Roman Porno Double Feature #3: ZOOM IN: SEX APARTMENTS & A TRUE STORY OF A WOMAN IN JAIL: CONTINUES

Charlie Hobbs, Contributing Writer
On July 10th, Impulse Films released the latest pair of films in their ongoing and popular Nikkatsu Erotic Films Collection, more commonly known as the Roman Porno series. This latest set of films are related to previous releases in the series, as many Roman Porno films were parts of larger series of often similarly themed films. Zoom In: Sex Apartments belongs to the Zoom In series, of which Impulse previously released Zoom Up: The Beaver Book Girl; and A True Story of a Woman in Jail: Continues is a sequel to A True Story of a Woman in Jail: Sex Hell. The latter pair has a lot more in common with the each other than the former, which have no real thematic ties apart from the presence of sexual violence as a plot catalyst, but in very different ways.

If you thought Strip Nude for Your Killer was a sleazy giallo, just wait until you strap on Zoom In: Sex Apartments! A serial rapist/killer is prowling the streets preying on women and dispatching them with a particularly nasty flair. They are brutalized, murdered, and their genitalia set on fire, sometimes in the most visually ridiculous ways possible. Meanwhile, at the same time that these attacks are occurring, a sexually dissatisfied housewife welcomes home her reclusive fuck buddy. Is there a connection between her oddly misanthropic, piano-tuning loverboy and the black gloved slasher on the loose? Only time will tell...

Zoom In: Sex Apartments is not quite as great as it could be. The giallo angle was a great idea, and executed with surprising competence by director Naosuke Kurosawa, but the actual plotting of the film leaves something to be desired. One major advantage of the giallo angle is that it actually manages to give the sexual violence context, rather than feeling like misogyny for the sake of entertainment, it feels like misogyny for the sake of character development, kind of. That being said, the non-violent sex scenes seem more perfunctory here than in many of the previous films covered in this series, leaving it to the violence to get the job done. This is where the film's key gimmick is most helpful.

Yes, flaming pubes are the order of the day in Zoom In: Sex Apartments. To Kurosawa's credit, the vaginarson takes enough different forms in the film that it is almost entertaining if you can get your mind off of what is actually going on. The fires range from the slow burn style all the way to an incredible flamethrower-type spout of fire. It is some really ridiculous stuff, but fire ends up playing a big part in the film's conclusion, enough so that the attacks all make sense in the end, almost.  The end is it's own conundrum, part fever dream, part fantasy, it shoots off in a completely bizarre direction that feels very much like a late '70s Argento twist. As with all of the films to date, Zoom In: Sex Apartments is a hard film to recommend to the lay person, but if you're interested in Roman Porno, this one is a little bit outside the box and worth checking out.

continuesdvd.jpgThe second feature takes us back to the unique torture chamber that is the Japanese women's prison. A True Story of a Woman in Jail: Continues is more of what the first film delivered, with perhaps less sadism, but more fighting and sexuality. There is precious little plot, though it does stem from the first film with a particularly badass character, Mayumi, making a return. The film seems to be more of an excuse for ladies to get naked and fight frequently, and there are some nights where that's just what the doctor ordered.

When a fresh faced new girl appears in the women's jail, the lifers are quick to make a bitch out of her. But the badass Mayumi, having just been released from solitary confinement, will have none of it. When the Yakuza gets involved, Mayumi turns up the heat and women's jail goes nuts with violence and carnal desire.

I love a good women in prison film, and the Japanese have quite a way with them. The Sasori films took the high road and just dumped on the violence without a whole lot of sex, but the makers of these Roman Porno films had something else in mind. Sex always sells as long as there is a woman involved, and if there are two women, or only women, well, that's even better. The inmates' desperation and growing sexual depravity is easy fodder for filmmakers, and the creators of A True Story of a Woman in Jail: Continues took advantage. We get homemade dildos, we get transsexuals, we get plenty of naked fighting (the best kind of fighting), and all of the nastiness that one might associate with unruly prisoners in a women's jail. I can't help preferring the Sasori films but this is a good substitute, and this particular film delivers on it's promise, probably better than Zoom In does.

Since I've kind of gotten into the habit of picking winners in these double features, I'm going to try it here, though this is a tough one since the films are so incredibly different. A True Story of a Woman in Jail: Continues just hits more of the right notes for me without the over-dependence on male-on-female sexual violence of Zoom In: Sex Apartments. It just gets tiring after a while, and when a film that is only 74 minutes long gets tiring, perhaps better choices could have been made.

The Discs:

Impulse Pictures DVD release of Zoom In: Sex Apartments is the first of the Roman Porno discs that have really disappointed me in the A/V department. It isn't terrible, and the anamorphic image is probably the best we're likely to get, but the image is very dull and soft. In a film that relies so heavily on imagery and color, that is a problem. A True Story of a Woman in Jail: Continues is less problematic and succeeds in that there were no such noticeable problems about which to complain. The audio on both was solid and unremarkable, which is generally good in these cases.

In terms of extras we get the dependable liner notes on both films from Jasper Sharp. Sharp explains the place in Roman Porno history of both films as well as their places within their respective film series. Sharp is a very knowledgeable writer, and I recommend that everyone with an interest in the subject pick up his book mentioned below in the DVD Details section.

If you're looking for crazy, you could do a lot worse than these two film, however, I don't know that I would look here first to get turned on. Still, they provide an interesting look into a part of Japanese culture that we have only begun to explore in the west.
Special Features:
- Liner notes on both films by Jasper Sharp (Behind the Pink Curtain: The Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema)
- Theatrical trailer for Zoom In: Sex Apartments
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