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Review © Mandi Apple, 2007.

Directed by Takahisa Zeze, 1998, 79 mins. starring Akira Yoshino, Taro Suwa, Shoko Kudo, Kazuhiro Sano and Yota Kawase.

Directed in 1998 by one of pinku's best-loved and best-known sons, Takahisa Zeze, Dirty Maria is a title in far more of a similar vein to his stunning arthouse-pink-murder movie Raigyo than his wacky, whacked-out tripmonster of a bizarro porn, Tokyo X Erotica. This movie is, if anything, moodier than even Raigyo was: conducted in almost complete silence, with a lack of incidental music which is clearly attributable to atmospherics rather than lack of budget, painted in muted colours and featuring mostly night scenes or desolate snow-covered mountains, right from the start it displays a very stark, grim and depressing ambience which infects the whole movie with a sombreness and solemnity not generally found in Western softcore flicks.

Just like Raigyo, Dirty Maria is based on a real life true crime story, which lends the movie a real air of credence. Also just like Raigyo, the characters' motives are never fully explained - just as with real life, you end up having to read between the lines a lot of the time, which also gives the viewer the impression of authenticity. Another striking similarity is in Zeze's composition and framing of shots. Oftentimes the anti-heroine, Maria, is shown as being 'caught' within a small square frame, whether a window or an open doorway, suggesting that she is restrained, restricted by the tedium and oppression of her stifling life of domesticity, male domination and unfulfilling work. And yet another symbol from Raigyo, whereby a murderess changed into black underwear in order to adopt a kind of alter ego identity, transforming from everyday frump into dangerous femme fatale and giving the movie the alternative title The Woman In Black Underwear, reappears here for the exact same reason. These were clever devices used to wonderful effect in Raigyo, and lead me to believe that you could probably watch Dirty Maria as a definite companion piece to that particular movie - maybe even as an alternate take on the same motifs and themes.

As far as the acting goes, all credit to the cast for carrying off wonderfully quiet, subtle and underplayed performances throughout. Taro Suwa's baffled, pathetic cab driver Murakami, living in the desperate, bleak limbo of not knowing what has happened to his missing wife, tortured by a combination of jealousy, hate and worry, is particularly poignant: no less so is that of Maria herself, played very credibly by Akira Yoshino, who lends the character both a credibility of character in portraying her as infinitely devious, self-serving and selfish, but also imbued with a very real humanity, by rendering her strangely sympathetic, with a silent and forlorn air not normally evidenced by mad murderesses in movies.

Synopsis

"It was surprisingly easy to kill her... because we die so easily."

Taro Suwa, everyone's favourite Japanese film pro-trooper of close to a trillion titles in just about any and all genres you can care to think of and a previous star of another Takahisa Zeze movie, Hysteric, plays Murakami, a cab driver whose wife Mayumi has gone missing. He fears that she may have run off with another man (and this is partly the case, as she was knocking off both her boss and also another colleague, Sawai, on the side) - or gotten into trouble by involving herself with a 'telephone dating club' (echoes of Raigyo here again), a service which hooks up strangers looking for easy, anonymous sex, no questions asked.

However, neither of these are the case: in fact (and this is not spoilertastic, since this event takes place within the first eight minutes of the movie), she has been murdered by a morose woman (not named throughout the duration of the movie), who has a day job at the beauty salon which his wife worked at, and who is also married, with a small son.

After offing Mayumi in her living-room, she dispassionately chops the body up in the bathroom and later, after taking her son to school, she deposits the remains into several disparate trashbins around town. However, on nearly getting caught dropping off the last two bags into a bin, she decides instead to put them into a coin locker at the station.

But what, exactly, was this woman's motive to kill Mayumi? It seems that she was, simply, jealous of everything Mayumi had. Mayumi was leaving to start her own beauty salon; she had probably also been having an affair with Sawai, with whom the murderess had also been having an affair. So when Murakami turns up at the salon, under the false impression that Mayumi has run off with the boss, it is the murderess who intervenes to help him. After finding out that some of the bags containing Mayumi's corpse have been found, she spins Murakami a yarn about how Mayumi had said she might be going to a snowy spa retreat up in the mountains.

So together they go to the spa resort, ostensibly to look for the missing wife. However, they end up having a relationship, mostly born of necessity: Murakami partly out of spite against his runaway, cheating wife, and the murderess partly to try and protect herself now that the details of her crime are about to go public, by implying that Mayumi went to the spa with Sawai, which would of course put him in the frame for Mayumi's murder when it comes to light. But there is more to it than that: they become bound together by the fact of their meaningless lives which both pivot around the disappearance of Mayumi and which will inevitably both be destroyed by her death.

Takahisa Zeze is a master of both atmosphere and character development in his pinku eiga, which kind of begs the question: why can't he carry it off within the framework of his more mainstream titles? Neither the tedious Kokkuri nor the appalling Moon Child came anywhere close to replicating the beauty and sadness of his softcore/art movies, which is a terrible shame, as he is clearly a director gifted with both true talent and vision. Although Dirty Maria is perhaps more of a bitterly bleak, piteous human drama than the thematically rich Raigyo, it's still a beautiful, difficult and disturbing piece and has a great deal of depth, with much to say about sex, jealousy, empathy, mortality and the fragility of life. Definitely a very worthy piece that anyone with a taste for the darker end of the arthouse spectrum should see.

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:

Entertainment Value: 7/10
Violence: 5/10
Sex: 6/10. Oh, and Taro Suwa having one off the wrist, which is just plain disturbing X__X
Gore: 3/10 - not as much as you might imagine
Snow: 10/10
Pervy Old Men: far too many *shudder*
Dismembered Housewives: a great deal more interesting than Desperate Housewives, I reckon ;-)

Films in a Similar Style: Raigyo, Lunch Box, Despite All That, Angel Guts: Red Vertigo, The Isle

*** Recommended! ***

Thanks to Salvation Films, who supplied a screener for this movie

Snowblood Apple Filmographies

Takahisa Zeze
Taro Suwa

Links

http://www.salvation-films.co.uk/ - Dirty Maria is merely one of a number of great pinku eiga titles available from Salvation Films as part of their Sacrament series - almost all of them are well worth checking out
http://www.midnighteye.com/reviews/little-wing.shtml - a couple of paragraphs dedicated to Kishu Izuchi, the scriptwriter for both Raigyo and Dirty Maria
http://eigagogo.free.fr/Critiques/dirty_maria.html - review in French

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