Directed by Takahisa Zeze, 1997, 74 mins, starring Sakura Moe, Ito Takeshi, Suzuki Takuji, Homura Ryumei, Tobayama Bunmel, Sano Kazuhiro, and Nogi Sumiko.
Directed by Takahisa Zeze in 1997, Raigyo (aka
The Woman in Black Underwear: Raigyo), although classed by its sex sequences as a 'pink' film, in your humble reviewer's opinion is actually more of a measured art film with a content of sex and sexual violence of the kind that fellow pink-director Takashi Ishii excels at. Compared to his other productions such as the limp schoolgirl-ghost story Kokkuri, and the, well, slightly baffling J-pop-stars-as-vampires fable Moon Child, Raigyo feels like a more complete and rounded experience.
Raigyo is well shot, with a kind of strange, hallucinatory quality in the cinematography that lends a weird, thoughtful lyricism to the tale. It also boasts a very nice soundtrack and good composition. The feel of the movie is oddly quiet and suspenseful throughout; most of it proceeds in silence as there's very little dialogue or music, understated and subtly involving. The dark, bleak storyline is heavily disjointed and disorientating, but in an ambient, trancey way which lends itself nicely to the dream-like structure and an atmosphere heavy with mystical symbolism, and almost nothing is left unexplained, though it does require a certain amount of concentration to follow the plot.
The look of the piece is also intriguing: it's heavily colourised, so much so that almost none of it is a natural true-to-life colour, but done in such a way as to suggest again that we are travelling through a completely unreal dream - or in this case, a nightmare–state - but we are reminded that this is based on a true story, a real life event removed from reality.
This is also borne out by the lack of explanations and apparent motives for the characters' behaviour. In real life, it's not always blindingly obvious what people's motives for doing seemingly random things are - and so it is the same in Raigyo. It's silent for the most part, incredibly atmospheric, emotionally taut and totally disassociated from the normalcy of reality, weighty with all kinds of symbolism about corruption - both of the rural areas of Japan by industrialism, and on a microcosmic level, corruption of the flesh which affects the pivotal male figure, Yanai, and corruption of the mind which has poisoned his erstwhile murderess.
This is a motif which is also carried into the visuals, with use of images like a dead fish on fire at the beginning of the film, a dead, decaying pigeon thrown on top of a pile of garbage bags, and a woman aimlessly hitting floating fish in a river with a stick, which have clearly died of pollution from the factories overwhelming the rural area the movie is mainly set in.
Even the title of the movie - Raigyo - is a kind of symbol: a 'raigyo' is a kind of nasty-looking snakefish that Japanese restaurants don't buy because they carry worms, signifying corruption again. There are all kinds of surreal elements that seem to hold some weight throughout the story, which only become obvious as to why they're featured much later in the film. The first clue to its real significance is that the two central protagonists manage to run one over in their car at a petrol station. When their parallel paths finally cross, it's completely at random, but a random series of circumstances which will change both their lives for the worse forever. It is, of course, then highly appropriate that this should be the fish their car squashes flat on the forecourt the very first time we see the pair of them together in the movie, and it's a visual motif that recurs again and again.
The acting is pretty good on the whole: all deliver quiet, subtle and understated performances which suits the style of the film admirably. And it's another interesting point that much of the cinematography is also symbolic. For example, in scenes featuring Noriko, the main female character, the composition appears boxed-in by a blank wall with a hole in it, framed if you will, possibly to suggest that she's repressed and surrounded by domineering men. It also suggests a kind of voyeurism on the part of the viewer, distanced from the action as if they are standing by the wall, gazing through a gap or even a two-way mirror. This kind of thing is what sets this film apart from any softcore or pink film you might have seen before: there's real attention paid to every tiny detail.
Supposedly based on a true story, Raigyo is set very specifically in March 1988, and pivots almost completely around three characters: a mystical, nameless fisherman who also works a second job as a petrol station attendant, a married woman named Takahara Noriko who has a terrible illness of both body and mind, and a sleazebag called Yanai, who sleeps around on a monumental scale and whose heavily pregnant wife is in hospital.
A young, rather plain woman called Takahara Noriko, who is in hospital having been diagnosed with a severe illness, is told by her husband that he's cheating on her with another woman. That would seem to provide her with the incentive she needs to carry out a plan that she's been hatching for a very long time. She gets dressed into black underwear and an orthopaedic corset, before putting on some pretty boring, formal officewear, and takes a train to a small town called Omigawa, which is surrounded by an industrial zone, polluting the rural area which is overwhelmed with smoking chimneys and huge silos.
Far away, a man named Yanai, whose wife is in hospital and about to give birth at any minute, throws a sickie to try and meet up with a woman. After wasting part of his day off in a pachinko parlour, he goes to a local grotty-looking flat which serves as a phone sex club (here euphemistically called a 'dating service') - a favourite haunt of his, where he's given use of their phone to make calls to try and meet up with local women. After ringing round and getting turned down a lot, he finally makes arrangements to meet someone.
It transpires, however, that Noriko is carrying a knife in her bag. Clearly she's got an entirely different agenda to Yanai and doesn't have random sex on her mind. And indeed, it's her who Yanai finally makes arrangements to meet up with.
Together they go to a really cheap and grim love hotel. Yanai asks her if she's a prostitute, as she seems to know exactly what she's doing: interestingly, she evades the question entirely, before going for a shower. Of course, he strips off and joins her in there, but she says she's too tired and would rather adjourn to the bed. It would seem that her illness causes her extreme pain to be without the orthopaedic support she has to wear, and to be too violently treated. However, Yanai not only treats her too roughly, making her cry out with pain, insult of insults, when he's done (not particularly stopping to care whether she's had enough or not), he offers her a small amount of money.
So when he's washing himself in the shower, she takes the knife out of her handbag and stabs him repeatedly, then finally strangles him. It would seem like a completely random execution, but there obviously has to be a reason behind it. The photo she always carries in her bag, of a little girl, is evidently at the bottom of it. When he's thoroughly dead, she gets into his car, and drives out to a remote industrial area to dump it. However, she finds a gift of baby clothes Yanai had bought for his pregnant wife earlier, and suddenly the floodgates of her repressed emotions open - she obviously has issues about a child in her past.
However, things get really surreal when it becomes clear what role the fisherman/petrol station attendant plays in the story: when he's called into the police station where she's being questioned by detectives about the slaying, he alibis her, completely out of the blue, claiming she isn't the same woman he saw in Yanai's car. But what does he want from her for effectively saving her life?
Despite the fact that Raigyo has been pigeonholed as a sex film, it's a hell of a lot more than that. It's powerful, beautiful, and intensely hard to watch at times due to Zeze's clever method of building up mystery and tension by denying any kind of explanation or emotional content, only to hit his audience with expressions of incredibly distressing and painful secrets which are, at times, infinitely more disturbing than the gore or the sex scenes.
Frankly, if you're looking for a titillating, gratuitous kind of pink film, you're looking in the wrong place here - to be honest, it's far too dark to be at all erotic. If, however, you're looking for a profoundly bleak, poetic and haunting human horror story, I highly recommend Raigyo.
Snowblood Apple Rating for this
Entertainment Value: 8/10
Sex: 9/10 – for frequency rather than eroticism
Gore: 7/10 - not as much as you might imagine
Scary Fat Women with Sticks: 1
Scary Thin Women with Knives: 1
Visuals: Dark, brooding, menacing and delightful
Buckets of Tomato Ketchup: a small tanker
Films in a Similar Style: Angel Guts: Red Dizziness, Naked Blood, The Isle
*** Recommended! ***
This film is released by Salvation Films.
please note: the actual paper does not have the Snowblood Apple logo on it.
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Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2004
Snowblood Apple Filmographies
http://www.salvation-films.com - Raigyo is available direct on Region 0 from Salvation Films, who very kindly provided us with the screener copy used for this review
http://www.midnighteye.com/interviews/takahisa_zeze.shtml - Midnight Eye's interview with Takahisa Zeze