1970 | Japan
AKA: Zubekô banchô: Yume wa yoru hiraku; Tokyo Bad Girls
Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
The Delinquent Girl Boss movies are just my speed, because as much as I hate to admit it, I’m a bit of a Pinky Violence lightweight. It’s not that I don’t like the genre. I do, very much. It’s just that it’s one that’s so fraught with potential pitfalls that watching an unfamiliar entry can be a bit of a risky proposition. In my experience, the most successful PV films maintain an almost painfully delicate balance between sleaze and artistry, and those that don’t tend to leave me with nothing more than a ninety-minute hole in my life and a feeling of being mildly pervy. It’s for this reason that, for all the depravity on display, I can still get a kick out of Terrifying Girls’ High School: Lynch Law Classroom, while Girl Boss Guerrilla, from the same director, makes me want to tear my brain out and scrub it with a Brillo pad; or that, while I consider Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable, with all its incest and bloody backroom abortions, to be a small masterpiece, Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs just reminds me that I should probably take a shower.
The Delinquent Girl Boss movies, on the other hand, could best be described as Pinky Violence “lite.” That is due in great part to their star, Reiko Oshida, who is simply adorable and doesn’t bring the cynical, red-hot rage of Miki Sugimoto and Reiko Ike. Though Rika, the character that the baby-faced Oshida portrays, is certainly a tough customer, she’s less worldly and careworn than her sister delinquents. You get the clear impression that her bravado is, to some extent, meant to cover up for some residual adolescent goofiness. In contrast to the hardened teenage killing machines typically played by Sugimoto or Ike, with Rika there is a faint glimmer of hope for a brighter future ahead. That not only keeps you rooting for the character but also allows the series as a whole to take on a somewhat lighter tone than other films in the genre. Not that it’s all picnics and popsicles, mind you. It’s still Pinky Violence, after all.
Blossoming Night Dreams is the first in the Delinquent Girl Boss series, as well as Toei’s first entry in the Pinky Violence genre. Spurred to jump into the game by the success of Nikkatsu’s Stray Cat Rock series, the studio would go on to make the PV genre their own through more brazenly exploitative franchises such as the aforementioned Terrifying Girls’ High School and Female Prisoner Scorpion films. At the time of Blossoming Night Dreams, the template that those later films followed had yet to be fully defined, so while there is a fair share of nudity and blood on display, there’s nowhere near as much as would become standard within a couple years. Furthermore, and again unlike perennial PV stars Miki Sugimoto and Reiko Ike, Oshida was not required to shed her clothing for her role, leaving the burden of baring all upon her supporting stars.
Blossoming Night Dreams opens in a girls’ reform school, as many of these films do, giving us a scene in which the rowdy inmates make a mockery of a presentation on bridal etiquette, using it as an opportunity for what you have to guess is just the latest in a series of regularly occurring wild brawls. This presentation, in which a prim charm school matron delivers such dispiriting bromides as “to look like a bride is life itself,” paints a pretty cynical picture of the possibilities that await these girls on the outside, and it’s not hard to side with them when they run riot over the thing. Still, these possibilities have to be confronted, and we soon shift forward a year, where we find nineteen-year-old Rika back on the outside, trying to put her past behind her and play it straight and narrow. Unfortunately, as countless films have taught us, that’s rarely an easy thing to do.
Rika first finds work at a laundry but loses that job when the owner attempts to rape he and his wife, stumbling in on the two of them, assumes that it is Rika who is trying to seduce him. The next horny male Rika encounters, Tsunao (series regular Tonpei Hidari), ends up being a little more helpful. Tsunao is able to provide her with an introduction to Umeko (Junko Miyazono), a former inmate of the same reform school who runs a bar and nightclub where a number of the school’s alumni work as hostesses. It seems like Rika may have found a safe haven under the wing of the maternal Umeko, but the old ways start to exert their pull again once she discovers that a local Yakuza clan is trying to muscle Umeko out of her ownership of the club. Just when you think you’re out…
As is typical with Pinky Violence movies, pretty much all of the men in Blossoming Night Dreams are goonish, sex-obsessed louts. In the case of the more sympathetic ones, you get the sense that only a thin layer of civility (or, in some cases, just timidity) prevents them from taking by force what they want from the women. Aside from the occasional reformed yakuza, the only nobility you see is that displayed by the women, who know that they only have their own community to protect them within a world dominated by ruthless male predators—something that’s driven home by the mournful enka ballad that opens so many of the films in the genre, which is usually a tragic rumination on a woman’s narrow options in a heartless male world. Because of this, the scenes of stoically endured torture and abuse that you see in some of the harder-edged entries in the genre are as much tableaus of martyrdom as they are kinky spectacles. What consensual sex occurs is almost always joyless for these women, with sex presented as just another cynical means of survival.
I’m not saying that these films are necessarily feminist in their perspective, but they do seem, despite being written and directed by men, to present a viewpoint that’s more complex than one might assume. That complexity provides a framework for, among other things, some well-drawn and sympathetic female characters—though not so much the male ones. Blossoming Night Dreams is pretty tame compared to other films in the genre, many of which could fairly be called “dirty movies,” but to dismiss them all as being only that would be a mistake and would perhaps deny you a challenging and rewarding movie-watching experience.
Because suffering is such an important part of these movies, and Reiko Oshida seems to be off-limits in terms of bearing the full brunt of it, it’s a good thing that we have on hand Yuki Kagawa’s character, Mari. Judging from this and Worthless to Confess, Mari serves as the Delinquent Girl Boss saga’s emotional pin cushion. Here, Mari is working as one of the bar hostesses, and a major subplot involves her desperate search for her drug-addicted younger sister, Bunny, who is on the run after having stolen a stash of drugs from the Yakuza (those same yakuza who are trying to take over the nightclub, naturally).
After failing to reach Bunny before the gang can, with predictably tragic results, Mari goes out seeking revenge, only to end up being viciously assaulted. Kagawa gives one of a number of solid performances in the film, investing Mari with a haunted soulfulness that makes her plight all the more painful to witness. Because of that, I wish I could say that things improve for Mari as the series progresses, but I’m afraid no one saw fit to give the poor girl a break, as the final film ends with her stricken with a case of TB contracted from her no-good yakuza boyfriend.
The above is not to say that Rika is wholly exempt from being at the receiving end of some hard treatment and harsh lessons. There’s a somewhat surprising episode in which she naively offers herself to the yakuza boss, Ohba, in return for him waiving a debt he’s been holding over Umeko’s head. Of course, Ohba avails himself of what’s offered (though, unlike with Mari, we’re only shown the aftermath) with no intention of keeping up his end. He even allows the rest of the gang to rough Rika up before kicking her to the curb. It’s not the only time that the series is a little dishonest in how it isolates its star from the worst of what it has to dish out, but it was the instance in which that practice was the most distracting. Though there is a brief scene in which Umeko admonishes a shame-faced Rika for her stupidity, the film gives only cursory attention to the effect that this presumably traumatic event has had on Rika, and mostly just uses it to provide fuel for the bloody payback that we know is coming. Once every other avenue of recourse has been exhausted, and the accumulated insults and injuries have become too great, the women of the Bar Murasaki determine that screaming, blade-slashing, blood-spraying vengeance is the only answer.
While it lacks those unexpected moments of transcendent lyricism that mark Norifumi Suzuki’s better PV films and that can be found throughout the first three Female Prisoner Scorpion movies, Blossoming Night Dreams is not without its instances of visual poetry. Its overall look is most representative of the type of high-level craftsmanship that was standard in the Japanese commercial cinema of its day. Kazuhiko Yamaguchi directed all four films in the series, and his work here, along with that of cinematographer Hanjiro Nakazawa, shows studied attention to composition and color that ensures each shot has an appealingly hyper-real sheen. This serves especially well in the psychedelic nightclub numbers, which are largely indistinguishable from the psychedelic nightclub numbers in many other Japanese movies of the period, and are all the better for it—after all, why mess with a winning formula?