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.