Friday, 27 June 2014

Slave Contract (1982) Masaru Konuma

Masaru Konuma is mostly talked about for his 70's run of genre defining classics, making a legend of Naomi Tani and getting Nikkatsu to focus on pinkus primarily. But he wasn't a slouch in later, lesser known work and indeed Slave Contract is something of an early 80's highlight. The tale of political analyst Mikami and his wife Yuriko who take on slave girl Nami, it's simply plotted and curiously warm, good hearted stuff that rings emotionally truer than many of its contemporaries. So many either largely abandoned character or wove their sleaze through the sort of twisted plotting and mean spirit that swiftly feels cynical and pandering but Slave Contract actually feels human. Mikami is certainly a sleazeball but he isn't a sadist or even especially mean, instead a wry, content and almost gentle type, Yuriko is poised, capable of passionate depths but conflicted and Nami captures both a subhuman state and humanity breaking out in playful assertiveness and yearning. Even Nami's trainer the one notably nasty character of the film, isn't really a villain but a businessman with an eye for the angles. Some genre fans will surely be put off by the way that the film doesn't reach for extremes and things don't mount with too much weirdness (other than a truly eyebrow raising tweak on the racial aspect of slavery) or suspense, but the way the characters operate and rub together is compelling and sympathetic, feeling almost mature. These are unusual people in an unusual situation but they care for one another and try to work through things in a beneficial manner. Pinku lovers shouldn't be too worried by the above though as there's a whole lot of sleaze from start to finish, like dog play, a lit candle in the butt and more, all attractively shot with a merciful avoidance of any genital blurring. The kinder approach in general does mean that the film doesn't have too much of a kick apart from brief snatches, and it also lays the wonky sexual politics a little too bare, with a sinister vibe the essentially unpleasant fantasies of these films are easier to take than when they seem to just be treated positively. But that's only really a negative if you want it to be, after all why shouldn't this stuff be laid a little barer once in a while? All in all this is good fun stuff, delivering on most of the expected fronts, and Nami Matsukawa (also of Konuma's Rope and Breasts) is notably lovely as Nami. Not spectacular, but you should still check it out post haste.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Crazed (1978) Richard Cassidy

Shot in 1977 as The Paranoiac, screened in 1979 as Slipping Into Darkness and released on VHS as Bloodshed or Crazed, its best known title, what we have here is one of these largely forgotten but worthy of rediscovery dealies. Not lurid enough for psychotronic proto slasher fans, too slow and sombre for regular slasher fans, too obscure and low rent for mainstream fans, Crazed works as one of the more offbeat and feel-bad Psycho riffs before they faded into the past, and it works pretty well, if not exactly spectacular. The story is based around Karen, young attractive and diabetic she leaves her rural life her boyfriend to take a creative writing course in the big city. After several failed attempts she finally finds a boarding house to stay in, and there meets Graham. An odd, quiet fellow in thrall to the old lady who owns the place, he rather takes a shine to Karen. And, well, you don't exactly have to be Nostradamus to figure out where things are going... 

The pacing here may put off many, but there's a near constant atmosphere of oppressive shabby eccentricity that is quite powerful after a time. Barely anyone in the film is normal or on the up and up, from the lonely, deaf, kooky old biddy who runs the boarding house to an aggressively pretentious creative writing professor. Beverly Ross is just fair as Karen, it isn't the most thankful role to begin with but she puts across cowed and over passive yet really trying to break out in reasonably convincing fashion. Her averageness rather works though, making the weirdos around squeeze all the tighter. And she forms an attractive contrast with Graham, a lady who can fit in with a man who never has. Laszlo Papas does quite well as Graham, an awkward, sad oddball with distinct festering menace within, while only shining a few times he nonetheless conjures a low level compelling sympathy. Rejected by family, abused by a priest and flashing back to both of these one time when he goes to a massage parlour, working nights at a hotel, he's no monster really. 

I could perhaps have done with a jolt or two more, but when this really gets moving it does so in quite unsettling fashion, there's a little blood, a little nudity and a little intensity, it's a satisfying sort of a finale unless you've gotten through the first half and misinterpreted the whole tone of the thing. Some have criticised the music for being over lively and inappropriate but I rather liked the old fashioned nature of it. A bit more flourish to the direction wouldn't have gone amiss, but there are still some interesting shots and bits of editing. All in all this is a pretty good example of what it sets out to do. Quirky but serious, obscure and downbeat, there's a fairly select audience for this stuff and Crazed should definitely appeal. Others can pretty safely skip though.