Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Hubrisween 2017 :: T is for Terrifying Girls' High School: Lynch Law Classroom (1973)

Greeted with a girl’s terrified screams, the mood is now pretty much set for the next ninety minutes and change as we open on said girl, still screaming, bound spread eagle in what looks like a high school science lab, who is surrounded by several other girls decked out in the same type of school uniforms -- with a few modifications; most notably the bright red gloves, bright red surgical masks, and some kind of identifying armband worn by each of the girl’s tormentors, who strip her naked, use a scalpel to slash her exposed breasts, and then tap a vein with a needle to let the girl watch as her blood drains into a bottle.

And when the level of exsanguinated liquid reaches a certain amount, this girl, Michiyo (Jô), is told she will expire. And after this torture is drawn out a bit longer, the hysterical Michiyo manages to break free but is herded onto the roof by the other girls, who eventually force her over the edge and she plummets to her death.

Welcome to The School of Hope for Girls, whose mission statement involves turning wayward waifs into “good wives and wise mothers.” At least that’s what the senile old principal, Nakata (Kitamura), keeps insisting while all kinds of depravity and vice happen right under his nose. No, the real person in charge of this corrupt reform school is vice-principal Ishihara (Imai), who runs it as a front and makeshift brothel for a corrupt politician named Sato (Kaneko) while he schemes for his own power; and between the two of them, from the mayor, to the police chief, to the local yakuza, they seem to have the entire city on their payroll.

And acting as Ishihara’s personal gestapo within the school is the Disciplinary Committee, led by the sadistic Yoko (Ema), who keep their fellow students in line by almost any diabolical means imaginable -- especially if it involves genital torture or forcing someone to urinate in public after waterboarding them. And for their continued good work, including “taking care” of Michiyo, Ishihara pays them off with misdirected scholarship funds.

But there’s a seismic shift in the school’s power structure with the arrival of three new girls; Kyoko Kubo (Saburi), Remi “The Razor” Kitano (Ota), and Noriko Kazama (Sugimoto) -- a/k/a Noriko the Cross, a/k/a “The Boss With the Cross” (-- she wears a crucifix and sports a “ahem” ‘tasteful’ tattoo near her unmentionables. No. Lower.). Seems Michiyo used to be a lieutenant for this notorious girl gang leader from Yokohama; and now Noriko, not buying the suicide whitewash by the cops, has gotten herself remanded to The School of Hope to find out what really happened to her friend.

And while playing it cool with the junior gestapo as they wrap up their … uh, ‘initiation protocols’ (-- cavity searches, forced bathing), Noriko learns from a girl named Tomoko (Asano) what most probably happened to Michiyo, pointing an accusing finger at the Disciplinary Committee; not realizing it goes much deeper than that. Now, Tomoko seems oddly out of place at this reform school: an actual innocent and an overachieving student, who hopes to earn a scholarship and make something of herself; and all she has to do is get the approval of Mr. Sato. So, raise your hands if you all know how things are probably gonna work out for her. *sigh*

Thus, Noriko vows to avenge her friend’s death; and not just against the girls of the Disciplinary Committee, but the whole corrupt school system that bred them. Here, she picks up an odd ally for her crusade in the form of Wakabayashi (Watase), a tabloid journalist, who also wants to take the school down. But make no mistake, Wakabayashi isn’t on any noble crusade. No. Blackmail is his game and he’s currently targeting Sato, Ishihara and their whole chain of command. Thus, the road to vengeance will be paved with dirty pictures as the girls keep luring all kinds of horny old men of power into compromising positions.

And not just men as Kyoko lures one of the Disciplinary Committee into a bisexual encounter in the john, who gets so lost in the lust she confesses everything they did to Michiyo and why. And when Yoko flushes out the rat who squealed, the girl has a hot light bulb shoved up her hoo-haw and is then forced to do push-ups, hoping the bulb won’t shatter.

Next up is old Principal “Pederast” Nakata, who is lured to a motel by Noriko’s gang where he is essentially gang-raped by them. But his resistance is fleeting, and soon he is howling at the moon -- which is later broadcast over the school P.A. system, bringing his tenure to a premature end.

Then, Wakabayashi entices several of Sato’s most influential supporters into an orgy with a bunch of college girls at a secret location. Hence the blindfolds. But when they reach their destination, we recognize these “college girls” as the men lay siege on them. It’s all very creepy and not titillating at all in the usual exploitation sense even though the scene is shot with a lurid, voyeuristic eye as the women lay themselves out as pieces of meat to be abused.

Luckily this all comes to an abrupt end when Wakabayashi springs his trap, reveals this orgy was actually taking place inside the school and all the women were underage girls. And as the crap hits the fan, a scrambling Ishihara and the others are wondering what Sato is going to do about all of this to bail them out. But Sato seems more interested in the menu -- I mean, the school yearbook, until he finds what he wants: Tomoko. And while what happens next was totally expected, it doesn’t make it any less disheartening. In fact, it makes it kinda worse. Still, Sato’s latest despicable act will set off a chain of events that will finally bring his empire and the school a crumbling down...

At the dawn of the 1970s, despite an escalation of violence and explicit nudity, Japanese cinema, like their American counterparts, was still losing the battle to television and losing badly. And while fabled studios like Nikkatsu abandoned any pretensions and went full Roman Porno (Romance Porn) rival studio Toei fought on and found a modicum of success by amping up the violence and nudity and distorted soundtracks even more on two fronts: first by abandoning traditional Japanese themes of honor and tradition for the more brutal approach of cops and gangsters with the Battles Without Honor and Humanity (1973-1979) series, and second, ushering in the era of Pinky Violence -- or Sukeban (delinquent girl) action films, starting with the truly gonzo Stray Cat Rock and Delinquent Girl Boss series (1970-1971), before it devolved even further into even more sex and even more violence with the Female Prisoner Scorpion series (1972-1973) and the Girl Boss franchise (1971-1974).

Now, the Terrifying Girls’ High School series (1972-1974), four films in total, was conceived as a companion piece to Toei’s extremely popular Girl Boss films, which allowed them more room to showcase two of their breakout stars: Reiko Ike and Miki Sugimoto. 

And while these two often played rivals on screen their characters always seemed to be evenly matched. Ike was always cool and calculating while Sugimoto was more blunt and feral. In Terrifying Girls’ High School: Lynch Law Classroom (1973), the second entry in the series, Ike appears about halfway through the film as Maki Takigawa, a rival gang leader who has an old score to settle with Sugimoto’s Noriko. But she agrees to postpone this rumble until Noriko finishes up her vengeance quest, and even winds up helping her out along the way.

Miki Sugimoto was a fashion model who debuted on TV with Go Go Girl in All Night Fuji before migrating to films, beginning with Onsen mimizu geisha (1972), which was headlined by Reiko Ike. (More on this film in a sec.) But she moved to the forefront in the Girl Boss series, triggering a tabloid war over the perceived rivalry between the two actresses when, in fact, there really wasn’t any. And on top of her roles in the sukeban films, Sugimoto would make a lasting impression with her ah-mazing performance as Rei in Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs (1974).

As for Reiko Ike, she was still in her late teens (allegedly) when Toei Studios “discovered” her, either as a model or working in a nightclub. She made her debut in the first Girl Boss movie, Queen Bee Strikes Again (1971). And then a media frenzy erupted following the release of Onsen mimizu geisha, part of the Hot Springs Geisha series, yet another Toei franchise, which focused on life in a brothel, when Ike claimed to have lied about her age to gain a part in the movie and was only sixteen when she starred in the softcore sex film.

But the publicity from this scandal only served to make the film one of Toei's most profitable features of the 1970s. And over the next five years, Ike would continue to prove to be Toei’s top star and be the main focus of this particular cinematic phenomenon, with Sugimoto right on her heels, starring in the totally bonkers Sex and Fury (1973) and Criminal Woman: Killing Melody (1973). But as the 1970s came to a close, both of these cultural icons sort of quietly disappeared and without much fanfare: Sugimoto in 1978, when she married a former classmate and became a nursery school teacher. 

Ike, meanwhile, would try to move beyond these sukeban films with some success but after getting into trouble with the law on two separate occasions, once for drugs, the other for illegal gambling, she kinda withdrew from the public eye after her last feature, The Golden Dog (1979).

Now, circling back to the Terrifying Girls’ High School series, the main difference between it and the other Girl Boss series should be fairly obvious as instead of girl gangs fighting against aggressive yakuza, you have rebellious students fighting against an oppressive school system. And while the first film in the series, Women's Violent Classroom (1972), was more of the same glorious nonsense but just in a different setting, the follow-up, Lynch Law Classroom was not; for it was a decidedly darker, even horrific in spots, and way more audacious, easily making it the best installment of the series -- and maybe even an apex example of the genre as a whole. And the person who deserves the most credit for that, or blame, is director Noribumi Suzuki.

As Keith Allison said in his review of Lynch Law Classroom over at Teleport City, “The Pinky Violence films of Noribumi Suzuki represent one extreme of the tendency of Japanese exploitation films of the seventies to combine a very high level of craftsmanship with an unflinching preoccupation with human behavior at its most sleazy and mysteriously perverse … However, unlike Shunya Ito, whose distinctive vision lifted the Female Prisoner Scorpion films to damn near the level of art, Norifumi produced trash that, while littered with artistic touches and surprising moments of beauty, never really quite rose above the level of trash."

Yeah, probably most infamous for the ‘not right in the head’, School of the Holy Beast (1974), Suzuki was a bit of an odd duck. He started at Toei as an assistant director in 1956 before switching to screenwriting. And throughout the 1960s, Suzuki would both write and direct several features. Then, in 1968, he was asked by Toei to write a script about a female gambler, which was released as Red Peony Gambler (1968), was a smash hit, and spawned eight sequels. In the 1970s, Suzuki directed the first film in the seven part Girl Boss series before switching over to the Terrifying Girls' High School, taking Sugimoto and Ike with him; but after the first entry kind of fell flat, Suzuki regrouped and tried again, taking everything up to eleven. For Suzuki is, as Andrew Pragasam put it at The Spinning Image, “almost wholly unique in combining an adolescent glee over softcore sex and hardcore horror, a painterly eye worthy of Mario Bava, an endearingly silly sense of humour somewhere south of Benny Hill, with a seemingly all-consuming urge to unleash savage social satire."

So, what you have here, then, is perversion with a political point. You have to remember, in early 1970s Japan, big business interests and right-wing politicians allied themselves with the unseemly yakuza to rein in and suppress any attempts at social reform by liberals, counter-culturalists, and the floundering student revolution movement. Thus, the only way to get away with any kind of social commentary was to disguise it under an avalanche of sexploitation. And at that, Suzuki had few equals as he fired volleys at every corrupt institution he could think of, be it church or state, with a gleefully anarchic finesse. To which his boss’s at Toei often turned a blind eye, as the more audacious and freaky he got, the more money they made. In fact: they probably encouraged it. And the only stumbling point Suzuki ever failed to overcome was his tendency to punctuate scenes of aggravated sexual violence and other things quite icky with moments of misfiring comedy. You get a sense of what he was trying to do, using it for some kind of release, but most often they just weren’t very funny and made things even more uncomfortable.

In Suzuki’s films there were no “good gals” -- just smoldering engines of vengeance who lash out at what made them that way. We root for them by default as what they are railing against is usually represented as being so despicable and irredeemable, we don’t want these girls to just win but we want them to burn it all down to the ground, scatter the bones, and salt the ashes with lye. And so, with Suzuki’s “aesthetic scorched-earth policy” fully engaged, we reach the climax of Lynch Law Classroom, where Ishihara calls in the cops to round up Noriko’s gang, who then turn them over to Yoko and the Disciplinary Committee for disposal, who take them to their makeshift torture chamber in the science lab. There, while the other girls are restrained, Noriko is strung up, stripped naked, wired up, then lit up with several jolts of electricity. (Trust me. You do not want to know where those electrodes were attached. GAH!)

But Mako gets word of her predicament through the ever present and seemingly all-knowing Wakabayashi, who just pulled off his big score, getting fifty million yen from Sato over what he did to Tomoko among other things. And when taking into account how salacious everything has been so far, it’s amazing how angry a viewer gets while watching the slovenly Sato rape the young Tomoko.

Like all the other men in these films, Sato is both an idiot and a groping neanderthal who can’t keep his urges in check. So of course you don’t want to watch this pile of blubber in a Hitler mustache have his way with any girl -- let alone a girl who represents the sole conscience of the picture. And after she is defiled, Tomoko hangs herself in shame. And strangely enough, Suzuki handles this scene with a strange beauty and grace and solemness that equals the debauchery of her defilement. It’s quite an emotional turbulence, a thunderclap, that sets the stage for the “unhinged catharsis” which follows.

For, back in the lab, Mako breaks in, beats hell out those girls standing guard, and frees the others. And once freed, Noriko and Yoko duke it out, with Mako keeping everyone else out of it. And after a pretty hefty and brutal fight, Noriko is victorious. And as her crew limps away, they find Tomoko hanging from the ceiling. And this turns out to be the spark the rest of the students needed to rally behind Noriko; and thus, all hell is about to break loose on Ishihara and the school. Speaking of Ishihara, as he sees his political future going up in smoke, despite his fiance’s best efforts to salvage it with Sato, offering herself up as a sexual favor in another truly disturbing scene, he tries to salvage what he can by carrying through on the school’s 25th Anniversary celebration, which no student attends because they’re too busy rioting, screaming, and tearing the school down around them.

Thus, Lynch Law Classroom ends with a different kind of orgy; one of violence and poetic justice. And as Sato is exposed for the deviant he is, and Ishihara's regime is broken forever, this primal scream of rage continues on as hundreds of girls break every pane of glass and leave no desk upright. And this payoff, this howl of rage the film had been promising all along is very cathartic indeed as the girls refuse to back down, setting up barricades, chunking rocks at riot police, and overturning and burning cars -- there’s even an extended shot of a burning Japanese flag. (Here, even the scheming Wakabayashi gets his as the briefcase with all his ill-gotten money goes up in smoke.) 

And when the carnage finally comes to a halt, and order is somewhat restored, Noriko and the others can finally take a cleansing breath and soak it all in as they’re herded into several paddy-wagons, leaving only Wakabayashi behind to sift through what’s left.

As one watches these sukeban films a person can’t help but sense some influence on the early films of Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, like The Student Nurses (1970) and his other “Three-Girl pictures” which sprung from there, which were also heavy on social commentary but used a heaping dose of sex and violence and humor as a smokescreen to make those elements easier to swallow. And as those pictures moved toward the Philippines and the women in prison pictures, the influence becomes even more pronounced.

Make no mistake, these were all most definitely softcore sex films -- only the plots were more interesting than the sex. And I guess like a lot of genres, The Pinky Violence films were destined to flame out. After Lynch Law Classroom, both Suzuki and Sugimoto bailed on the Terrifying High School series. But Reiko Ike stuck it out for Delinquent Convulsion Group (1973) and Animal Courage (1973). And while I’ve never seen either of them, word from those that have say they weren’t very good and failed terribly as follow ups to Lynch Law Classroom. Still, I wish more of these sukeban films were available to see domestically. But it is getting a little easier.

Over a decade ago, Panik House Entertainment put out a fantastic Pinky Violence boxset, which threw a spotlight on Sugimoto and Ike and included Lynch Law Classroom plus an eclectic batch of films from the other sukeban series: Criminal Woman: Killing Melody (1973), Girl Boss Guerilla (1972) and Delinquent Girl Boss: Worthless to Confess (1972). The same label also had individual releases for Suzuki and Ike’s Sex and Fury (-- which also starred Christina Lindberg, of Thriller: A Cruel Picture infamy (1973)), and it’s sequel, Female Yakuza Tale: Inquisition and Torture (1973). Last check they were all still available and fairly reasonable, price wise. Also, Arrow Video recently released two stunning boxsets for the Female Prisoner Scorpion and Stray Cat Rock series. I have them both and they’re both outstanding. So they are out there, and I encourage you all to take a look. Fair warning: they’re like nothing you’ve ever seen before. And once you’re hooked, you're hooked for good. But, oh, is it ever so worth it.

What is Hubrisween? This is Hubrisween. And now, Boils and Ghouls, be sure to follow this linkage to keep track of the whole conglomeration of reviews for Hubrisween right here. Or you can always follow we collective head of knuckle on Letterboxd. That's 20 down with 6 to go! Up next: When stars are bright on a frosty night, beware thy bane on the rocky lane!

Terrifying Girls' High School: Lynch Law Classroom (1973) Toei Company / P: Kanji Amao / D: Noribumi Suzuki / W: Tatsuhiko Kamoi / C: Jûhei Suzuki / E: Kôzô Horiike / M: Masao Yagi / S: Miki Sugimoto, Reiko Ike, Seiko Saburi, Misuzu Ôta, Rie Saotome, Shigeru Satô, Tsunehiko Watase, Kenji Imai, Emi Jô, Nobuo Kaneko, Yukiko Asano, Ryôko Ema

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