Zero Woman (Japan 1995)

Rating: **
Review Date: 3/26/00
Alternate Title: Zero Woman: Final Mission (U.S. Title)
Cast: Naoko Iijima

The film that started it all. This fairly respectable film managed to launch an entire franchise of sleazy, low budget, "action porn" videos, spawning at least six sequels as of this writing. It's ironic that the original would be the hardest one to find, and that I'd seen all of the other films prior to seeing this one. To recap the premise of the series - Zero Division is a super secret division of the Japanese police force that deals with underworld crime and cases that are too politically messy for the normal police force to cope with. They also specialize in espionage and assassination. Zero Division consists of a group of highly trained female operatives who work alone and have no knowledge of anyone else in Zero Division except for their chief. In this film, Zero Woman is played by Naoko Iijima, a very pretty, perky, and confident actress. She handles a gun well and likes to strut around in short skirts, which is highly appreciated. Early in the film she's ordered to kill a criminal, leaving his poor daughter an orphan. Zero Woman takes the child to a local orphanage where we meet Yumi, the daughter of a very powerful and respected businessman. Although she's a generous and charitable heroine in the public eye, she also has a taste for S&M and likes to hire young men to torture her. When Zero Woman and her friends witness Yumi killing one of her boy toys, the businessman hires some thugs to take out the witnesses. For about the first fifty minutes the film is pretty good, but then it dives into the all too familiar perversity of Japanese erotic thrillers. Inexplicably, after one of her friends gets killed, Zero Woman strips to her underwear and performs a sexy dance in her apartment. Shortly thereafter, she is captured, thrown in a dungeon, and tortured by a dwarf. Okay... Fortunately, she manages to escape with the aid of her razor sharp Lee press-on nails. She then kidnaps Yumi and tortures her with her newfound torturing skills, but unfortunately Zero Woman winds up being captured and tortured again. She finally manages to kill her captor and decides to take out her anger on the evil businessman who was responsible for the entire mess. But is someone pulling his strings as well?

It's hard to believe that this film inspired all of the horrible sequels that were to follow. The tone is completely different and the sleaze factor is considerably lower. Zero Woman behaves more like a police investigator and the section chief is not nearly as much of an asshole as he is in the later installments. Additionally, the angst and psychological instability of the other films is missing. In this regard, this film more closely resembles the "Metropolitan Police Branch 82" series than it does its successors. For a B-movie it's well made and well acted, and apart from the decadence at the end, it's a fairly decent girls 'n' guns thriller. Of the entire series, this is the only one I can recommend watching.

Notes on the domestic release: Well, it only took seven years, but someone was finally smart enough to get the rights to this film. Ironically, the first film in the series turned out to be the last one released in the States, and the nonsensical domestic title, "Final Mission", is laughable at best. (shouldn't it be called "First Mission?") The fact that Media Blasters secured the rights for the film just barely makes up for their devious and irresponsible handling of "Zero Woman 2" (1995), and the chaos and confusion that followed.