Freeze Me

Witnesses to the quiet blending of two nascent film genre in the 1970s may have barely realized what was happening. While filmgoers grappled with edgy new wave of social commentary presented in simple morality plays, from such brooding arthouse fare as Jungfrukallan (The Virgin Spring, Ingmar Bergman, 1959) to the harsh desperation of The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967), Midnight Cowboy (John Scheslinger, 1969) and Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969), they may have barely noticed other marquees showcasing radically more vacuous but explicitly provocative fare, from the middlebrow Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (Russ Meyer, 1970) to the far more graphic Behind the Green Door (Mitchell Brothers, 1972). (1) Each of these trends in American filmmaking fabricated its own distinctive core ingredients of success and momentum (emerging as it were as a film genre), and it was inevitable that as each established itself indelibly in the expectations of film audiences, adventurous directors would begin to blend the moral text conventions of the one with the expanding sexual explicitness of the other in a way that ultimately created its own hybrid genre. The resulting cross-conventional ventures explored heretofore taboo topics (and images) of sexuality and sexual violence, and raised questions as to whether as artistic expression they constituted a more contemporary and relevant (‘real’) form of social commentary or were merely exploitive. Decades of subsequent discussion and debate among directors, producers, film critics, scholars and social commentators have focused particularly on the degree to which these more graphic portrayals reflected an insidious and endemic appetite for sexuality and violence in our society that, even more disturbingly, might precipitate more widespread sexual promiscuity and/or sexual violence.

I. The Emergence of the Rape-Revenge Genre in Contemporary Film

One of the lagged manifestations of these trends was the demarcation of some of these films as constituting a discrete genre – the rape-revenge film – the conventions of which are still considered somewhat fluid. One could argue that Bergman’s The Virgin Spring set the basic template: a young innocent girl, cast unwittingly alone into a savage environment, is brutally raped and killed, and subsequently avenged (with equal brutality) by her ordinarily pious father. While these basic conventional elements undergo various permutations in later films – How innocent and young is the girl portrayed? Has she been rendered vulnerable by fate or by actions of others? Is her vulnerability a natural or contrived circumstance? Has she been raped and killed or just raped (‘violated’)? Is she avenged by her father, her friend or by society acting in concert? – the conventional message is set: the savaging of an innocent begets equally savage retribution against the attackers.

(a) The Rape of an Innocent or the Rape of Innocence?

The conventional message of rape-revenge films is portrayed on two levels: the individual level focusing on the violation of the purity of an innocent and its impact on individual lives, and the more cosmic level in which the moral balance to the universe is tipped by a random act of sexual violence and demands restoration. The nature of the retribution sought, and thereby the ascriptive message of the film, is governed wholly by the nature (and the visceral portrayal) of the violation. The prototype of the rape-revenge film cast on the individual level could be Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave (1978) in which the multiple and repeated violations are clearly individual (and personalized) and so then becomes the retribution. Films of this type have on occasion been considered “empowering” to the victim, in that the savagery of the initial attack causes a normally reticent character to become equally savage in seeking retribution, returning us to the more central debate over the innate savage nature of man (and woman). Less debated but equally important is the question of whether the ’empowerment’ is situation-specific, sufficient to exact retribution in that one instance, or permanent, causing the ’empowered’ to lead an entirely different life.

The typical rape-revenge film attempts to draw members of the audience into a relationship with the innocent, allowing her “personhood”, thereby intensifying their degree of sympathy and outrage when the attack on the innocent occurs. (2) Naturally, their response to the rape is governed by the degree to which they collectively sense her innocence (usually guaranteed by prolonged and unmistakable text message) and the graphicness with which the rape is portrayed (which is usually visceral and rapid), both of which serve to heighten their sense of “violation” and their intuitive prescriptive sense of warranted retribution or justice. (3) Alternatively, their reactions might be compromised by presentation of a mixed text message regarding the victim’s innocence, that she might be a girl of ‘loose morals’ as in The Accused (Jonathan Kaplan, 1988) or in some way ‘invited it’ as in Straw Dogs (Sam Peckinpah, 1971) or I Spit on Your Grave. Equally perplexing is the degree to which sympathetic members of the audience are drawn into complicity with any subsequent act of revenge, a position that can leave them either cheering in the aisles or sombrely experiencing a real sense of moral uneasiness.

In American filmmaking, the portrayal of rape as an individual act has been a conventional taboo, due to sensitivity to real victims or their families. Most often, the audience is allowed some contextual knowledge that a rape has occurred, but seldom do we witness the actual rape in all of its potential visceral qualities. By convention, such actions are always “off-scene”. Since rape is a purely violent (rather than sexual) act, direct portrayal opens an equally sensitive issue area in which audience expectation has little familiarity other than what it sees in film portrayals. Therefore it is unlikely that the audience is prepared to share that level of intimacy with the victim at the point of her ultimate humiliation, as in I Spit on Your Grave, or by extension in Carrie (Brian de Palma, 1976) or afterward, as in The Accused. Furthermore, a more graphic on-scene portrayal might well be considered gratuitous, exploitive or even provocative, not to mention insensitive and humiliating. More important, any portrayal of the physical act that leaves a text message other than sympathetic identification with the victim would raising doubts as to whether the rape was somehow expected, inevitable, provoked or in some way an “ordinary” occurrence, crossing well-marked lines of social convention in American filmmaking and in American society in general.

At the other end of the spectrum would be films that portray a more cosmic type of violation, a “rape of innocence” (rather than an innocent) for which retribution must be sought collectively (e.g., town vigilantism), or by an agent acting on behalf of the collective. In films of this type, long after the individual act of violation has occurred and the victim forgotten, the audience has internalised the act as symptomatic of a deeper infection in society that must be combated with active vigilance. Interestingly, while the “infection” is often embodied in the attackers, who are running loose in society free to randomly attack others, the real infection revealed by their actions is the complacency of society that stands idly by while such innocents are savaged. While retribution is exacted upon the attackers, the audience understands its own complicit guilt in having silently witnessed the attack. More than simply a plea for hard-nosed law and order, this type of text becomes a condemning social commentary on the decline of contemporary morality – a staple message of many film genre and poignantly illustrated in many of the Clint Eastwood films, especially Pale Rider (1985), and Charles Bronson vigilante films, such as Death Wish (Michael Winner, 1974) and its sequels – or societal insensitivity to the vulnerability of individuals in a progressively harsh society, as in Monster (Patty Jenkins, 2003).

(b) The Moral Justification for Retribution

The Virgin Spring

The fluidity in the conventional text of the rape-revenge genre plays across the range of innocence violated – from individual to cosmic – and has religious overtones. As in The Virgin Spring, the violation of an innocent’s virtue is most often portrayed as creating its own moral justification for the victim or related others (especially family, friends, etc.) to exact retribution on the violators in an act of pure justice without particular specification as to whether such a vengeful act has any morally redemptive qualities in some broader sense. If, on the other hand, we assume that moral authority for retribution rests on a higher level – for example, in the afterlife (or metaphorically with a faceless agent in this life, as in Pale Rider) – then individual avengers are only “empowered” to act to the degree they are able and have the will, but without particular moral license. In most cases, the audience will by social convention still support the responsive act of retribution as long as the film text remains focused on the individual (rather than societal) level where retribution can still be considered an act of justice.

Most often, the rape of an innocent is portrayed as a transforming incident, converting an ordinarily weak victim into an empowered instrument of personal revenge. Conventionally known as the Final Girl motif, the innocent intuitively devises methods of overcoming the savage strength of her attackers by allowing her own inner savagery to emerge. (4) In this predominant form of the rape-revenge film, the ascriptive focus moves from establishing the vulnerable innocence of the victim to the victim’s subsequent transformation into an instrument of power and self-protection, as in slasher films such as Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978) or in alienated-youth cult films such as Larry Clark’s Bully (2001), or deliberate acts of revenge, as in I Spit on Your Grave, Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left (1972), and Eastwood’s Sudden Impact (1983). However, when the focus shifts from the catalytic event (the rape itself) to the nature and meaning of the subsequent transformation of the avenger – the “empowerment” – the conventions of the rape-revenge genre necessarily open to a wider range of “acts of violation” that can precipitate such a transformation. Frequently, transformation occurs when the text-confirmed innocent is placed in an inescapable circumstance that exposes her vulnerability (“innocence”) and requires compensatory action to restore one’s sense of selfhood and survive.

This is the standard text of slasher films in which the “condition of self-realized vulnerability”, rather than a rape per se, precipitates the transformation of the innocent into one capable of aggressive retribution against those who entrapped the innocent in the first place. While the text of a prototypical rape-revenge film calls for the victim to serve as her own avenger, this convention is frequently stretched when the victim appears to be simply trying to survive, intuitively protecting herself during the attack rather than the more conventional text in which the victim retreats after the attack, recuperates, conspires and returns later to exact retribution. Again, this is the Final Girl motif, in which the innocent discovers her innate powers in a test of survival – Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) – a motif successfully developed in similar text structure in Carrie and Deliverance (John Boorman, 1972). While that type of retribution conventionally carries its own moral justification, the convention is stretched when the victim, rather than taking the first opportunity to escape her (or his) predicament, instead chooses to wait possum-like to avenge herself upon her attacker when he least expects it, as in The Stendahl Syndrome (Dario Argento, 1996), and is often compromised when the victim continues to compulsively punish surrogates of the initial attacker, as in Monster.

Ironically, this leads to the question of whether the “rape” element of the rape-revenge genre actually needs to involve a physical rape (or any form of sexual violation) or could instead include any sexual or gender-based assault that precipitates the victim’s transformation. In the same manner, we might question whether the “revenge” element needs to be directly related to a rape or other sexual violation but rather could be more simply a catalytic response to one’s own perceived gender-based vulnerabilities. In this sense, even the rape of Teena Brandon (Hilary Swank) in Boys Don’t Cry (Kimberly Peirce, 1999) must itself be considered an act of revenge for her violation of gender codes. These questions have always been present, or at least implicit, in rape-revenge films – from the father’s consuming anger at God in The Virgin Spring to the struggle of David (Dustin Hoffman) with his own manhood in Straw Dogs and the even more complex struggle of designated avengers with their personal demons in recent French films Baise-Moi (Virginie Despentes & Coralie Trinh Thi, 2000) and Irreversible (Gaspar Noe, 2002). (5) Whether the violation that precipitates the revenge-aggression has sexual overtones or not, the focus on the victim quickly evaporates (from audience memory) and instead the film text becomes a character study of the avenger struggling with her- or himself.

II. The Rape-Revenge Genre in Japanese Film

From its inception through the postwar period, the Japanese film industry has been tightly controlled by local magistrates and police enforcing very strict social/moral codes regarding behaviour that could be seen in public (and licensed for showing in movie theatres). Overwhelmed by the influx of American films that threatened the viability of their industry in the 1960s, Japanese movie companies gravitated in two directions that within licensing guidelines aped their American competition: “action” films and soft-core nudity. These efforts culminated in the so-called pink films (pinku eige) of the 1970s, offering a steady diet of violent mayhem, including shootings, beatings, stabbings, torture, mutilation and rape. In fact, pink films dominated the domestic market into the early 1980s, and, in the process, productions became more viscerally sophisticated and textually more “splatter” and torture-oriented. Prototypical of these were gangster (yakuza) films, films about roving gangs of alienated youth (the staple text of the nihilistic period of the Japanese New Wave), and films that featuring the rape of young girls. (6)

Even within the rigid censorship standards at the time, Japanese directors had fairly wide latitude in the display of violence as long as portrayals did not cross strict censorship lines of graphic sexuality (which permitted no visible display of the genital area of either sex). (7) In fact, social convention in Japanese film (and all visual media for that matter) considered violence and bare female breasts part of “normal life”, and pink films, largely associated with but by no means confined to the big film production and distribution house Nikkatsu, were filled with both. Combining standard text lines in viscerally complex but relatively plot-less films often shown as triple-headers in theatres, pink films became increasingly violent or, more to the point, sexually-violent. Characteristic of these were: Dabide no hoshi: bishoujo-gari (Star of David: Beauty Hunting, Norifumi Suzuki, 1979), in which a couple is held captive in their home by marauders who steal all their money and rape the wife, causing her to bear a child who turns into a serial rapist; Hana to hebi (Flower and Snake, Shogoro Nishimura [1985 and 1986] and Masayuki Asao [1987]), a three-part series of rape and sadomasochistic rope/torture of innocents grabbed off the street; Chikatetsu renzoku rape (Subway Serial Rape, Shuji Kataoka, 1985–1988), a four-part series emphasizing rape and torture of young girls abducted on the subway while onlookers ignore their screams; Shirobara gakuen: soshite zenin okasareta (White Rose Campus: And Then Everyone Gets Raped, Koyu Ohara, 1982), in which a bus-load of school girls is abducted and raped by a gang of older men, who are subsequently driven off by locals who then take their turn raping the girls; and seven-part Reipuman (Rapeman) series (Takao Nagaishi, 1990–1998) in which sexual assault is used as an instrument for correcting social injustices by contract, the proceeds of which support a local orphanage.

Subway Serial Rape

Directors seldom strayed from the conventional text of pink films as long as the box office remained supportive and censorship lines regarding graphic sexual display were not crossed. In addition to staccato-paced action and music, the rape-based genre was filled with a non-stop progression of bare-breasted and screaming/crying young girls, tossed back and forth like rag dolls between unshaven and sweaty older men who seemed to freely roam the countryside (or city streets) in search of randomly selected new victims. Invariably, the victims were innocent schoolgirls, denoted by their wearing school uniforms, as in Chikatetsu renzoku rape: Seifuku-gari (Subway Serial Rape: Uniform Hunting, Shuji Kataoka, 1987) or “office ladies”, young women having finished school but not yet married and nurturing children of their own, and therefore working and living alone (or with a girlfriend) “in the city”. In the still highly compartmentalized social structure of postwar Japan, women were considered consummately virtuous when they dedicated their lives to maintaining a household and raising children. When they were not serving as mothers, they were seen as in social transition, playing no particularly valuable role in public or private society, and hence (by pink film convention) “fair game”. In the standard Nikkatsu text, a pretty girl working in the city was a rape magnet.

If Japanese women played no particularly valued public role, they were seen as peripheral to the outer (social, political, and economic workings of) society and therefore to a certain degree “dispensable”. (8) This was especially true of the seemingly endless sea of office ladies portrayed in pink film. Also, to the degree they were clearly not seeking a traditional (valued) maternal role, but instead had chosen a working career, they were publicly exhibiting an ambition beyond their station in violation of social convention, for which they would naturally become subject to ‘punishment’ for their indiscretion, as in the Rapeman series, or given ‘lessons in appropriate humility’, as in Oniroku Dan: Bikyoshi jigokuzeme (Beautiful Teacher in Torture Hell, Masahito Segawa, 1985).

The basic text message of the pink rape film is simple enough: rape is a punishment for display of ambition beyond one’s expected role in society and by which the victim is permanently degraded in the eyes of her family and society. The rape is then demarcation of the shame she already bears for her indiscretions, and her choices then include either staying home and living in shame or leaving her family and starting a new life elsewhere, usually as an office lady tucked away the anonymous seams of “the city”. Optimally, there she finds a husband who knows nothing of her past (and does not ask, for all those who live in the city are by conventional understanding rootless), bears his children and retreats to a nurturing domestic life from which she can draw ultimate happiness. Ironically, if rape were itself considered an act of societal retribution (for social indiscretion beyond one’ station), then there would be no justification for revenge or retribution other than as an act of pure will or an exercise of pure empowerment.

By social convention, young women in Japan are expected to be polite and submissive. In pink films, this was consistently translated into text convention in both consensual sexual relations and in rape sequences in which young women were portrayed as anguished but nonetheless passive recipients of male aggression. Those who were not visibly compliant (wives, girlfriends and rape victims alike) were beaten until they became submissive and “learned” their place. Rarely in pink films did a rape victim struggle throughout the ordeal of her rape – “fighting to the end”, as it were – but rather always reverting to a resigned catatonic state – passively waiting for the ordeal to be over and her attackers to leave. That passivity then became her permanent state, signifying her shame, and resignation to it reflected an overt acceptance of the presence of rape aggression as a random act in the public world.

Star of David: Beauty Hunting

Moreover, not infrequently, pink films portrayed the rape victim as a girl with unresolved social or sexual problems, whose sexual desires were denied outward expression by social convention. The incident of rape was then portrayed as “liberating”, releasing her from those social shackles and she often was portrayed, in the trauma of the rape, as unguardedly finding her willing sexuality, even becoming the seeker of her attacker’s attentions, as in Rape! 13th Hour (Yasuharu Hasebe, 1977) or as a wife trapped in a sterile marriage revealing her suppressed desire for sexual fulfilment during her rape, after which she is beaten by her husband for “enjoying it”, as in Star of David: Beauty Hunting. (9)

One of the first of the more complex rape films produced in the postwar era was Koji Wakamatsu’s Yuke, Yuke, Nidome No Shojo (Go, Go Second Time Virgin, 1969) which takes place entirely on the roof of an apartment building in the city. There a young girl is raped by a gang of marauding youth and yet remains there for their return, at which point she is raped again. During each of the gang rape sequences, she is emotionless and staring, passively accepting brutalisation and humiliation, yet never leaving the roof to return to her own apartment where she had been the victim of sexual abuse by her father. Having already suffered permanent degradation in her apartment below, she now embraced life on the roof as her own, whether it included rape or not. In some metaphysical way, the gang had become part of her “family” on the roof. Also on the roof is a young boy, gawky and peripheral to the gang, clearly an observer rather than a participant, who then experiences intensive guilt over having not helped her, and, as he passively watches them rape her the second time, he flashes back to his own abused childhood in his own family’s apartment, and then one by one savagely attacks and kills all of the gang members. Clearly the killing is an act of revenge precipitated by the rape, but not as retribution for the rape.

III. The Maturation of Japanese Film

In the past five years, two films emerged that one might argue have changed the face of Japanese rape-genre films. Takashi Miike’s Ôdishon (Audition, 1999) weaves a complicated tale of a beautiful young girl working as a part-time model and actress, living alone in an apartment, who compulsively and systematically entraps men she considers sexual predators and tortures them, as she herself was abused when she was younger. The film is a sophisticated and æsthetically beautiful horror film. While there is sexuality and some sex, the audience never sees any real nakedness or sensuality; and while there is horror (at one point “looking-away” gruesome), there is no splatter. It is a good, old-fashioned thriller, using recognizable social and genre conventions. Of greater interest, the film text leaves the audience in a quandary, for the middle-aged man being punished as a sexual predator bears none of the conventional hallmarks of male chauvinism which the audience clearly identifies in his producer-friend who sets up the fake film audition in which the girl surfaces. Instead, the victim of the girl’s entrapment is himself an apparent innocent (if not entirely randomly-selected), a surrogate for the adult men who abused the girl earlier in her life. As a rape-revenge film, Audition is sufficiently text-rich to not need a visceral portrayal of the girl’s initial sufferings of sexual humiliation in order for the audience to understand (if not conventionally accept) her obsession with retribution.

In a more standard treatment of the rape-revenge text, Takashi Ishii’s Freeze Me (2000) tells the story of Chihiro (Harumi Inoue), a young working girl in Tokyo, who, as a young girl still in high school, was abducted and raped by three thugs. Traumatized by recurring fear of the shame she would endure if anyone knew of the rape, Chihiro leaves her home town and resettles in Tokyo where she finds employment in a large bank. There she constructs a new life, has new friends and becomes engaged to a fellow employee at the bank. While her nightmares of the rape and its degradation disappear after she moves to Tokyo, she nevertheless maintains double locks on the doors and windows of her apartment, which is located in a very security-oriented (if drab and anonymous) apartment building.

Freeze Me

With the impending release of one of the thugs from prison, the three plan to celebrate the occasion by finding Chihiro and “going another round” for old time’s sake. Sequentially, each shows up at her apartment building and forces his way into her apartment, whereupon she is again alternatively beaten and raped. This time, however, Chihiro finds the occasion and the means to kill each of them, after which she systematically stuffs their bodies into freezer units she orders delivered to the apartment. Each evening, she is seen opening one freezer or the other, extracting small containers of food to eat, and striking up a quiet (but decidedly one-way) conversation with the inhabitant. In short order, each in his own freezer, the thugs become her family. Just when she believes she may have finally contained (again) the shame of her past, her fiancé opens one of the freezers and she has to kill him as well.

Freeze Me is decidedly conventional in many ways. Chihiro plays the standard working girl fighting both the shame of not being married and caring for children, and its mark: that she has been raped. Though compliant at work and submissive in her relations with her fiancé, she remains almost effervescent in her optimism throughout her travails. But the intonations are clear: society will not allow her to escape the shame of her rape unless she hides her past entirely, ostracizing herself from her family (though her apartment is filled with pictures of them). When her past intrudes upon her reconstructed life, she again responds in conventional fashion, becoming compliant and hoping they will just have their way with her and then go away. Her brash verbal threats to “go to the police” are routinely dismissed by the thugs who, confident in her submissiveness, ignore her as a potential threat. That she finally breaks the bonds of social convention – no longer caring about appearances and instead taking aggressive action by killing them – is her “release”. The only problem, of course, is how to dispose of the bodies, a problem that she ultimately does not resolve.

Within the rape-revenge genre, Freeze Me breaks ground from contemporary Japanese fare in a number of ways. While the text and most of the characters are fairly two-dimensional (after all, many Japanese screen writers now come from anime backgrounds), Chihiro is drawn in a much more complex fashion and the audience has time to discover that she is endearing and full of the kind of spunkiness that characterized showgirls in the light-hearted American comedies of the early 1930s. Hers is an intimate, common and close-up portrayal, full of everyday happenings and concerns. Reinforcing that, much of the film looks through her eyes or into her eyes through the entire ordeal rather than objectifying her with long shots and gratuitous views of her nakedness. When she lies exhausted on the floor outside the bathroom after subduing the first thug in the bathtub, the camera is down on the floor with her, accompanying her, not suspended above her looking condescendingly at her as an objectified victim. And while she is naked in some scenes, it is expected nakedness and not out of place for what the audience expects given the situation. Even the rape scenes are essentially “off-screen” and the audience is instead invited to share with her the hours after the rape – walking around the apartment, tending to her bruises, drinking a cup of coffee – empathizing with her through her recuperation and bearing witness to the process by which she becomes transformed into an aggressive instrument of her own survival.

Freeze Me

As a contemporary reflection of Japanese society, Freeze Me continues to expose and condemn traditional social norms regarding women’s role in public society and the social stigma of rape. That has been a conventional message in Japanese film since the late 1950s. While this film follows standard text lines in the same manner, it more successfully portrays the victim as trapped within the confines of her own private and secure life, with the stigma only very shallowly hidden beneath the surface of her otherwise normal life. That Chihiro is willing to endure repeated physical humiliation rather than risk exposure of the stigmatising incident informs the audience of the truly isolating effect of the stigmatising burden of the rape and what it reveals about the victim’s social station. While Chihiro continuously murmurs “help me” to her boyfriend, she recognizes that, if he does, he too will become party to the message of her stigma which she can only contain by killing him as well. The loneliness and desperation of her circumstance, her sense of violation, is communicated by a vivid portrayal of the context of her predicament.

And it is in the sophisticated portrayal of that context, mostly within the confines of her small apartment, that we grow to understand her sense of degradation and entrapment, and to anticipate, relate to, even cheer for, her transformation (and hence liberation, however short-lived). Interestingly, it is all the more poignantly presented without visceral images of her rape and abuse, though relaxing censorship standards on explicit nudity might have allowed it. (10) All of this can be seen in Chihiro’s eyes – that is enough text for the audience to understand the message.

Endnotes

  1. In fact, American art theatres in the 1960s often carried a wide range of offerings within any one week’s schedule, with Roman Polanski’s Noz w Wodziel (Knife in the Water, 1963) on one evening and Mondo Cane (Gualtiero Jacopetti, 1962) or Russ Meyer’s Vixen (1968) on the next.
  2. While standard “slasher” films never invite the audience to “get to know” the teenagers who are inevitably dispatched by whatever faceless demon is marauding the countryside (or school or summer camp), that genre’s conventions are so well developed that the prototypes are already well-known to members of the audience from their own high school experiences: the jock, the cheerleader, the snob, the geek, etc. As these conventions matured, the audience was consistently drawn into associating with “the plain one”, the one in the back, the one no one really spoke to, who then naturally become the one who instinctively survives the indiscriminate slaughter.
  3. While the visceral quality of the violation, filmed in graphic detail, may enhance the audience’s appetite for retribution, there is a fine point beyond which the text message gets lost in what can become, in conventional terms, gratuitous violence, an issue raised initially by Lipstick (Lamont Johnson, 1976) and again but far more dramatically by the prolonged rape scene in Irreversible (Gaspar Noe, 2002).
  4. Whether becoming savage on a par with one’s amoral attackers is “empowerment” in any virtuous sense is clearly questionable, and not often debated.
  5. The same point can be made for Serge Gainsbourg’s Je t’aime moi non plus (1976), in which lover of a gay truck driver beats up a truck stop waitress with whom the latter develops an intimate sexual interest – seemingly as retribution for revealing a dimension of intimacy he could not provide.
  6. In many cases, these emerging types were blended, with rape a standard by-product of yakuza activities or the anomic behaviour of wandering youth.
  7. See James R. Alexander, “Obscenity, Pornography, and the Law in Japan: Reconsidering Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses”, Asian-Pacific Journal of Law & Policy, 4 (2003), pp. 148–68.
  8. An exception must be noted here: a standard text in anime (adult comics or manga converted to film text) finds the universe being threatened by evil forces and salvation always found in a single adolescent girl who, thrown into the turmoil and realizing her powers and her destiny, conquers the evil forces (not unlike Carrie). Often in these anime texts, the young girls, as in pink films, are fodder for sexual exploitation of cruel forces, and in some cases, the young girl saviour uses her own sexual allure to bait the appetites of the evil forces and defeat them, as in Angel of Darkness (1994).
  9. It was precisely this dimension that made the rape of Amy (Susan George) in Straw Dogs so controversial: not only did she seem to sexually provoke the initial attack but then also seemed to revel in its sensuality at some point. The mixed message aspect of such rape portrayals raises the prospect that those in the audience begin to expect that under the pressure of persistent sexual aggression “certain girls” will relent and ultimately become willing partners in the sex act.
  10. In fact, explicit nudity became progressively more accepted first in imported (art) films and later in domestic films in Japan by the early 1990s, but most domestic directors continued to comply with traditional conventions on nudity and shot/edited around frames that might offend either censors or audiences.

About The Author

James R. Alexander is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown and conducts research on the legal and social origins of obscenity law as it relates to artistic expression in both the United States and Japan.