‘Did you enjoy being raped?’ is one of the several odd and unanswered questions Tsukio (Michio Akiyama) heaps upon his new, nihilistic friend Poppo (Mimi Kozakura) while lying supine next to her on the raw rooftop concrete of a Tokyo apartment building, their infantine faces framed in a gorgeous black and white close-up as they stare into the hot August sun. On the night before in the same place, Poppo had been attacked and violated by a gang of glue-sniffing thugs – a by now dried stain of blood between their heads still witnesses the crime. The question seems stranger still since Tsukio was actually there when it happened, but although he didn’t take part, he didn’t do anything to help Poppo either and instead observed the savage event with searing emotions. A shy, disturbed teen with similar abuse experiences, he is clearly attracted to the world-weary Poppo and so she is to him, if only because they both know that they have nothing and no one else to hold onto. Heading for inevitable evil, the pleasure they find in each other over the course of one day – while exchanging their bitter agony and confusion about their traumatic past and talking about how to most suitably end their suffering – fuels their anger against the cruel world that surrounds them, and ultimately leads to unexpectedly dire consequences for all.
Anything but love, so it would seem, can possibly grow out of director Kôji Wakamatsu’s exploration into the territory of alienated youths, violent sexuality and nihilism. But then, we are dealing with the late towering giant of Japanese pink film and merely outlining the crude story is hardly sufficient to get across the strange mini-mavel that is Go, Go Second Time Virgin (Yuke yuke nidome no shojo). Having made more than 100 films (his latest, United Red Army, premiered at the London Film Festival in October 2008), Wakamatsu started his bizarre career in the mid-60s when he became rapidly notorious for this sort of highly explosive blend of dark sex, violent and radical politics infused with pop art stylistics and punkish defiance after his startlingly provocative Secret Acts behind Walls (Kabe no naka no himegoto) was labeled ‘a national disgrace’ by the Japanese press when it played at the Berlin Film Festival in 1965. Shot as a pinku eiga in four days in 1969, Go, Go Second Time Virgin is loosely based on a script by his long-time collaborator Masao Adachi, yet strongly inspired by a poem by Nakamura Yoshinori, and Wakamatsu himself here seems primarily inclined to the French New Wave and the spirit of 1968 rather than sheer exploitation. While sensitively painting his characters, he delivers his rather philosophically infused brew of violent sex and existential teen angst in a dazzling mix of multi-layered metaphors, stunning monochrome visual landscapes of intrinsic beauty, punctuated by rare splashes of full colour, and accompanied by a perfectly chosen jazz score that poignantly accentuates the ambiguity inherent in the central character’s immature psyche.
In terms of plot and structure, Go, Go perhaps ranks among Wakamatsu’s simplest films, yet it surely is one of his most horrifyingly beautiful and heartfelt stories too. An apt description for the film as a whole is the weirdly wonderful title itself that refers to Poppo’s vaginal bleeding after her second rape, but also proves a constituent element in the film in the form of a defiant poem repeatedly recited by the girl. In fact, Go, Go is all about seemingly inconsequential but secretly connected details and inscrutable forces that compel characters to actions they don’t necessarily understand. Much like in a well-constructed elegy, images and lines resonate with each other.
The film opens as Poppo is raped on the roof, and then the first rape is presented to us in an ocean-blue tinted flashback that sees the girl taken by two young men at a beach – a setting that shares haunting similarities to that of the famous beach love scene with Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity. Like Tsukio, who has also been abused by two couples who rent an apartment in the building, Poppo is not merely seen as a victim but rather gains strength and independence from her unfortunate situation. Yet, she can’t help but wishing to die, and consistently begs Tsukio to kill her. ‘I am too hopelessly unhappy to live,’ she says. ‘Even rape didn’t erase the sadness’. However, Tsukio refuses to carry out the act while also resisting Poppo’s advances. Deeply disturbed by his own feelings for her and because of what he has seen and been through himself, he is impotent with her. Instead, however, he finds a way to act out his anger in the film’s violent climax. He loves her, but he can’t tell her, and love is not enough to save them.
Perhaps this sounds like an all too predictable unhappy ending, yet the film’s eerie tone and fractured approach to characterisation – conceived as a mirror to its disenchanted, disengaged protagonists – provide the story with an intangibly lingering power and a seductive sense of mystery that sticks with you much longer than for the film’s barely hour-long running time. What’s more, although exposing different forms of sexual violence, the film at the same time resists these representations. The fact that Poppo does not change regardless of the cruelty she experiences, whereas Tsukio is reluctant to build a physical or sexual relationship with her, point to the film’s essential truth: dark sexuality is not merely a strategic decision to allow Wakamatsu to make the film he wanted to make, rather it is used as an important tool for developing his radical point of view. As much as the pinku eiga genre demands these images, Wakamatsu attempts to demolish them from within by contrasting the depiction of sexual violence with his own critique and the refusal of sexuality. It is an idea that Adachi has already used in his own films such as the off-beat sex-comedy Sex Play (Seiyugi, 1968), and eventually reaches its high point in Wakamatsu’s stunning Ecstasy of the Angels (Tenshi no kôkotsu, 1972).
Part of the film’s disturbingly obscure power derives from its elastic sense of location: even though the roof is presented as a claustrophobic, limited space, Wakamatsu finds visual magnificence in Tokyo’s cityscape, which seems to expand beyond the borders of the screen, or in the teenagers running up and down between the apartment rooms and the basement. But what makes Go, Go all the more memorable is the use of colour in a primarily black and white film. Wakamatsu revealed in later interviews that the mixed film stock was not originally intended (he simply couldn’t afford to shoot the whole film in colour), and yet, it paid off as textures come luridly alive, the colours taking on an intense headachy glare to contrast the characters’ wounded sensibility.
Such is the stuff Wakamatsu’s dreams are made of. His amalgamations of image and sound are quite unforgettable, like a sore that refuses to heal. Despite the film’s brutal violence, however, it is somewhat more sensual than that. The most haunting moments of this caustic fable are the most insistently insinuating – and the hardest to recall. But it’s the ill-fated relationship between these two misfits that gives Wakamatsu’s film its soulful sadness. As we watch Poppo and Tsukio lie on the rooftop concrete or starring down at the city’s rumbling traffic, the two seem like normal kids aching to connect. They want to let one another in and can’t. They can only share comic books, vengeance and the inner rage at life itself that is fatally eating away at them.