Sukeban Rica is one tough cookie. The product of an act of violence- when Rica’s schoolgirl mother was raped by an American G.I- this girl lives in the spirit of chaos from which she was created. When she’s not slashing up Yakuza bosses or heading up all girl gangs, she is escaping from the juvenile detention centre, and trying to take on slave traders who are shipping girls overseas to be sold on as sex slaves for the army in combat. Rica won’t bow down to anyone. She even has time to belt out a mean pop song or two or three in between fisticuffs; as well as making mincemeat with her fists of anyone who gets in her way.
What is interesting is the use of a half Caucasian/ half Japanese lead, when normally these flicks were dominated by delicate looking Asian beauties of the day. Actress Rika Aoki (the name also given to the lead character- but spelt Rica for English speaking prints) has some interesting physical characteristics to set her apart from the usual pink leading lady. Far from graceful, Rika’s stature makes her physically larger than most other actresses working at the time. It also aids to give an air of believability when she is taking down many male foes during the course of the snaking plot line. The star’s cherub-like facial features, and out there funky retro fashion choices- that mainly consist of hot pants and long boots- reaffirm the femininity of the central role, despite her tendencies toward aggression. What we don’t get is the frail vulnerability laced with razor sharp killer instinct that comes along with daintier actresses like Meiko Kaji. This is all for the good, however, Rika or Rica may be many things, but a shrinking violet she certainly isn’t. With a steely grit and determination it appears our heroine will not be deterred by anyone or anything when it comes to getting her own way. Our lead might not be the most amazing actress on the planet, but she serves her role well in an action orientated and physically demanding part.
But then top acting talent isn’t really the name of the game here, and this is demonstrated in the fact the wider cast is populated with ‘adequate’ performances, but none that really stand out. Many of the names never appeared in anything else, apart from Rica films; including Rika Aoki who was only in one other feature outside of the Rica universe.
Director Ko Nakahira proves himself as able, for this first instalment in the short but sweet Rica series of three films for Toho Studios. While the piece is competently shot, the technical style fails to hit the artistic heights of other pinky offerings. This said, it works with the sentiment of the piece, being a no frills actioner over all things. Therefore this debut in the trilogy proves a strong opening act. Nakahira would go on to direct the second, more sober Rica offering, Rica 2: The Lonely Wanderer (1972), but not the third and final piece in the puzzle Rica 3: Juvenile’s Lullaby (1973).
If you had to take any sort of overarching sentiment away from Rica it should be one of silly fun. That is if you appreciate the type of fun to be found in the world of pinky violence. The plot comes fuelled on high octane gas, veering off here, there and everywhere. Don’t expect to keep track- but then it’s unlikely you will find you will need to; for instance the bunch of gang members- including their boss figureheads- tend to melt into one after a while. Scenes just skip ahead as if on fast forward, the pacing is that breezy. Little makes sense, but nor does it have to. Apparently taken from a manga the breaks in the plot do somehow follow a cartoon strip like quality, although I can’t comment on how true to the original source things are kept here. It might be the case that to string out a feature length different chapters have been assembled to make a longer narrative. Whatever the reason is makes for a muddy and incoherent structure that might bother some viewers. But then most of the subtext appears to be set up just to have round after round of rip roaring fight scenes where our titular heroine usually succeeds in pummelling the living daylights out of a bunch of male assailants. Rica is also partial to some knife violence and as a result there is no expense spared on blood spray effects. In fact, for a round of early 70’s pink exploitation, this example is surprisingly heavy on the gore. The effects take on a cartoonish form, but are nevertheless a delight to behold- even if one of the arm severing scenes contains a (clearly) rubber appendage, that almost bounces off a table when it’s thrown down in an act of defiance. There also appears to be some sort of criticism to the American military in the plotline which stems from the initial scenes of Rica’s heritage. This line, at times, feels misplaced in its attempt to add deeper meaning. Nevertheless this also allows for one of the weirder subplots featuring a girl who looks like an Asian actress in black face, and an African/American soldier.
Things are set up from the offset to spell out a rip roaring ride. In the first ten minutes we are greeted to the following- suicide, miscarriage, rape of a schoolgirl, potential infantcide, more rape- this time in a gang, murder- and child abuse/rape. Yet despite all this Rica is light on the gritty tension found in many other examples of the era. It is also free from the usual quota of sadistic violence, rape aside, which is almost par for the course for pinky exploiters. Although not light on the nudity some might be relieved to hear. Instead the film comes with an almost buoyant (for want of a better word) atmosphere, as our lead character skips from situation to situation, punching her way out of the corner every time. On that note Rica is heavy on the fists. The typical cat fight element gives way to a more male centred style of fighting, with proper punches being thrown rather than the scratching and hair pulling of other offerings. That is not to say there is no merit in the aforementioned, but it is important to note that when brought together as a whole Rica becomes very untypical of the genre in many ways. Does that mean it’s outstanding? Hell no, it’s just good old trashy fun, with bunches of sex and violence, if nothing else, and certainly nowhere near a high point when placed alongside some of its contemporaries. That doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile either, go into it with no expectations, and you are in for a whole bag of fun.
Verdict: Fun frolics but not your typical pinky spot. What Rica lacks on the nasty vibe front and artful composition it more than makes up for with its fists.
Categories: Asian other