike (their first film was 1971’s Onsen Mimizu geisha (1971)), it is the most widely available of their first films together.
Miki Sugimoto and Reiko Ike shared screen time together on nine separate films (Onsen Mimizu geisha (1971), Girl Boss Blues: Queen Bee’s Counterattack (1971), Terrifying Girls’ High School: Women’s Violent Classroom (1972), Lustful Shogun and His Twentyone Mistresses (1972), Girl Boss guerilla (1972), Girl Boss Blues: Queen Bee’s Challenge (1972), Sukeban (1973), Terrifying Girls’ High School: Lynch Law Classroom (1973) and Criminal Woman: Killing Melody (1973)), eight of which were directed by Norifumi Suzuki. Criminal Woman: Killing Melody, their last appearance together, was directed by Atsushi Mihori.
Although immediately after watching the film, I had mixed feelings about it, I find myself liking it more and more. Some of the things that draw me to it aren’t so direct and it takes some time to think about it. It isn’t an overly complex film and I don’t want people to drag that from my review, but it does put on a snarling face to authority figures and I enjoy that aspect of it. The previously mentioned stylish look of the film, from wardrobes to set decoration and beyond, is another really great aspect of it. All in all, I won’t say it’s my favorite Pinky Violence film that I have seen but it is a good deal of fun and absolutely worth searching out. I must warn, you may just fall in love with these girls.