Please Do Disturb: Star of David: Hunting for Beautiful Girls

(WARNING: It’s become common practice in the blogosphere to caution readers of “trigger words” when writing about works dealing with sexual assault. I’m not sure I understand the phenomenon myself, but I will say that if you are sensitive to such phrases, you’ll probably want to skip this entry; there’s a pretty good chance you’ll encounter such trigger words here.)

Wow. Where do I begin with this one? Directed in 1979 by Noribumi Suzuki (perhaps best known for SCHOOL OF THE HOLY BEAST) from Masaaki Sato’s manga–I believe there’s also an anime incarnation, as well–STAR OF DAVID: HUNTING FOR BEAUTIFUL GIRLS tackles some heady themes: man’s capacity for cruelty, nature-verses-nurture, the redemptive strength of religion, and of course the transformative power of rape–all studied through a vicious, fetishized lens with the potential to offend damn near everybody.

Suzuki sets the stage with a disturbing prologue in which a woman is raped by an escaped criminal in front of her husband during a home invasion. Like many such scenes it’s an exercise in power, namely the lack of the husband’s (it’s implied his white-collar, upper middle class status renders him inherently weak) as he’s forced to watch the degradation of his wife, but this is just the beginning, the catalyst. The rape is followed up with a brief montage as the husband takes his bubbling cauldron of newfound emotions out on his wife–further humiliating her by whipping her, trussing her in stylized BDSM restraints, and making her watch as he has sex with his mistress. Whether these actions are the result of impulses awakened during the assault or misdirected rage remain chillingly ambiguous, but in today’s climate it plays as “blaming the victim” taken to a skin-crawling extreme. And it only gets worse from here.

STAR OF DAVID concerns itself with Tatsuya, the young man (now grown) who was conceived during the opening rape scene. Living alone in his late parents’ estate, Tatsuya whiles away his days spending his inheritance and visiting his “sister,” whose innocent friendship is starting to mature . . . and possibly threaten. Tatsuya is obsessed with his biological father, poring over the copious (and detailed) notes left by his adoptive dad, and his obsession is one of curiosity and growing admiration. We learn that he’s fascinated with people of power, specifically the Nazis and those that dropped the A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (especially potent, given its Japanese origins). With plenty of money, privacy, and time to contemplate, Tatsuya sets out on a personal journey to discover his true legacy.

Suffice to say, said journey involves plenty of rape.

Inspired by his heroes, Tatsuya kicks off a series of vignettes in which he exercises his newfound power, starting with his adopted father’s mistress. Tatsuya assaults and humiliates her, but she saves her outrage when she learns she’s been left out of Tatsuya’s estate. Is this a case of severely misplaced priorities? An unsympathetic character showing her greed? Maybe. But how it appears is that rape has either no negative consequence, or is a wonderful gift bestowed upon the victim by the assailant, ended only when Tatsuya messily kills her. And this is no isolated event; it’s practically the theme of the damned movie.

Consider one of Tatsuya’s later victims, an overachieving schoolgirl he sees reciting an essay on television. He abducts and assaults her, keeps her prisoner in his dungeonesque basement, and gradually bends her to his will. After listening to her bemoan her struggles as a top-notch student he lets her go in an uncharacteristic act of charity. When he meets up with her later, he finds her a happy, well-adjusted girl, as if raping and degrading her was the catharsis she needed to relieve her stress. (I heard the Japanese school system is difficult, but goddamn, people.)

Rape as a subject in entertainment is always a tricky proposition, and unless we’re discussing a drama like THE ACCUSED, it can be difficult to defend. (Even when used as a plot point in revenge films such as DEATH WISH or I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, it can come across as crass and exploitive, and good luck explaining why you enjoyed it.) It’s one thing to feature an ugly, brutal sexual assault to set the story in motion, and to make the subsequent actions of the characters more resonant; it’s another to present rape as something that’s ultimately good for women. It goes beyond disturbing and into offensive, and even that may not be a strong enough term.

Worse, Suzuki is clearly a talented director, and his attention to detail and philosophical musings maintain the viewer’s interest in light of such tasteless material. Even during the convoluted yet inevitable third act when Tatsuya reunites with his biological father and shares with him his taste for degradation. (This includes a memorable sequence in which they slather a young girl in butter and subject her to the intrusive tongue of a German shepherd.)

And about that third act. In another inescapable twist of fate Tatsuya gives in to his urges toward his “sister.” Yet despite his desire to humiliate her, he’s unable to sacrifice her innocence and purity to his father. Tatsuya refuses to allow him to rape her; this must be Suzuki’s stance on the film’s central question of man’s innate goodness. (Which, now that I think about it, is a pretty laughable notion for a movie that offers practically no characters with redeeming qualities.)

And how does she respond? Passionate, beautiful, redemptive lovemaking with Tatsuya. All it takes is the loving forgiveness of a subservient woman to wash away one’s sins, apparently, as Tatsuya emerges from their encounter restored. Cured, even.

But alas, a happy ending is not to be. See, his sister has shamed herself by having an incestuous affair with her father. That is her Star of David (or, in the film, a symbol for one’s own shame and lack of self-worth. I bet Jewish film-goers will just love that). So she hangs herself, unable to live with her guilt–though Tatsuya can go on knowing he’s a serial rapist and murderer, and must contemplate the cruelties of man all by his lonesome.

STAR OF DAVID: HUNTING BEAUTIFUL GIRLS has a lot going for it on a technical level (it really is a well-crafted film) with decent performances across the board, and fans of traditional “pinky violence” may find some value in it. But as entertainment it steps over so many lines I don’t know whether to be disgusted or applaud its audacity. A difficult film, to be sure; a rewarding one I leave for you to decide.

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