Beautiful Prey (XX: utsukushiki emono)

Director: Toshiharu Ikeda
Year: 1996
Running Time: 98 minutes

This film harkens back to Ikeda’s early days at Nikkatsu with its fairly strong depictions of sadomasochism and though this is not a theme that resonates particularly strongly with me – in fact quite the opposite – this film is perhaps the most interesting of this series. Not for the S&M scenes especially, but more for the squalid amorality of some of the characters and the way in which they seek out the darkness within all of us like guided missiles. Unlike the other films in the series, this doesn’t have a tough female protagonist shooting her way out of trouble – but is really a femme fatale cat and mouse tale of whips and desire. Writer Arimasa Osawa is best known for his hard-boiled noir stories and this film oozes noir like a ripe tomato.

The police receive a call from a neighbor that a woman is being raped next door and when they arrive they find Yu (Kei Marimura – a nude model) in a state of apparent collapse and disarray from being attacked. As the two cops – Lt. Tagami (Ren Osugi) and his female subordinate Noriko (Makiko Watanabe – “Zebraman”, “Perfect Blue”) investigate the case they begin to suspect that there is more to the story than meets the eye. Yu is able to identify her assailant but her scarred body indicates a history of S&M encounters. Yu also doesn’t seem in any particular rush to catch the man either and it seems clear that the entire episode is something she wants to go away before her wealthy husband finds out too much about her outside “activities”. The two cops continue to noodle around and Tagami is nearly killed when his car is bumped into oncoming traffic by another vehicle.
He soon finds comfort in the arms of Yu who invites him in and slowly seduces him – but after she draws the fly into her web she introduces him into the world of pain and pleasure. Noriko continues chasing after the suspect and comes across Yu chained up with a collar around her neck – to which Yu says demurely “This is embarrassing”, but her eyes say something differently as she sizes up the female cop and perhaps her inner desires. After her husband turns up dead, the widow begins her slow seduction of the straight-laced and sexually inexperienced Noriko. Noriko who hides her body behind conservative ill-fitting clothes is partly disgusted by Yu's inclinations but also finds herself drawn to this strong woman.
Ikeda uses a lot more style here than he did in the very basic "Beautiful Beast" - utilizing black and white on one occasion, strong primary colors, good camera movement and a bag full of close-ups and imagery. One image of a crushed lit cigarette and the reaction shot from Yu turns out in retrospect to be the most important moment of the film  He keeps the proceedings rough and uncomfortable throughout - but at the same time never loses the tension that he carefully builds without giving too much away. Keep an eye out for the terrific last seven and half minutes of the film - it is one unedited tracking shot that begins outside and moves inside, up the stairs and onto the balcony with the conclusion spilling out like hidden desires on daytime TV.

My rating for this film: 7.0