Freeze Me

Adhering closely to the rape-revenge formula of 1978's notorious I Spit On Your Grave—woman gets gang-raped, woman prays for forgiveness for what she's about to do, woman brutally murders her assailants one by one—Takashi Ishii's Freeze Me occupies the same uneasy realm of "feminist exploitation." Comfortable with the inherent contradictions, Ishii throws all sexual politics to the wind in his highly stylized, fearlessly gratuitous fantasy, an unsettling mix of titillation, morality, victimization, and empowerment. True to his background in adult-horror manga, Ishii casts the petite yet proportionately voluptuous Harumi Inoue as his enigmatic heroine, a Tokyo office drone whose traumatic past comes back to haunt her in more ways than one. Five years before the film opens, three men (each representing a different male stereotype) sexually assaulted Inoue in a small village in northern Japan, and videotaped the entire incident. After fleeing to Tokyo and starting a tenuous new life with sensitive fiancé Shingo Tsurumi, Inoue plays host to a cruel reunion of her three assailants, who have tracked down her apartment and plan to terrorize her individually. To end this excruciating home invasion, she turns the tables on her sadistic visitors and purchases a couple of deep freezers for storage purposes. For most of the film, Ishii expects the audience to accept that Inoue's captivity is more psychological than physical, since she makes few attempts to resist her attackers, who come across more like rude houseguests who have overstayed their welcome. But while the men blackmail Inoue with threats of distributing the videotape and ruining her reputation, her behavior still seems contrived and inexplicable, as exasperating as watching a slasher heroine spend 90 minutes running up flights of stairs. Though mostly banal and deeply unpleasant, Freeze Me improves when Ishii starts to subvert the standard plot and suggest that Inoue's past has fed into her own twisted psychosis. A philosophical cousin to Takashi Miike's Audition, the film boldly confronts female mistreatment and objectification even as it shamelessly indulges in it. In other words, Ishii answers societal double standards with double standards of his own, which makes for a peculiar and maddening collision of purposes.

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