HELL GIRL: Anyone want to revel in teenage shame and humiliation?
American hetero pornography is, most often, a fantasy celebration of exhibitionist sluttiness, itchy whores on their knees, opening their legs, without a moment’s hesitation or a flicker of shame. The primal Japanese porn scenario is different: a sad-faced female is at the center, trembling and virginal, often a “schoolgirl,” and she cries and shrieks as she’s humiliated, penetrated, and soiled. I’m not able to explain this abiding Japanese pleasure in masochistic suffering, but it certainly reappears in a non-pornographic guise in the strange, unhappy anime Hell Girl, a Japanese series dubbed into English and showing on IFC starting this Tuesday, September 30.
Each program is about a kind, vulnerable middle- or high-school student who’s beset by troubles, brought so low and treated so wickedly and unjustly, that there’s no way out, except maybe suicide. Hell Girl dwells in excruciating close-up, as does Japanese porn, on the agony, the distress, the intense psychic pain — and four of the initial five episodes sport attractive young (animated) schoolgirls as their protagonists. Middle-schooler Mayumi is victimized by a pack of bullying mean chicks who make it appear that she’s stolen money and has been going to the bad part of town and cavorting with sordid boys. She is publicly shamed by their sadistic lies — and this is Japan! Teen Ryoko has, for an entire horrid year, been stalked by a cruel policeman. He leaves erotic messages on her e-mail; he breaks into her home and lays a dress on her bed. Ryoko is going mad, but the authorities will do nothing to help her.
All the narratives are the same: innocence unprotected, defiled, defeated. There’s just one slim hope: get to your computer and, at midnight, avail yourself of a weirdo Web site, HellCorrespondence, where you can get help from Hell Girl — but at what a price! A forlorn-eyed, zombie-like teen who resides with her grandmother in the country, Hell Girl hands you a crude straw voodoo doll. Untie the string around the doll’s neck and Hell Girl goes into action. She freaks out your enemy, then ferries him or her to Hell.
A happy ending? Not on your life. If you contract for Hell Girl’s services, you too will end up in Hades when you expire. Damned if you don’t, and truly damned if you do. Why should these poor adolescent-aged kids be faced with such a dilemma? But they are, and each episode ends with the troubling knowledge that the young protagonist is punished for all eternity! Whew! Hell Girl may fly in Japan, but this bummed-out American felt done in after watching the first three pessimistic programs.
But stick around on IFC Tuesdays for The IT Crowd, a British Channel Four series semi-knockoff of The Office, and a very funny one. Deep in the sub-basement of Reynholm Industries (makers of some mysterious product), and led by the usual nincompoop boss, resides the utterly incompetent, indolent tech-service team of Roy (Chris O’Dowd) and Moss (Richard Ayoade). Their lowly job is mostly listening to the banal tech telephone queries of befuddled Luddites. Their standard solution: reboot your computer! This Laurel and Hardy of the geek set try desperately for women, but women want our heroes only to fix their hard drive. So they’re reconciled, Moss especially, to a life of ordering the children’s and the adult versions of Harry Potter and checking for textual variations. It’s a delightfully ditsy farce, and IFC has two seasons of the frothy stuff to show in America.