Color, 1972, 72 mins. 34 secs.
Directed by Seiichirō Yamaguchi
Starring Hidemi Hara, Mari Tanaka, Sumiko Minami, Hajime Mitamura, Kôju Ran
Impulse Pictures (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (!6:9)

The Love Hunterhyperbole runs Love Hunterstrong in the history of this early Roman Porno film from Nikkatsu's softcore erotic cycle, which earned its place in the history books as the last Japanese film prosecuted for obscenity with director Seiichirō Yamaguchi and some studio execs briefly arrested during the eight-year battle to get the film legally cleared. That turn of events was part of a larger, short-lived attempt to crack down on the depraved films that were raking in big bucks at the box office at the time, though of course Nikkatsu would outdo the shock value of this one several hundred times over with later features. That said, you did get some fairly perverse content here during what amounts to an arty, twisted melodrama that erupts into some unexpected moments of feverish sexual mania.

During an afternoon stroll in the autumn woods outside Tokyo while her lover duck hunts nearby, Kyoku (Hara) crosses paths with young college student Kazuo (Tanaka) and his prim and proper girlfriend, Hisako (Tanaka). As it turns out, the bed-hopping Kyoku is having one last sexual hurrah outside the city before marrying a very wealthy man, and she offers the duo a ride back to the city. When Kazuo leaves his wallet behind in the car, Kyoku -- who likes to slip away at night to have flings Love Hunterwith a drag performer named Jun and promise riches from her new marriage -- Love Hunterstarts up an affair with Kazuo, which escalates to the point that she calls him over late at night to ice down her raging hot nether regions. Kyoku's husband gifts her with a beach house where she can spend time cultivating her odd relationship with her mother (Ran), but it also proves to be the perfect weekend spot to invite over the young couple of a Sadean weekend of mind games, debauchery, and moral corruption.

Complete with multiple inappropriate uses of a walking cane, an orgy in front of a big fire pit, overheated tragedy, and a very politically incorrect message in the final scene, Love Hunter is quite the vivid viewing experience with Hara (who sadly only worked for two very prolific years) stealing the show with a performance that feels akin to the unabashed work a young Kathleen Turner would be doing a decade later. The whole film looks gorgeous with a dark, burnished appearance that contrasts nicely with the bursts of depraved activity on screen, and as usual for Nikkatsu sex films of the era, it doesn't wear out its welcome with a short running time that swiftly moves to its outrageous climax. Yamaguchi keeps the real stylistic flourishes sparing and only employs them when really necessary, such as that startling Love Hunternightclub sequence early on, and as a psychodrama it holds together pretty well with the degradation of our two young students escalated plausibly enough on their Love Hunterroad to carnal hell.

Love Hunter was never released in an English-friendly edition of any kind until 2020, when Impulse Pictures issued it as separate Blu-ray and DVD offerings with the lurid theatrical trailer as the sole extra. This marks only the second Nikkatsu film to hit Blu-ray in their catalog following Fairy in a Cage, and again it's such a pleasure watching this in crisp 1080p that it underscores how welcome an upgrade set would be for some of the more notable past titles that only made it to DVD. Colors look wonderfully saturated, film grain seems fine, and the DTS-HD MA Japanese mono track is in good shape with optional English subtitles provided. No real issues here at all apart from a couple of bumpy scene edits inherent to the feature itself, and it's one of the best-looking films in the cycle to hit disc to date.

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Reviewed on August 2, 2020