Year: 1978 Company: Shin-Toho Film Company Runtime: 60′
Director: Koji Wakamatsu Writers: Koji Wakamatsu Cinematography: Hideo Ito
Music: Kaoru Abe Cast: Kumiko Araki, Mayuko Hino, Kayoko Sugi, Maya Takagi, Ami Takatori, Tensan Umatsu
Ferociously independent writer and director Koji Wakamatsu (United Red Army, Secrets Behind the Wall) has never been one to trifle over the social acceptability of his work, and is well known for his combination of sociopolitical commentary and extreme sex and violence. Even with that in mind this is a tough one. Wakamatsu’s 1978 obscurity 13-Victim Serial Attacker concerns a troubled young man who bikes around Tokyo on a seemingly meaningless quest to rape and murder any young woman he finds. It’s a bleak, discouraging film that offers neither justification nor excuses for its content, and though broadly categorized as “pink” erotica and even horror, trying to classify it as entertainment of any sort is missing the point.
Thematically 13-Victim Serial Attacker can be seen as a direct offshoot of Wakamatsu’s earlier Secrets Behind the Wall, which focused partly on the rise of a homicidal sexual deviant in an anonymous Japanese apartment complex. Indeed, an early montage of endless indistinguishable apartment buildings echos the past film nicely. 13-Victim Serial Attacker‘s simple and repetitive narrative follows a similarly misguided youth, but perhaps misguided isn’t the word. Unguided may be more apt. Shuffling aimlessly about the banal artifices of postwar prosperity, the attitude of the unnamed offender speaks as much of boredom and time-fed anxiety as it does of psychopathy.
The opening moments of the film have our unnamed and overweight protagonist whittling together a custom firearm in a rundown metal works before stuffing it into his omnipresent overalls and speeding off on his bicycle. He soon finds himself in an apartment complex, where he picks a tenant at random and infiltrates her home by pretending to be a policeman. Once inside he viciously assaults the inhabitant, a young stay-at-home wife, raping her until he reaches a hollow satisfaction and then unloading his firearm into her uterus. The brief opening credits fade in over a static shot of her sad remains, sprawled bloody and lifeless and treated with all the respect one might grant a heap of dirty laundry. When we meet up with the young man again he is wandering around Tokyo Bay, killing time before an opportunity to strike once again arises.
The rest of 13-Victim Serial Attacker follows in a similar vein, as our anonymous assailant happens upon victim after victim, many of whom seem at least as adrift as himself. A pair of hot-headed lovers near a commuter line, a young artist by the sea, and a host of faceless others are needlessly attacked and murdered in spaces as small as automobiles or public restrooms and as expansive as undeveloped industrial land. Wakamatsu shows grim imagination in some of the assaults, as when a prostitute and her gent are tied back-to-back by their limbs before the attacker begins his deadly business. The director also incites reaction from his audience through his brutal and honest depictions of rape, with several of the victims appearing to enjoy themselves as they seek a respite from the violence in the fleeting comfort of sexual arousal.
The most substantial development of the film again echos an earlier Wakamatsu production, as the nameless creature at the story’s center captures a policewoman and holds her hostage in an abandoned warehouse, assaulting her again and again. The narrative thread reminds strongly of the director’s first independent production, The Embryo Hunts in Secret, in which a well to do businessman takes a female associate hostage and forces her into a variety of degrading subservient behaviors. That film, which speaks of the oppressive nature of power and the necessity of rebellion, offers the audience a satisfyingly gruesome out. Here there is nothing of the kind. After the policewoman misbehaves, nearly drawing the police into her kidnapper’s hideaway, he simply draws his gun and shoots her. She ends her appearance like so many others, as another statistic to be rattled off on the radio news.
Throughout 13-Victim Serial Attacker the audience is given very little in the way of insight into the character’s reasoning, and the purpose of his actions remains elusive. When his final victim, a young blind woman, asks him if he enjoys killing he responds as honestly as he likely can – “I don’t know.” When she summarily asks if why he kills he has no answer for her at all. Oddly, the only understanding the audience is really allowed to develop for the eponymous serial attacker comes by way of the film’s score, a collection of sparse avante-garde improvisations by renowned alto saxophonist Kaoru Abe, who would die later the same year of a drug overdose. The harshness of Abe’s performances evoke sensations of loneliness and interminable angst, while a brief encounter between the attacker and Abe, in cameo, draws a rare emotional reaction, a single tearful eye, from the former.
13-Victim Serial Attacker ends abruptly, and with violence every bit as sudden and needless as the rest. With the police unable to stop him the army (!?) is called into action, and an unstoppable social monster meets the irresistible force of military intervention. As the sun literally sets on our protagonist’s violent spree, a solitary jeep lies in ambush. Their meeting is torrid and bloody, and as the unknown man dies his voice fades into the inhuman shriek of Abe’s saxophone. Wakamatsu’s parting shots recall the opening scene, with the man’s bullet-riddled body floating in Tokyo Bay, the army having left it behind as though it were nothing more than an innocuous bit of garbage. Its a final act of inhumanity in a film overflowing with them, and Wakamatsu leaves the audience to contemplate its consequence.
As a brutal example of Wakamatsu’s rebellious cinematic spirit 13-Victim Serial Attacker is striking, with exceptional photography from ace cinematographer Hideo Ito (In the Realm of the Senses, here working in cost-effective 16mm) and haunting musical contributions from the late Kaoru Abe. Its capacity to offend also ranks higher than just about anything else I’ve had the pleasure to cover here, though with Wakamatsu one should always expect a little confrontation. Those with a hankering for a bit of intellectual pursuit will find the most satisfaction here, while those looking for a good night out would do best to avoid Wakamatsu all together.