Bound in the conventions of a Nikkatsu picture but straining with a little art and fire to grasp something beyond, firmer and more meaningful, The Woman With Red Hair manages to be a quite reasonable watch while not altogether an especially compelling one. It begins striking, the fine titular female walking lone down the highway, shortly before a couple of thuggish labourers Kozo and Takao rape their bosses daughter under a pier. Driving home the woman with red hair hitches a ride, later entering a relationship with Kozo. Takao meanwhile grapples with the aftermath of his earlier relations, the possibility that he may now be a father. As with his earlier film Black Rose Ascension, director Tatsumi Kumashiro shows a talent for marginal society. Tough, crude men toiling to no discernable great end and hoping only for the prospect of more work, unable to relate to others in any other than brutal terms, oppressed without mercy by rain. They are trapped in their world, escape is futile, and the woman with red hair finds the same, she has sought to escape some kind of abusive partner, shadows of drug addiction, yet finds the same recurs.
This should be a powerful, emotive tale of rough passions boiling in claustrophobia, spitting and streaming over into savagery, but while the intense atmosphere is quite well sustained it does little to escalate and so becomes more wearying than gripping. There's a lot of sex, suitably joyless with breasts shots enough and skillfully shot to avoid the need for optical blurring, it no doubt suggests a certain intentional sobriety of approach while fulfilling the needs of the studio. But after a while the scenes exhaust what they have to say about the couple, and after that exhaust their own lack of meaning. The same is true for the dialogue, its banality stales not long after its purpose is clear. And worse, when events finally descend we get kid gloves rather than furious pummeling.
Still the cast at least draw things out nicely. gorgeous genre regular Junko Miyashita handles the title role, high strung and burning, yearning, hungry yet sad within. Frequently shrill yet she works rather well, for the character is without artifice, her fires are from her alone. Renjo Ishibashi is equally good as Kozo, in a somewhat more difficult role, his character truly isn't very likeable and yet he suggests with skill his irresistible drives and conflicting internal shifts. Kai Ato supports nicely albeit with considerably less screen time and hence reduced impact as Takao, something of a mirror image to Kozo, while the rest are decent enough.
In all, this is somewhat interesting but a little difficult to really recommend outside of serious genre enthusiasts and those with a deeper knowledge of Japanese culture and society. Without full on sleazy kicks or deep insights it's a smart but slight affair that rather tails off, by no means a "bad" film but not something impressive or all that memorable. Not one to get excited about hunting down then.