I mean, a film called Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands, how could you not? And then I learned this 1967 Japanese “pink” movie also goes by the name of Dutch Wife in the Desert, and was originally released as Horror Doll – and was even more intrigued. Having now watched it, as an exercise in curiosity as much as anything else, the surprise is that there’s actually a very good film lurking behind the lurid title(s).
This curio turns out to be the second feature by cult director Atsushi Yamatoya, his first solo effort after working on 1966’s Season of Treason with Kôji Wakamatsu, the bruiser and former yakuza member who went on to make a series of cult shockers with titles like Beast of Lust, Violent Torture and Serial Rape in Locked Rooms.
Sex Doll features the first “queen of pink”, Noriko Tatsumi, just one of several actresses whose breasts are pawed mercilessly for titillation almost from opening shot to end credits, but there is some debate among those who keep the sacred flame as to whether this is a pink film at all. For sure there are plenty of soft-core elements but the doubters do have a point: Sex Doll is really structured like a crime drama and its main focus is hangdog, laconic Shô (Yûichi Minato), a detective in Philip Marlowe mould (he even wears a hat).
After a bleach-bright preamble in which Shô’s bona fides are established out in the desert where he does improbable things with a gun, he’s hired to find the abducted girlfriend of rich man Naka (Masayoshi Nagami). In footage sent to taunt the rich man and watched by Naka and Shô, Sae (Tatsumi) is being repeatedly raped by masked men. Naka looks on, appalled, affronted (this! happening to his property!) but also clearly turned on by the sight of his girl’s naked flesh. He’s not alone. Sae’s father is there too, crawling around on his belly, and is so deranged by grief (or something) that according to Naka he’s playing with a sex doll “day and night”.
So far, so icky. Off Shô heads, on his Marlowe-esque white-knight quest to find the gangster behind the despicable abduction, a man called Kô, en route meeting the sort of femmes fatales you’d expect to find in a story written by Raymond Chandler, except here they’re wearing fewer clothes.
It’s hard boiled, it’s ridiculous, it’s vastly entertaining. Shot in starkly lit black and white, its style is a mix of French New Wave cool and the more hard-bitten “ripped from the headlines” noir of something like Jules Dassin’s 1948 classic The Naked City, which itself was inspired by the lurid grotesquerie of Weegee’s photojournalism.
Onto that base Yamatoya straps more surreal and expressionistic moments. Three gangsters burst through a door. Yamatoya repeats the moment, getting his actors to hold their positions each time as if in freeze frame, three different ways – a crouching tiger, a mantis, a looming Godzilla. At another point Shô walks into a bar to meet Kô, only to find a woman being ravished in front of him. She’s not really there, it’s all in Shô’s imagination.
And later, in an interlude when Shô is being tempted to taste the flesh of a temptress (“Try me, you’ll melt,” she promises), he responds by spanking her. And she counters by singing him a song about keeping his gun well oiled. And he comes back with a ditty of his own, which features the line “My burning dumdum goes flying.”
On through the seedy purlieus Shô stumbles, a jazz soundtrack by the notable Yôsuke Yamashita, then a mere 25-years-old, adding to the freeform feel of this highly experimental drama that’s “pink” enough for even non-Japanese audiences to understand what made the genre so popular.
Absurd, violent, fun, fascinating and brilliantly made, Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands is exactly the sort of film you used to see back-projected on barely taut sheets at early rave/acid house parties. If you were lucky.
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© Steve Morrissey 2021