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Monday, September 10, 2012

RICA (1972)

Probably nobody on the planet makes movies that are as crazy and sleazy as those of the Japanese, and this exploitation nugget — originally entitled KONKETSUJI RIKA, or "Rika the Mixed-Blood Girl" — definitely fits those descriptions.

Sixteen-year-old Rica (Rika Aoki) is the unwanted and unloved result of her mother's rape by two AWOL G.I.'s during the Korean war — her mother tried to bury her alive immediately after giving birth, but was stopped by a kindly old woman — and heads a group of like-minded juvenile delinquent girls in a seedy section of Tokyo; they're the usual assortment of tough-girl stereotypes found in the "Pinky Violence" genre, talking tough and getting into fights and so on, but they don't seem to have much of a purpose. Anyway, Rica's mom takes up with an unscrupulous banker who keeps her around for whenever he wants a convenient poke, and one day while the mother is out he beats young Rica into unconsciousness and has his way with her on her own mother's bed. When mom comes home and finds her still-unconscious daughter splayed out and bloody, she awakens the girl who immediately gets dressed to go after her assailant, but that date with vengeance must wait while Rica has a hand-to-hand duel with a Yakuza boss who seeks to muscle in on her territory. Rica kicks the living shit out of the guy, gouging out his eyes with that patented Three Stooges move, at which point he flails about blindly and falls back-first onto a foot-long nail that kills him. From out of nowhere the cops finally show up and haul Rica in for murder, after which the dead Yakuza's men show up, rape the hell out of Rica's gang and sell them into prostitution in Viet Nam immediately thereafter.

Now, in any other country you'd think all of that mayhem took place over the course of the entire feature, but as this is a Japanese exploitation flick — from Toho Studios no less, the people who made SEVEN SAMURAI and the GODZILLA series — all the stuff I just described takes place during the first ten minutes, before the fucking credits even roll!

Rica ends up in a Catholic reform school where she gains an instant arch-enemy by the name of "Dragon God" Reiko — who happens to sport one of those bitchin' full-torso Yakuza tattoos, in this case an appropriate dragon — and their enmity becomes one of the film's several running plot threads.

About two days after landing in the joint, Rica escapes and returns to find her gang sold off to the Nam, so she confronts the flesh-peddler handling the girls' shipment and he agrees to return the girls if Rica can hand him three million yen by 6PM. Our heroine agrees to his terms and shows up at the office of the rapist-banker, extorting the cash from him under threat of revealing his crime to his wife and kids, but as she leaves with a briefcase full of cash the banker sends thugs to kill her and get the money back, but he doesn't count on Rica being the badass that she is, or the unexpected assist she receives from a renegade Yakuza enforcer who takes a shine to her. But all is for naught as the attack delays Rica, causing her to arrive about ten miutes after 6PM, by which point the boat has already set sail. Disgusted, Rica chucks the cash into the flesh-peddler's face and storms off.

The rest of the film details Rica's attempts to rout the gangsters who sold her friends, her brief employment as a headlining nightclub singer (?), her return to juvie and two subsequent escapes — does this place have no security, or what? — her ongoing war with Reiko, a pointless romantic subplot involving another escapee who's a half-Black girl in love with a Black G.I. who's getting shipped off to Viet Nam — his English-language acting is among the very worst I've ever seen, I shit you not — the revelation that Rica's mom ended up as a junkie who whores herself out to bums on the docks, the murder of the rapist-banker, a tender fling with the Yakuza enforcer after he rescues Rica from being drowned by thugs, and the thwarting of yet another attempt to sell girls into sexual slavery in Viet Nam that results in half the remaining characters getting killed. The film finally ends its breathless running time with Rica showing up at the wedding of the reform school's doctor (whom she may have had a crush on at one point, but that wasn't exactly made clear) and ruining the ceremony for no good reason by throwing a length of lit firecrackers at the happy couple and scaring the shit out of all in attendance, after which she hops on a motorcycle and drives off to nowhere in particular, or more accurately to the first of two sequels.

Very much in the same territory as SWITCHBLADE SISTERS (1975), RICA is definitely worth a look and is the perfect introduction to the Pinky Violence school of filmmaking. And unlike many films in the genre the rape scenes mostly occur off-camera, only going as far as getting the girls stripped down and leaving the worst of it to the imagination, so even the most squeamish are unlikely to get offended. As for the rest of the flick, it wears its manga origins like a dented badge of honor and makes little attempt to make any sort of sense or have its plot reflect anything resembling reality. Star Rika Aoki has bad girl charisma to burn, and I can't wait to see the next two chapters. RECOMMENDED.

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