Spotlight on Japan: Stray Cat Rock – Wild Jumbo


Stray Cat Rock (Nora neko rokku) films are action films that gained huge but brief popularity in Japan in the early 70’s. They are not connected by any coherent storyline, but instead they all star Meiko Kaji and a few other often recurring actors in tales of youthful rebellion and cool action. The first part, Delinquent Girl Boss (originally Onna banchou), offered an entertaining ride despite clearly being a star vehicle for Akiko Wada and it certainly had its own problems with the low production values. Even though she has no role in the second part, Wild Jumbo (Wairudo janbo), Wada’s influence can be witnessed as old footage from the first film is inserted randomly during the first 15 minutes. However, Wild Jumbo is a clear departure from the first film’s psychedelic mood and gang war related story.

Initially it seems like Wild Jumbo was written with even less planning than its predecessor because it runs around aimlessly for the first 30 minutes. Meiko Kaji’s character hangs around with her gang that is not all-girl this time – instead she is the only woman. They do the same things though: pick fights, wreak havoc and have unadulterated fun. However, that “aimlessness” is there only for the introduction of characters and it serves well as the basis for the actual idea of the film – an ambitious robbery that one of the gang members has been planning. 

When the story reveals its true nature the film becomes a lot more entertaining and more reminiscent of Delinquent Girl Boss. The characters are properly characterized and the narrative is well constructed – which can not be taken for granted with films like these. However, there is one major blunder in the writing that I simply could not enjoy. It’s the outrageously written ending that doesn’t know when to stop the baffling twists and deaths. Some of them are random, but some of them are even inexplainable with the shots that are provided.

Technically Wild Jumbo is more accomplished than the first film. While the cinematography is still shaky and nearly gimmicky, it is very charming and fitting for the film. The poorly lit scenes are still there, but they are significantly fewer this time – in fact, there are moments that make it look like the work of an autuer. The form in general has changed a bit: this time it’s a bit more restrained and not as psychedelic. Everything is shot with clarity and the tricks are saved for the moments that deserve them. The editing works neatly although I found some of the montages a bit … random. Such as the sequence that started when Meiko Kaji started to sing out of the blue.

Essentially Stray Cat Rock films are entertainment. The direction of these films make it easy to simply enjoy anything that happens on screen and Meiko Kaji’s presence always guarantees an interesting experience. Unlike it follower would do later, Wild Jumbo isn’t concerned with serious issues like drugs and racism, instead it’s a fun ride until the end.

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About Oz
A Finnish film buff who has taken a huge interest in language and Japanese cinema. Can be contacted via email (johlauri@hotmail.com), Twitter (@OzymandiasJL) and a Private Message on EvaGeeks (Oz).

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