Girl Boss Revenge (Sukeban) might not be the best of the pinky violence movies made by Toei Studios in the 70s but it’s typical of the breed and it’s a highly enjoyable slice of Japanese exploitation cinema.
Directed by Norifumi Suzuki in 1973 it once again pairs Miki Sugimoto and Reiko Ike as rival girl bosses. The director had discovered both actresses at the same time and both became major stars for Toei but when Reiko Ike left the studio Miki Sugimoto became the bigger star. When Ike returned to Toei she found herself playing second fiddle to Sugimoto but the two actresses were such a dynamic combination that the studio (wisely) continued to pair them together.
The Girl Boss series of movies (of which this was the fourth) are linked by common themes rather than by common characters and they all function perfectly well as standalone movies.
As this film opens a busload of female juvenile delinquents is on its way to a juvenile facility. Maya (Reiko Ike) and Komasa (Miki Sugimoto) have already clashed on the bus, but theirs is an enmity based on mutual respect (a theme which will dominate the movie). The prison van is hijacked and the girls escape.
Komasa has always been a loner but several of her fellow escapees attach themselves to her and ask her to be their girl boss. In Japanese female juvenile delinquent movies the girl boss is a crucial figure. She is in many ways like a samurai - she lives by the code of the warrior. When Komasa and Maya meet their meeting is very much like Ike and Sugimoto’s meeting in Terrifying Girls’ High School: Lynch Law Classroom (also directed by Norifumi Suzuki) - they recognise each other as fellow warriors.
When a girl boss gathers a group of followers it is more than just a girl gang - it involves mutual responsibilities and it imposes a duty on the girl boss to protect her followers, even at the risk of her own life. This is another theme that is particularly pronounced in the female juvenile delinquent movies of Norifumi Suzuki. Komasa accepts the girls as her followers, and she accepts the responsibilities that entails.
The 1970s Japan of Norifumi Suzuki is a tough place for a girl juvenile delinquent. It is a world dominated by organised crime, by the yakuza. And to the yakuza women are merely a source of money. The yakuza gang that controls the city runs a major prostitution racket based on Turkish bath houses and they recruit unsuspecting women wherever they can find them, including members of the girl gangs.
This brings us to another theme that runs through Norifumi Suzuki’s movies - there are many men in postwar Japan, both men in respectable positions and in organised crime, who claim to live by the code of bushido but it is the girl bosses who truly live (and if necessary die) by that code. The yakuza care about money and power while the girl boss is more concerned about honour. The female juvenile delinquent gangs are bound together by a loyalty that the yakuza do not possess - the girls have to stick together in order to survive, and if one girl is in trouble the others have to come to her aid because no-one else will and the girls understand this. You risk your life for a fellow gang member because you know that if the position were reversed she would risk her life for you.
Komasa’s gang, the Kanto Gypsies, soon come into conflict with the local yakuza. This will bring them into contact with Tatsuo, Maya’s boyfriend, and eventually with Maya herself. Tatsuo is a member of the yakuza gang and he is ambitious but he lacks the code of honour that both Komasa and Maya live by. He is both a weak and a tragic figure and his betrayals will put Maya’s life in danger. His betrayals will also bring the two rival girl bosses, Komasa and Maya, together. Maya might be her enemy and her sworn rival but when the chips are down Komasa will stand by her because her code of honour will not allow her to do anything else. The yakuza regard women as little more than pieces of meat but to Komasa Maya is a fellow warrior who lives by the same code that Komasa lives by, and a warrior does not abandon a comrade to thugs like the yakuza.
Miki Sugomoto is of course awesome. She is one of the great cult movie heroines, a capable and charismatic actress with an extraordinary screen presence. Reiki Ike has the lesser part but she makes the most of it and demonstrates her star quality.
This movie is perhaps less flamboyant than some of Norifumi Suzuki’s other films but it’s still a stylish offering. The violence is often disturbing, which is something that a fan of these pinky violence movies has to come to terms with. There are some horrifying moments of violence against women but that is an inherent part of the world of pinky violence films - it is the violence the women suffer that brings them together and confirms their bonds of loyalty, and gives them the strength to fight back. And fight back they certainly do. In this sense they’re rather similar to the rape revenge movies that were popular at the time in European and American cinema - the violence against women is not merely gratuitous but serves a dramatic function, and the women will have their vengeance.
Norifumi Suzuki’s movies can be rather confronting (as can all of Toei’s pinky violence films) but there’s always a positive message of women standing by each other and if you can get past the graphic violence they’re stylish and very enjoyable examples of exploitation cinema at its most interesting.
Norifumi Suzuki was always good at staging action sequences and the climactic battle between the girls and the yakuza is the sort of spectacular action set-piece that fans of this genre look forward to.
The Tokyo Shock Delinquent Girl Bosses Collection DVD pairs this movie with Delinquent Girl Boss: Blossoming Night Dreams, an unrelated but equally interesting 1970 Toei production. Both movies are presented in anamorphic widescreen transfers and both look impressive.