Color, 1972, 87 mins. 24 secs.
Directed by Yukio Noda
Starring Miki Sugimoto, Eiji Gô, Tetsurô Tanba, Hiromi Kishi, Yôko Mihara
Neon Eagle (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Diskotek Media (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

Inspired by the early '70s Zero Woman: Red Handcuffsdemand for higher doses of stylish sex and violence in Zero Woman: Red HandcuffsJapanese cinema, Toei responded in kind with the outlandish pinky violence films of which 1972's Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs marks a vital entry. As with the same year's Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion and its sequels, this was adapted from a manga by Tōru Shinohara, and in turn this was followed by nine very belated follow-up films starting in 1995. Doused in outrageous bloodshed and putting the titular red accessory to memorable use on several deadly occasions, this is a wild, fast-paced sleaze epic that serves as a powerhouse showcase for star Miki Sugimoto, who retired early from the screen in 1978 after more pinky violence titles like two of the Terrifying Girls' High School films and Girl Boss Revenge: Sukeban. She's an absolute powerhouse here, and this film's reputation as one of the craziest pink violence rollercoasters around is most definitely earned.

After a violent altercation in which she kills a diplomat with a secret life as a serial killer, onetime cop Rei (Sugimoto) is enlisted by covert law enforcement agency Division 0 to work undercover in the kidnapping of Kyoko (Kishi), daughter of a powerful politician (You Only Live Twice's Tanba). Zero Woman: Red HandcuffsOf course, Kishi is being Zero Woman: Red Handcuffsheld by some really nasty characters prone to a multitude of physical attacks which also become inflicted on Sugimoto when she goes undercover. Obviously having seen Yojimbo, she figures out how to start pitting the gang members against each other with a particular focus on the completely deranged leader (Gô) who has eccentric tastes in headwear. After an impulsive murder, the gang and their two hostages end up in a protracted chase and standoff against the law with a few more twists in store.

Given its high entertainment value and potential cult possibilities, it's baffling that this initial outing for Rei (or Agent Zero, as she's called professionally) didn't launch an immediate run of further gory adventures. Though it doesn't aim for the same delirious atmosphere as the Female Convict films with journeyman director Yukio Noda (Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon) keeping things visually grounded for the most part, this is a prime example of the subgenre in all its maniac glory with the usual rape-revenge formula along with an interesting familial twist that pays off in the final few minutes. This hasn't exactly been a tough film to find, even earning an okay DVD release in the U.S. from Diskotek in 2005, but it hasn't even come close to getting the reputation it deserves.

Zero Woman: Red HandcuffsThat situation could change with the Blu-ray release from Neon Eagle, which looks great with a Zero Woman: Red Handcuffsfine new HD restoration bringing out those blazing reds and a lot more detail than the earlier SD options. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 Japanese mono track also sounds nice and about par for the course for the period, with optional English subtitles that will make you doubt your sanity. Samm Deighan provides an enthusiastic audio commentary, diving into the appeal of pinky violence films and the key leading women of the movement including Sugimoto, Meiko Kaji, and Reiko Ike as well as the tropes and key aesthetic elements of Toei's output. The video featurette "Sex + Violence = Pinky Violence" (18m2s) with Patrick Mancias studies the brief but glorious wave of Toei's pinky violence cycle mixing sadism, nudity, action, and antisocial activities, including a focus on the reasons for its commercial success and the kinds of audiences it drew. Also included is a 2m44s gallery, plus an insert booklet with an essay by Chris D. largely focusing on Sugimoto (who retired soon after this to become a teacher) and her relationship to other key action heroines of the era including Meiko Kaji. He also isn't a fan of Noda, to put it mildly!

Reviewed on March 6, 2024.