In what would later inspire a slew of soft core direct to video releases in the mid 90’s, Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs made its debut under Toei studios following the direction of Yukio Noda noted for his multitude of work with the legendary Sonny Chiba. Boasting a visual style more reminiscent of the gritty crime drama’s of Kinji Fukasaku than some of its more surrealistic counterparts, Zero Woman remains undoubtedly amongst the grizzliest and most unapologetically brutal of the Pinky Violence era.
Beginning in a dizzying fray of go-go galore much in the vein of Russ Meyer’s Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, our attention is immediately drawn to the dazzling Rei (Miki Sugimoto), who soon attracts the advances of a luring gaijin (foreigner). After treating her to a few drinks, he quickly ushers her back to his abode where he proceeds to undress and grope at her hungrily. After Rei seemingly passes out we find our mystery man heading leisurely to his very own rape and torture kit, with the ultimate intention of making her yet another victim in a string of savage rape and murders. Unbeknownst to him, Rei is an undercover cop, who makes short work of fouling his plans, using her trademark red handcuffs as a lasso of sorts with its ridiculously long chain and firing several well placed bullets to his crotch via her compact and matching red pistol. This flamboyantly grandiose display of vulgarity sets the frame from the onset, suitably heralding the future mayhem to come.
Rei’s violent actions prove unacceptable in the eyes of her superiors, fueled undoubtedly by her assailant’s diplomatic status and fear of foreign pressures. As such, Rei is placed in prison and immediately forced to succumb to the cruel and unrelenting abuses of the female prison populace. Chance at salvation comes when the daughter of a powerful politician and presidential hopeful Nangumo Zengo (Tetsuro Tamba), is abducted and held for ransom. Hoping to deter media attention and avoid scandal, Rei is brought in to eviscerate the captors, and free Nangumo’s daughter without harm or drawing any unwanted attention. In exchange for success, Rei will regain her freedom with the opportunity to return to the police force.
Assuming the identity of “Zero” Rei sets out to infiltrate a gang lawless hoodlums, who of which reside under the mentally unstable rule of Nakahara and Sesum a madam with ties to Rei from her recent stint in prison. At any moment Zero’s cover could be easily be blown, ending not only the victim’s life but her own.
Refreshingly Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs storyline remains a simplistic one, however the character of Zero herself lacks depth, and moreover lacks assertion which does prove slightly anti-climatic. Through much of the picture she remains solemn and brooding, which in and of itself isn’t so much an issue and relates well to her character of “Zero”. Yet when paired with her prolonged inaction midway through the film, she begins to drift a bit blankly into the fold. It can be said though; while indeed subtle her stoic disposition allots Zero to play the thugs off one another nicely. Ultimately with this, the characters initial awesomeness remains partially unfulfilled placing a large portion of the films action and menace on the shoulders of the bunglingly inept hoodlums. As such, this does bring about a certain amount of stagnation. It’s a disappointment that there wasn’t more of the red handcuff swinging, crotch shooting Zero Woman from the intro equally spread throughout the picture.
Miki Sugimoto was already well immersed in the Pinky genre when she took on the role of Zero, unfortunately she never took the opportunity here to showcase much of herself aside from the various gratuitous shots of her naked body. For the most part her character remains muted, and unemotional, seemingly withdrawn from her every surroundings. Admittedly this remains integral to the character, yet I can’t help but long for the expressiveness of a Meiko Kaji or Ninkyo godess (chivalry films) Junko Fuji.
The real acting chops here come from Tetsuro Tamba, a cult film icon every bit as talented and memorable as he is to be revered. His on screen time is limited, but his lines are delivered with a masterful execution which only further compounnds my belief in his understated prowess.
All the above withstanding this film is absolutely brutal! I can fully attest that the action herein is ever surmounting and at times seemingly non stop. Blood flows readily, bullets fly heavily, fire burns consuming flesh, explosions ignite, cars race recklessly, and knives are wielded savagely, while women are ravaged forcefully and bludgeoned relentlessly. Under the threat of several madmen we have a vigilante given a license to kill by the government, much akin to the later released French film La Femme Nikita, and she most definitely uses it. This is most certainly not for the faint of heart, a film destined by design for the grindhouse.
Not only is the film violent, but unabashedly sexual. Furthermore it’s done in an ever sleazy and abusively sadistic fashion. Women are taken at will, treated as inanimate things to be played with on a whim and used maliciously without consent or regard to the actual person. Nudity is accosted unapologetically, and lingered upon readily.
The title track, sung by the Zero Woman starlet herself Miki Sugimoto, sets the ambiance wonderfully yet remains somewhat of an apparent knock off mimicking Meiko Kaji’s “Urami Bushi” from the Female Scorpion #701 series. It works well here, but will most likely leave you yearning for the latter.
It has been said director Yukio Noda attempted to insert various symbolic shots and meanings, most notably of an anti war sentiment, which can be seen brazenly displayed via the barbaric Nakahara’s US Navy jacket, or with the more expressed shots of US warplanes flying overhead intermixed amongst a brutal gang rape. In conjunction with the early killing of a foreign diplomat who just so happened to be a rapist and serial killer, these accusations prove hard to deny.
In terms of pure exploitativeness, Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs ranks among the most extreme, heavily visceral in nature and lavishly sexual without the need to foray into the standard superficial niceties. While at times I found the main character lacking, my interest in her never waned while my curiosity only seemed to grow. I only wished we would of seen more of Zero Woman in the 70’s. Highly recommended.