DVD Review: Yasuharu Hasebe's ASSAULT! JACK THE RIPPER
Yasuharu Hasebe is best known for directing films such as Black Tight Killers and the Alley Cat Rock series. In 1976, Hasebe dove into an entirely different style of film making with titles like Assault! Jack the Ripper (Bôkô Kirisaki Jakku). This film was an early entry in Nikkatsu's Violent Pink series, which represented the studio's attempt to toughen up its erotic Roman Porno line. Assault! Jack the Ripper is very far removed from the snappy pop-oriented approach of Hasebe's earlier works. The film, which is now available on English-subtitled DVD from Mondo Macabro, is a surreal, amoral thriller that mixes and matches exploitation tropes in a way that favors explicit nastiness over engaging story telling. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with this.
Set in the 1970s, Assault! Jack the Ripper focuses on a timid cake chef (Yutaka Hayashi). Early in the film, he gives a co-worker (an astonishingly funky and scary Tamaki Katsura) a ride home from work. They pick up a deranged hitchhiker who quickly strips naked, smears herself with cake, and cuts herself with a cake knife. They kick her out of the car but as they drive off, she hangs on to the side of the car. The driver tries to shake her off the car by accelerating but she falls to the street and dies. After disposing of the woman's body, the couple retreat to the chef's apartment where they have sex. The pair then figures out that the killing flipped a neural switch in the man's brain, causing him to link his sexual response to the act of killing. Subsequently, the woman becomes Myra Hindley to the man's Ian Brady and coaxes him to commit brutal murders in order to enhance their sex life. The real trouble begins once the chef, whose weapon of choice is a cake knife, starts "cheating" by killing people (mostly women) without his girlfriend's participation.
Mondo Macabro's DVD is stuffed to the gills with context, including an interview with Japanese film expert Jasper Sharp and the Roman Porno episode of the Mondo Macabro television show. Such background will be necessary for some viewers to get their heads wrapped around the contents of this film. Assault! is like a technically superior version of more sordid 1970's Italian giallo (e.g., Giallo a Venezia) or some of Lucio Fulci’s dicier works (e.g., New York Ripper). The scope cinematography is gorgeous and Hasabe's direction is tight with a focus on weird details. The way in which the camera dwells on the chef as he makes pastries or stabs dozens of people is worthy of an obsessed voyeur. Such an approach is appropriate because Assault! is really about graphic portrayals of sex and violence. This should be no surprise as delivering the "rough stuff" is the real reason why Violent Pink films were made in the first place.
The film's narrative does not demonstrate much complexity or even coherence. Once the killing fetish is established, scenes move forward without much mystery, suspense or dramatic tension. Almost every narrative component is absurd, which may lead one to embrace the film as work of camp. A number of scenes, including a cemetery picnic and the abrupt ending, are definitely played for comedic effect. On the other hand, the progressively graphic and arguably misogynistic violence might cause the humor to fall flat with some people. Additionally, Hasebe's overt linking of sex to the violence makes it difficult to identify with the film's erotic aspects. That is, unless one genuinely responds to this sort of thing. Ultimately, a person's reaction to Assault! Jack the Ripper will be determined by their tolerance for brutality presented without the expected ethical or moral narrative cues. Even if one generally falls outside of this tolerance range, Mondo Macabro's beautiful presentation of this striking (literally) work offers enough value to justify taking a chance on this DVD.