Norifumi Suzuki, known from Girl Boss Guerilla (1972), Sex & Fury (1973), School of the Holy Beast (1974), and the Torakku Yarō series (1975-1979)), is whichever way one looks at it one of the masters of Japanese exploitation cinema and the Toei Pinky Violence genre. This time, we review the first of two movies he directed for the Terrifying Girls’ High School series.
One day, at Seiko Girls’ High School, Principal Tone Hiraizumi (Yasuko Matsui) welcomes a newly appointed teacher, Keiichi Yoshioka (Masataka Naruse), who was previously dismissed at his former school due to using corporeal violence to make the students abide by the rules. After being reminded by the principal that violence has no place at this school, he is quickly given the homeroom teacher position of the most notorious class of them all, the fourth class of third grade.
On his first day, the dutiful Yoshioka is made clear (via a dead cat, several panties and condoms, and a knife) that they will not accept his authority. While other teachers advise him to accept the inverted dynamics of Seiko Girl’s High School, Yoshioka, believing in his values and principles, will not give up without a fight. But for Michiko (Miki Sugimoto), the clan’s leader, Yoshioka is not the true problem, a new transfer student named Yuki Onozaki (Reiko Ike), who forms a threat to her position, is.
While one could read Woman’s Violent Classroom as a feminist narrative, about girls refusing to abide to male authority and follow the ideals of womanhood male society is trying to subject them to, such reading would fail to recognize that this so-called feminism is structured by male fantasy. In other words, the subversion of this manifest ideal of Ryosai Kenbo (Good Wife, Wise Mother), of how a woman should be in order to be desirable for men, is nothing but a visualization of a latent male fantasy – a fantasy erotizing female adolescent rebellion and female violence (Psycho-note 1).
The girls revolt in and outside the classroom via the use of physical violence and with their sexuality. Inside the classroom, for instance, they confront the teacher with his castration via simple nonconforming behaviours, like not paying attention to the teacher, applying make-up, eating, reading books, and playing with condoms, to more extreme dissident behaviours, like using drugs, secretly trying out vibrators, hanging a death cat in the classroom, undressing oneself in the classroom, and throwing underwear, condoms, and a knife at the teacher.
Besides challenging male authority, the girls also use their sexuality to manipulate ‘authority’. This is made evident by Meiko Oh (Naomi Oka), who seduces he teacher Takashi Yamada (Tôru Yuri) with her body in order to exploit his male subject’s phallic weakness and manipulate him in giving her better test-scores, as well as by the various students, like Yoko Misaki (Natsuko Miura) and Sumiko (Ryôko Ema), who secretly work in the adult night-life industry (i.e. the industry of hostesses and prostitutes) – an industry that offers the female subject as an body-object to be sexually/erotically enjoyed and as a part-object to support male phallic fantasy.
Even though Woman’s Violent Classroom in grounded in male fantasmatic dynamics, Norifumi’s narrative is not without a dimension of powerful societal critique. Via the exploration of Michiko’s violent rape and the desire of her father to cover it up – a covering-up obviously linked to the fact that he is a government official, Norifumi beautifully shows how a traditional patriarchal society, a society structured by the importance of reputation and ‘keeping-up-appearances’, fails to take female subjectivity seriously (Narra-note 1). This male failure also explains why women/girls feel the need within this male-structured society to utilize the sexuality of their female body, because it is the only way to play with and benefit from the phallic-fantasy that structures male subjectivity and male society (Narra-note 2). But – and this is the fundamental question that underpins the entire narrative – is there also a way for these girls to go beyond merely playing along with male phallic desire and uncover the very perversity that this sexual desire gives rise to in a patriarchal society?
The cinematography of Woman’s Violent Classroom offers a standard affair for the genre, a blend of fixed shots and moving shots decorated with zoom-in (and some zoom-out) shots and various dramatic camera perspectives. For action-sequences, the various catfights in other words, Suzuki lets his camera focus (fixed moments) and follow (moving moments) the onscreen action (cine-note 1). This dynamic play with camera, often coupled with amusing musical accompaniment, turns the catfight into truly pleasing visual moments.
The flashback to Michiko’s rape is more than any other depiction of rape in the narrative a moment that succeeds in vividly confronting the (male) spectator with the dimension of violation that characterizes the act of rape. That this moment is so confronting is not due to any compositional artistry, but due to Norifumi’s thoughtful use of sounds, i.e. the sounds of female screams, male laughter, and male panting.
Terrifying Girls’ High School: Woman’s Violent Classroom might very well be one of the best Toei pinky violence narratives ever made. Why? Because Woman’s Violent Classroom is not only a pleasing narrative full of betrayal, cat-fights between clans, rape, extortion, and acts of revenge, but also a powerful critique against the inherent perversity of hierarchical society. Suzuki’s narrative, furthermore, succeeds in making the male spectator uncomfortable, by pleasing his fantasy – yes, there is lots of nudity, and, at the same time, by confronting him with the inherent perverse nature of his pleased fantasy. In short, a masterpiece by Norifumi Suzuki.
Psycho-note 1: The narrative ‘satisfies’ two different male fantasies, a fantasy of male subjection or a fantasy of male conqueror. The female power and dissidence on display allows men to enjoy the fantasy of being subjected to their bullying or sexual manipulation. The confrontation with the various powerless castrated men allows other men to fantasize themselves as someone who has the power to subject these girls as well as their sexuality to his phallic rule.
Narra-note 1: Her rebellion is, in other words, a rebellion against the failure of her father to take her subjective trauma, as father, seriously. This failure, furthermore, confronts Michiko with the structural perversity of the patriarchal system, the perversity of sexuality (the act of raping) as well as the perversity of the imaginary (the investment of her father in his image as government official).
Yoko’s situation and other moments in the narrative underline the same structural perversity of the patriarchal system. All these narrative moments (Michiko, Yoko, … etc.) do not only uncover that behind the (already perverted) male hierarchical structures lies nothing but male sexual desire, but that the male hierarchical structures in their finality serve nothing other than male sexual desire.
Narra-note 2: Even though these girls use the sexuality of their body to manipulate men, such manipulation is not without any dangers. In their attempts to master and play with the phallic fantasy of men, these girls always run the risk of falling victim to or being played by the phallic sexual desire of men as such.
Cine-note 1: When things really get hectic – like when an opposing ‘gang’ are trying to escape Seiko Ransenkai clan, the dynamic shots become shaky in nature.