Sexy Line (Teruo Ishii, 1961)

Eclipse LogoWhen a young journalist is framed for the murder of his fiancé and discovers her secret life as a moonlighting prostitute, he finds unlikely assistance in a thrill-seeking female pickpocket intent on helping him clear his name and entertaining herself while doing so.  Their investigation reveals a secret organization of criminals and call girls serving the sexual demands of senior executives and other powerful Japanese figures.  Shot on city streets amid the bustling crowds of Asakusa and Ginza, Sexy Line is a witty and energetic journey into Tokyo’s licentious underworld.

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Sexy Line commences in a chance encounter that spirals out of control.  Hiroshi Yoshioka (Teruo Yoshida) is stopped by Mayumi (Yôko Mihara), a young woman who quickly strong arms him into walking her to a subway entrance.  She leaves as quickly as she arrives, skipping down into the subway tunnels just before police officers nab Yoshioka who discovers his own wallet missing and replaced with a stolen wallet.  Convinced that Yoshioka is the female pickpocket’s partner, he’s brought into the station.  Hiroshi is eventually let go, but the newspaper he works for is unimpressed with the incident and his director reassigns him to Osaka.  Yoshioka’s fiancé, a typist in his office named Reiko Takigawa (Mako Sanjô returning to the Line series having played the role of an accosted office worker in Yellow Line), is unhappy with these developments and sends Hiroshi back to his boss to plead his case.  Unknown to Hiroshi is Reiko’s after hours occupation as a call girl servicing various business men including her fiance’s director.  She pressures the director to cancel Yoshioka’s reassignment and blackmails some money out of him, but turns up afterwards strangled to death.  Hiroshi is last seen outside of her apartment shortly before her body’s discovery and finds himself on the run, trying to solve Reiko’s murder and prove his innocence.

Sexy LineDistraught over the death his fiance and his role as a murder suspect, Hiroshi wanders Tokyo’s nighttime streets and runs into Mayumi who finds his strange behaviour fascinating and, upon hearing of his dilemma, commits herself to helping him uncover the circumstances of Reiko’s murder, partly to make up for her contribution to his situation and partly out of her own desire for adventure.  They discover that Hiroshi’s wallet is not his own and contains a card for the Croquie Club.  Upon sight of the card, a bartender sets up a date between Yoshioka and one of the club’s prostitutes.  In a hotel room, Hiroshi and Mayumi get more details on the call girl ring from the unsuspecting prostitute and Mayumi takes the hooker’s next assignment, thereby infiltrating the organization that uses a “members only” drawing club as a front and promotes its hookers as nude models for the inspection of its johns.  Through another prostitute named Akiko (Junko Ikeuchi), Yoshioka also makes his way to the drawing club, however his investigation is known to the pimps and criminals waiting there and Hiroshi and Mayumi are captured, restrained in the building’s basement until the girls and johns clear out and the pair can be executed without detection.  Through some clever cooperation, Mayumi and Hiroshi free themselves and lead the chasing gangsters into the hands of waiting police descending on the club, as a detective familiar with Mayumi earlier discovered a note written by her and tossed out the window of the models’ dressing room.

Without Shigeru Amachi present to give the film an edginess offered in Black Line or Yellow Line and with Teruo Yoshida providing his typically effective, if somewhat unremarkable, performance as the male protagonist, much of the responsibility to enliven Sexy Line rests with Yôko Mihara and the actress’s arresting charm is the film’s centrepiece.  Mihara’s Mayumi is bold, playful, and in charge.  So much rests in her posture, standing tall and authoritatively, as if claiming the ground beneath her feet as her own and refusing to yield it anyone, whether by lecherous advance or held at gunpoint.  Yoshioka’s apparent amnesia to his fiancé’s death and his intoxication with Mayumi at the film’s closing scene is almost understandable, as she is unlike any other female character in the film, resembling more a force of nature unto herself.  Sexy Line lacks the same air of dread found in the previous Line series films, playing out more as a light thriller with sinister wit and dark adventure.  The real stars of the film are the streets of Ginza and Asakusa, where Ishii  and cameraman Noboru Yoshida reportedly shot without permits, on the fly, and without attempting to control the bustling crowds.  These street-level views feel exciting and impulsive, buoyed all the more by Hiraoko Seiji’s lively, upbeat jazz score prominently featuring piano and xylophone.  The lightest and most purely amusing of these films, Ishii’s Sexy Line is a charismatic cap on Ishii’s directorial involvement in the Line series.

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