In the early 1970s, these five films were produced by the legendary Nikkatsu studio over the course of just two years. Their aim was to capitalise on youth culture by serving up heady mixes of rebellious girl gangs, rock 'n' roll, sex and violence. Two talented directors - Yasuharu Hasebe and Toshiya Fujita - fashioned the five films between them. They would go on to help form the basis of what would become known as "pinky violence".

The first film out of the block was Hasebe's 1970 effort DELINQUENT GIRL BOSS. In it, Ako (Akiko Wada) and Mei (Meiko Kaji) are the hard-arsed co-leaders of a girl gang who initially fall foul of a rival boy gang.

Their troubles multiply tenfold when Mei's boyfriend, who's desperate to join a local gangster syndicate, fails to get his boxing pal to throw a fight for the mobsters' financial benefit. He takes a good hiding as a result, and looks set to get killed - until Ako, Mei and their girlfriends turn up to rescue him. From that moment on, gangster boss Hanada (Goro Mutsumi) insists that their cards are marked...

BOSS sets the stall out for these films well, acting as a template for all that is to follow: confused tones that shift from comedy to drama to thriller and back again without warning; sudden forays into musical interludes, often affording Wada the chance to badly mime to songs on nightclub stages; unexpected scenes of violence (in this instance, the blowtorching of one unfortunate woman's breasts ranks as the nastiest moment); Tatsuya Fuji in a supporting role (he of the tiny dick from IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES).

The women are cool and genuinely 'bad ass', dialogue is hard-boiled and the soundtrack is entertainingly cloying of Western music from the time. The coolness extends to the film's visual style too - all split-screens, diffusions and colourful costumes.

The follow-up, the same year's WILD JUMBO, has a generally lighter tone but still manages a hefty amount of violence in-between scenes incorporating nightclub dancing, cartoon speech bubbles appearing on screen and bumbling criminals learning how to fire a pistol.

It concerns a quintet of five hippyish pals known collectively as the Pelican Gang - four lads and a girl (Kaji in a different role to earlier) - who accept a proposition from mysterious female horse-rider Asako (Bunjaku Han) to stage a heist aimed at relieving a religious sect of their savings. Of course, not all goes to plan...

The episodic nature of this film's first half result it meandering along, despite Kaji's agreeable presence and some really nice exterior photography. But, even at only 84 minutes long, it feels too long and filled out with road scenes set to the repetitive strains of mediocre rock music.

There are some embarrassing comic moments here, such as a beach scene where the group drive round and round in a jeep so the male members can bare their backsides (I suppose it gave Fuji some practice in advance of his bare-all performance in the aforementioned SENSES ...). And a cameo appearance from Wada, singing a song at a nightclub again, is so obviously incorporated of unused footage from the preceding film that it makes no sense whatsoever.

Fujita's WILD JUMBO was swiftly followed by SEX HUNTER, which brought Hasebe back to the fore and is only marginally less salacious than it probably sounds.

In it, Kaji is Mako, leader of a girl gang who fall foul of a rival mob by the name of The Eagles.

When one of Mako's girls starts dating handsome Kazuma (Rikiya Yasuoka), this incenses Eagles boss The Baron (Fuji again). You see, he has a problem with people of mixed-race descent. And so, the stage is set for more competently staged hand-to-hand combat scenes, obligatory rape, steely stares from the ever-watchable Kaji, sweaty diatribe from Fuji and the odd bit of rock 'n' roll montages thrown in for good measure.

Into the bargain, we get a sub-plot where Mako and her gang, The Alleycats, help Kazuma track down his sister Megumi (Yuki Arikawa) - and his surprise reaction when she's finally found.

Although filmed back-to-back with JUMBO, the darker tone of this film - with racist undertones, how could it not have? - lend it more gravitas. After BOSS, it remains my favourite of the set.

Hasebe stayed in the director's chair for MACHINE ANIMAL, also from 1970 (evidently a busy year for these guys!). This one muscles in on drug-pushing territory, focusing on a war deserter looking to fund his move from Japan to Sweden via one big drug deal. Assistance comes from Maya's (Kaji once again) gang of street-hip girls. But the rival gangs on the street sound get wind of what's being planned and aren't happy that their turf is getting trod upon.

Cue more pop-art visuals, random forays into dancing, crude violence, Fuji popping up again in another heavily perspiring role, more great jazz fusion psych-rock ... and an expertly executed motorcycle-and-sidecar chase scene which is undeniably cool as fuck.

The series came to a close in 1971 with Fujita's BEAT 71, in which Kaji's character is framed and sent to prison in a stylish precursor to the FEMALE SCORPION series. It doesn't, however, hold a torch to those. Now, of only Arrow could get their hands on them for HD restorations...

The STRAY CAT ROCK films are weird, eclectic bunch. Shot in quick succession on apparent low budgets, they also utilised much of the same casts and crews, therefore looking pretty similar. The effect is at times nullifying: watch them in chronological order and the chances are that you, too, will find BOSS to be the best one. Whether it actually is, I don't know - there's not much to distinguish them in truth.

But they're fun in their own, dated way. I suppose Tarantino's insistent popularisation of 'cool' 70s Asian flicks as diluted the insanity somewhat. But, even so, how can you fail to enjoy films that fuse colourful pop-art styles with psychedelic rock, gleefully incorrect sexual violence, uber-tough female cookies and go-go dancing galore?

Arrow Films Video's 5-disc digipack dual format release (two blu-ray discs, and three DVDs) is limited to just 2,000 copies. Once sold out, my understanding is that the films will be re-released in a DVD-only boxset.

We were provided with the two 50gb dual-layer blu-ray discs for review.

Disc one houses the first three films of the series; disc two is home to the latter two. They all look good in their original 2.35:1 aspect ratios, benefiting from 16x9 enhancement and full 1080p HD mastering. Presented as MPEG4-AVC files, they're taken from prints which do exhibit occasional signs of age - the odd speck here and there - but are otherwise remarkably clean. Blacks look faded on occasion, but overall the colours are solid and detail is fine while natural grain retains an authentic filmic feel to events. Cigarette burns are evident during reel changes but personally I enjoyed that little feature.

Japanese audio is presented in uncompressed PCM mono across the board. I didn't find any glaring issues with any of these tracks, while the newly generated optional English subtitles were well-written and easily readable at all times.

Each disc opens with an animated main menu page. From there, pop-up scene selection menus allow access to the films via 12 chapters apiece.

Extras on disc one are restricted to original trailers for WILD JUMBO and SEX HUNTER. Both are presented in HD and with English subtitles. They run for roughly 3 minutes each.

Over on the second disc, you'll find BEAT '71 and MACHINE ANIMAL (again, in HD) along with three new interviews.

The first, with director Yasuharu Hasebe (DELINQUENT GIRL BOSS, SEX HUNTER and MACHINE ANIMAL), sees the laconic filmmaker ruminating over working with his female cast, how the series was originally planned as a vehicle for Wada, the use of optical effects and his preference for gimmickry such as split-screens, the musical aspects and much more.

Tatsuya Fuji repays Hasebe's kind words in his own interview, along with elaborating on the characters he portrayed across all five films. The highlights are his candid comments on some of his female co-stars.

Yoshio Harada reveals how it was Kaji who originally got him a role in the series, before expanding on his own film career.

These interviews, all in HD and equipped with English subtitles, cover a total of 90 minutes (approximately 30 minutes each) and provide a fascinating accompaniment to the main features.

Finally we get a well-produced, nicely illustrated 28-page collectors' booklet containing a meaty new essay from Japanese film expert Jasper Sharp along with cast/crew credits and notes about the new transfers.

The DVD discs, while not provided for review, contain all of the above content in standard definition across three dual-layer discs.

It's worth pointing out that these discs are encoded to region B (blu-ray) and region 2 (DVD).

Also, if you happen to have stumbled across this collection on the shelves of your local HMV store in early October, take it back: there was a fault with the initial pressing and Arrow recalled the set, putting the official release date back to 27th October 2014.

All in all, Arrow's STRAY CAT ROCK COLLECTION is a solid proposition for fans of these films.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Arrow Video
Region B
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review