What They Say
Agent Zero is a cop that uses her own methods for dealing with criminals. After she unlawfully kills a rapist in a violent fashion, she is sent to prison and stripped of her badge. But very soon after, a rich politician’s daughter is kidnapped by a ruthless gang. Agent Zero is let out of prison with the mission of going undercover to find the politician’s daughter and return her to safety. Using her deadly red handcuffs, she disposes of the criminals one by one.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo and encoded at 192kbps. The included track is a fairly standard stereo mix for the time which is very full sounding and overall lacking in a real sense of depth or directionality but it’s like most other movies made at this particular time. It’s like a lot of movies still made today in Japan in fact. The track is solid through and without problems, no scratchiness to it, no high warbling or any other kinds of distortions. This is clean and clear throughout and free of dropouts.
Originally released in 1974, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The materials here are just gorgeous to look at and the print is probably cleaner and clearer here than it was when it was originally in theaters. Other than a few bits of dust or dirt and an occasional scratch here or there this is a problem free transfer. The colors are well saturated without bleeding, the black levels are solid and there’s just the slightest bit of the kind of natural film grain you want. Considering how poorly many Japanese film masters have been stored over the years, this one is like finding a treasure. The only real issue with it and one that will be player dependent is the layer change which happens just slightly after a scene change and is very noticeable. Our player has been handling these without issue and they’re barely noticeable so I was surprised by this.
The cover artwork for this release is nicely done with an illustration of Rei in her red jacket and swinging her handcuffs about against a blue sky while if you look closely at the red jacket itself you see the images of the rest of the main cast drawn in there. Illustrated versions of live action movies can go either way with some great ones and some really awful ones but this one works out nicely enough and gives it a more current feel that should get more people to check it out. The back cover provides a few cropped shots from the film and a decent summary of the opening premise and what to expect. A brief cast listing is followed by a very welcome technical grid and then the usual round of icons, logos and legal warnings. The insert looks to be what I’m guessing is one of the original posters or promotional images for the film that opens up to another set of promotional artwork images. Alongside that though is a few paragraphs explaining the origins of this style of movies in Japan and the people behind it. This is a great primer if you’re unfamiliar with the genre and the people starring in it. The back of the insert has some uncropped pictures from the film and the chapter listing.
The menu is decently done with the image of Rei along the left that has all the usual highlights while a small block of clips plays in the middle that’s framed by the handcuffs that are such a trademark of the film. The entire background of the menu is made up of flames from one of the scenes in the film. The menu is quick and easy to navigate and with nothing here besides the movie itself and a couple of trailers it all functions well and without problem. Access times are nice and fast and for obvious reasons the disc played according to our players language presets.
Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs is a fascinating exploitation film from 1974 that’s based on the manga series of the same name by Toru Shinohara. While his works likely don’t ring a bell for most of the manga reading public today, he was rather prolific in sixties and seventies and a good majority of his works have been turned into films that defined and shaped Japanese cinema during the seventies. Zero Woman also marks a change in Toei at the time as they found themselves losing market share to this new genre of ultra violence and sex. Their dominance in the sixties with the teenage dramas and yakuza films was coming to an end but Zero Woman was the kind of film that showed put them onto the track of what audiences were looking for at the time.
And it is very much a seventies movie. Some things are seemingly universal and even at a time when you’d think there’d be more delays between countries and regions, due to the less than instantaneous communication we have today, the Japan of the early seventies mirrored a lot of what we got here in the States. The look and feel of this film is exactly what I expected once things got underway and you remember that some of the biggest films of the nineties were inspired by this genre of film. There are pieces in here that you can call outright homages of in more current films like Reservoir Dogs. Tarantino certainly had an interesting genre to draw from for his films and being able to go back and really take a look at these in the clarity we get here is fascinating to see.
Zero Woman puts things into the extreme right from the start as we get to see Rei in her tight red outfit doing some disco dancing in a bar as she gets picked up by a westerner. It turns out that he’s actually an embassy staff official who has been responsible for killing women around town lately due to his very twisted sexual fetishes. One look inside his briefcase would be worth a few movies just from that. When they arrive in his room she’s thrown on the bed and stripped down bare. While he gets his toys ready, she confirms his identity and then forces him to admit what he’s done, which he doesn’t care about due to immunity issues. But Rei isn’t like other cops, she just wants the justice served and shoots him dead to rights.
This naturally lands her in jail as her bosses simply can’t deal with her anymore. The police sequences are another worldwide thing that you can find in any movie though seeing Rei in the women’s cell in the police station is amusing since half of them look like men. While all of this is going down, we see at a nearby prison that a rather wild looking man named Nakahara is being released today and he’s eager to return to his group which is waiting just around the corner. The gang has a new member, a young man who lost his parents that the boss brought in, so it’s like a big reunion. On their way back to the city they notice a car sitting along the breakers where inside a couple is breaking up due to different social stations.
The couple is torn from the car and the guy is beaten soundly to unconsciousness while the prim and proper woman is dragged off to the field where the five men each have their way with her, practically beating her into unconsciousness as well. The group all told is fairly standard but some of it is comical such as the Sabu character who has the traditional bancho style outfit, the all denim and jacket and the cap. He’s a knife aficionado no less and has the stubble beard to give it the complete look. What’s interesting from a social perspective, intended or not, is that as the guys all rape the woman while wearing the pantyhose on their heads to hide their identities, one of them is wearing a US Navy serviceman’s maintenance jacket. There’s a couple of very small bits of anti-Americanism in the film like this where you can’t be sure whether they’re really saying anything or not.
After brutally killing the boyfriend when he tries to save his girl, Nakahara’s earned the enmity of the others in the group, and they haul the now drugged woman back to the city where their boss and business is. Being a bar/hostess hole in the wall, it’s an amusing place but it’s one where the woman is knowledgeable about things and realizes that the girl that they brought back is actually the daughter of the man likely to be the next president. So what to do? Let the kidnapping begin and the demands are made to the police. In a now fairly standard twist, the girls father wants the situation resolved without the media knowing which means the police in charge here realize that their futures are secure if they handle this. The only way to ensure that the media doesn’t know is for them to rescue the girl and kill everyone else involved, which means they make an offer to Rei that she can’t refuse.
Rei’s able to rather quickly make her way into the group and from there it takes on a very fast paced action flick that’s filled with a lot of sex and violence and both of those mixed together. Rei helps Nakahara during the first money drop by slicing a few of the cops to help him get away so he brings her back to the bar. The others don’t trust her though so the rest of the guys haul her upstairs to find out what she really knows, which means she’s stripped down and whipped and then tied to a pole in the middle of the room where she’s then raped by each of them in turn. This is the kind of thing that Rei endures over and over throughout the film all while biding her time to do her job and kill those that need to be killed. Even while in a situation like this she’s able to send word out to the police about exactly what’s going on.
Director Yukio Noda certainly has the right qualifications for this as he takes his previous works in the yakuza field and simply goes over the top. While he may be better known for his work on the Golgo 13 live action film, this one is certainly impressive as its direction is very slick and it hits just about all the right notes in keeping the pacing fast and exciting. Even when things slow down there’s so much going on and an energy that keeps it flowing that you know it won’t last long. There are a number of times where they use the “handycam” approach that’s been in vogue for the last decade or so but even then the direction is clear and you always know what’s going on. That’s one of the things to appreciate most when it comes to older action films in that you actually see the action that’s going on and not a million quick cuts. Combined with some fantastic color sense moments throughout, this is definitely a work that makes me want to explore more of his filmography.
When it comes to exploitation films, a lot of folks in my generation really have only experienced them in the “second generation” sense such as works by people who grew up watching them that have gotten their hands in the writing and directing chairs of the nineties. Sometimes that can make going back to the first hand material all the harder to deal with since it feels tired and weak by then. Zero Woman manages to avoid that even if you see a number of things that have been done since. This is one of the best ways that Discotek could introduce themselves to the market both in terms of how their productions look and what kind of material they may be going after. While I hope it’s not focused just on the exploitation films, I’m certainly curious to see what else they intend to get after this.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Discotek Media
Release Date: October 25th, 2005
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.