The Pinky/Pinku films kinda/sorta underwent a bit of re-invention in the early-to-mid 1980's due to the emergence of adult home video. These direct release properties were vastly cheaper to produce than a bigger, bolder, sexier theatrical film. In order to compete, production companies beefed up the stories and poured a few more dollars into the budget; so long as these features continued delivered the "goods" (such as a sex act once-a-reel), audiences were unlikely to raise a fuss over such pesky additions of more plot, more action, and more story. The benefit was that the filmmakers might grow their audience by actually bringing in folks more interested in those things; of course, the disadvantage was that they'd alienate their existing audience in the process.
SHE CAT very much fits the mold of this narrative re-invention. It serves up a more complex story than Nikkatsu had provided in so many earlier releases. That also raised the ante by requiring more of these actors than just a few simple emotions along with some flashing of skin; it meant that they'd have to carry a stronger presence into their work on-screen. While others might argue differently, I saw this as the end of an era and the emergence of too many competitors for regular film companies to keep up with.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you're the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I'd encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you're accepting of a few modest hints at `things to come,' then read on ...)
Dr. Mineko `Cat' Kagami (played by the stunning Ai Saotome) is an OB/GYN with a deep, dark past. In the days before, she fell in love with the son of a politician - a cad, really, who went from woman to woman, using them up, then brushing them aside - but now she's in what appears to be a committed (lesbian) relationship with fellow doctor Kotoe Hiratsuka (unclear citations as to this actress's name). Little does she know but Kotoe has links to her past - as well as connections to organized crime - that'll bring her past up to the present, forcing Cat to go on-the-lamb or face her attackers down the barrel of a gun!
Essentially, what we have here is heavy mix of some fairly routine film noir elements poured into a Pinky feature. You've got treachery and deception. You've got hints of some sexual behavior outside of the norm. You've got politicians and gangsters and secret abortions and an old murder with the surviving skull and much, much more. Plus, there's a whole host of females who - in their own way - will all end up as femme fatales.
In fact, I could make the case that it's too much overkill that ends up softening SHE CAT's effectiveness as an independent motion picture. About the time that audiences have a clear hold on the main character's motivations, another one enters the fray ... then another one ... then a few more ... and eventually all of these characters are blended up into a story that revolves heavily around way too many hidden agendas. I'm all for complicating the tale being told, but, at some point, methinks the exercise in excess ends up disillusioning those members of the audience who showed up primarily for titillation's sake.
But ay carumba (!!!) to Ai Saotome! No doubt most males in the audience (and females of `that' persuasion) were thrilled to explore her ample endowments on display in SHE CAT. She's a delight on the screen, though her performance seems a bit underplayed here (she doesn't display the range needed to vacillate effectively between pouty victim, assured OB/GYN doctor, and vindictive rage), but ... well, there's always her lady parts to balance the bad with the good. The fact that she appeared in Japan's weekly Playboy magazine in '82 probably helped whatever ad campaign Nikkatsu put together back in the day.
This is not to say that SHE CAT isn't entertaining because it is. One could make the case that the film rather quite deliberately serves almost as a `crossover' piece - a feature that intended to widen the audience for a Pinky/Pinku film by presenting a vastly more mainstream story lightly salted with bits of traditional (sexual) exploitation. There's a wonderfully captured lesbian shower scene - arguably one of the most artistic I've seen on film and not one necessarily played out for pure eroticism. There's also a relatively gruesome sexual assaults (a two-fer tag-teamed by three gangster types) that takes place in an OB/GYN office (of all places). But there's also some uncharacteristic stereotypical comedy directed at flamboyant members of the local LGBT chapter that largely fails - though the quirky funeral scene does deliver a few legitimate laughs - and a final reel action shoot-out that could've used some better choreography or another dunk in the logic tank to clean it all up.
SHE CAT (1983) is produced by Hiroshi Okada and Yuichi Sawai for Nikkatsu. DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled by Impulse Pictures under its popular `Nikkatsu Erotic Films Collection.' As for the technical specifications, it all looks and sounds about as solid as this 87 minute Japanese 2.0 mono track can given its age; there's some noticeable tinny-ness to the sex scenes (the regular downside to 2.0 mono), but it doesn't impede the effect. As is often the case with these older foreign releases, there are no special features to speak of, save for the original theatrical trailer; but there's a nicely informative essay on liner notes by Japanese film scholar, Jasper Sharp.
In the interests of fairness, I'm pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Impulse Pictures provided me with an advance DVD copy of SHE CAT by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.