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The rise of pornography reduced the popularity of softcore sexploitation fare but it didn’t kill it off altogether.  A market remains for sexy films that don’t go the hardcore route and those films usually end up being shot on video and going straight to cable or home video.  This is particularly true in Japan, where there is still a big societal stigma attached to hardcore pornography, and plenty of filmmakers still make “jiggle” fare for appreciative viewers.

Strip Mahjong: Battle Royale is a recent Japanese example of the form.  It was made by Jolly Roger, a low-budget outfit that specializes in wild exploitation quickies that aren’t shy about throwing in some T&A.  In fact, Strip Mahjong is built around the T&A component of the film: the film presents itself as a broadcast of a game show in which four women who have racked up serious mahjong debts are forced to play each other in a tournament-style game.  When they lose a round, they are forced to doff an article of clothing.  When they lose all their clothing, they get bumped off by the host – and this game is designed so only one woman is left standing at the end.

For a project done with simple resources – basically one set and a handful of actors – Strip Mahjong: Battle Royale is pretty ambitious on a conceptual level.  In one fell swoop, it sets out to satirize the outrageous nature of Japanese game shows, Kinji Fukasaku’s popular and influential Battle Royale,  “torture porn” movies and gambling movies.  It also goes for a Troma-esque style of exploitation filmmaking by satirizing the perv-y extremes of Japanese sexploitation cinema while reveling in those same extremes.

How much Strip Mahjong works for you depends on how amusing you find its guttersnipe inventiveness.  It also has some culture-specific elements that will hit different viewers in different ways: for instance, it’s slathered in over-the-top obnoxious comedy of a very distinct Japanese style that you’ll either find goofily amusing or grating.  The film is also leans heavily on the inner workings and rules of mahjong so a lot of the suspense in the game play will be lost on Western viewers.

On the other hand, Strip Mahjong: Battle Royale delivers everything its title promises: all five female leads strip down through the course of the movie and the camera lingers on each detail.  It also throws in a gratuitous lesbian scene and gives the show’s host a breast fondling fetish that he indulges at every opportunity.  Despite its almost gleeful cheapness, the film is skillfully edited and directed and clocks in at a lean 77 minutes.

In short, Strip Mahjong: Battle Royale is sexploitation product, pure and simple, but it has a certain low-rent cleverness and it doesn’t waste any time.  If you’re looking for a racy quickie, this flick has its own kinky sense of personality that distinguishes it amongst the straight-to-video sexploitation pack.

DVD Notes: this film was recently released in the U.S by Danger After Dark.  The anamorphic, interlaced transfer looks as good as the film’s cheap lensing will allow and English subtitles are provided.  The only extra is a reel of trailers for other Danger After Dark releases.