Out of all the directors working at Nikkatsu in the Seventies Yasuharu Hasebe had the hardest time adjusting to the studio’s new policy of cranking out their so-called Roman Porno line of glossy sex films aimed at the mainstream audience. He had been happy enough making stylish action pictures like Black Tight Killers (1966). At first Hasebe sought a compromise by shifting his output to hip softcore parodies of popular action films but after Delinquent Detective: Dirty Mary (1974) - his cracked feminist take-off on Dirty Harry (1971) - proved a costly flop the seemingly embittered director segued into a run of increasingly nihilistic, sadistic and harrowing sexploitation thrillers, e.g. Rape! (1976), Assault! Jack the Ripper (1976) and Rape! 13th Hour (1977). You get the idea. But that is a whole other story, for Hasebe’s first porno action parody, Sengoku rokku hayate no onnatachi was a solid hit not only in Japan but in the United States where it was released as Naked Seven.
That’s right, this is an all-girl softcore sexploitation take-off on Seven Samurai (1954) albeit more on a conceptual level than in plot terms. Eno (Mari Tanaka) leads the Wildcats, a gang of foxy fighting women scavenging weapons and any other valuables off the battlefields in feudal era Japan. They sell their stolen booty to a bandit gang led by a swaggering brute named Taro Tenma (Kenji Kaji), with whom Eno shares a love/hate relationship. Being spectacularly well-endowed, Taro keeps Eno in a state of orgasmic bliss and under his control but is secretly servicing a resentful and ambitious concubine on the side. When Taro mentions his desire for a cache of rifles, Eno and the Wildcats raid the shogun’s armoury simply to show-up the macho bandits. Afterwards they celebrate in bawdy fashion at a small town whereupon vengeful samurai kidnap and a gang rape one of the seven named Nene (Yuri Yamashina). A suitably incensed Eno learns of her friend’s death and that Taro plans to sell the guns back to the samurai rather than aid the oppressed peasants. Aided by her lavender-clad right-hand Yahoi (Sho Munakata) she rides out for revenge.
In the tradition of Seven Samurai a handful of girls make the supreme sacrifice, often succumbing to some form of sexual assault but save for Eno and Yayoi, the lack of distinctive personalities lessens the emotional impact of their deaths. Star Mari Tanaka appeared in Love Hunter (1972) and its two sequels, among the first Nikkatsu Roman Porno films to prove a scandalous success. Co-stars Sho Munakata and Yuri Yamashina were also fixtures of the pink film scene while the film also features an odd cameo from former classical ballerina Genshu Hayanagi, who famously segued into sexploitation as a form of protest against the snooty Japanese Ballet Academy after they reprimanded her for her political activism. In the same year Naked Seven was released, Hanayagi shocked Japan with a scene in Secret Chronicle: She Beast Market (1974) where she smoked a cigarette through her vagina! Here she plays a singing nun, believe it or not, in one of the film’s several off-kilter musical interludes.
Styled like a lurid live action manga, Naked Seven is actually an intriguing dual parody, not only lifts ideas from Akira Kurosawa’s celebrated samurai epic but transplants the driving ethos behind Hasebe’s own seminal Stray Cat Rock: Female Boss (1970) into a feudal setting. Even the gang’s name recalls the earlier five-film series. When a stuffy samurai lord asks why the Wildcats behave in such un-ladylike fashion, they reply “Because we’re gorgeous and cruel!” With sassy attitude and eye-catching outfits combining feudal garb with floral hippie fashions the Wildcats prove an appealingly anarchic, anachronistic ensemble. As an action film, Naked Seven delivers plenty of limb-lopping action with fountains of blood erupting in the hyper-violent vein of Lone Wolf & Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx (1972) while Hasebe crams in the requisite wall-to-wall nudity and titillatingly perverse sex scenes, including one memorable shag-combat sequence with both participants hanging upside down from a tree.
However, the film straddles an uncomfortable line between celebrating these rebellious, free-spirited heroines and chastising their naivety with the worst sort of rank misogyny. The Wildcats may have a take-charge attitude when it comes to sex, including an amusing scene where they admire the large cod-pieces adorning two European envoys before luring them into an orgy, but melt like butter in the face of a macho misogynistic samurai. When Eno finally defies Taro he just laughs and shags her anyway while she weeps uncontrollably in the rather unsettling penultimate scene. Scenes such as when Nene is assaulted on both ends to cries of “talk you cock-sucking whore!” further sour this uneven though often striking combination of ideas and motifs drawn from the chanbara, soft-core porn, crime caper, satire and grand guignol genres. On the flip side Hasebe stresses the camaraderie between the outlaw women via two disarming musical sequences including a sing-along as they escape through the woods then later a mournful reprise sung beside a funeral pyre. He also satirises real-life champagne socialists through the amoral character of Taro who latches onto a radical cause simply so he can make it rich and get laid. Happily the bad guys bite the dust and the survivors ride into the sunset.