Impulse Pictures // 1980 // 68 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge William Lee (Retired) // September 1st, 2012
Zoom In: Sex Apartments is a surreal entry in the Nikkatsu erotic films collection. The second film in the Zoom Up series of the studio's Roman Porno output, the title suggests voyeurism is the key theme. However, stealthy camera work isn't at all a concern in Naosuke Kurosawa's directorial debut. The movie contains plenty of topless nudity and softcore sex, but whether it's erotic will depend on your tolerance for misogynistic imagery.
When her husband goes away to a cycling competition, Saeko (Erina Miyai) takes the opportunity to meet up with an old flame. Her old boyfriend Takaya (Yuuko Ohzaki) lives in a developing apartment complex on the other side of a windswept wasteland. Saeko is raped by a masked man in a dark coat wielding an unusual-looking tool on her way to Takaya's. Soon after, young women in the neighborhood are being raped and murdered. The killer sets their genitals ablaze as his calling card. Saeko suspects Takaya may be involved in these crimes but her loyalty to him puts her in a peculiar and dangerous position.
The film is an adequate serial killer movie as the narrative goes through the motions just fine but there isn't much mystery before the killer's identity is revealed. Lacking an effective protagonist trying to stop the killer, there isn't a sense of urgency surrounding the threat of his deeds. The script doesn't offer any red herrings so when Saeko has suspicions about Takaya we accept it at face value. Her dilemma of whether to get away from him or to help him presents an interesting conflict. She's terrified of Takaya in one moment but she's protective of him in the next.
The moments of sex and violence have a fairly surreal quality to them. Taken in isolation, these scenes could be viewed as dream sequences. A rape in broad daylight on a desolate landscape and a person spontaneously combusting are just two of the unusual scenes here. In the context of the rest of the movie, it's difficult to say for certain if any moment is meant to be real or imagined. In the final moments of the film, fire in each of it's destructive, cleansing and sensual meanings ultimately dominates the frame in fantastically weird fashion.
The picture quality on this Impulse Pictures DVD is good aside from a slightly soft look throughout. There were a few instances of black frames flashing, like the image went blank for a brief moment, but the glitch never compromised a scene. Skin tones are pleasantly natural looking and they're abundantly displayed. The two-channel mono sound is fine. Dialogue is strong and the sound mix isn't complex.
The theatrical trailer is included on the disc. An insert includes a two-page essay by Jasper Sharp introducing the film. He discusses the movie (also known as Rape Apartments) in relation to the other Zoom Up titles and details the career of director Naosuke Kurosawa.
The Nikkatsu Roman Porno films typically mix sex and violence but Zoom In: Sex Apartments surprised me by how it handled these tried and true Japanese exploitation ingredients. Firstly, the sex scenes feel rather cold emotionally but they do exhibit thoughtful staging and cinematography. Secondly, the mood of the film is so weird that I was never quite sure if I wasn't watching a dream sequence. I think it's worth recommending on those qualities. However, it warrants a caveat that the scenes of rape and violence can be off-putting for how the camera lingers on the killer's terrorizing of his victims.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Impulse Pictures
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Japanese)
Running Time: 68 Minutes
Release Year: 1980
MPAA Rating: Not Rated