Assault! Jack the Ripper (Boko kirisaki jakku) (1976)
Yasuharu Hasebe’s Assault! Jack the Ripper has a reputation as one of the best, and also most notorious violent pinku films ever produced by the Nikkatsu studios. The opening sequence with the main character decorating a beautiful cream cake while peaceful music is playing on the background and the credits are being sliced in two, gives some twisted taste of what's to come.
The main character is a young, shy man working at a restaurant. One night when he’s giving her wild female collegue a ride home they stop to pick up a suspicious and suicidal hitchhiker. After realizing their mistake they try to get rid of her but end up causing her death. Persuaded by the strong willed woman he decides not to call the police but to hide the body instead. Partly due to the circumstances, he also falls in love with the woman. But soon after they realize their moment of passion was more because of the night’s events than anything else. The only way to experience the same feeling again is to cause another death, this time intentionally.
Hasebe’s film has an exceptionally interesting premise and potential even to be one of the definitive serial killer analyzes. The screenpaly shows undeniable ambition and the acting is surprisingly good. The female lead, Tamaki Katsura, was even nominated for the best actress in the Japanese Academy Awards for her performance. Although she didn’t win the nomination alone was quite an achievement for a genre film like this. Yutaka Hayashi’s performance as her weak boyfriend who finds courage and independency in murder is maybe even more impressive in my opinion.
Unfortunately the film doesn’t manage to take full use of the good ingredients. The characterization is left a bit half way, and the storyline is underdeveloped. Probably because of studio requirements – Nikkatsu’s production line relied much more on the sexual appeal than that of Toei’s – the film is overloaded with sex scenes. These scenes too often disrupt the more interesting story elements. The sex is somewhat well written into the story, but the effect is nevertheless negative. The running time, which is just 72 minutes, also feels too short considering the amount of content.
Hasebe’s style of making a serial killer movie is quite original. He doesn’t turn killing into pop art, nor does he use horror movie methods. Instead he often uses calm music, or, no music at all, during the stomach churning murder scenes. This creates a very unpleasant atmosphere where the director doesn’t steer the audience's reactions and feelings, but leaves it up to the viewer to figure out how to interpret the images. The brutality of these scenes is partly psychological as there’s notably less graphic violence than you’d expect from a film with such wild reputation. Still, make no mistake, this is a mean spirited film with more crotch stabbings than an average sane mind can take.
Assault! Jack the Ripper can also be seen as a dark comedy, although I doubt many viewers will have what it takes to enjoy all of the film’s pitch dark humour. It’s not an easy film in any way. Viewers looking for a stylish slasher or over the top trash film might be disappointed as this hardly an entertainment movie. Hasebe has made an ugly film about ugly people. Yet it doesn’t fully convince as a serial killer depiction either. It does have lots of originality and many impressive moments, though. For example the moody night time scene where the main character is seen walking around in the city, possibly looking for his next victim, is quite brilliant.
Despite my critisism the uncompromising nature of the film has won it numerous hard core fans. The film has a small but strong cult following in the west dating back from the days when it was released unofficially on video in the US. If you've got a strong stomach and feel like this might be your kind of film give it a try.
The only dvd release available at the moment, and most likely till the end of times, is the Japanese dvd by Geneon. It’s a very nice release with a good transfer and clean audio but little extras and no subtitles. The supplements consist of the original trailer and a four page booklet. The dvd cover art does not use any elements from the original poster which is a shame.