NOWHERE TO RUN

December 31, 2013 – 5:01 am


For want of some human touch - no matter how brutal - it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire as Tatsumi Kumashiro’s A Woman With Red Hair (1979) exchanges one abusive relationship with another. Stephen Tan reviews.

Tatsumi Kumashiro’s A Woman With Red Hair (1979) is one of those often-told stories - a woman who uses her body to get what she wants.

Though never named, the Woman (with red hair) is first seen walking along a busy road before she is picked up by two workers, Kozo, who drives a lorry; and his colleague, Takao, a labourer. Earlier, Kozo and Takao had raped the boss’s Daughter.

Kozo brings the Woman to his home (basically a room in a boarding house). Their sex is interrupted by the screams of a woman junkie living downstairs. Over time, it is shown that the Woman has an insatiable appetite for sex (missing Kozo who is at work, she starts to masturbate). Though Kozo enjoys the sex, he is irritated by some of the Woman’s behaviour and abuses her. He says: “She lives with me like a dog.” At the same time, he constantly wonders how many men she has had.

It appears that the Woman has left her boyfriend/husband because he has been ill-treating her. She has also left two young children behind.

Meanwhile, the boss’s Daughter becomes pregnant and claims Takao as the baby’s father. To avoid her father’s wrath, the Daughter suggests running away with Takao. But before Takao leaves, he tells Kozo he wants to have sex with the Woman. Kozo agrees. That night Kozo interrupts his sex with the Woman to let Takao take over, against the Woman’s protest. Kozo wanders into a bar and ends up having sex with the bartender there.

Later, even though she’s unhappy over what had happened with Takao, the Woman prefers staying with Kozo and the two continue having sex.

Hard to imagine but Tatsumi Kumashiro’s A Woman With Red Hair has won two Best Actress awards for Junko Miyashita as the Woman; and the film was voted Fourth Best Film of the Year by Kinema Jumpo.

Despite the sex and the nudity, there is nothing titillating about Kumashiro’s film, which is brutal and bleak; and where the women are always oppressed. There is nothing that is considered “love”, it’s all pure lust and rut.

The Woman is running away from a painful and abusive relationship. And yet, she attaches herself to a man who is not above slapping her around and only wants her for sex. The irony, as Kumashiro shows, is that there is really no escape. To reinforce the point, there is the boss’s Daughter who discovers sex (she was a virgin when she was raped); and now fervently hopes that a baby and leaving home with the man she fancies will bring a better life.

What’s unsaid in the movie, and what audiences know, is that chances are the Daughter will not end up happier. In fact, she will end up like the Woman - lonely and abused (her father already readily slaps her when she talks back); or like the woman junkie wailing about in her room.

There are however a couple of sparks that make A Woman With Red Hair more bearable. Infused with a bright, jazzy soundtrack, the film has a somewhat sly humour. Kozo muses: “How strange a dick is. It’s willing even when I am not.” After leaving the Woman with Takao, Kozo says: “My woman’s with another man. That makes me horny.” And then there’s this scene of Kozo’s sister and her boyfriend in a foam bath that’s to be seen to be believed!

For some, the offer of sex is the only way to connect with other people. The results can be deeply unpleasant but it’s also a way to tell yourself that you’re alive, whatever that’s worth. In Kumashiro’s A Woman With Red Hair, the line separating soft porn and art is blurred and all that’s left is the film’s nihilistic feel.

Note: The Woman With Red Hair DVD (Image) is banned in $ingapore.

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