A young girl, alone on a private island with her incestuous, domineering father decides to escape her confinement. An unhappy housewife, trapped in a loveless marriage with her unresponsive husband and an overbearing mother-in-law wants out of her dreary existence. The twosome join up to escape their previous lives so they can start afresh together.
Rafureshia (aka Sukebe-zuma: otto no rusu ni) tells the story of two women, complete strangers at first, who are on very different journeys in life. Alisa (Kinako) lives on an island with her father, and although she’s only a short distance from the mainland, she feels very isolated and alone. Harumi (Yumi Yoshiyuki) is trapped in the hell of domesticity: her husband is abusive, her mother-in-law is demanding, and she is not-so-politely reminded time and again of her shortcomings as a wife and homemaker. When Alisa and Harumi cross paths, both of their lives are changed forever, and they embark on an all new adventure. While on the surface this might sound a bit like a version of the “female buddy movie,” this is a Hisayasu Sato film, so it is more like a bastardization of Thelma & Louise by way of Visitor Q and a severely perverted and fetishistic Porky’s.
Hisayasu Sato often deals with real world issues like alienation and obsession in his films, but he does so in his own unique and exploitative way. One only needs to look as far as some of his early titles to get a picture of this: Sex Otome-tai: Kemono-tachi no Utage (1985), which literally translates to Sex Virgin Unit: Party of Beasts, Lolita Vibrator Torture (1987), Shimai renzoku reipu: Eguru!, translated, Rape Between Sisters: Penetration! (1989), and Unfaithful Wife: Shameful Torture (1992), just to name a few. Of course, hardcore horror fans might be most familiar with 1996’s Splatter: Naked Blood, a movie that easily lives up to its title (unlike that band The Killers, which is a whole other story). But Sato’s direction is only half of the dirty story here: Taketoshi Watari is credited with writing not only Rafureshia, but six other films with the director as well, some of which are considered the more disturbing ones. Then there’s veteran cinematographer Masashi Inayoshi, who worked on over 175 movies between 1987 and 1997, and editor Shoji Sakai – if Inayoshi is considered a veteran, I’m not sure what to call Sakai; to date, he has served as editor on over 1,000 films – and this is a behind-the-camera crew that has an awful lot of talent.
Rafureshia only reaches about 63 minutes in length, but the hour-and-change run time is absolutely packed with entertaining depravity. This film opens with incest, closes with an on-the-road orgy, and everything in between manages to tingle the erogenous zones while simultaneously provoking cringes. That might be a rare feat when discussing another filmmaker, but we’re talking about a Hisayasu Sato movie, so that is pretty much par for the course. This one really has a little bit of everything: a metric ton of nudity, pixelated blow jobs, a plethora of incest, pleasurable (?) rape, amnesiac transvestites, close-up shots of tongue kissing lesbians, sword fights, psychic advice, Cinderella-style searches, a madam receiving cunnilingus while watching a woman attack a man dressed as a baby with a chainsaw…and that’s not even half the story!
One of the director’s most bizarre films, Rafureshia has the basic structure of an 80s American softcore sex comedy gone wacky (whacky?), but somehow still maintains an intelligent, mature attitude throughout. Much of the credit goes to Sato and Watari, of course, for piecing together such a crazy story, but it also takes a strong cast to sell it and make it feel convincing – thankfully, the leads in this film are excellent. Kinako, in the role of Alisa, plays naïve and desperate magnificently.
She won the Pink Film Award for Best New Actress for her role here, and over the next couple of years maintained her status in the “pinku eiga” genre, starring in a number of roles for directors like Satoru Kobayashi, Masayoshi Nogami, and Kinya Ogawa, among many others. Harumi is played by Yumi Yoshiyuki, just one of the 21 roles she played in 1995. A veteran actress, she got her start in Naomi, a movie that garnered a number of awards including her own Best New Actress award at the Pink Taisho awards, and she has since gone on to appear in a number of horror films: Occult, Sexual Parasite: Killer Pussy, Gore From Outer Space, and Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-On (2000), the first of the celebrated Ju-On/Grudge series. Add to the cast Sato regulars Koichi Imaizumi as Yoshio, Harumi’s husband, and Kiyomi Ito as Yoshio’s mother, as well as a number of other bit players, and it’s no wonder that Rafureshia stands out.
If you’re easily offended by things of a sexual nature, the films of Hisayasu Sato, especially Rafureshia, are probably not for you. This is an intelligently sleazy piece of 90s exploitation from Japan that delivers a story full of laughs, gasps, and a hefty dose of titillation. There are some bizarre twists, a bunch of incest, some truly crazy characters, and just so much nudity everywhere. Here’s a movie that’s as much for fans of Teruo Ishii as it is for fans of John Waters, and it’s an absolute must-see for fans of exploitation cinema of the world.