Wednesday, 18 August 2021

Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal

Acid Drops

Stray Cat Rock -
Machine Animal
aka Nora-neko rokku -
Mashin animaru

Japan 1970
Directed by Yasuharu Hasebe
Nikkatsu/Arrow Blu Ray Zone B
As part of Arrow’s Stray Cat Rock Dual Edition Set

Warning: Yep... this one has spoilers.

Well this is more like it. Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal is Yasuharu Hasebe’s third and final entry into the loose series of Stray Cat Rock movies following the first, Delinquent Girl Boss (reviewed here) and the third, Sex Hunter (reviewed here). This is the fourth in the series and I have to say, he’s really on form here, capturing a lot of the mood and directorial style of his series debut in a way that both Toshiya Fujita’s Wild Jumbo (reviewed here) and his own Sex Hunter failed to do.

The film opens strongly with a low down shot looking up from some train tracks as characters are introduced scattershot by a title sequence which, apart from the title song, also has the dialogue and the actors starting the story straight away, as a girl gang headed up once again by the inimitable Meiko Kaji deal with two rapists and the rapid cuts and completely changing frames of the titles, due to constantly splitting and masking various areas of the screen off. It looks and feels like an explosive, crazy pop art comic strip brought to life and really makes an impression.

We then see the girls giving an aggressive but ultimately non-physical welcome to a couple of drifters whose car has broken down. These characters and their friend are in town to try and get a boat out of Japan... it transpires a little later in the plot... and they have 500 capsules of LSD (I know absolutely nothing about drugs and didn’t even know LSD came in capsules)that they need to sell, to buy passage on a boat out of there. The reason being that their naive young friend Charlie, is basically deserting from the war in Vietnam, so they are all set to grab a new life in Sweden.

Meiko Kaji is playing a different character again, Maya, who is fairly interchangeable with most of her other roles in the series it has to be said. For the second time in the series and, following on from Sex Hunter, she is wearing the trademark black floppy hat pitched against a white outfit. She certainly has a hard boiled delinquent presence about her which is quite hypnotic and is the character the eyes seem to go for when she’s in a shot.

As usual, the film is scattered with scenes in the girl gangs regular night club hangout with the live, wild and trendy pop songs playing to give the youthful atmosphere the Nikkatsu suits probably insisted on but, it has a level of coolness that fits the characters well. Also as usual, most of the ‘alley cats’ or ‘stray cats’ in the movies all seem to be played by the same actresses as previous installments.

As the film progresses and it’s discovered the three guys looking to get out of Japan have drugs, everybody seems to want the drugs... especially Maya’s mob. They manage to successfully steal the three friends’ car and drugs but, when they catch up with them one of them, Nobo (played by Tatsuya Fuji), appeals to their better judgement when he tells them the truth of why they need the money to get out of Japan... and so Maya and her clique decide to help them instead and, because they damaged their car so much, put them up in their secret dockland lair while Maya finds a buyer for the drugs. She also become’s Nobo’s ‘almost lover’ and the film almost becomes a musical when Maya sings a song to signal to the audience her desire for Nobo. And, if you’re wondering... Nobo is short for Nobody. So take that Terence Hill, this character’s name really is Nobody.

Maya’s buyers are the local friendly male group known as the Dragon Gang. However, they double cross her and steal the drugs back for themselves and from then on, it’s various chases, fights and hostage exchanges... including a scene where the likeable Charlie is shot in the leg by the military police and ‘taken away’. The film isn’t over yet though but, like the previous four movies, ends as you would expect... in tragedy... although, similar to the last film, at least two of the people you want to survive manage to come through the film fairly unscathed.

There’s also another late part of the plot which involves the ‘real’ and somewhat nefarious boss of The Dragons being the girl Yuri, played by Bunraku Han from two of the previous films. In this she’s in a wheelchair due to an accident and she lives in a wonderful looking apartment which, in terms of the furniture, drapes and wallpaper... are all purple. Another brilliant stylish decision from the director which enlivens the look and feel of the film.

And like I said earlier, the various ‘in your face’ stylistic flourishes are back in full swing in this one. A striking example is when four of the girls steal Nobo’s car. As they drive off the director crosscuts two shots, one of the back of the car driving off and one of the girls inside. The two shots are rapidly cut together to create a kind of discernible visual strobe and then, when it finally resettles on the back of the car which is speeding off into the distance, away from the camera in the middle of the shot, the next shot enters quite slowly but simultaneously from both sides of the screen in a double wipe, reminiscent of a gatefold sleeve album cover, coming together to give us all of the information. This is then followed up straight away by a series of split screen shots contrasting the three guys on foot, running around and looking for the car with various shots of the speeding car itself. It’s a slick, sophisticated visual language the director is peddling here and, because of the youth and vibrance of the target audience being exploited, he can get away with it too. It fits the attitude of the characters and the situations they get in and it makes for a great cinematic experience, not to mention reminding the audience that film is a major art form.

There’s a curious scene later in the film where the girl gang of anti heroes are chasing the Dragon Gang and the girls all steal Honda bikes out of a Honda showroom following Meiko Kaji’s outcry that... “We need Hondas!” It’s a bizarre and suspiciously unnecessary scene which completely seems like it must be a bit of product placement from the company in question... which seems a bit odd since they are therefore associating their product with a gang of girl delinquents who regularly consume booze and drugs and threaten people with their knives. Also strange is that, for this one chase scene only, so far that I can remember in a Stray Cat Rock film, the girls have all taken time to grab a proper motorcycle helmet and, they certainly look the opposite of ‘cool’ in this scene. One wonders if the helmets were a stipulation of whatever contract that the studio signed with Honda, if that is indeed the case (if you know the answer to this, please let me know in the comments below).

And that’s Stray Cat Rock - Machine Animal done and dusted, other than to say... just like Wild Jumbo and Sex Hunter, I have absolutely no idea what Machine Animal is supposed to be referring to. There are no real machines present (other than the odd motorcycle) and no animals in the mix either... I mean, it kinda sounds cool but, yeah, I’ve got no idea. Answers on a postcard please. Apart from that, though, this is easily the second best of the Stray Cat Rock films I’ve seen, next to the first installment, so this one gets another solid recommendation from me, as does Arrow’s superb Stray Cat Rock dual Blu Ray/DVD boxed edition. And I hope to be watching the fifth and final entry into the series very soon.

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