Go, Go Second Time Virgin
I'm not a big supporter of classic cinema, but there are exceptions to every rule, and so my relentless search for worthwhile classics yielded a handful of exceptions. Koji Wakamatsu's Go, Go Second Time Virgin [Yuke Yuke Nidome no Shojo] is one of those notable anomalies, a film that embodies the cinematic experimentation of the 60s and marries that with Wakamatsu's love for taboo-breaking cinema. I wasn't sure how and if the film would hold up the second time around, but I was glad to find the appeal was still there, and it wasn't just shock value that got me hooked originally.
Wakamatsu is one of the bigger names of the Japanese New Wave, though he's probably also one of its greatest outliers. The man was incredibly prolific, making 5 or more films per year during the most productive part of his career. It's his crossover into pinku territory, mixed with his love for socialist themes and politically-infused rebellion that really sets him apart as a director. It's a crude combination served with very little subtlety, but that rawness is exactly what pulled me to his work. In that specific sense, you may see him as a precursor to someone like Gaspar Noe.
Tread carefully when starting to explore Wakamatsu's work. Many of his films are still completely unavailable in the West, but it's not just his prime work that made it over here. His oeuvre has range and some of his films are purely focused on sex, power structures, and abuse. There's not much info available about most of his films, and some of them are truly rough and unpleasant watches. Then there are films like Go, Go Second Time Virgin, which marry these themes with more poetic vibes and deeper cinematic experimentation, creating a very different experience.
Tsukio is a young, traumatized boy, who roams an apartment building. On the roof, he witnesses the rape of a young girl (Poppo) by a group of delinquents. When they are done with her, the two find comfort in each other's company. It turns out they have suffered the same trauma and both of them are struggling to find reasons to continue living. When the delinquents turn on them again, they decide to stand up against the group and show that they can't be messed with. Their anger drives them to take proper revenge, but even that doesn't relieve them of the emptiness eating them up from the inside.
If you've seen a couple of 60s Wakamatsu films then you may know what to expect from the visuals, otherwise, you're in for a nice surprise. Wakamatsu loves to combine high-contrast black-and-white cinematography with splashes of color (not necessarily following the unwritten b&w-for-flashbacks rule). The framing is a step up from his usual work and the film has lots of striking imagery, without ever feeling overly stylized. If you have a soft spot for the gritty Japanese cyberpunk look of the 80s (think Ishii and Tsukamoto), you'll feel right at home here.
The soundtrack is even more impressive, and I actually found it quite hard to believe this was an OST from the 60s. Wakamatsu's love for jazz music is once again very apparent, but it's the almost Björk-like pop music that really caught me off-guard. It's rare for me to find a classic film where the music adds rather than takes away, but that's exactly what Wakamatsu accomplished here. The poetry in between is also a nice touch, creating a very eclectic but moody soundscape that adds tons of atmosphere. Exemplary and one of the reasons why this film still stands out today.
The performances are no doubt the weakest part of the film. While the central duo isn't too bad, especially in the scenes where they are together, they clearly aren't the most seasoned actors and they struggle to deliver their lines naturally. They do help to bring their characters to life, but ultimately it's Wakamatsu who is doing most of the heavy lifting. The rest of the cast is a step down still, but their parts are extremely limited and their lack of talent doesn't really impact the overall quality of the film. Still, the film would've benefitted from a more talented cast.
The very first scene sports a ruthless rape, and it pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the film. Just remember that it's not all shock and awe and that Wakamatsu does add levels of depth and emotional fragility in between those rawer moments. It's a film with clear highs and lows, but there's no escaping the tougher scenes, so if you can't handle that (or don't care for it) then Go, Go Second Time Virgin will be a tough watch regardless. I absolutely love that contrast though, and when it's handled with so much emotional rage it becomes all the more impressive.
Koji Wakamatsu is one of the leading names of the Japanese New Wave, but his oeuvre may look vast and daunting to people unfamiliar with his work. Go, Go Second Time Virgin isn't an easy watch, but it is a perfect gateway film, showcasing the particularities and the strengths of Wakamatsu as a director without losing his trademark raw energy. The gritty and grainy cinematography and the harsh thematical content contrast superbly with the poetic soundtrack and its emotional core, creating a stylish firecracker of a film. A must-see for fans of Japanese cinema.