Director: Kurando Mitsutake
Writer: Kurando Mitsutake
Cast: Asami, Kairi Narita, Noriaki Kamata, Matthew Floyd Miller, Dean Simone, Tatsuya Nakadai
Running Time: 86 min.
By Z Ravas
It’d be easy for detractors to label 2014’s Gun Woman another case of low-budget sleaze – after all, Japanese AV turned action star Asami spends most of the film’s climax stark naked and drenched in blood – but director Kurando Mitsutake is far too savvy a filmmaker for that. Since 2009’s Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf, the writer/director/occasional-actor has managed to accomplish the seemingly impossible: he’s kept Japanese action cinema alive through a series of micro-budgeted movies that hold appeal for both grindhouse aficionados and martial arts buffs alike.
While the more recent Karate Kill might be said to be Mitsutake’s strongest effort to date, and makes one salivate at the possibility of the filmmaker being granted an even bigger budget to realize his outsized ambitions, there’s no denying that Gun Woman is the movie that put Mitsutake on most genre fans’ radar. For that reason, and others, it’s worth taking a look back at Gun Woman, which is conveniently streaming on Netflix.
At first brush, Gun Woman’s plot may sound overly familiar: after a brilliant Doctor’s (played by Into the Sun’s Kairi Narita) wife is murdered before his eyes by the insane son of a Japanese business magnate (in a positively unhinged performance from Noriaki Kamata), he swears revenge. Crippled himself in the attack, the Doctor has no choice but to look for aid in realizing his ambitions, and thus kidnaps a homeless, drug-addicted young woman (Asami, who broke into the mainstream with several Sushi Typhoon efforts) to train as the perfect assassin. If you think the writers of La Femme Nikita might be looking to sue after hearing that synopsis, rest assured that Mitsutake lampshades the fact early on by having a side character remark, “What is this, some kind of Japanese manga or Luc Besson film?” It’s a tacit admission from the filmmakers that they know their material owes a creative debt to the great action movies that have come before, and also tells the viewer to lighten up and enjoy the ride.
And what a ride it is. Most of the movie comprises of Asami’s lengthy training sequences, which involves a good deal of psychological torture since the Doctor transforms Asami into a killing machine against her will. The dynamic between these two characters is quite interesting, if not disturbing: the Doctor may have saved Asami’s life by forcing her to kick her drug habit, but by fashioning her into the instrument of his own revenge, he continues to put her in harm’s way again and again. For her part, Asami begins to develop a bit of Stockholm Syndrome – it’s fairly fascinating stuff as, even if it’s not exactly Oscar-worthy material, the characters are far more ambitious than your standard micro-budget B-Movie.
Bear in mind, this all plays out against the backdrop of a demented villain who wouldn’t be out of place in a Toxic Avenger movie or one of Takashi Miike’s most off-the-wall pictures like Fudoh: The New Generation. Many viewers will no doubt balk or be offended by Gun Woman’s cadre of necrophiliac baddies (yes, you read that right), but – in contrast with other films of similar ilk such as Hobo With a Shotgun – I never felt like Kurando Mutsutake was wallowing in and celebrating the depravity of his rogues gallery. Rather, the script goes to great lengths to make you despise its cast of demented degenerates, such that you can’t wait to see Asami take them out. Mission accomplished.
Once Asami becomes, well, the Gun Woman (bear in mind this is a taut and fast-moving flick at 86 minutes so it doesn’t take long), and is unleashed on Noriaki Kamata and his bodyguards, the bullets fly and the bodies drop. While the climax is certainly smaller scale than the extended finale of Karate Kill, it’s no less impressive to watch Asami go up against goons who tower over her diminutive size, especially when she’s so, well, vulnerable. The movie goes to great lengths to justify why Asami has to enter the bad guy’s complex wearing only her birthday suit. Of course, the reasoning is rather ridiculous but – what can you do? Its a creative decision that certainly got people talking and, surprisingly, Mitsutake and his team do such a good job choreographing the ending sequence that, after awhile, you just kind of forget that Asami is fighting evil with nary a stitch to wear.
Okay, so Gun Woman isn’t exactly high art. It’s still a dynamite example of what can be accomplished by a team who is passionate about independent filmmaking and high-octane action. Asami delivers a performance that radiates both vulnerability and steely-eyed determination at once, and she acquits herself extremely well during the fight sequences for someone who has no formal martial arts training. I have no doubt team behind Gun Woman will continue to craft bigger and better films, but this is the effort that put them on the map – and rightly so. If low-budget exploitation cinema gets your blood running hot, you have a new friend in Kurando Mitsutake.
Z Ravas’ Rating: 6.5/10