Death Ride To Osaka

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From the moment that Brad Fiedel’s synth score plays on the soundtrack you know that Death Ride To Osaka (1983) is something special. The film was helmed by the underrated auteur Jonathan Kaplan who brings a palpable tension to every scene of this made for television thriller. The film is renowned for being sleazy and controversial and the home video version is even more so with scenes of nudity and sexual violence that were censored for TV. The film concerns a would be singer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who gets conned by some Yakuza and finds herself trafficked in Tokyo.

Kaplan’s camera reiterates the sexual tension between audience and performer by having the camera track that gaze, ostensibly putting the viewer right in the middle of the relationship between client and party girl. The gaze of the client and the threat of sexual violence permeates every scene set at the White Orchid nightclub. Kaplan, by putting the viewer in the middle of this complex, reveals the audience’s collective complicity in the images of female objectification.

Beyond the nightclub scenes Kaplan stages the action like a traditional thriller where he starts tight and works his way wider to reveal spacial relationships and the tension between two figures. Kaplan’s staging reiterates the power struggles between Yakuza and party girl with eruptions of violence coming as a kind of catharsis to that tension. It’s a similar strategy as the one Kaplan used so effectively in Over The Edge (1979).

The limitations of the film’s budget that comes with the made for TV territory hardly hamper Kaplan. Even on a modest budget this unsung auteur is able to create a nuanced work of genre cinema. That Kaplan has not been rediscovered is an oversight as all of his works that I have seen have been so effectively made. Death Rides To Osaka is no exception. In fact I would rank Death Rides To Osaka as Kaplan’s second best feature, right behind Over The Edge.