DVD Verdict
Home About News Blu-ray DVD Reviews Upcoming DVD Releases Contest Podcasts Forums Judges Contact  

Case Number 06639

Buy Angel Guts: The Nikkatsu Series at Amazon

Angel Guts: The Nikkatsu Series

High School Coed
1978 // 79 Minutes // Not Rated
Nami
1979 // 93 Minutes // Not Rated
Red Vertigo
1979 // 78 Minutes // Not Rated
Red Classroom
1981 // 64 Minutes // Not Rated
Red Porno
1988 // 73 Minutes // Not Rated
Released by ArtsmagicDVD
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // April 22nd, 2005

• View Judge Arseneau's Dossier
• E-mail Judge Arseneau
• Printer Friendly Review


Every purchase you make through these Amazon links supports DVD Verdict's reviewing efforts. Thank you!




 

All Rise...

This is the worst review Judge Adam Arseneau has ever written, because it involved watching this five-disc box set of "pink" films to completion.

The Charge

We ought to get combat pay for reviews like this.

Opening Statement

Angel Guts: The Nikkatsu Series collection is, in a word, problematic. The packaging of this five-disc DVD set is proudly festooned with the warning that the discs contain "scenes of extreme sexual violence which will offend many viewers."

It does, and it will. There really isn't anything else to say at this point.

Facts of the Case

Angel Guts: The Nikkatsu Series is a box set of the first five Angel Guts films, the notorious pink cinema based on Takashi Ishii's bestselling manga. The only things the films have in common are that the female protagonists are always named Nami, and the male protagonists are usually named Muraki.

Also, rape. Lots and lots of rape. Ugh.

High School Coed (1978) tells the story of three young hooligans who roam the streets, chase women around, drag them to abandoned fields or train yards, and rape the hell out of them before unceremoniously dumping them and taking off. Classy stuff. One of the rapists, Kawashima, has something that might resemble a conscience, but then again, it might not. He seems overly keen to keep his young sister unaware of his nighttime activities, which becomes problematic when he runs into his gang while taking his sister out for lunch. The gang, just about to rape another girl, gets their asses kicked by a panicked Kawashima, who needs to keep up his appearance (at least in front of his sister) as a decent human being. Afterwards, the gang turns on Kawashima violently, and you can pretty much guess where this ends up…

In Red Classroom (1979), Muraki works for a pornographic magazine as a writer, which constantly puts him in touch with some incredibly seedy material. He ends up watching a fake rape film submitted to his office and becomes obsessed with the girl in the film, whom he tries to track down. By sheer coincidence (of course), he locates her in Tokyo, and they agree to meet for drinks to discuss "businesses." Going upstairs to his hotel room, they get down to it (the business). Nami is a shell of a woman, used and abused by men, and a horrified Murakami learns that the rape film, in fact, was authentic…

Nami (1979), by default the superior film in the set, tells the story of Nami, a young reporter working for a popular ladies' magazine. She has been writing a series of articles based on sexual abuses of young women and how the survivors cope with the trauma, and during her "research," she ends up knee-deep in a seedy sex show. Repulsed, Nami flees the club, but the next day, she encounters a man, Muraki, whom she met in the sex club—he's a pornography peddler. He tries to warn her not to get too involved in her continual stories, as it could be very dangerous for her. Nami continues unabated, but soon finds herself plagued by reoccurring nightmares of terrible sexual abuse…

Red Porno (1981) tells the story of Hitomi and Nami, two young women. Hitomi, a struggling "model," asks Nami to accompany her on a photo shoot one night, and Nami agrees. Unfortunately, the "photo shoot" turns out to be something decisively more sinister, and Nami is forcibly stripped and photographed in degrading S&M poses for a magazine called Red Porno. The issue with Nami becomes incredibly successful, and soon the magazine starts seeking out Nami for more photos to satisfy reader demand. And when Nami's real-life boss discovers a copy of Red Porno at the office, Nami's life begins to fall apart…

Red Vertigo (1988), the final film in the box set, tells the story of Nami (of course), a nurse at a local hospital. Her boyfriend is a successful photographer who takes pictures of beautiful and glamorous women. One day at the hospital, Nami is attacked by two strangers who attempt to violently rape her. She escapes and runs home distraught to her boyfriend, but catches him in the act of having sex with one of his models. In tears, she runs into the street and is promptly run over by an automobile. Bad day. The driver, a bizarre man named (you guessed it) Muraki, quickly places Nami's limp body in the car. Rather than say, take her to a doctor, he decides to undress her and sexually assault her. She wakes up and escapes the car, and Muraki gives chase into an abandoned building, where he succeeds in raping her. Then they fall in love. No, really. Like that makes any sense.

The Evidence

I am going to make this review as long as I can, because my first instinct was to submit a review with a few scant curses in it, then go wash my eyes out with hydrogen peroxide and call it a day. But that would be unprofessional, so I am going to give it a proper go. Prudish I'm not, but Angel Guts tested my limits of cinematic appreciation—then set fire to them.

Although "appreciate" is the wrong word to use here, in order to even get the shrink-wrapping off Angel Guts without feeling waves of self-deprecation and shame, it is important to understand the cinematic and historical context in which these films were released in Japan. Nikkatsu Studios, struggling to stay afloat in the 1960s and 1970s, needed a gimmick to draw people out of their living rooms and back into the cinemas. Out of sheer desperation, they began creating "roman porno" or "pink" films, full of violence, smut, and soft-core pornography. These were exploitation films, pure and simple, tasteless and crude, but something the Japanese could not get on television. The daring gambit worked, and the people flocked to the theatres to get a taste of…well, something terrible. Suffice it to say, it worked. The studio survived the dry spell, and a new genre of Japanese film was born. That is the historical context from which Angel Guts emerged.

Now, the cinematic context. It is important to understand the differences between the Japanese film industry and Hollywood in regard to adult material. Adult film directors do not get to work in Hollywood. Nobody uses porno films as a jumping-off point from which to break into the mainstream movie industry in North America. In contrast, in Japan, the "pink" industry—producing more mature-themed and adult-based straight-to-video films—often crosses over with the other genres. Many directors get their start creating seedy, slimy, and sexually perverse films, then work their way up to A-level material. In short, making really seedy pink films in Japan could actually be viewed as a viable film career move. If this happens in any other country in the world, I am unaware of it, but it happens in Japan.

Got all that? So now that I have given you an overview of the Japanese film industry infrastructure in order to explain why these films were created, the question that next needs to be answered is, "Why would I ever watch these?" Sadly, I have no answer to this one.

The Angel Guts series aren't even good films. They are bad films, shot badly, produced badly, with bad acting, bad scripts, and a perverse level of cruelty towards their female characters, who are constantly being beaten, dragged around by the hair, raped, and other unpleasant activities by misogynistic, violent, and ill-tempered men. A feminist I'm not (the whole testicle thing), but even as a man, I find this stuff pretty hard to take. These films venture tantalizingly close to being downright obscene, but constantly manage to eke back over the edge by slightly obscuring a vantage point or angle as a girl gets terrible, terrible things done to her / put in her / et cetera. The Angel Guts pictures are despondent, cruel, mean-spirited, confrontational, and incredibly dysfunctional; in short, not happy films, and probably the closest thing to outright pornography that we will ever review on this site.

That being said, these films are indeed legitimate works of creativity and cinematic prowess. They look quite impressive considering their budget, and if you took away the 30 minutes of rape in each film, you might actually be left with a half-decent movie, deeply rich in sexual tension and complex issues of sexuality and the pervasive nature of our voyeuristic desires. The problem here is that the filmmakers made sure to emphasize the 30 minutes of rape as the most important parts of the film. And that's just nasty. As I watched these films, there was a small voice in my head, a tiny academic voice, pointing out that these films would actually be quite decent if you could get around the crushingly violent sexual abuse. Then, a louder voice pointed out that I probably don't ever want to be the guy who can get past that sort of thing.

In all honesty, this is probably the worst review I have ever had to write. It took way longer than it should have, simply because I could not bear myself to review the subject matter once I had a taste of it. To sweat, agonize, and bite your lip through an entire 90-minute rape film, only to have to turn around and watch four more? Terrible. On-camera depiction of sex is one thing (heck, who doesn't like that?), but this is like watching a seven-and-a-half-hour cut of the rape sequence in Irreversible. It's just so…unnecessary. Other films explore sexual dysfunction and violence onscreen with at least some respect for the subject, but Angel Guts is just downright cruel and brutish, like performing arterial blockage surgery with a chainsaw.

The male characters are either rapists or stalkers, and usually have these feelings validated by raping or stalking women, sometimes both. The female characters are sexually and emotionally repressed and abused, and the abuse gets manifested in the form of onscreen rape, usually depicted during extremely long takes and with a fervor and enthusiasm that is deeply uncomfortable, and frankly, inappropriate. The obvious delight the films take in exploring the extraordinarily lengthy rape sequences in each film taint what could otherwise be fascinating depictions of sexual dysfunction and desire. As they stand, their excessive cruelty makes them almost entirely unwatchable. Scholars and intellectuals will tell you that pink films are fascinating because Japanese culture is choosing to explore a taboo onscreen and deal with the male fantasy of control and exploitation in a decisively up-front fashion, a cinematic trend no other culture in the world dares to investigate. If you want to believe that, be my guest.

ArtsMagicDVD has admittedly done a good job of bringing these films to DVD, presenting all five movies in their native anamorphic widescreen aspect ratios. The quality of each transfer varies depending on its age. For example, Red Vertigo is the best looking of the bunch, with excellent detail and black levels, a minimum of grain or defects and decent clarity, while High School Coed is exactly the opposite. Considering the total obscurity of the material, the microscopic budgets used to create it, and the fact that these films had only previously been available on VHS, if at all, these DVDs are a godsend in terms of presentation.

Each film is presented with its original mono soundtrack, which sounds…authentic, if not god-awful. In addition, each film comes with a newly constructed 5.1 surround mix, which took the tinny, compressed sound of the mono soundtrack and spread it into five channels. Surround mixes based upon mono material usually sound terrible, and these are no exception. The 5.1 mixes are pretty much a total waste of time—though, like the visuals, they get better as the films get newer.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

I can see two redeeming qualities this set has for the consummate Japanese cinema aficionado. The first is the directorial debut of Takashi Ishii, the manga artist who penned the Angel Guts series and on whose stories these films are based. Taking on the director's chair for the first time in Red Vertigo, Ishii went on to create some half-decent yakuza and sexually-changed thrillers over the years (like Gonin and Freeze Me).

The second saving grace is the high-quality supplementary features included with each film, including full-length director's commentaries for all five films recorded by Japanese film writer Jasper Sharp. The commentaries are informative, enthusiastic, entirely positive, educational, and repetitive. Sharp sings the praise of the films again and again and explains why they are fascinating and important pieces of filmmaking. Though I do not necessarily agree with some of his observations, Sharp's comments are the greatest asset of this box set, making the entire affair viewable (at least from an academic standpoint). The merciless level of repetition is unavoidable; these are basically five films about rape, so Sharp ends up repeating himself more often than not.

Each film also includes a slew of extra interview material spread across the five discs: two interviews with scriptwriter Toshiharu Ikeda; an interview with director Noburo Tanaka; and four interviews with writer-director Takashi Ishii, with each interview focusing on one film in particular. When combined, they total almost two and a half hours of interview material, which is fantastic considering the obscurity of the subject matter. The writers and directors are happy to take you through the creative decisions and thematic choices made in order to bring these stories to life, which helps counteract the rising nausea in the gullet. These men are clearly proud of their work and are anxious to explain all the reasons why it rules—again, I don't always agree with their takes and observations, but their inclusion is a boon to this DVD release.

Closing Statement

Angel Guts: The Nikkatsu Series is a high-quality box set of some of the most reprehensible films I have ever had the misfortune of seeing. It is a paradox of production quality and abhorrent subject matter that many DVD collectors will find difficult to come to terms with. Though I find the technical presentation quite excellent, I have to stop short at actually recommending this set to anyone, because I am not sure I want to be in any sort of dialogue with any person who would actually seek out this product out and purchase it. Okay, just kidding. But still, I feel incredibly divided on the subject of Angel Guts, to the point of getting rid of it at my first opportunity. And I rarely ever give up Japanese films. I'm kind of a nut like that.

The Angel Guts films are exploitative cinema to the point where you actually feel like you have been exploited just by watching them. They're that grungy and nasty. If that's your thing, then by all means, fill your trough. This is a great set of DVDs, from a technical perspective. Me, I prefer my female protagonists in films a little on the…less raped side. Call me crazy.

The Verdict

Through the eyes of a film student, I can certainly appreciate the significance of this box set and its esoteric work within a particular exploitative genre as being culturally and cinematically significant. I can also see how films like the Angel Guts series helped knock down doors in Japanese cinema, to allow future generations of directors like Shinya Tsukamoto and Takashi Miike to explore sexual violence and dysfunction in a mainstream forum. In a detached and academic sort of way, I am pleased that ArtsMagicDVD has made these movies available on DVD in such a high-quality box set with fascinating interviews and informative commentary tracks.

But when I switch off my academic sensibilities, and ask myself if I would ever, ever, ever watch these films? Ever?

Hell no. Get them out of my courtroom.

Give us your feedback!

Did we give Angel Guts: The Nikkatsu Series a fair trial? yes / no

Share This Review


Follow DVD Verdict


DVD Reviews Quick Index

• DVD Releases
• Recent DVD Reviews
• Search for a DVD review...

Genres

• Drama
• Exploitation
• Foreign
• Horror

Scales of Justice, High School Coed

Video: 70
Audio: 69
Extras: 75
Acting: 68
Story: 25
Judgment: 52

Perp Profile, High School Coed

Studio: ArtsmagicDVD
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Japanese)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 79 Minutes
Release Year: 1978
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, High School Coed

• Audio Commentary Featuring Japanese Film Writer Jasper Sharp
• Interview with Screenwriter Toshiharu Ikeda
• Interview with Writer-Director Takashi Ishii
• Original Sleeve Art
• Original Theatrical Trailer
• Biographies and Filmographies

Scales of Justice, Nami

Video: 75
Audio: 75
Extras: 70
Acting: 78
Story: 60
Judgment: 65

Perp Profile, Nami

Studio: ArtsmagicDVD
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Japanese)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Nami

• Audio Commentary Featuring Japanese Film Writer Jasper Sharp
• Interview with Director Noburu Tanaka
• Original Sleeve Art
• Original Theatrical Trailer
• Biographies and Filmographies

Scales of Justice, Red Vertigo

Video: 84
Audio: 82
Extras: 70
Acting: 70
Story: 35
Judgment: 57

Perp Profile, Red Vertigo

Studio: ArtsmagicDVD
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Japanese)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 78 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Red Vertigo

• Audio Commentary Featuring Japanese Film Writer Jasper Sharp
• Two interviews with Manga Artist-Writer Takashi Ishii
• Original Sleeve Art
• Original Theatrical Trailer
• Biographies and Filmographies

Scales of Justice, Red Classroom

Video: 75
Audio: 70
Extras: 70
Acting: 75
Story: 50
Judgment: 54

Perp Profile, Red Classroom

Studio: ArtsmagicDVD
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Japanese)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 64 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Red Classroom

• Audio Commentary Featuring Japanese Film Writer Jasper Sharp
• Interview with Director Toshiharu Ikeda
• Original Sleeve Art
• Original Theatrical Trailer
• Biographies and Filmographies

Scales of Justice, Red Porno

Video: 80
Audio: 80
Extras: 75
Acting: 80
Story: 20
Judgment: 60

Perp Profile, Red Porno

Studio: ArtsmagicDVD
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Japanese)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 73 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Red Porno

• Audio Commentary Featuring Japanese Film Writer Jasper Sharp
• Interview with Writer-Director Takashi Ishii
• Original Sleeve Art
• Original Theatrical Trailer
• Biographies and Filmographies








DVD | Blu-ray | Upcoming DVD Releases | About | Staff | Jobs | Contact | Subscribe | Find us on Google+ | Privacy Policy

Review content copyright © 2005 Adam Arseneau; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.