Thursday, 3 July 2008

Terrifying Girls' High School: Lynch Law Classroom (1973)

Few things are more fun than watching an outrageous slice of Japanese exploitation mayhem from the 70s. When the movie happens to star both Miki Sugimoto and Reiko Ike, the two legendary bad girls of Japanese exploitation cinema, things just can’t get much better. And with a title like Terrifying Girls' High School: Lynch Law Classroom, you just can’t lose.

The School of Hope is a school for delinquent girls, founded by a much-respected elder statesman of Japanese politics, Mr Sato. Its stated purpose is to take wayward girls and turn them into respectable wives and mothers. In fact it’s a fascist mini-state, controlled by a crooked deputy principal and ruled by the Disciplinary Committee. This is a gang of girl thugs, answerable to the deputy principal (Mr Ishihara), which maintains a reign of terror. The girls of the Disciplinary Committee also provide sexual favours to Mr Ishihara, while one of the school’s function is to provide young bed partners for Mr Sato.

At the opening of the film the Disciplinary Committee has tortured a girl and hounded her to her death. Three new students arrive the next day. One of them, Noriko (played by the always amazing Miki Sugimoto), is actually the infamous Boss with the Cross, the overall boss of Yokohama’s girl gangs. The girl who died was one of her chief lieutenants, and she’s out for revenge. She soon recruits a group of willing followers, including Remi the Razor and Kyoko Kubo, known in Osaka as the Sappho of the Streets.

Noriko finds two other unlikely allies. The first is a hard-bitten journalist who turns out to be a lone wolf yakuza specialising in blackmail. The second is rival girl boss Maki Takigawa (Reiko Ike). Maki has a score to settle with Noriko and makes a memorable entrance, riding her motorcycle not just into the school but right into the classroom to issue her challenge to Noriko. When she discovers that Noriko is there on a matter of honour, she agrees to postpone their quarrel and help bring down the School of Hope.

Director Norifumi Suzuki is one of the great geniuses of world exploitation cinema. In this movie he manages to incorporate all of the elements that his exploitation audience would expect - there is sex and violence in abundance. But he has another agenda as well. This is a very political film, and Suzuki manages to use every single exploitation element, even the obligatory lesbian sex scene, even the sexual fetish value of Japanese schoolgirl uniforms, to serve his political purpose. And he does it all with such effortless and impressive style.

The corruption and cronyism, the sex scandals, the abuse of power, the hypocrisy, the lust for power, money and sex, all the things that characterise the School of Hope mirror what Suzuki saw as the the state of Japanese politics in the early 70s. Suzuki, who did such a memorable hatchet job on Catholicism in School of the Holy Beast, does an equally thorough job on a different kind of oppressive power structure in this one.

The world of the yakuza and the girl gangs is presented as a complete parallel world, with its own elaborate rules and a code of honour as complex as the one that the political authority figures in the movie claim to adhere to. The only difference is, these girls actually live (and if necessary die) by their code of honour. In a world without honour or principles this is the ultimate act of rebellion. Maki could easily lie in wait for Noriko, to settle their score, but she doesn’t. She issues a formal public challenge, with all the ritual that samurai would have employed a century or more earlier. In fact, with exactly the same ritual the samurai would have used. And Noriko is risking her life to avenge not a friend, but a lieutenant. She has no choice. Her code of honour demands it. Noriko and Maki are brutal and frighteningly tough, but they have honour.

It’s a movie that could have been rather grim, and the violence is both graphic and sadistic. But it has such boundless energy, and so much humour, and it’s executed with so much style that it’s impossible not to be swept up by the movie’s sheer exuberance. And it’s equally impossible not to be inspired by Noriko’s struggle to destroy a vicious and dishonest system. The acting is very good, and much more convincing than the acting you generally get in American exploitation movies. Miki Sugimoto is of course awesome. She’s beyond awesome. I’m a completely unashamed Miki Sugimoto fanboy.

The Japanese pinky violence movies of the 70s are not for the faint-hearted, but they’re among the most entertaining of all exploitation movies. Terrifying Girls' High School: Lynch Law Classroom is an insane but intoxicating ride. And the Panik House DVD transfer looks terrific.

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