The title Assault: Jack the Ripper is slightly misleading. This is not a film about Jack the Ripper or a variation thereof, but rather a demented Japanese version of Bonnie and Clyde with knives instead of guns and a great deal more sex and less love. Here, a withdrawn chef in a restaurant hooks up with a bossy and slightly obnoxious waitress. After accidently killing a rather unfortunate hitchhiker one rainy night, the duo decides that they need to repeat the thrill, again and again culminating in an orgy of violence which brings about a rather abrupt end to their affair.
First off, this is not a film for the easily offended as the manner of execution of the female victims is a knife shoved up the vagina, hence the tenuous link to Jack the Ripper. This is sleazy exploitation cinema which is not for the fainthearted. Having said this, I found Assault: Jack the Ripper very entertaining, and not at all mean-spirited. There are elements of the giallo (a sub-genre of Italian horror cinema which usually features a masked and black gloved assailant who kills in particularly grotesque and gory ways) here, both in the cinematography and the score. The set-pieces become increasingly graphic as the chef becomes increasingly deranged, with the final murder scene echoing that climatic final of Violated Angels (Okasareta hakui, Koji Wakamatsu: 1967)
Prior to Assault: Jack the Ripper, the director, Hasebe Yasuhara, had worked as an assistant to the famous Suziki Seijun. His directorial debut was in 1966 with Black Tight Killers (Ore ni sawaru to abunaize: 1966) produced by Toei, who were noted for their pinky violence films. Hasebe made a move to Nikkatsu, one of Japan’s biggest studios, where he made films within the violent pinky strand of roman P*rno (romantic P*rnography) genre with provocative titles: Rape! (Okasu!: 1976) And Rape! 13th Hour (Reipu 25-ji: Bokan: 1977) with the later supposedly so disturbing that it played a part in the demise of the genre in the 1980s.
It is necessary to point that despite these films being made under the banner of roman P*rno, there was a great deal less romance, and more sexual violence that the name of the genre implies. Indeed, rape is a common feature in these films, and more problematically it is often a way in which a woman discovers her sexuality and consequently falls in love with her violator.
This is certainly not the case in Assault: Jack the Ripper, as the mild mannered and downtrodden chef’s (Yutaka Hayashi) descent into sexual violence is instigated by the strident waitress (Tamaki Katsura) who encourages and participates in the violence. His victims are a cross-section of Japanese society and include a successful business woman, a prostitute, a priestess who works at a wedding shrine, a school girl and finally a group of nurses. As such, it presents all the victims as equally innocent, and therefore does not in any way justify sexual violence, or indeed justify the actions of the male assailant as similar films are wont to do.
If you are looking for an ‘erotic’ or indeed a gore filled film, you will be disappointed. Indeed the only P*rn on offer is food P*rn, with scenes of the antagonist in the restaurant decorating delicious looking cakes and ravenously eating noodles and other food during and after sex. Indeed despite the premise, there is very little sex and violence actually shown. However, on a positive note the film has moments of cinematic brilliance, albeit of the exploitative kind. The scene in which our downtrodden assailant and his lover stop to a give a lift to a random woman who is standing in the road absolutely soaked, and end up accidently killing her, is suitably demented, as is the final scene in which he kills a group of women before turning on his lover. These set-pieces alone make the film worth watching.
And while it is easy to dismiss the film as a piece of misogynistic nonsense especially given the method of dispatching the female victims, it is well-worth seeking out especially if you are interested in Japan horror film of the 1970s and 1980s. It is a reminder how innovative Japanese cinema can be, and in particular Japanese horror cinema, perhaps because nothing is off-limits, which I find is as fascinating as it is problematic.
At the end of the day, I would rather watch a sleazy exploitative film which is what it is and doesn’t try to justify its violence than a so-called art film which pretends to be something it is not in order to cement its status as ‘art’, mentioning no names of course. You could, of course, interpret Assault: Jack the Ripper as an indictment of the Japanese government at the time and also a critique of male emasculation through the use of the knife as symbolic penis or phallus through which re-masculinisation can take place, but it seems to me that suggests an intentionality that Hasebe himself has denied. In the final analysis, Assault: Jack the Ripper is a great deal of fun to watch – well I really enjoyed it!
Nice review! Yes, there is no way a film like this could ever have been made and distributed in America, and that goes for today as well. When you think of horror films being made here during the 1970s – or the atrociously bad drive-in movies that promised so much and delivered so little, a film like this clears the palate for a good taste of what was really possible at the time. There is a ‘moral’ to the story: You’ve got to watch those shy withdrawn types and don’t assume what goes around doesn’t come around to bite you! Just don’t expect anything deeper than that and you’ll enjoy this film.