Naked Pursuit (Kofun!!, 1968, its title translates as "Excitement!!" or, more colloquially, "Turned On!!") is more an interesting relic of its time and place than great cinema or even passable entertainment. Basically this is an example of Japanese sexploitation that anticipates the explosion just a few years later of Roman Porno, that singularly Japanese, unexpectedly artful genre that kept a big segment of the film industry afloat during the lean 1970s. (Production company World Eiga seems to have been the leading producer of such pre-Roman Porno films until Nikkatsu Studios abandoned mainstream movies for soft-core entertainment in the early-seventies.) Those interested in '60s Japanese cinema should probably see Naked Pursuit or something like it at least once.
The film is nearly plotless. A man (Masayoshi Nogami) is arrested after accidentally killing a policeman during a violent student protest. Handcuffs still attached to one wrist, he escapes to Izu Oshima Island, whose Mt. Mihara is the source of the picturesque black sand our main characters spend much of the film rolling around in. Eventually he encounters a suicidal young woman (Maki Aoki, billed as a "New Star" in the credits)** whom he proceeds to rape repeatedly, and the film becomes something like a soft-core Woman in the Dunes. Most of the film's 73-minute running time is devoted to watching these two paw and pant at one another, ripping at each other's wardrobe, with the woman trying not very successfully to get away.
Though obviously produced on a low budget, prolific director Toshio Okuwaki - he directed at least nine other adult features in 1968 alone - makes a Herculean effort to break the monotony of the narrative with a barrage of style, so much so that the intended eroticism becomes almost secondary: there are slow-motion sequences, weird camera angles (and anamorphically distorted shots), while the busy soundtrack offers experimental, Takemitsu-esque flourishes. Though imitative, Jiro Takemura's score and Shizuya Takeda's excellent scope photography are quite good, better than the film deserves.
Except for an opening interrogation sequence there's almost no dialogue, though on the English soundtrack, created by U.S. distributor Harry Novak's Box Office International Pictures, incessant voiceovers reveal the pair's inmost thoughts, and some of the dialogue is at odds with that spoken in the Japanese version.
Video & Audio
Presented in a wide (about 2.40:1) 16:9 transfer, Naked Pursuit looks great on DVD, despite a few splices and other minor bits of damage. The film's monochrome images are very sharp, and the widescreen presentation allows the viewer to fully appreciate the film's good cinematography. The last few minutes are presented in full color (an impressive gimmick if you're not expecting it) and, rather surprisingly, this footage looks even better, with strong hues and good grain. Optional English subtitles accompany the mono Japanese soundtrack; both it and the mono English dub are in good shape.
"World famous film critics" Luke Y. Thompson and Jess Hlubik provide an Audio Commentary. We know they're world famous because they say so themselves. All fame aside, Thompson especially comes off as much too pleased with his pseudo-hipness to be bothered with trivialities like research, preparation, or coming up with anything remotely worth saying.
It's really a shame because this type of Japanese film is all but unknown in the west and a little digging on their part might have resulted in a track that could've put Naked Pursuit into some kind of context. Instead, they're really only interested in listening to their own yammering. If you find comments like "[Director Okuwaki] certainly is Oku-Wacky!" worthwhile, well, then this is for you. All others beware.
You've got to admire the chutzpah of these guys. Shameless self-promoters, they even managed to get their names (and headshots) listed in Naked Pursuit's cast list on the IMDb, as if doing a lame-ass commentary track qualifies one as a member of a picture's list of actors. (9/9 update: There names and mugs have since been removed.) In his defense Hlubik, who primarily seems to be a struggling actor-type, throws out a few nuggets of information about the film, but Thompson is simply insufferable, an Andy Dick of the film school crowd.
Also included are an okay Still Gallery and 4:3 letterboxed Trailer of the American release. It's in poor condition and peculiarly authored onto the disc.
Where western-world sexploitation tends to be crude, rude, and artless, the line between porn and great cinema is much more blurred in Japan. Naked Pusuit's script may not have much on its mind other than saleable smut, but the line between it and, say, the well-regarded work of Koji Wakamatsu is a narrow one.
** The IMDb bills her as Mari Oaki, but this is a typo. The Japanese Movie Database bills the better-known Mari Natsuki in the cast, but this may be an error.
Stuart Galbraith IV's most recent essays appear in Criterion's new three-disc Seven Samurai DVD and BCI Eclipse's The Quiet Duel.