Revenge of the Pearl Queen
aka 女真珠王の復讐 aka Onna Shinju-o no Fukushu
Screenplay by Isao Matsumoto and Jun Sagara
Story by Yoshihisa Shimizu
Directed by Toshio Shimura
Revenge of the Pearl Queen is one of the first of the Japanese Topless Pearl Diver films – called ama (woman diver) films by those in the know. These films caused a sensation upon release due to the fact the starlets would whip off their clothes, giving audiences brief glimpses of nudity that was almost impossible to casually come across in 1956. The ama films became the equivalent of the US’s nudie cutie flicks that were filmed on nudist colonies. The ama films tried to compensate for their lack of plot possibilities by combining with other film genres, thus there were pearl diving dramas, action films, and even horror flicks! The ama films began to get phased out when it became more acceptable to have more sexual films in general, and are now just quaint historical artifacts (aside from some throwback films over the years that used the ama theme!)
Revenge of the Pearl Queen stars Michiko Maeda, who is often wearing clothes that get ripped off by the weather or by random jerks. Part of the suspense scenes are the wondering if she will fall out of her low-slung clothing, which she does just enough to keep audiences paying attention and paying to come back to the next several show times.
The island segments are loosely based on the true story of 19 Japanese men on the island of Anatahan after World War II, who did not believe the war was over. There was one woman on the island, and over time several of the men mysteriously disappeared or were found violently murdered as the woman switched her affections around. She escaped on an American ship in 1950, and finally the men left the island in 1951 after being sent a message from the Governor of Kanagawa Prefecture. More information is available here.
Screening as part of a double feature (with Yellow Line) at the Shintoho retrospective, I saw Revenge of the Pearl Queen at the YBCA with duriandave from SoftFilm, as Todd from FourDK had to take off. And that was the best decision Todd made in years! Let’s just say the Pearl Queen’s greatest revenge was how sleepy she made us!
The central plot line involves a corrupt businessman named Asanuma (Susumu Fujita) and his goon Noguchi (Tetsuro Tanba) framing innocent company messenger Kizaki (Ken Utsui of Starman fame!) for robbery and murder of the CEO. Asanuma makes sure everything happens just as he’s going off on a long sea voyage for company business with his assistant Natsuki (Michiko Maeda), who also happens to be Kizaki’s boyfriend. Asanuma tries to force himself upon her, threatening to make her an accomplice to Kizaki’s crimes if she doesn’t. But Natsuki would rather fall into the sea than deal with Paws McRaperape.
As Asanuma manages to rip off her shirt in the struggle, when she washes ashore she’s barely wearing anything. She lands on an island populated by five men who act as if they haven’t seen a woman in years. And they haven’t, as they were trapped on the island for a long while. Natsuki is revived and soon the men begin arguing among themselves over what to do with her. Three of the men are all for raping her, while two men declare they will defend her as they can’t live with doing something awful.
The island sequences are intense, as there is a continual drumbeat and the various men who have been driven mad wear little clothes and are act obsessive and irritated. They fight with the two good inhabitants (older Ishizuka (Saburo Sawai) and younger Yamauchi (Shigeru Amachi)) and then murder each other over who gets Natsuki first. Luckily Yamauchi awakens in time to save her from the eventual winner. The three survivors then live on the island in peace, where Natsuki becomes a skilled diver gathering oysters, which just happen to be jam packed with valuable pearls.
Two years later, Kizaki is still on trial for murder and the verdict is about to be given, and it doesn’t look good. The newspapers announce the arrival of the famous Pearl Queen of America, a Japanese lady who looks identical to Natsuki. Because it is her, undercover, having returned with fabulous wealth and her two friends to try to free her man. Asanuma knows something is wrong and tries to take her out, but things have been set in motion.
Will Natsuki be able to free her beloved? Or will Asanuma and his evil plans win the day? And how many times will her clothes be ripped off before the final credits?
Michiko Maeda is a better actress than you would think for someone hired to run around in the buff. She gives a regal and dignified performance to her office girl character. The various men on the island show the desperation and beginnings of madness that you would expect from a group isolated for so long. The performances are top notch, Revenge of the Pearl Queen fails more in that the plot isn’t that interesting. Outside of the action on the island, things rate only as a mediocre crime film, where the Pearl Queen flies in on her pearls ex machina to help out her boyfriend. Ama films have an important place in history, but Revenge of the Pearl Queen is an artifact more than entertaining cinema.
Rated 3/10 (Minya x3!)
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Some images ganked from this Japanese blog