When dis­cussing Nikkatsu’s line of “Roman Porno” films from the ‘70s and ‘80s, the 800-pound ele­phant sit­ting in the mid­dle of the room is the way the­se films fre­quent­ly use rape as a com­mer­cial ele­ment. It’s almost always pre­sent­ed in a man­ner designed to tit­il­late, in a styl­ized man­ner that caters to a fetish mind­set rather than the bru­tal real­i­ty of the sub­ject. This will make the­se films unwatch­able for a big seg­ment of the mass view­ing audi­ence. However, it must also be not­ed that the­se films shouldn’t be reject­ed out of hand because they are often act­ed and direct­ed in an art­ful, com­pelling man­ner.

Sexual Assault In A Hotel is an exam­ple of the strange trans­gres­sive-yet-art­ful dual­i­ty that dis­tin­guish­es a lot of Nikkatsu Roman Porno films. The come-on of the title sug­gests a vicious bit of sado-erot­i­ca but the film is actu­al­ly more of a melo­dra­ma. It focus­es on the tense rela­tion­ship between Ryoko (Yuri Yamashita) and Rumiko (Erina Miyai), two for­mer high-school friends who reunite when Ryoko comes to the big city for col­lege. Rumiko has embraced the swing­ing, free-sex urban lifestyle of her home while Ryoko is deeply repressed due to a recent tragedy she won’t dis­cuss.

SAHotel-dvdThis low-key lev­el of dra­ma is dis­rupt­ed by a bru­tal chance encoun­ter with a hotel thief who decides to rape both wom­en. He is killed while escap­ing, caus­ing Ryoko to flash back on the trau­ma that caused her repres­sion. This leads to a bizarre third act in and both wom­en have unusu­al, sex­u­al­ly-charged respons­es to the psy­cho­log­i­cal fall­out of this sit­u­a­tion.

Viewers will be shocked by how dif­fer­ent this film is from what its title sug­gests. Aside from the sex sce­nes, most of the film is devot­ed to a down­beat explo­ration of how two wom­en deal with their approach to desire in a sex­u­al­ly aggres­sive world where men tend to call the shots. Both Yamashita and Miyai give sin­cere, under­stat­ed per­for­mances that live up to the com­plex­i­ty of how the film presents them. Director Koretsugu Kurahara nev­er shies from the sex­ploita­tion ele­ments of their sto­ry but is equal­ly — if not more — inter­est­ed in the dra­mat­ic side of their saga.

The film is also unusu­al in how it deals with male sex­u­al aggres­sion. Men lead the charge for the sex that occurs in the film and the result caters to male fan­tasies in how they are filmed… but those male aggres­sors also most­ly pre­sent­ed as unthink­ing brutes who lack the com­plex­i­ty of the females in the film, thus reduc­ing them to preda­to­ry sex objects that are just there to ful­fill the sto­ry­line. Even the gen­tle lover that Rumiko has is cheat­ing on his wife and ulti­mate­ly just inter­est­ed in his own plea­sure.

There’s a sim­i­lar dual­i­ty in how the title event is pre­sent­ed by Kurahara. He plays it for a sleazy cheap thrill but also treats it as an abstrac­tion: the story’s real pur­pose for this act of vio­lence is — believe it or not — to fur­ther the devel­op­ment of its two hero­ines. The rapist — who is for­got­ten the moment he dies — func­tions as a kind of Freudian boogey­man who exists mere­ly to force the wom­en to con­front the trau­ma sep­a­rat­ing them.

Thus, Sexual Assault In A Hotel is as seedy as the title sug­gests but it is also more com­plex. Whether or not you can deal with its sub­ject mat­ter will depend on your taste and your bound­aries — but there’s more going on here than just sex­ploita­tion.

DVD Notes: This title recent­ly made its U.S. home video debut via a DVD from Impulse Pictures as part of their Nikkatsu Erotic Films Collection. The anamor­phic trans­fer treats the ‘scope imagery and the film’s glossy cin­e­matog­ra­phy style well. The mono Japanese sound­track sounds nice and clear and is pre­sent­ed with English sub­ti­tles. The one extra on the disc is a go-for-the-throat trail­er that plays the sala­cious angles of the film to the hilt. Included in the case are a nice set of lin­er notes from Japanese film expert Jasper Sharp that explore the top­ic of how Nikkatsu films dealt with the sub­ject of rape and also offer infor­ma­tion on the film’s direc­tor.