AKA: Alleycat Rock: Sex Hunter
Director: Yasuharu Hasebe
Producer: Masayuki Takagi
Cast: Meiko Kaji, Rikiya Yasuoka, Tatsuya Fuji, Jiro Okazaki, Yuki Arikawa, Tomoko Aki, Yoko Takagi, Akemi Nara
Running Time: 93 min.
By Kyle Warner
I first saw Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter almost a decade ago. At the time, I was totally unaware that it belonged to a series of films (Part 3 of 5, in fact). When I later learned about the series, I was anxious to see the other films… but Sex Hunter was the only Stray Cat Rock film released on DVD in the US at that time. And that’s the way it was for a lot of us in the West – we had one film to represent a series. Now with the new Arrow Video Blu-ray box set released in the US, it’s been nice to get a look at the other films at long last. Just the same, I was eager to revisit the most well-known entry, Sex Hunter.
Yasuharu Hasebe returns to the series he helped create after Toshiya Fujita stepped in for him on film 2. Under Hasebe’s direction, Sex Hunter leaves Wild Jumbo’s beaches behind and returns to the bloody city streets. Sex Hunter is the darkest and most thought-provoking of the first three films (possibly the entire series. I still need to watch films 4 and 5). What’s interesting is that Hasebe mostly avoids providing the audience with answers to the film’s questions, instead letting the film linger on in the subconscious.
In 2015 I’ve been exposed to a small helping of Hasebe’s filmography. One thing I’ve picked up on is that he doesn’t make any attempt to hide influences of American films and pop culture on his work. Similarly, Hasebe often showcases American influences on Japanese cities, such as clubs that cater to Westerners (this film has a club with a sign that reads, ‘Welcome Americans!’ then in smaller print, ‘Japanese welcome, too!’), American brand names (glass Coca-Cola bottles being used as Molotov cocktails are hard to miss), and frequently sets his films near American military bases (in this case Yokosuka). In Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter, these influences on Japanese society in the 70s have a big part to play. There were many political protests at the time seeking US military withdrawal from Japan. And while none of the protests are featured or expressly mentioned in Sex Hunter, the film manages to capture the spirit of the times just the same. Instead of simply going with the flow and showing young Japanese as heroes, Hasebe makes things interesting by depicting both Japanese youth and Americans as menacing and violent at varying times throughout the film. No race is depicted as superior and one’s nationality does not preclude them from being an asshole. It’s not always obvious what Hasebe’s trying to say in certain scenes, but it’s clear that the situation is a complicated one.
The film follows two gangs of delinquent youth. The female gang, the Alleycats, is led by Mako (Meiko Kaji, Lady Snowblood) and the guy’s gang, the Eagles, is led by Baron (Tatsuya Fuji, In the Realm of the Senses). The two gangs are friendly and Mako and Baron even share the same bed, but the relationship becomes strained when the Eagles’ Susumu (Jiro Okazaki, Massacre Gun) is dumped by an Alleycat girl. The girl has chosen a half-Japanese, half-African American young man named Ichiro over Susumu, which enrages all of the Eagles. Baron remembers how his sister was raped by ‘half-breeds’ many years ago and goes off on a tirade about how they’ll steal all the Japanese women. Under Baron and Susumu, the Eagles make it their mission to scare off all the mixed-race young men in town, resorting to violence when scare tactics are not enough. Mako and the Alleycats don’t agree with this and try to reason with Baron while simultaneously helping some of their mixed-race friends escape the violence.
What’s initially alarming is that it’s not immediately clear how writer/director Hasebe and co-writer Atsushi Yamatoya (Branded to Kill) feel about all this. When the Eagles go on their racist crime spree, the men are having a grand time while Tatsuya Fuji comes across as a cool and charismatic leader. This is compounded by the fact that Mako, while possessing Meiko Kaji’s natural cool (and an iconic costume she would return to in the Scorpion series), is a much less interesting character. However, eventually it becomes abundantly clear that, despite being a charismatic character, Fuji’s Baron is very much meant to be the villain, which made me feel a little better about where the film was going. Baron and the Eagles are scary sorts of villains because, not only do versions of them exist in the real world, but they do not require any intelligence to unleash their violence upon the world. While villainous masterminds in movies can be cool, they’re often beyond belief thanks to their overabundance and some occasionally lackluster writing and acting. Stupid villains can be even scarier than their brilliant counterparts. All the wicked morons need is a bad idea to get into their heads and then they’re on the streets raising hell and ruining people’s lives. Additionally, while Baron is clearly the smartest guy in the Eagles (he often has his nose in a non-fiction book), his motivations are still driven by cruelty and stupidity. He hates all ‘half-breeds’ because of an incident that took place 20 years ago. He also thinks little of women and puts them through hell mostly because of his embarrassment over his impotency. There’s no forgiving Baron, but I did appreciate the attempt to make him a complicated character instead of just a man who does wrong for no reason.
While Mako and the Alleycats are mostly ineffective when opposing the Eagles (with the exception of those Coca-Cola Molotov cocktails I mentioned earlier), one mixed-race young man stands up to the bad guys, becoming the closest approximation to Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter’s idea of a hero. Played by half-Italian Rikiya Yasuoka, Kazuma Okamoto was my favorite character from the film. Kazuma travels into town and immediately goes to a bar which caters almost exclusively to mixed-race people and their friends. He’s looking for his long-lost sister, but his sister doesn’t have his looks and can easily blend in among the Japanese. Even if he finds her, she may not want to reveal who she really is. Along the way Kazuma runs into the Eagles, leading to a natural combative relationship between him and Baron. It’s an interesting role and Rikiya Yasuoka plays the part well. With imposing size and gruff looks, Yasuoka developed into being one of Japan’s most recognizable character actors, often playing tough guys and gangsters. He sadly passed away in 2012, but in his career he appeared in many popular films, including Juzo Itami’s Tampopo, Ridley Scott’s Black Rain, and in his later years he became a favorite of Takashi Miike, with roles in such films as Graveyard of Honor, Osaka Tough Guys, and Yasuoka’s final feature, Izo.
The theme of mixed-race Japanese was touched upon in Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss, the first of the series, with the boxer character played by Ken Sanders (Sanders also had a somewhat memorable role in Hasebe’s sophomore effort Massacre Gun). One can assume that the subject — and the people — apparently meant something to Hasebe. I personally liked Hasebe’s attempt to depict the mixed-race characters as more than just victims of prejudice, showing them in their jobs as useful members of society before the Eagles torpedo their lives. On the opposite side of the spectrum, in their quest of misguided nationalism the Eagles end up looking like truly worthless members of society. Some of the film is sensationalist and exploitative, but I think Hasebe and Atsushi Yamatoya had their hearts in the right place.
For those wondering where the title Sex Hunter comes in; it doesn’t seem to mean a thing. Sex plays a part in the film, and it’s often depicted in ugly circumstances, but it’s definitely not the driving force behind the narrative. While the first film Delinquent Girl Boss featured a subtitle that correctly suggested what to expect, later films like Wild Jumbo, Sex Hunter, Machine Animal, and Beat ’71 seem to have just gone for cool sounding titles.
Not only is Sex Hunter the most well-known entry of the series, but it’s probably the best. It deals with deeper, darker themes than the films that came before it and as such it may not be the most ‘enjoyable’ but I would say that it’s definitely the most memorable of the films. And if you’re into dissecting and analyzing films you’ll find that Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter has more to offer than most violent youth pics. It’s hard not to notice that the racist Eagles, who have strong anti-American views, have named themselves after the symbol of America, drive around in US Army Jeeps, and have no issue earning money by doing jobs for Americans looking for a good time. How much of the film is meant to be analyzed? How much is just there to enhance the director’s vision and the story’s themes? It’s difficult for me to say. But it’s clear that Hasebe and co. put a good deal of thought into Sex Hunter and filled their film with as many interesting sights, characters, and social questions that 90 minutes could hold.
Kyle Warner’s Rating: 7.5