A trippy, pop-art riff on noir’s criminal underbelly, Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss replaces pulp’s grim sensibility with dreamy bursts of pastel, surrounding its starlets in color-filtered lights and brightly-stenciled panels like feminist superheroes. Fetishizing fast bikes, tight denim and dense smoke, Yasuharu Hasebe’s vision adopts a distinctly gamine aesthetic, identifying more with its leads’ fashion sense than their common spirit, compensating for its absence of character development through self-conscious cool and a subtle, androgynous eroticism. By catering exclusively to this artistic excess, Hasebe sacrifices narrative backbone at the altar of photographic fluff, smothering the Stray Cats beneath a blanket of overpowering, kaleidoscopic visuals.
By devoting the lion’s share of the storyline to the inner workings of an all-male criminal cabal, Hasebe positions the Cats as supporting players in their own myth, focusing instead on a fixed boxing match and the existential distress that comes with a surrender of masculine integrity. Sequestered to the sidelines as a clichéd, distraught sweetheart, de facto gang president Mei (Meiko Kaji) sticks her neck out to protect a stool pigeon suitor, inadvertently exposing her sisters to the retaliation of the politically-intertwined Seiyu Group. In an effort to balance the scales, the Stray Cats take on a nonnative member, one as tall and tenacious as their macho opponents, but brimming with ambiguous sensuality.
Sporting cigarette jeans and a wavy, bobbed coiffure, Ako’s (Akiko Wada) mode and mettle afford her a position of carnal and martial authority in the club, galvanizing the strung-out membership into gender-fueled reprisal. Intoxicated by sapphic insinuation and the croon of a Janis Joplin-esque wail, Ako’s army splatters the halogen-lit Shinjuku streets in crimson corn syrup, snuffing out their enemies with an absence of fear and a jewelry box of switchblades and razor-tipped brass knuckles. If a flair for accessorizing seems like a sorry substitute for sexual politics, chalk it up to the comic-book tradition of transforming minutiae into meaningful talisman and Hasebe’s willingness to exploit femininity as a prop.
Despite this lack of emotional marrow and accountability, the photographic technique is irreproachable, playfully tinkering with foreground and background through tactfully-employed split diopter and blurred pools of twinkling color. Utilizing shadow for contrast and cramped close-up to infer intimacy, Muneo Ueda conjures a claustrophobic humidity, lending fisticuffs and gunplay a naturalistic tension that diverges from the histrionics of slow-motion and thundering buckshot echo. His eye coaxes out the pinkish hue of flesh and resonating glow of artificial light, fabricating a complex visual world that is forsaken as wallpaper beneath Yasuharu Hasebe’s vapid montages.
Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss (Nikkatsu, 1970)
Directed by Yasuharu Hasebe
Written by Hideichi Nagahara
Photographed by Muneo Ueda