Heroines in sailor suit school uniforms and delinquent female badassery were a high mark in Showa era cinema. Sailor Suit And Machine Gun, Shinji Sowai’s satirical sophomore flick following his 1980 debut with Tonda Couple, proved to be a ubiquitous effort in setting a trend in film and TV that would span decades of fan fervor, even with Arrow Video revamping the film for its own release on Blu-Ray just several years ago.
Thankfully, anyone new to the title and has access to Tubi can at long last check out the film, featuring Japanese idol Hiroko Yakushimaru who stars in the title role, and even sung the film’s title track, which was a chart topper in December of 1981. Based on Jiro Akagawa’s 1978 standalone novel of the same name and written for the screen by Yozo Tanaka, Yakushimaru plays Izumi Hoshi, a school girl suddenly thrust into gangland hierarchy when she learns she’s been named as the next head of the Medaka family, a Yakuza clan on its last legs with only a handful of ride-or-die members currently warring with two other rival clans infringing on their territory.
Introducing other supporting characters like Izumi’s loyal confidant Makoto (Tsunehiko Watase), and the enigmatic Mayumi (Yuki Kazamatsuri), the film journeys into the trenches of Izumi’s chaotic life. It’s an eye-opening exploration into the perks and risks of her newfound role as a young girl vying for the respect of men in a male-dominated criminal millieu, all while mitigating the questions and doubts about her father, his connection to Mayumi, and what her presence could mean as law enforcement leans in. It also means learning a very possible truth about her father’s death, and realizing what must be done when her rivals stake their claim when a missing cache of drugs threatens the remaining members of the Medaka family.
Somai’s second film is a celebrated classic for all the right reasons. It’s a film that perfectly encompasses the vibe of Japan in the 1980s, supplanting itself as a mainstay in Japanese filmic and cultural references for generations to come. I haven’t seen the 2006 TV iteration or the spiritual sequel that arose in 2016, but I’m all the more curious to see how those deliver in the years since Sailor Suit And Machine Gun became the worldwide phenomenon it is today. Grab it on disc, or stream it on Tubi.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.