DVD Reviews: Zoom In: Sex Apartments & True Story of a Woman in Jail: Continues

'At last the cinematographic awesomeness of these cheap, sleazy sex films can be fully observed and appreciated...'

Devon Ashbyby Devon Ashby


Fresh Nikkatsu Roman Porno reissues are available on DVD, courtesy of Synapse’s erotic Impulse label. Zoom In: Sex Apartments and True Story of a Woman In Jail: Continues both offer the same deliriously insane cavalcade of spanking, peeing, squirting, bondage, humiliation, and general jaw-dropping silliness that characterized the series’ previous four reissues. Like their forebears, both releases are packed to the gills with supple naked flesh and often bizarre, unpredictable softcore scenes, filtered enticingly through the aesthetic of one of Japan’s oldest, and formerly most respected, major cinema companies.

True Story of a Woman In Jail is a sort-of sequel to Nikkatsu’s previously reissued Sex Hell, once again featuring Kozue Hitomi as Mayumi Houjou, a revenge murderess (this time with a revised backstory involving gang rape) forced to navigate the brutal realities of a female penitentiary. Now a wizened veteran of the system, Mayumi has become a low-rent knockoff iteration of Meiko Kaji’s Female Convict Scorpion, glaring one-eyed through her avalanche of long black hair and thirsting for sweet vengeance against the entire Japanese justice system.

Story of a Woman’s plot and execution are coarser and less stylish than the Scorpion films, but more or less on par with Nikkatsu’s previous entry. It plays like a gritty shot-on-the-fly crime thriller with an unapologetically meandering plot and an excess of sordid, nipple-twisting ambiance to split the difference. Of the two films, True Story of a Woman In Jail: Continues is considerably more sedate, and also much lighter on golden showers than Sex Hell was, although it still manages to squeeze in a few. Mostly, though, it’s awash in standard WiP fare like lesbian orgies, coercive rape, leering, voyeuristic nudity, and petty sadomasochism.

In counterpoint to Story of a Woman’s rough-hewn, celebratory disregard for style or tact, Sex Apartments is a dreamlike, giallo-inspired rape fetish chronicle from the popular Nikkatsu Zoom Up series, about a masked rapist who likes to stalk women through the streets late at night and set their pubic hair on fire (really). While her husband is away on business, demure wife Saeko takes a crosstown bike trip to reunite with her former lover, Takaya, who has recently returned from a long stretch in the United States. After being brutally raped in an oil field by a masked assailant, Saeko gets wise and realizes Takaya and the rapist are the same person, plunging her into a dark netherworld of tortured self-doubt and confused lust.

Beyond its incendiary subject matter, Sex Apartments is a much more stylistically conscious film than Story of a Woman, as testified by unforgettably grotesque set pieces like the nude burn victim ensnared in the bars of a jungle gym. The film’s ties to gory Italian murder mysteries of the same period are also clearly apparent in its voyeuristic plotting and staging, and most pointedly in the telltale and emphatically photographed black leather gloves of its lurking sexual antagonist. Even in less sensationalistic sequences, Story of a Woman veritably writhes in flamboyant Psychotronia, building to a surrealistic and literally explosive art house climax.

Both films this cycle are pretty grim, but compared to late-era Nikkatsu’s sillier entries, like the previously reviewed Eros School, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Of all Synapse’s Roman Porno reissues so far, Sex Apartments is arguably the most ambitious and adept from a creative perspective despite how totally jacked up its plot and characterization are. Story of a Woman is a watchable but blankly derivative Japanese WiP, lacking the verve, sharpness, and full-on perversity of its predecessor and many genre affiliates.

Regardless, and in spite of the unfortunate continuing sparseness of supplementals on either disc (Zoom Up features a trailer, but nothing else) both films deserve to be rediscovered and leered at furtively by modern viewers, especially considering Synapse’s exemplary, spotless widescreen presentation. At last the cinematographic awesomeness of these cheap, sleazy sex films can be fully observed and appreciated, as well as wanked off to.

Zoom In: Sex Apartments:

True Story of a Woman In Jail: Continues