Before I delve into my review of The Rapeman, perhaps I should shed a little light on its history and source material. The Rapeman is more popular than you’d imagine, and its shocking title and storyline has created its fair share of infamy. But the infamy it initially received came not from the film, but from its original manga source. The Rapeman in its manga form was even infamous enough to be included in an episode of Law and Order: SVU as a piece of evidence used against a young man accused of rape. Created by Keiko Aisaki (who smartly used a pseudonym for the authorial credit), the manga series ran from 1985 to 1992 spawning thirteen volumes. Pitched towards middle-aged men, the manga was somewhat of an erotic comedy and focused on a business called “Rapeman Services”. The “Rapeman” in question is Keisuke Uasake – high school teacher by day and “vigilante” by night. Keisuke – with the help of his uncle who runs the business – rapes women as a form of revenge. He does this dressed as a deranged superhero of sorts – clad in dark clothing and a black mask. Clients come to “Rapeman Services” and pinpoint their target for Keisuke to deliver the business motto of “righting wrongs through penetration.” After the manga’s discontinuation, it spawned a nine-part film series and an anime version.
Please allow some time for the absurd information you just read to sink in…
… okay? Good. Now continue to the review…
1993, Takao Nagaishi
As soon as the opening titles of The Rapeman began, I knew that this film – for better or worse – was not going to be what I expected. Just listen to the song that plays over the opening credits:
It sounds like something you’d hear in a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie of the early 90s or a tacky cop show that was cancelled before it reached the end of a season. And that’s exactly where the true obscenity of The Rapeman lies. The most obnoxious thing about The Rapeman is how not obnoxious it is. It’s a film that seems unaware of how demented its content and concept is – as if rape was a perfectly legitimate form of revenge. The film presents its narrative in an extremely commercial manner. Stylistically, it is cookie cutter. The Rapeman is shot professionally but without flair with a soulless score to go with it. The only change in style occurs in the rape scenes where the footage turns to slow-motion. But the slow-motion is not exactly used creatively and seems only there to dull the graphic nature of these scenes keeping The Rapeman within its mainstream boundaries. But this commercialisation of rape only makes the film more offensive.
The manga series of The Rapeman was apparently “blackly comedic” and I suppose the film follows suit. But “black comedy” is perhaps the wrong label. Black comedy suggests a certain amount of intelligence that The Rapeman in no way possesses. The Rapeman takes its thriller elements fairly seriously and its rape scenes aren’t exactly played for laughs either. But between these scenes, we have moments of goofy comedy usually centered around Keisuke’s uncle or Keisuke being picked on by his high school students. The comedy is loud and broad with more in common with the comedy found in Hong Kong’s Category III sickies than the twisted humour found in some nihilistic Japanese offerings. Take the film’s ending, for instance. The Rapeman ends with a weak bit of comedy that is so stupid, worthless and unfunny that it manages to become hilarious. See below (this doesn’t contain any significant spoilers, in case you were worried):
The above scene brings us to another offensive element found in The Rapeman, and something that kind of defeats the purpose of “Rapeman Services.” Every woman raped by the Rapeman winds up enjoying it. The rape scene is generally followed with a shot of the victim sighing and requesting more or muttering “I loved it.” Whether this be perverted male fantasy or an attempt to lessen the seriousness of the rape scenes, this creepy addition only makes the film more befuddling. So, other than the obviously offensive idea of all women enjoying rape, this leads us to ask: what the hell is the point of “Rapeman Services” and the Rapeman? The Rapeman is supposed to be a vigilante who punishes villainous women by raping them, yet, in the end, he is pleasuring them. Which also brings me to another serious flaw in the Rapeman’s mission (one that adds yet another layer of offensiveness): the Rapeman only rapes women. The villainous men – who are the true antagonists in The Rapeman‘s narrative – don’t get raped and humiliated.
The funniest thing about The Rapeman – and I have to assume this is deliberate – is the heroic presentation of the Rapeman and his uncle. Early in the film, we are told that the Rapeman has set up his raping business in order to raise money for the Sunflower Orphanage. The film reminds of this altruism constantly with scenes of Keisuke, the Rapeman, in tears as he mulls over the money he must raise. All Keisuke and his uncle want to do is help orphans, which, by the way, we never see. Better still, despite the horrific crimes that Keisuke commits, he never really questions his behaviour. Keisuke and his uncle truly believe in the vengeful powers of rape. As the uncle tells Keisuke towards the end of the film, “keep your penis strong” so the raping revenge can continue! And it’s not just “baddies” that the Rapeman assaults. Keisuke rapes a completely innocent woman at one point. He was tricked into it, sure, but the remorse that he shows is minimal.
Yes, The Rapeman is absurd and among the most head-scratching Japanese films I’ve seen. It’s morally repugnant, but entirely unaffecting. Unlike some of the film’s I review for Nihon Nihilism, The Rapeman did not leave me traumatised. Its generic presentation may be what makes it all the more obnoxious, but it also strips it of any lasting power. Instead, The Rapeman leaves me puzzled pushing my understanding of Japanese cinema, and even Japan itself, further into limbo. No other country could get away with a manga series and subsequent adaptations that promote rape as a form of revenge, whether it be presented comically or not. Try and imagine an Americanisation of The Rapeman – a commercial film about a vigilante rapist. I don’t know about you, but my brain shuts down at the thought. All I can say is thank you, Japan. Thank you for once again pulverising my mind.