The True Story Of Sukeban: Violent Girl Gangs Of '70s Japan

By | July 16, 2019

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Left: Press photo for 'Criminal Woman: Killing Melody,' 1973. Right: Mari Atsumi in 'Mona Riza Okyo,' 1971. Source:

Violent schoolgirls on the loose, ruthless brawlers in cute outfits, teens with concealed razor blades -- the young female street-gangsters known as sukeban are the most interesting and sensational subculture of post-war Japan. Sukeban caught the public's fascination, becoming not just an obsession of news reports but also fodder for a wave of lurid films -- and the sukeban character type is still an ingredient of comics and animation (manga and anime) today. 

If you don't think you've ever seen a sukeban character -- remember Gogo Yubari, the chain-slinging, sword-swinging schoolgirl from Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. I (2003)? Sukeban.

And don't be misled by the movie posters and stills in this article. The sukeban -- like the pimps and drug dealers who inspired characters in Blaxploitation films of the same era -- were real. Authentic sukeban photos (that aren't actually movie stills) are rare. We're indebted to the blogger for preserving and sourcing these amazing movie poster and press photo scans.

The Rise Of Gangs In Japan

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Left: Lobby card for 'Delinquent Girl Boss: Blossoming Night Dreams,' 1970. Right: Poster for 'Delinquent Girl Boss: Ballad Of Yokohama Hoods,' 1971. Source:

Following Japan's defeat by the Allies in World War II, the country was occupied by U.S. and British troops between 1945 and 1952. The national morale was low, and the population was plagued by alcohol and drug abuse. This environment gave rise to groups of delinquent boys who were closely related to organized crime.

When the male gangs refused to accept female members, the sukeban emerged in the ‘60s and remained a cultural force throughout the ‘70s. The term sukeban literally translates as “girl-boss.” They were a defiant movement, pushing back against expected female behavior and stereotypes, and espousing extreme violence. Originally, the term sukeban only referred to the leader of the gang, but eventually it came to be applied to any member of the gang and by 1972, the public began to call any girl street-gang members sukeban.