Tuesday, 3 May 2022

The Kyoto Connection (1973)

The Kyoto Connection (also known as Journey to Japan) is one of a couple of movies that Christina Lindberg made in Japan. The Japanese just loved her, which shows that the Japanese have good taste.

She couldn’t speak Japanese but this movie makes a virtue out of a necessity. She’s playing a Swedish girl who can’t speak Japanese and therefore doesn’t understand what is happening to her. Crucially at the beginning of the film she would never have landed herself in such a bizarre situation had she had even a basic command of Japanese. She speaks her lines in Swedish, with Japanese subtitles, and it works.

Ingrid Jacobsen (Lindberg) arrives in Japan by air. There will be a car waiting for her at the airport. The driver will recognise her by the pink rose she’s carrying. Unfortunately she gets into the wrong car by mistake. She gets into the car belonging to a geeky student (played by Ichirô Araki). I don’t think his name is mentioned so we’ll call him Araki. He daydreams about being a revolutionary and makes very ineffective bombs in his spare time. And he daydreams about women. He is a virgin and he is absolutely hopeless with women. He gets so nervous he can’t speak.

He has no idea what to do when this gorgeous Swedish chick jumps into his car. Eventually he decides to take her back to his apartment. He’s still not sure what to do but he figures that raping her would be a good start. She is a bit troublesome about this so he decides it would be a good idea to chain her up.

Since he can’t get a girlfriend in the ordinary way and he now has a stunning Swedish beauty chained up in his apartment he decides to keep her.

This is where the movie’s cleverness comes in, and where it gets disturbing in a clever way. Because she can’t talk to him she has no idea what he intends to do with her. She can’t ask him if he intends to keep her for a week, or a month, or a year. She can’t negotiate with him. She can’t even promise not to struggle if he promises not to hurt her.

She obviously knows he’s crazy but she doesn’t know what kind of craziness it is. Does he understand what he’s doing? Does he hate women? Or has he, in his own bizarre misguided abnormal way, fallen in love with her? How much danger is she in?

He keeps raping her but she doesn’t seem to enjoy it. And if he’s going to rape her anyway he’d prefer for her to enjoy it. So he buys himself a book on female sexual response and starts exploring these things women have called erogenous zones. She starts to respond. She starts to respond in a big way. Now she seems to really enjoy the sex.

They still can’t communicate so he can’t know if she really enjoys the sex or not. Maybe she likes the sex but hates him.

She escapes but she escapes into something much worse. She ends up at a club where she meets some nice young Japanese people who offer to help her. Then she gets brutally gang raped by them. Araki raped her plenty of times but he was never brutal and never really hurt her. Now she’s really mess up. She’s in a foreign country, she doesn’t speak the language, she has no money, she’s traumatised by the violent gang rape. What can she do? There is no-one to whom she can turn.

But actually there is one person to whom she can turn. Araki. In his weird twisted way he seemed to want to be kind to her.

So the movie becomes a very unconventional love story, of sorts. Ingrid has no-one else. Araki has no-one else.

This is very much a 1970s movie, willing to explore subject matter which is, in our modern repressive age, now totally of limits. It explores this subject matter with intelligence and subtlety. In a weird kind of way Araki is sympathetic. He doesn’t understand women but he is willing to try to do so. He tries to figure out what drives Ingrid emotionally. He wants to reach her. His way of going about it is clumsy and wrong but in a way it’s sincere. Ingrid doesn’t understand Araki but she finds that maybe she needs him so she’ll have to to figure out what makes him tick. He’s done terrible things to her but she starts to see that he is still a human being and is capable of suffering.

This movie has some slight thematic similarities to William Wyler’s 1965 The Collector, also about a weird young man who kidnaps a girl. The protagonist in that film is just as crazy, but also has a kind of love for his victim.

And there are other plot twists to come, as we discover why Ingrid came to Japan.

The language issue is the core of the film. He wants to tell her how he feels but can only do so in Japanese and she doesn’t understand a word. She wants to communicate her feelings to him but can only do so in Swedish and he doesn’t understand a word. It adds a real poignancy to an offbeat love story.

Christina Lindberg became a very famous nude model around the beginning of the 70s. She was Penthouse Pet of the Month in June 1970. Interestingly enough in the early 70s she was briefly the girlfriend of the King of Sweden. She broke into movies and of all the nude models who made the jump into movies she arguably had the most impressive career, making a number of movies that are extremely good and at least two that were superb (Thriller: A Cruel Picture and Sex and Fury). She wasn’t a great actress but in the right part she could be quite effective and at her best she had an extraordinary intensity.

She’s excellent in The Kyoto Connection. I don’t need to tell you that she’s also stunningly beautiful. There’s a fair bit of nudity. The sex scenes are quite tame. The rape scenes are not graphic - their shock value comes from the emotional impact they have on Ingrid rather than from being graphic.

Ichirô Araki is extremely good as well, managing to make us care about a character against our will.

Miss Lindberg has had mixed fortunes as far as home video is concerned. Most of her movies are available on DVD but they’re mostly from the early days of the format and the transfers are pretty iffy. Thriller: A Cruel Picture seems to be the only one that has had a Blu-Ray release. This is a pity because several of her movies are much better than you might expect, and more than just softcore porn. Sex and Fury and Exposed (Exponerad) are both excellent. And while Anita: Swedish Nymphet is nothing more than softcore erotica it’s very good if that’s the sort of thing you like.

Cheezy Flicks is a company that doesn’t have much of a reputation and it’s easy to see why. This is far from being an impressive transfer. It’s perfectly watchable but the image quality is of the standard that we happily accepted at the beginning of the DVD era but which most viewers will not accept today. It is at least a 16:9 enhanced transfer. For some reason Miss Lindberg’s movies are not making it to Blu-Ray so for the moment this is the best you’re going to get and it’s an interesting obscure movie and I think the DVD is worth buying anyway. The transfer might not be pristine but it’s OK.

The Kyoto Connection is odd and unconventional. There are occasional moments of offbeat humour. It’s obviously erotic. Any movie in which Cristina Lindberg gets naked this often is going to succeed as erotica but it has plenty of engaging weirdness and a love story that is strangely moving. It’s a very very good movie which really deserves a Blu-Ray release and it’s highly recommended.

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