The Great Chase
Director: Norifumi Suzuki
Year: 1975
Rating: 7.5

Aka - Karei-naru tsuiseki

This trashy Japanese action film isn't really good from any reasonable sober perspective but I wish I had another 100 films in the same vein.  I enjoyed it way more than I should have, Wonderfully trashy fun with oodles of action provided by Etsuko Shihomi, Sister Street Fighter and student of Sonny Chiba. In this she is a professional race car driver but in her spare time she works for a secret crime fighting organization, the Japanese Defense Agency, whose boss tells her as he sends her off on another assignment "Failure will not be tolerated" which is usually what the bad guys say. Besides her racing skills (and oddly for a film titled The Great Chase, there are no car chases), she is a mistress of disguise and a martial art master.

That is where the action comes in. Now the exploitation comes in from director Norifumi Suzuki, who was behind such exploitation classics as School of the Holy Beast, Sex & Fury, a couple of the Girl Boss films - in the 1970's he was one of the leaders in Japan's turn to these sort of films. This one is a real mix - just when you think it is settling down into a conventional female action film he will throw in a rape, some torture, needles shot into the eye, nudity, a singing female wrestler, killer nuns, bad toupees and the main bad guy Isao (Eiji Gô) performing cunnilingus dressed in a full cat suit with head attached beneath a picture of Adolf Hitler on the wall. Mind you, Etsuko Shihomi doesn't participate in any of this.

The new case for her is to stop a drug gang who are bringing in heroin in the bodies of dead women. There is also a connection to her father's death and disgrace five years previously when he was framed for drug smuggling, sent to jail and then committed "suicide" with scars all over his body. Shinobu (Etsuko) has been looking for revenge and now she has her chance. We first see her after she has won a race and with a pop tune on the soundtrack, dressed in polka dot pants, she turns to us and gives an adorable crooked tooth smile and I was enchanted. Not too many more smiles though as she gets into various fights against a large group of men and a few deadly females. At one point she disguises herself as a man, another time as an old tea lady, once as a gambler dressed in a shimmering sleek white gown, as a hideous Cambodian crone and as a nun.

Against her in the gang is a guy who breaks rocks over his head, another one who has killer slicing cards, another with a blow dart gun and a knife thrower. A fair fight I guess. She also has a bang up fight with a female wrestler played by a real female wrestler, Mach Fumiake, who joins up with Shinobu later on. Obviously with all this in a 82 minute film there is not a lot of room for character development, drama or a plot that really holds together (a lot of narrative jumps). But do I care? Not even a bit. There are a lot of action set pieces but I have to admit that the camera work was often poorly placed - it is clear too many times that the punches and kicks are not hitting anything but air - you need HK choreographers to fix that.

Etsuko made this in the same year as 13 Steps of Maki which was great fun too.  I would like to find more films from this period in which she isn't secondary to Sonny Chiba.