The first thing you should know about this film is that it is violent and repugnant. But to me, there are two types of exploitation pictures. One that serves up its violence and leering sex in cheap and unsatisfying manner. These movies are made simply to make money and pander to an audience. Generally these films disappear of the face of the earth pretty quickly. Then there are the ones that are trying to push boundaries, or present taboo subjects in a stylish manner. These are few and far between. Japan’s cycle of Pinku Eiga or Pinky Violence films seem to straddle these two styles. The films can be incredibly stylish with some truly amazing visuals, but there is an unhealthy dose of muck-raking sleaze too.
Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs is certainly stylish. Some of the mayhem, death and destruction on display almost have a poetic touch to them – that is if you can appreciate the poetic qualities of a naked woman just being stabbed to death and falling into a bathtub, with the ensuing blood cloud encircling her body until only her face and the tips of her breasts break the surface of the blood red water. Yep, it is violent and creepy, but visually it has a certain sense of style and power.
The film opens in a nightclub, and a woman (Miki Sugimoto) in a red outfit is dancing. A foreign businessman, who has been watching appreciatively offers to buy her a drink. In fact he buys her several, because he wants to get her drunk. And it appears like he has succeeded. He takes the young woman back to his apartment. She appears to have passed out from all the alcohol. He places her on the bed, and then takes off all her clothing. Next he retrieves a suitcase, and opens it. Inside is a selection of sex toys, whips and lengths of rope. While he is selecting his implement of pleasure, the girl wakes up and bounds into action. First she checks his pockets and retrieves a passport. It says the gentleman’s name is Richard Saxon, he is from the country of Almania (obviously fictitious), and he works at the embassy.
When he returns, whip in hand, she confronts him with an envelope full of photographs. These are other girls with whom he has carried out his perverted schemes with. In two instances, the girls involved died. Saxon charges at her and attacks with the whip. She produces a set of red-handcuffs – her signature weapon – which will be used throughout the film. She throws the cuffs through the air, with one bracelet locking around a support beam and the other clasping around his neck. Gasping for breath, he reaches for a gun, but she retrieves a bright red pistol first and shoots. The bullet catches him in the groin, and a bloody geyser erupts from the towel wrapped around his waist. He then falls back into a bath-tub dead.
This mysterious woman, who is not named in the film – later on when asked, she calls herself ‘Zero’ and hence the moniker ‘Zero Woman’ is a police officer. And her murder of the diplomat from Almania is too much for the Japanese police force. Her superiors are outraged, and she finds herself arrested and sent to prison on a count of Murder. You can imagine what happens to a cop in prison. She is beaten an brutalized.
Meanwhile, a vicious criminal, Nakahara is released from Kangawara Prison after a stint in the big house. Outside his gang of misfits is waiting for him. The first thing Nakahara and his gang do, is find a young couple in a car. The pull the man out of the vehicle and knock him into tomorrow. Then they drag the girl out and brutally gang-rape her. The boy-friend regains consciousness and rushes to his girlfriends aid, only to be stabbed to death by Nakahara.
The gang bring their rape-victim, who is unconscious, back to their hideout, which happens to be a brothel run by a lady known as ‘Big Sis’. The gang members offer the girl – to be forced into prostitution – to Big Sis as payment for their lodgings. However Big Sis recognizes the girl’s face from a newspaper article. She is Kyoko Zengo, the daughter of a powerful politician. Kyoko is also engaged to be married to the President’s son. The gang change their plans. Instead they are going to demand a ransom of 30,000,000 yen for her return.
Kyoko’s father, played by legendary Tetsuro Tanba (from You Only Live Twice and countless Japanese spy television shows), is informed by the police that most likely he will never see his daughter again. He asks that police do the best that they can, but he insists that the story does not get leaked to the media. The news would destroy the wedding plans in place.
So the operation to retrieve Kyoko must be carried out in secret. Furthermore, they cannot simply capture and arrest the kidnappers – they must kill them and destroy all evidence so that the story does not come out.
The chief of police discreetly goes to the prison, and offers the job to Zero Woman. Zero Woman accepts the job, but she is not quite the person she used to be. Being sold out by her superiors and brutalized in prison has made her cold and detached. She is almost like a robot.
When the money exchange goes wrong, Zero Woman steps in and saves Nakahara from the police. Nakahara is grateful for her intervention and brings her back to the hideout. The other members of the gang are not so trusting however, and decide to test her allegiances – to see if she is a spy. By testing her, I mean they rape and humiliate her. It’s is all pretty repugnant stuff. But Zero Woman doesn’t seem affected by the abuse. As I intimated earlier, all of the brutality that Zero Woman has had to endure has enabled to switch off her emotions. However on a positive note, Zero Woman has managed to get herself inside the gang, where she can slowly pick off each of the gang members and bring Kyoko back to her father safely.
It is a massive understatement to say, that this is not a film for everyone. It is extreme in every way. Sex and violence are paraded unashamedly across the screen. Director Yukio Noda has trod this path before – that being ultra secret departments within the police force who use extreme methods – in films such as the Yakuza Deka pictures with Sonny Chiba. I guess, that it is only logical that he’d want to push the envelope as far as it could go with this type of story, and I would say he has succeeded. Chiba’s films are tough, but don’t hold a candle to the extremes on display here.
As a spy film, Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs doesn’t really have too much to offer, and if you’re coming at the film as a spy film fan I’d have to say, give this one a big miss. However, if you are interested in Pinky Violence films, then this film is probably one of the premier examples in what is a pretty messed up film genre, and as perverted as this may sound, I’d have to recommend it very highly. Needless to say, this is not a film for the feint hearted.
Zero Woman would return in the 1990s in a series of shot on hi-def video features, which too are pretty beastly, but do not have the sense of style that this feature exhibits. The films are:
- Zero Woman: Keishichô 0-ka no onna (1995) aka “Zero Woman: Final Mission“
- Zero Woman 2 (1995) aka “Zero Woman“
- Zero Woman III: Keishichô 0-ka no onna (1996) aka “Zero Woman: Assassin Lovers“
- Zero Woman: Namae no nai onna (1997) aka “Zero Woman: The Accused“
- Zero Woman: Kesenai kioku (1997) aka “Zero Woman: The Hunted“
- Zero Woman: Abunai yûgi (1998) aka “Zero Woman: Dangerous Game”
- Zero Woman: Saigo no shirei (1999) aka “Zero Woman Returns“
- Shin Zero Ûman-0-ka no onna: futatabi… (2004) aka “Zero Woman 2005“
- Zero Woman R (2007)