Beautiful Target a.k.a.
Beautiful Victim (XX: utsukushiki hyoteki)
Reviewed from T.P. (excerpted
from his essay "BEAUTIFUL BLOOD
ON YOUR LIP")
Director: Naosuke Kurosawa
Running Time: 91 minutes
The Japanese crime drama “Beautiful Target”
(“XX: utsukushiki hyoteki,” 1995), directed by Naosuke Kurosawa, exemplifies
how a female protagonist’s self-determining actions can be turned to patriarchal
purpose and the service of the male cinematic gaze. Clues to the
origins of this can be found in directorial filmographies – which in Kurosawa’s
case includes “Young Lady Detectives: Heart Beat!” (1987) in which
the well-known body builder (later martial artist, action star and stunt
double) Michiko Nishiwaki stars in a “pink” (soft-pornographic) film.
The cinematic vision of a female action film realized by a pink film director
is obviously likely to differ from that crafted by a martial artist (such
as Corey Yuen).
In “Beautiful Target,” Yoko Natsuki plays “Dr.
Kyoko Mizuki,” a visually striking but dispassionate medical examiner who
becomes the target of a sadistic stalker and serial killer of women.
In a disturbing sequence, “Mizuki” – who possesses not only a high status
career but also classically aquiline good looks – is subjected to a horrific
home invasion in which she is stripped, groped, blindfolded, bound in a
humiliating position and videotaped by the assailant. Her body and
status are portrayed as highly vulnerable, while that of the male detective
investigating the case is almost indestructible. Here, the male body
is nearly impervious to harm when tempered by service – as when the injured
detective rises from his hospital bed after a nearly fatal hit-and-run
– while the body of the male serial killer as an anonymous, looming threat
is immune to female blows or even repeated stabbing!
Determined to save herself by finding the perpetrator
before he strikes again, “Mizuki” teams with “Natsumi” (SHIHO), a female
switchblade-wielding gang leader who has lost a girlfriend to the killer.
“Natsumi” finds “Kyoko” tied up in her apartment, and the two unlikely
opposites become partners and then lovers. Kurosawa guides the narrative
through seedy bars and clubs toward a climax in which “Mizuki” tracks the
killer to his lair, where he has abducted and tied up “Natsumi.”
Such narratives and scenes are characteristic of many Japanese genre films
that relish the torture and humiliation of women. “Beautiful Target”
is additionally disturbing because it is actually quite well acted and
manages to generate a measure of drama and character identification.
However, despite their best efforts, “Kyoko” and “Natsumi” cannot finish
off the perpetrator by striking and stabbing him repeatedly. His
mysterious, cloaked body – emblematic of an all-powerful male figure –
must be finally put to death by a shot fired by the miraculously recovered
detective “Komiya.” Despite her recent intimacy with “Natsumi,” “Kyoko”
ultimately collapses into his arms. In one final plot twist, there
is an implication that she may have been awakened to the “pleasures” of
the conduct to which she was exposed, and could now become a perpetrator
of similar acts herself – representing ultimate symbolic identification
with the oppressor.
Despite its status as representative of blatant
exploitation genres, “Beautiful Target” also illustrates the workings of
patriarchal conventions in horror action. First, the figure of “Dr.
Kyoko Mizuki” cannot protect herself, either professionally or privately
at home. She is gratuitously and painfully humiliated – her body
and entire life debased and exposed to the highly invasive cinematic gaze
of the perpetrator, his video camera and the audience. Her moments
of intimacy and solidarity with “Natsumi” provide further opportunities
for voyeurism. “Natsumi,” a prototypic “Final Girl,” is later herself
subdued, rendered helpless and humiliated. Indestructible males wage
the real battle to destroy or save “Kyoko.” To suggest that such
portrayals of helplessness, despite effort and heroism, might convey disdain
for – if not hatred of – women, in no way diminishes Yoko Natsuki’s acting
performance which is committed and intense. In brief, the problem
with such films is less the immediate (but more obvious) exploitation devices
of scene and plot, and more the ultimate purposes to which they are put.
“Kyoko Mizuki” invites identification as a heroic protagonist, so her failure
and humiliation represent ultimate narrative betrayals.