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Japanese Movie Mini Reviews

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I saw that. I do think you will like that set. In fact I would expect that. But since the director is Ishiro Honda on all three, I think you will see certain connections to even the Kaiju films of his from these.

I'm quite sure I'm going to like these films. Read bits about them and they all sound very interesting and really good. Plus, Ishiro Honda directed them so I guess it should be quality material.

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Roman Porno treasure hunt

Apartment Wife: Affair In the Afternoon (Japan, 1971) [VoD] - 1.5/5

The first film in the roman porno series, which continued until 1988 and produced more than 1100 movies. Yakuza film director Shogoro Nishimura was assigned to steer Nikkatsu to new waters. Based on box office, he did fine job. This movie is a dated sex drama focusing on the afternoon (and night time) adventures of a sexually frustrated housewife. As it was intended as an exploitative exploration of the normal Japanese people's sex lives, it probably had more to offer to the Japanese 1970s audiences than modern viewers. Frankly, the film has little going for it other than the curiosity value.

Lusty Sisters (Japan, 1972) [DVD] - 2/5

A passable, but not especially interesting early Roman Porno drama about alienation and social unfits. It follows three sisters, one of which is an office lady, the other a high school delinquent and the third a tavern hostess. The movie has its moments, and it's not overly sleazy save for a few rapes, but director Chusei Sone dealt with a similar theme with more style in Modern Prostitution: Lust Under Uniform (1974). Another comparison point would be the films of Tatsumi Kumashiro.

Wet Lust (Japan, 1972) [VoD] - 2/5

The first Roman Porno film by Tatsumi Kumashiro, sometimes considered the most consistently great Japanese director of all time. Like many of his 1970s films, this one is a realistic sex packed drama about troubled young adults. The story follows a young man who decides to run away with a prostitute. It should be a good film for fans of Kumashiro; personally I've never been too keen on his low key and somewhat anti-stylized approach which focuses on dislikeable real-life losers (although fictive) and throws in a large amount of sex. I prefer his most atypical movies, such as the jaw dropping rock-sleaze piece Rolling on the Road (Oh Women! A Dirty Song) (1981).

August: Scent of Eros (Japan, 1972) [VoD] - 3/5

In the Roman Porno genre the first 5-10 minutes typically a very strong indicator on whether the director has what it takes to make an interesting film. This movie by Toshiya Fujita is an exception. It takes a good while to get moving, which some pretty lame character drama early on. However, once the film relocates to a beach setting and turns into a youth film, the quality goes up. The storyline is about a jewellery shop seller who becomes obsessed with tracking down a teenage thug who robbed her. She follows him to a seaside town where he's hanging out with some kind of youth gang. This is the kind of material that Fujita really excels with: 1970s youngsters, outlaws and hippies.


Female Teacher: Private Life (Japan, 1973) [VoD] - 2/5

The title says it all. This is a rather dated sex melodrama, and one of Noboru Tanaka's first films. It's about a high school teacher who is in a relationship with a young student boy. There's a wonderful scene, in which a nervous boy takes her female classmate to his home, that really echoes Tanaka's talent that later made him possibly Nikkatsu's best director. Otherwise the film is quite underwhelming and suffers from excessive visual censorship.

Sanctuary in the Night (Japan, 1973) [VoD] - 2/5

An unusual premise for a Roman Porno: a fugitive with a bullet in his stomach gets taken in by a small time girl gang. Unfortunately the film isn't half as great as it sound like. Director Keiichi Ozawa was a famed Nikkatsu action specialist, but he helms this movie like a b-grade American grindhouse action flick. It's entertaining in places with a car chase and bloody shootouts - especially the climax where the antihero grabs a machine gun to fight the police - but it's incoherent, relatively nonsensical and not especially stylish.


Gypsy Rose: A Docu-Drama (Japan, 1974) [VoD] - 2.5/5

Shogoro Nishimura was one of those acclaimed yakuza film directors who got dragged into Roman Porno when the studio made the switch. He eventually seemed to lose all his passion and talent when he was churning out one pink film after another. Some of his early work in the genre, such as this, however, show ambition. This is a true story of a half-blooded girl who made her name as an exotic stripper before flushing her life down the toilet and turning into an alcoholic. It's not a bad film, in fact, it's even gripping at times, and resembles the type of true account yakuza films Toei was making at the time. It just features strippers and sex instead of yakuzas and violence, and the execution isn't on par with Toei's gangster films.

Mr. Dilemman: Lunatic for Lust (Japan, 1979) [VoD] - 2/5

A pretty harmless piece of absurdist Roman Porno superhero comedy by Masaru Konuma. The film follows a normal salary man who's having a bad day: first he's ignored by his wife, then his cock slips into a nun's mouth by accident in the train, and finally he is attacked by a kung fu fighter. He then sees a street advertisement for Superman and decides to become a superhero. He wears a mask, dresses in stockings, rides bicycle, and fights evil corporate bosses. The film features some gloriously off-the-wall comedy moments, but in the end its dragged down by excessive sex and uneven execution. Still, it should find its fans.


Kurutta seiyokusha: Shufu o osou! (Japan, 1979) [VoD] - 2.5/5

This small budget serial rapist thriller was produced by an independent company but released in the Roman Porno series. It's a surprisingly mean, and in parts energetic, grindhouse type film following a rapist just released from prison and trying to fight his animalistic raping desires. It's an interesting b-movie premise, and at times the execution is thrilling, especially the aggressive use of horror movie -like music and some glorious "evil acting". Ultimately, however, the film struggles to keep the level up between the highlights. Furthermore, all of the film's actresses are oddly unattractive. Nevertheless, the film packs more punch that many of Nikatsu's bigger budgeted in-house productions and certainly has its trash appeal. Violent pink fans may want to take a look.


Love Daydream (Japan, 1980) [VoD] - 2/5

A cute but mentally disturbed girl becomes insanely jealous of her father's new lover and decides to destroy her life. This is an odd mixture of early 70s style Nikkatsu youth cinema with yachts and beaches, psycho drama, and roman porno. It has its moments, but it doesn't quite convince as a serious movie. It's also a starring vehicle for pop star Yoko Hatanaka, whose brief mainstream popularity (since 1978) had already expired. She recorded a wonderful

'Front the Front, From the Back' for this film. The same song was re-used in another film later the same year, titled 'Front the Front, From the Back. Koyu Ohara direced both.

From the Front, From the Back (Japan, 1980) [VoD] - 2/5

Biker gangs and bad girls in the night. This project was most likely inspired by Sogo Ishii's biker classic Crazy Thunder Road, which came out earlier the same year. Make no mistake, though, this film would've been made anyway since it's yet another starring vehicle for pop star Yoko Hatanaka, but it would probably have looked a bit different without Ishii's influence. Like with many other Koyu Ohara films, one gets the feeling it could be much better had the director bothered to put more effort into it. All of his movies feature good scenes, but few can retain the high level throughout the film. This one has some nice biker scenes and music, but the storyline and characters are pretty worthless, not to mention some dull sex scenes.


Woman's Trail: Wet Path (Japan, 1980) [VoD] - 3.5/5

A good example of the late 1970s Roman Porno movement which, for a few years, tried to push part of the genre to the mainstream market. This film is a melancholic road movie following a man (slightly chubby singer/songwriter Kan Mikami) wandering around snowy seaside towns after failing to "save" his stripper girlfriend from her husband. It's a slowly paced movie with quiet performances, beautiful score and a lyrical sense of time passing as the landscapes roll in the background. The film is also notable for how the characters are very normal looking, often middle aged people, as opposed to typical movie heroes and beauties. The low key approach does make it a bit less spectacular than some other movies in the genre, and it could certainly use a better ending, but it's a good film; very much a slow-burner.


Seiko's Juicy Thighs: Zoom Up (Japan, 1982) [VoD] - 2/5

Leave it up to Koyu Ohara to deliver an upskirt-photography-love-story-showbiz-parody. Shy loser Toshihiko is obsessed with cute college girl Seiko and keeps snapping panty shots of her (he imagines that will somehow make her fall in love with him). This is yet another silly pop cinema romp by Ohara. It's kinda cute a times and uses pop music frequently, but the screenplay is pretty worthless and there's loads on boring sex scenes that Ohara doesn't put any effort into. The lead characters are named after two popular singers, Toshiro Tahara and Seiko, who were rumoured to be dating at the time.

Jealousy Game (Japan, 1982) [VoD] - 3.5/5

Mainstream director Yoichi Higashi ended up in the Roman Porno catalogue via co-productions. This relationship study could've been an Art Theatre Guild film just as well, and features less sex than many mainstream films. It's a about a couple on a motorcycle trip in Hokkaido. After a heated argument the wife hitches a ride with another guy who has just been left by his manipulative young girlfriend. The husband then picks up this girl without realizing what he's getting into. It's a very well acted movie with good characters. Both leads are made somewhat passive victims of the circumstances to avoid the usual simplistic jealousy/revenge clichés, and the title refers mainly to the supporting characters. But the film's real identity is as a road movie: almost the entire film is spend riding through the highways of Hokkaido on a Harley Davidson. Only if the screenplay didn't rely so much on chance - some of the dramatic encounters are completely against odds - the film would be even better.


Young Girls' Holding Cell (Japan, 1982) [VoD] - 2.5/5

Director Yoshihiro Kawasaki and writer Takuya Nishioka must have been proud of themselves when they came up with an idea to combine high school girls and women in prison movies. The winning idea was to disregard all logic and make a high school flick where the teachers act just like evil prison guards. There are even cells reserved for bad students - indeed, the film was probably shot in the left-over sets of an earlier WiP movie. It's a silly film, but a relatively entertaining one. The prison stuff only lasts for a while, after that it turns into an early 80s idol film derivative with added sex. Not too different from some of Koyu Ohara's films. Stars Jun Miho, who was Nikkatsu's cutest actress, but needed a good director to get the best out of her. Here she doesn't get one. Kawasaki is more keen on the audio-visual delivery.

Girl and the Wooden Horse Torture (Japan, 1982) [VoD] - 3.5/5

Between 1974 and 1988 Nikkatsu produced nearly 40 adaptations from SM author Oniroku Dan's novels. Most of them were intellectually underwhelming, morally questionable, and tiresome at best. But what would happen if one of the best Japanese screenwriters of the 1980s, Takashi Ishii, adapted a Dan novel and handed it to first time director Fumihiko Kato, who later became known for his atypical Dan films?

Despite the misleading title, this movie bears all the trademarks of Ishii's psychological erotic thrillers and could be an SM-oriented entry in the Angel Guts series. The protagonists are Nami and Muraki: a bullied high school girl and her terminally ill teacher. The opening scene sees Nami saved from violent delinquents by her teacher, who however then collapses in front of her. She leaves him there. The experience haunts her in her dreams, which begin to merge with reality. Years later they meet again after Muraki has been fired and has hit the rock bottom. The film never loses its psychological tension, even though the prolonged SM finale - and a few other bits - may be a bit much for the casual viewers. The overly simplistic Oniroku Dan conventions are nowhere to be found. The film also looks pretty good with the usual urban and occasionally surreal Ishii imagery.


Gemini Woman (Japan, 1984) [VoD] - 1/5

The late 1970s saw the end of Japanese action and exploitation cinema as it had existed until then. The studio system that had been churning out cheap but enjoyable trash came to an end, and studios begun to focus on dramas and more expensive productions. Many of them were geared at female audiences. Nikkatsu was the only major studio that still kept making shameless exploitation, but even they were affected. Gemini Woman is a case in point. Take the roman porno genre, extend the running time to 91 min, add television drama level human relationship story with some kind of suspense element, deduct anything that might be interesting, and then pretend it's serious cinema. Zzzzz.

Mijukuna kahanshin (Japan, 1984) [VoD] - 1/5

Director Nobuyuki Saito's second movie, Woman of the Afternoon: Incite! (1979), was a stylish genre blender and a minor cult classic. Somehow, almost nothing he ever did after that seemed to come even close to it. This is a very sweet romantic comedy about a high school girl and her boyfriend who is struggling to get it up. Unfortunately it's directed without any kind of energy, originality or style. Lead girl Kotomi Aoki has a cute face, but isn't much of an actress.

Akai Campus: Kurutta hokago (1984) [VoD] - 1/5

A violent macho man acting like an asshole at home becomes a bullied wimp at work when his delinquent students make his life hell. What does he learn? Nothing! Throw in tons of sex, deduct all style, and call it a movie. What was director Koyu Ohara thinking?

Female Leopard (Japan, 1985) [VoD] - 1.5/5

This was intended as some sort of super-charged erotic mystery. A rich student girl returns from USA to her gorgeous family mansion in Japan and discovers her beloved brother is secretly organizing Eyes Wide Shut style orgies, 80s style. Director Koyu Ohara manages a couple of stylish scenes with slow motion and cool music, but otherwise this is little more than an overdose of the worst 80s Japanese aesthetics. Expect lots of suits, masks and immoral rich people. Despite it being a mystery thriller, there is very little mystery to it.

Last Cabaret (Japan, 1988) [VoD] - 2/5

This was one of the last roman porno films and was intended as an allegory for the studio's demise. The storyline is about the last days of a cabaret that is forced to close down. It's not a terrible film but there isn't anything special about it either, the allegory aside. It resembles mainstream 1980s dramas for the most part, which isn't necessarily a positive thing. Furthermore, the film's female lead Miyuki Kato, who spends half of the movie in a high school uniform, looks disturbingly young. She was 19 at the time, but had the face of a 15 year old. She 's cute as buttons and would've been perfect for an idol film, but in a Nikkatsu flick she makes the audience (hopefully) feel a bit uneasy. Nothing new for director Shusuke Kaneko (Death Note), whose early films often featured lolita characters.

Exotic Mask in Hell (Japan, 1988) [VoD] - 3/5

Here's a surprisingly good and atmospheric late Roman Porno. It's based on a Oniroku Dan SM novel, but directed by Fumihiko Kato who is known for atypical Dan adaptations. The film follows a young woman who travels to a small village in the mountains only to discover something strange is going on. Director Kato seems to be influenced by traditional Japanese horror tales and even occult horror movies. He makes a good use of beautiful images, including sunsets, cherry trees, and devilish masks. Unfortunately when the bondage begins the film takes a few steps back in style and originality. Still, it's much better than most films of its kind and can be recommended even to non-genre fans to some extent.


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Your posts always make for a great read Takuma, but damn, out of 22 movies only 5 of them scored a 3 or above....you've obviously been torturing yourself a lot of late, time to watch some good movies!

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Your posts always make for a great read Takuma, but damn, out of 22 movies only 5 of them scored a 3 or above....you've obviously been torturing yourself a lot of late, time to watch some good movies!

Yup, sounds like one of the worst batch of movies Takuma has reviewed. :squigglemouth:

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Your posts always make for a great read Takuma, but damn, out of 22 movies only 5 of them scored a 3 or above....you've obviously been torturing yourself a lot of late, time to watch some good movies!


I think I've found most of what's worth finding in the roman porno catalogue. I've seen almost 200 films now. It's difficult to find the gems when you're looking for movies which excel in terms of story and style, rather than sex. I must be the only pink film fan who often fast forwards the sex scenes and watches the story scenes instead :tongue:

Obviously most fans of the genre don't see it that way, and some of the literature on the genre is highly misleading, too. Many writers quote Thomas Weisser's Sex Film bible, but he actually hasn't seen most of the films he reviews (even though he gives them a rating). Consequently the book is full of all kind of fairytales.

And then there's the thing called "opinions". For example Japanese critics love Tatsumi Kumashiro, and that's a perfectly valid opinion, but I've always found most of his films to be a bore...

However, it is very rewarding when you find something cool and surprising in the genre. A lot of the movies I reviewed lost some points because of excessive sex, so if I gave it a 3.5 it was probably worthy of 4 for the most of the time.

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Gamera vs Jiger (1970)

The sixth movie in the series, and much like the previous two, it's centered on a pair of relatively likeable and very smart young boys (again, a Japanese one and an American one - guess Daiei wanted their movies to have an audience in America too) - kinda bugs me how stupid and narrow-minded the grownups are in these movies, but I guess the two leads are supposed to reflect the movie's target audience (which would explain why the older sister constantly seems to disagree with her brother or to try to ruin his fun).

This film is much better than its predecessor (Gamera vs Guiron, which I liked but found a bit bland, in spite of the creativity involved when it comes to the alternative planet), with likeable leads (maybe the sisters of the two protagonists are a bit obnoxious, but the two kids and the father of the Japanese kid are very enjoyable - the dad is played by Kon Ohmura, the guy who plays the funny cop in Gamera vs Guiron BTW) and a subplot involving travelling inside Gamera's body to cure him when Jiger infects him with a parasite - now that is something I say saves the second part because the first part was focused on a very "deja vu" story: artifact taken away from some remote island -> giant monster breaks loose and starts wreaking havoc all the way to Japan.

Jiger isn't that great as far as design goes (he/she isn't that bad and I like his dinosaur-like appearance, but compared to the WTF stuff we've seen before - talking squids from outer space and a knife-nosed monster that cuts everything it sees - he/she seems very tame), but he/she is a very strong opponent to Gamera.

The movie is also interesting (talking of a cultural POV) in that it also deals with the Expo '70 world fair that took place in Osaka in 1970, so you get a bit of promotion for this event in the film with various pavillions shown and a narration giving details on the event.

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Gamera vs Jiger (1970)

The sixth movie in the series, and much like the previous two, it's centered on a pair of relatively likeable and very smart young boys (again, a Japanese one and an American one - guess Daiei wanted their movies to have an audience in America too) - kinda bugs me how stupid and narrow-minded the grownups are in these movies, but I guess the two leads are supposed to reflect the movie's target audience (which would explain why the older sister constantly seems to disagree with her brother or to try to ruin his fun).

This film is much better than its predecessor (Gamera vs Guiron, which I liked but found a bit bland, in spite of the creativity involved when it comes to the alternative planet), with likeable leads (maybe the sisters of the two protagonists are a bit obnoxious, but the two kids and the father of the Japanese kid are very enjoyable - the dad is played by Kon Ohmura, the guy who plays the funny cop in Gamera vs Guiron BTW) and a subplot involving travelling inside Gamera's body to cure him when Jiger infects him with a parasite - now that is something I say saves the second part because the first part was focused on a very "deja vu" story: artifact taken away from some remote island -> giant monster breaks loose and starts wreaking havoc all the way to Japan.

Jiger isn't that great as far as design goes (he/she isn't that bad and I like his dinosaur-like appearance, but compared to the WTF stuff we've seen before - talking squids from outer space and a knife-nosed monster that cuts everything it sees - he/she seems very tame), but he/she is a very strong opponent to Gamera.

The movie is also interesting (talking of a cultural POV) in that it also deals with the Expo '70 world fair that took place in Osaka in 1970, so you get a bit of promotion for this event in the film with various pavillions shown and a narration giving details on the event.

The elephant bit is gross...

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Some of this stuff is from last year... seems like I never posted it before...

Crazed Fruit (Japan, 1956) [DVD] - 3/5

The seminal Sun Tribe film that defined the rebellious Japanese post-war generation, caused a moral panic, and launched its controversial writer Shintaro Ishihara and his actor brother Yujiro Ishihara to stardom. To be precise, however, what the film really did was depict the mindscape and rebellious dreams of the mid-50s Japanese youth than their reality (which lacked the motor boats and fine clubs), and that's probably why it was so popular and feared. Ishihara co-stars as rich kid who falls in love with the same girl (Mie Kitahara) as his innocent little brother (Masahiko Tsugawa). The film has stylish and energetic first and third acts, but the middle part tends to get a bit less than engaging with its now-predictable story.

Three Outlaw Samurai (Japan, 1964) [35mm] - 4/5

Hideo Gosha's debut film is a terrific samurai movie of a bunch of ronin who decide to take sides with local farmers who have kidnapped a corrupt official's daughter. It an exploration of honour and greed, an entertaining film but with a darker edge than usual for the time, starting from the Japanese title, which translates somewhat like "Three Samurai Dogs". Chang Cheh directed an inferior Hong Kong remake The Magnificent Trio, which, true to its title, made its characters cleaner and more heroic.


Abashiri Prison (Japan, 1965) [DVD] – 3/5

The first film in what is probably the most beloved yakuza film series of all time. Ken Takakura stars as tough guy sent to the Abashiri Prison, which is populated by Toei’s regular yakuza films stars (Toru Abe, Kajuro Arashi, Kunie Tanaka etc.). The opening half isn't that special, but after that the film takes off when it transforms into an exhilarating chase set in the beautiful and cold Hokkaido locations. Solid cinematography and well used ninkyo elements (although it's not really a ninkyo series) also contribute to the success. The series ran a total of 18 instalments, the first 10 of them helmed by Teruo Ishii.


Abashiri Prison 2 (Japan, 1965) [DVD] - 1.5/5

An uninspired routine sequel only made to cash in on the success of the original. The first film was an entertaining action flick set in the snowy Hokkaido winter; this sequel misses the cool for being filmed during summer. There are no prison scenes either; the shabby storyline follows Takakura and others ex-cons as free men. They soon get involved a with diamond theft. The series theme song by Takakura is the film's only highlight.

Jigoku no okite ni asu wa nai (Japan, 1966) [DVD] - 2.5/5

A passable but underwhelming modern day yakuza film with ninkyo themes. Takakura plays a yakuza who was taken in by a gang boss when he was a small boy. Now the rival gang is trying to make him join them. A bit surprisingly the film is at its best in romantic scenes between Takakura and the female lead. There's plenty of beautiful location photography in the film's seaside setting, and fantastic tragic ending. As a gangster movie, however, the film is unoriginal and largely uninspired. The storyline lacks interest and the supporting characters, who receive too much screen time, are nothing but fillers.

Cash Calls Hell (Japan, 1966) [35mm] - 4/5

Hideo Gosha took a small break from directing samurai films to make this excellent noir. Tatsuya Nakadai stars as an inmate with no future. As he's about to be released he accepts a job to find and kill three men, with no questions asked. He tracks down the first man, but then someone takes the target out before him. A small gem featuring some truly beautiful shots and magnificent ending.


Boss in Jail (Gokuchu no kaoyaku) (Japan, 1968) [DVD] – 2.5/5

Ken Takakura plays a gangster who is sent to prison not once, not twice but three times during the course of the film. Subsequently, most of the film takes place in the slammer. This is a rather mediocre modern day yakuza film by talented filmmakers. There are some stylish drama scenes set in the 1960s Japan, especially those with Junko Fuji as the boss' daughter, and of course a theme song by Takakura, most of the film consists or humoristic and unoriginal prison scenes.

Goyokin (Japan, 1969) [35mm] - 4.5/5 (Theater experience: 6/5!)

An absolutely breathtaking samurai film shot in epic winter locations in Shimokita Peninsula. The cold was too much for the original co-star Toshiro Mifune, who dropped out and was replaced by Kinnosuke Nakamura. Tatsuya Nakadai stars as a silent swordsman with a dark past. It's certainly got a spaghetti western vibe to it, with The Great Silence (1968) being the closest companion, but comparisons do no justice to the film's terrific mix of realism, great characterization and lyrical beauty that comes out fresh and breezy. One of Hideo Gosha's best films.

And holy shit this was amazing on Shin Bungeiza's big screen! Pristine print too!


Brutal Tales of Chivalry 8 (Japan, 1971) [DVD] – 2.5/5

Young gangster (Hiroki Matsukata) and his sister try to escape their ruthless boss who has laid his eye on her. The boss sends four men after them, lead by Ken Takakura, who is torn between his obligation and humanity. This is yet another late entry in the hugely popular 1960s ninkyo yakuza genre which inspected the themes of honor, obligation and friendship between men. Some unfit comedic scenes and lesser-than-usual studio sets aside it’s a pretty functional but unremarkable genre film. One can’t help but to feel that by 1971 old school yakuza films had already passed their prime.

Decapitation of an Evil Woman (1977) [DVD] - 3/5

Director Yuji Makiguchi's resume, especially as the director of Shogun's Sadism, has perhaps given this period piece a false reputation as violent exploitation film - something that Toei's wildly exaggerated poster art with a topless woman trying to escape the decapitator's sword hasn't helped to change. In the film, she's actually fully clothed in that scene. The "true story" is actually a semi-comedic road movie following four outlaws - two men and two women - trying to escape the long arm of the law. It's a pretty well paced, entertaining and laidback mix of crime film and romance, all set to a groovy score, and impossible to take too seriously. The film's R-18 rating is somewhat a mystery: there are only a couple of bits of graphic violence plus some mild sex scenes.

The Battle Cats (Japan, 2008) [DVD] - 1.5/5

An early straight to DVD feature by the director of the far superior Aru hi mori no naka (2014). It's about a school girl and man in catsuit who are fighting evil invaders from outer space, including a space kappa! There's plenty of old school special effects, including lots of miniature work, but the film is otherwise amateurish and suffers from the typical post-modern "let's do something intentionally stupid" syndrome.


Misono Universe (Japan, 2015) [DCP] - 3/5

Nobuhiro Yamashita is one of the few Japanese indie favourites who never lost their distinctive style even after going mainstream. In fact, he appears to be unable to make a bad movie. Misono Universe is a pure crown pleaser on the surface - a gangster with a memory loss becomes a pop star after he is taken in by a small band - but Yamashita helms it with his usual deadpan humour, slow pace and attention to detail. He does a lot of small things against mainstream norms, e.g. the short beating in the beginning leaves the protagonist's face scarred for the rest of the film. As a whole, however, probably due to the script penned by Tomoe Kanno instead of Kosuke Mukai, the film is not a good as Yamashita's other movies. Pop star Subaru Shibutani is decent in the lead role, but it's the hugely talented Fumi Nikaido who is the real star of the film. Her acting is such a pleasure to follow even in scenes where supposedly nothing is happening.

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Yubari 2015

Makeup Room (Japan, 2015) [Yubari Fanta] - 4/5

This year's Yubari Grand Prix went to AV veteran Kei Morikawa, whose resume contains more than a 1000 porn films. Makeup Room, one of his first mainstream releases, is an utterly hilarious look behind the scenes of a porn shoot. The movie, which takes place entirely in one room, follows a makeup artist who is trying to prepare the female stars on time for the shoot that is taking place in the next room. However, the day escalates into an apocalyptic farce when everything imaginable goes wrong. Lead star Aki Morita aside, the cast is made up of real AV stars. It's a very funny, well made film that gets funnier scene by scene. And yes, there's boobs. From the typically cynical Western perspective, however, it is surprising how the AV industry is presented in a very positive light: chaotic shoots aside, people are nice and working is rather fun. Director Morikawa said he never even dreamed of winning the main price, let alone international recognition. That's exactly what the film is now heading for with UK's Third Window Films prepping it for UK release and pushing it to international film festivals.

Mizo (South-Korea, 2014) [Yubari Fanta] - 1.5/5

A young hooker comes to town looking for her parents who dumped her in the trash as a baby. She starts working for a local pimp until a maniac ex-cop claims her as his personal rape toy. Might one of these two gentlemen be her father? Perhaps. Add tons of rapes, violence, ultra-cruelty, a close-up of an erect penis, and even a bit of cannibalism, and pretend it's a poignant drama. The film is a far cry from the likes of Kim Ki-duk, Park Chan-wook or Kim Ji-woon, who have dealt with similarly dark topics with tons of style and skill. Mizo feels merely amateurish, and in places, unintentionally comical.

Haman (Japan, 2015) [Yubari Fanta] - 3.5/5

A high school girl's first sexual experience comes to an abrupt end when the teeth in her vagina bite the boyfriend's dick off. It's not exactly a sophisticated premise, but debut director Tetsuya Okabe (former AD for Miike and Nishimura) has a few surprises in his back pocket. Not only is the film pretty well acted, it is actually a moody, melancholic horror drama about a lonely girl who cannot control her body and knows she can never fall in love without endangering other people's lives. The film never falls for idiotic post modernism or humour, nor does it contain any kind of vengeance / slasher element. On the minus side, the film's CGI blood is absolutely atrocious.


Use the Eyeballs! (Japan, 2015) [Yubari Fanta] - 3/5

2015 was the 4th year in the row Naoya Tashiro has had his new film screened in Yubari. Most of his earlier works (e.g. Naked Sister, 2013) were amusing short movies. Use the Eyeballs is his first movie to be shown in the competition series. It's also his first not to feature any kind of horror or splatter elements. In fact, it's a bizarre love comedy about a bullied schoolboy Kotaro. His problem is the eyeballs - not the normal pair, but the additional pair that pops up from his nose whenever he gets nervous. Needless to say, girls usually run away screaming. Tashiro is a fanboy director whose films are full of references (e.g. Kotaro gets self-confidence by watching The Toxic Avenger on VHS) and insider jokes. There's also an amazing cameo at the end of the film. It's by no means great cinema, and some of the jokes miss the target (e.g. Tokyo Tribe parody), but it's pretty fun and oddly sympathetic overall. Supporting roles are full of familiar faces like Eihi Shiina (mom) and Asami (evil office ninja).

The Limit of Sleeping Beauty (Japan, 2014) [Yubari Fanta] - 3/5

Here's a director to keep an eye on. The 23 year old Ken Ninomiya has already made quite a few interesting short and feature films, some of which have played on international film festivals. This medium length movie challenges Tsukamoto, Aronofsky and Alex de la Inglesias, and although it ultimately falls short, it's amazing how Nimomiya has managed a film that is technically better looking than anything Tsukamoto has done in more than a decade. The film's main problem is the lack of originality: a 29 year old actress-wannabe stuck as circus assistant and losing her mind (add hallucinations, pills of all colours, and mad clowns) isn't exactly an original premise to anyone who is familiar with the works of the fore mentioned directors. But the film does look - and sound - stunningly good a lot of the time.

Control of Violence (Japan, 2015) [Yubari Fanta] - 2/5

Takahiro Ishihara has created a small franchise of yakuza/violence indie dramas: Violence P.M. (2011), Osaka Violence (2012), Snake of Violence (2013) and now Control of Violence (2015). The latest unfortunately feels like a step down from the slightly larger budgeted Snake of Violence which starred Tak Sakaguchi. In Control of Violence ex-yakuza (Arata Yamanaka) is suspected of killing local gangsters until it turns out there's a new player in town: a mysterious yakuza hating stranger (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) who is gathering a lynch gang to take out as many yakuza as possible. The B&W shot film feels a bit amateurish, from visuals to dialogue. It gains momentum as the violence begins, and Ishihara once again makes good use of the Osaka locations; however, the failure ending manages to undo a lot of what the film had accomplished by then.

Kim (Fuzakerun ja neyo) (Japan, 2014) [Yubari Fanta] - 4/5

A terrific, hard hitting and intelligent medium-length film by film school student Shunpei Shimizu, who proves to be a more competent director than most mainstream professionals. The film follows an injured boxer who hates Zainichi Koreans, whom he feels are exploiting the Japanese society and giving him a bad name - even though he's the worst type of Zainichi himself. Unable to fight in the ring, he vents his frustration on the streets by beating people and burns his social welfare money on a housewife-gone-part-time-prostitute who is dreaming of better life. It's a thought provoking, technically competent, and uncompromising film. Shinya Tsukamoto's Tokyo Fist comes to mind a few times; however, Shimizu refuses the over-the-top antics of Tsukamoto and goes for utter, yet intelligent, bleakness. There is neither happy ending nor epic downfall waiting for its sad anti-hero.


The Maidroid (South-Korea, 2015) [Yubari Fanta] - 3/5

Here's a Korean otaku fantasy that doesn't try to hide its Japanese influences. A normal guy receives a mysterious package which contains a maid droid which looks just like a Japanese AV star (but of course, she's played by the Japanese AV gone mainstream star Aino Kishi). It's only intended for housework, but, well, you can guess what happens. It's a relatively fun, romantic and light hearted erotic comedy. Director Noh Jin-soo has openly admitted his influences, stating he loves Japanese pink cinema and wanted to do something similar in Korea. On the minus side, the film lacks any originality and features a pretty terrible score that constantly underlines what's happening on screen. The film was shot in 60 hours because of Kishi's schedule. She's alright in the film, but not comparable to her excellent performance in the romantic comedy Rubbers (2010). Overall, the film is pretty decent fun for boys dreaming of their own maid droid.

The End of the World and the Cat's Disappearance (Japan, 2014) [Yubari Fanta] - 2/5

The world's food supplies have been contaminated in a mysterious accident in 2011 (read: Fukushima). Tokyo has become a wasteland. Cats have disappeared. Young people have cute little mutations, like cat tails. And an asteroid is about to end it all soon. Despite the sci-fi premise, this is an in and out idol film created for its star Izukoneko via crowd funding. Her popularity has more to do with her anime-like idol act and all things cat, than her singing voice. The movie is a bit like that, too. Izukoneko is surely one of the most huggable creatures on earth, and the film looks pretty lovely at times, but it's just doesn't have much else going for it. It's neither especially stylish nor too energetic. Fans of Izukoneko shouldn't be complaining, though.

Luv Ya Hun! (Watashitachi no haa haa) (Japan, 2015) [Yubari Fanta] - 4/5

4 high school girls run from home to attend a concert on the other side of the country. Their plan is to ride all the way with bicycles and sleep under the sky - a plan that obviously isn't going to get them far. This is an excellent, fresh and non-judgemental film that captures the foolhardiness and excitement of youth - and omits the dull moral lessons. You could call it a coming of age film without the coming of age part. Excellent performances and energetic camerawork (mostly POV) complete the film. Although not directly comparable, fans of Hideaki Anno, Shunji Iwai and Shinji Somai ought to love it. The best movie at Yubari Fanta this year.


Hentaidan (The Perverts) (Japan, 2015) [Yubari Fanta] - 3.5/5

This is the filthiest film Noboru Iguchi has ever done (excluding his AV work). The medium-length movie (approx. 50 min) brings together all kinds of perverts from shit lovers to piss drinkers. It starts all silly and ridiculous, e.g. with a segment about a man who's dreaming about a school girl idol's crap, but gets gradually darker and darker. Towards the end we get a suicide bus and a scene where a woman is slowly hammered to death by a pervert who gets sexually aroused by the sound of breaking bones. Though darkly humorous throughout, it was in scenes like that where even the hardened Yubari audience went totally silent. Impossible to evaluate as a movie, but it certainly is an experience, and not for everyone. Think of John Waters with an Iguchi spin. It just might be the best thing Iguchi has done in nearly a decade.

Damager (Japan, 2015) [Yubari Fanta] Film - 3/5, Live Experience - 4.5/5

Noboru Iguchi is on fire for a change. This 25 minute half-fiction was born when an ordinary Japanese salaryman Yu Kazama approached Iguchi to realize his lifelong dream to star in a superhero film. Iguchi though the idea was great and would help Kazama find his first ever girlfriend. After all, what's cooler: to have a profile on a dating site, or to be able to tell the girls you starred in a superhero movie? Iguchi brought together his usual team, had a superhero suit designed, and wrote a theme song. Kazama paid the bills. The film opens with footage from Iguchi's office before proceeding to the fiction film which stars Kazama as Damager, a superhero whose superpowers can only be activated via pain (e.g. 40 punches in the stomach to travel back in time). He must now save a pretty high school girl (Airi Yamamoto) from her murderous boyfriend (Demo Tanaka). It's silly and cheap, but also fun and sympathetic! The film finally cuts back to Iguchi's office where Kazama receives a copy of the completed movie.

While not exactly a masterwork by itself, the film was an amazing live experience in Yubari with Iguchi, Kazama and the rest of the cast in attendance. The audience was cheering for Damager (almost unheard of with the typically dead silent Japanese audiences) and singing the theme song together with the staff. Kazama, moved by the audience's enthusiasm, promised to finance a sequel as well. Let's home Mr. Kazama is a man of his word - and also that he finds a cute girlfriend soon.

More about the screening in the Yubari thread.



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Roman Porno treasure hunt + a few I've seen before

Love Hunter (Japan, 1972) [DVD] - 2/5

Nikkatsu found themselves facing obscenity charges for this film. The trial went on for nearly a decade and the film was pulled from distribution, but they were eventually found not guilty. It's actually pretty tame stuff by today's standards - or even by later 1970s standards - but it's easy to see why the officials targeted this movie. It's the classic exploitation tale of a young guy falls for an immoral older vamp and then his innocent virgin girlfriend gets drawn into the new sinful world. There's everything from lesbian sex to orgies and a black male stripper dancing naked. Fans of the specific sub-genre should dig it; for others it may not be that exciting but it is well made: the cinematography and music are often beautiful and the film can certainly be called a work of art just as much as it is a piece of unashamed exploitation.

Sex Hunter: Wet Target (Japan, 1972) [DVD] - 2.5/5

Yukihiro Sawada was one of those talented yakuza film directors who got dragged into Roman Porno but never quite conformed to the studio's new style. This films is a violent sexploitation revenge flick penned by Atsushi Yamatoya, loosely based on his Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter screenplay. The film follows a halfblooded convict who goes through hell to track downs American G.I.s who gang raped and killed his sister. It's a schizophrenic mixture of sex, clumsy action and badass revenge flick set to an awesome score. It's far from Sawada's best films, even in the Roman Porno genre where he later excelled with Retreat through the Wet Wasteland, but it has undeniable trash appeal.


Foreign Mistress Oman: Holland Slope In the Rain (Japan, 1972) [DVD] - 2/5

Many of Chusei Sone's early films were technically competent and featured some great ideas, but just weren't captivating enough to hold the attention till the end. This film falls into that category. However, it is still one of the most exotic films in the Roman Porno catalogue, not just because parts of it are set in Shanghai, but also because it's a period yakuza film starring a Caucasian actress (Sally May). The film's best segment sees her stepping into Junko Fuji and Reiko Ike's shoes as she becomes a wandering female yakuza. Unfortunately there is too much soft-core sex drama and meaningless side plots before that, and the ending is a bit underwhelming as well. This would have been more interesting as a genuine yakuza/action film.

Midnight Fairy (Japan, 1973) [DVD] - 4/5

A desperate young man ditched by his girlfriend hooks up with a mentally challenged prostitute. Together they set out for a journey that includes kidnapping, raping and kissing goodbye for the rules of the society. This is a superb, overlooked arthouse Roman Porno by Noboru Tanaka. It's an interesting mix of realism, visual poetry, and poignancy. Tanaka lets his camera wander on the streets, beautifully capturing the early 1970s locations and atmosphere. He also creates fantastic, carefully staged images such as baby on a bar desk. It's pretty poignant too: Tanaka seems to suggest that in a civilized society the only innocent person is a retarded prostitute who is too dumb to lie, cheat, and use violence. The film never feels pretentious, though; rather the contrary. It's fun, playful and relatively fast paced.


Erotic Journey: Love Affair in Hong Kong (Japan, 1973) [DVD] - 3/5

A desperate husband follows his runaway wife to Hong Kong. He hooks up with a local Japanese man who, however, turns out to be a gangster specializing in human trafficking. This is an uneven, but interesting throwback to Nikkatsu's 1960s action days while still being a Roman Porno production. Director Masaru Konuma seems bored with the sex scene quota, even making fun of it at times. It seems evident he would have rather made a genuine action thriller. However, the film still packs plenty of style, exotic locations, and a badass ending. It's not an entirely satisfactory film, but it certainly has its moments, especially towards the end.


Modern Prostitution: Lust Under Uniform (Japan, 1974) [35mm] - 3.5/5

This is a stylish slice of life drama with plentiful exploitation antics in use. It's a story of two prostitutes connected by a childhood trauma. Director Chusei Sone makes sure there's no lack of hot gals with amazing boobs, but that's not all: the film also sports a pretty functional storyline and some superb cinematography that captures bits and pieces of the 1970's Japanese land/mindscape. It's a good example of arthouse and grindhouse co-existing within one movie. Despite the title, there are no uniforms in the film, however. Although slightly inferior of the two, the film resembles Noboru Tanaka's Secret Chronicle: She-Beast Market (1974), which came out only weeks later.

My Sex Report: Intensities (Japan, 1976) [DVD] - 3.5/5

This film is often seen as Chusei Sone's return to form. It's an odd mixture of melancholic character drama, sex, and funkiness; not an entirely satisfactory film, but a frequently fascinating one. It's a about a nurse, her boyfriend, a local gangster and his girlfriend. Basically, it plays out like a fragmented slice of life piece with a pop attitude. There's over-the-top sleaze, there's imaginative camerawork, there's harrowing moments between young lovers, and there's a beautiful score that occasionally switches to silly funk. Add some great footage from the neon-lit streets of the 1970s Shinjuku and a some of tiresome sex scenes, and you've got a film that could only have been made in the 1970s Japan.

Rape Me: Sexual Assault In a Hotel Room (Japan, 1977) [DVD] - 1.5/5

An innocent college girl suffering from a trauma (her boyfriend broke his neck while doing pole vaulting and become nuts) hooks up with her sleazy female friend in Tokyo. They then run into a rapist in a hotel room. This is an oddly nonsensical film that doesn't really achieve anything within its 71 minute running time. None of the fun and breeze of director Koretsugu Kurahara's later film Eros School: Feels So Good (1977) is here to be found. Instead, the film is merely off-putting without being offensive in the least. The most interesting thing about the film is the score, which frequently makes it sound like a 1950s romantic film.

Eros School: Rape Reception (aka Eros School: Feels So Good) (Japan, 1977) [DVD] - 3.5/5

An unexpectedly funny and cute high school rape comedy. A "transfer student" who wears straw hat and carries pet pig with him (!) arrives announces no girl will be safe from him. He then proceeds to rape a considerable number of girls, which makes him a hero in the eyes of the other boys who aren't getting any (but are composing songs about how they wish they were). It's utterly ridiculous, frequently funny, fast paced, and packed with cute girls. The whole film seems to be taking place in some alternate universe where real life logic doesn't apply. This kind of energy and solid execution is missing from most of Nikkatsu's Roman Porno films.


Sins of Sister Lucia (Japan, 1978) [DVD] - 1/5

A badly behaving teen girl gets sent to a convent full of lusty sisters. Koyu Ohara's pop art magic is nowhere to be found in this by-the-numbers nunsploitation film. It's not the worst film ever made, but it just gets tiresome very fast. The only minor - and indeed very minor - point of interest is when two escaped prisoners show up and bring some raping with them. Oddly enough, Ohara's next movie was to be his best: the charming, energetic youth film Pink Hip Girl, which created an entire new subgenre within the Roman Porno.

Angel Guts: Red Classroom (Japan, 1978) [35mm] - 4/5

This is one of Chusei Sone's best films, a strong psychological drama about a porn magazine photographer (Keizo Kanie) who becomes obsessed tracking down a girl he saw in an underground rape video and finding out if the video was genuine or not. He seems to think he could somehow save her from the evil world and lead her to a better life. There are moments of absolutely stunning beauty and sadness, especially the ending. The script is by Takashi Ishii, based on his manga.

So Soft, So Cunning (Japan, 1979) [DVD] - 3.5/5

Can a film be too mainstream for the Roman Porno series? Nikkatsu seems to think so. All DVD releases of this film - which is often considered Lady Snowblood director Toshiya Fujita's best movie - lack any reference to its origins. Indeed, the film features less sex than many 1970s mainstream films and takes no less than 48 minutes for the first nude scene to appear. Nevertheless, it premiered in the Roman Porno series as a youth film double feature with Pink Hip Girl: Love Attack. It's a well written, well acted and all-around well made look into the late 1970s Japanese family relations among young people. Like most of Fujita's films, it follows young adults, but it lacks the rock, shock and pop of some of his other films. Instead, it's a very low key drama that makes accurate social observations. Like many of Fujita's films, it will probably resonate best with domestic audiences who have experienced the era.

Wet Weekend (Japan, 1979) [DVD] - 2.5/5

Here's a bit weaker - but not bad - suspense drama / zeitgeist by Kichitaro Negishi. It follows a young housemaid (Junko Miyashita) who is having an affair with her employer, a married older man who claims to love her but doesn't seem to be willing to leave his family. After waiting for him for years she finally hooks up with a petty thief and his girlfriend (Ako). Together the three come up with a plan to kidnap the rich man's daughter, without intending to hurt anyone. Despite the crime film elements the film is first and foremost a social study. It does capture the era and the struggles of the social class quite enjoyably, but it lacks the energy and freshness of Negishi's best films like From Orion's Testimony: Formula for Murder (1978), Rape Ceremony (1980) and Crazed Fruit (1981).

Zoom In: Rape Apartments (aka Zoom In: Sex Apartments) (Japan, 1980) [DVD] - 4/5

Here's one of the most exciting directorial debuts in the Roman Porno series: Naosuke Kurosawa's pink giallo. I was a loose follow up to Zoom Up: Rape Site which revitalized ultra violence in the violent pink genre. Unlike that of his Japanese predecessors, Kurosawa framed every murder and stalking sequence like a sadistic artwork. He makes a terrific use of both of claustrophobia and the fear of open space with bleak apartment complexes and slightly post-apocalyptic wastelands that surround them. The sound design is also absolutely brilliant. The storyline, on the other hand, is dumb beyond belief. It doesn't take the viewer long to guess who is the killer: there is only one option, and the man is constantly dropping potential murder weapons from his tool bag by accident in front of everyone. Thankfully it's all done without a hint of destructive "self-irony".


Crazed Fruit (Japan, 1981) [DVD] - 4/5

Here's a terrific updating of the 1956 Nikkatsu classic Crazed Fruit; a new version that is superior to the original. While the original was the seminal sun tribe classic, the new version examines the 1980s Japanese youth from a more intimate, less political perspective. Consequently, it's a remake in name only. The film focuses on the unstable relationship between two youngsters: a guy working in a sex club and a rich girl who trades her stepfather lover for a younger boyfriend just for a change. Like many of director Kichitaro Negishi's films, the movie would probably be more at home in Art Theatre Guild's catalogue than in the Roman Porno series where it was released (Negishi's next film, Distant Thunder, was, in fact, an ATG production). The film also shares all of Negishi's strengths: energetic visual approach, quiet moments which invite the viewer to analyze the complex characters, and a terrific use of pop music. The last 5 minutes is jaw droppingly good cinema.


Here's the film's terrific theme song:


Nurses' Journal: Animal In the Afternoon (Japan, 1982) [DVD] - 2.5/5

Naosuke Kurosawa was one of the most interesting directors who worked in the Roman Porno genre. He seemed to approach just about any topic from an excessively visual standpoint. His first two films were the Japanese pink giallo Zoom In: Rape Apartments (1980) and the neo-noir Love Beast: Attack! (1981). This is his third movie, a surreal science fiction sex nightmare that seemingly bears very little resemblance to its predecessors in the Nurses' Journal series. The plot, which features some kind of dream intrusion device, is utter non-sense, and the film is frankly quite a mess; however, it is full of whacky and nightmarish imagery you'd never expect to find in a movie called Nurses' Journal. It's an interesting, rather entertaining piece for most of the time, but at the same time too nonsensical and uneven with its compulsory soft-core sex to be genuinely good. Kurosawa's next film, the existential city film Ecstasy Sisters, however, was to be his masterpiece.


She Cat (Japan, 1983) [DVD] - 1/5

Another tiresome 1980s drama/thriller/roman porno that outstays its welcome. Like many films from the era, it pretends to be a serious movie by cutting down the exploitation and letting its utterly unexciting thriller storyline run for 90 minutes (that's 20 min more than the standard). Add a cool opening credits sequence and a couple of nice shots here and there and call it trendy cinema. Zzzzzz.

Scent of a Spell (Japan, 1985) [VoD] - 2.5/5

A lonely man falls in love with a woman who tried to kill herself. She says she's on the run from an abusive husband; however, it turn out she may not be as innocent as she lets people believe. This was a Roman Porno release, but a produced by Director's Company as a mainstream noir with a couple of steamy sex scenes. The screenplay is by Takashi Ishii, who is adapting another author's novel here. Consequently (?) the film a bit more dialogue-based and less visual than most of Ishii's scripts. Some of his trademark visuals - water, rain, and surreal images - and psychological themes can still be found but to a lesser extent than usual. Toshiharu Ikeda helms the mystery alright, but the film feels a bit underwhelming overall considering the talent involved. It doesn't exactly benefit from the 80s piano/jazz score either. Though not a bad film, there are more stylish and atmospheric films made from Ishii's scripts, including Ikeda's later classic Evil Dead Trap (1988).

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Akamoru: The Dark, Wild Yearning (Japan, 1966) [35mm] – 2/5

A rather tame and dated youth-gone-bad tale by Koji Wakamatsu. The film follows a school boy who is dreaming of naked girls but living in a conservative family where he is punished for listening to rock music. He eventually joins a small-time gang at the end of the film. Some surreal dream sequences with naked women and blazing red blood filmed in color (unlike the rest of the film) are the movie’s most memorable parts. Surprisingly enough, the film was distributed in several foreign countries like West Germany and Finland back in the late 1960s.

Dark Story of a Sex Crime: Phantom Killer (Japan, 1969) [35mm] – 3/5

A rarely seen Koji Wakamatsu film that predates the similarly themed 1970s Yasuharu Hasebe violent pink films. It’s a mixture of violent thriller, black comedy and social commentary. The film follows a miserable young man who dreams of raping women but is too shy to do it. He eventually gets over his shyness and becomes a full-fledged psycho. Interesting, though not quite classic, piece of late-1960s Wakamatsu cinema. The use of music is quite effective.

Secret Report from Nagasaki Woman's Prison (Japan, 1971) - 2/5

This is the 6th and final film in Daiei's loosely linked series of women in prison movies set in the late 19th century. They were, of course, exploitation movies, but they were also surprisingly restrained compared to what Toei and Nikkatsu were putting out at the same time. There is little to no nudity in any of the films. The previous instalment, Decapitation Island, was nevertheless a very stylish entry with good acting, decent writing and an intriguing island setting. Nagasaki Woman's Prison unfortunately doesn't share those strengths. It's a mediocre-at-best genre effort with some girl fights, a little bit of blood, and no nudity at all. There are no interesting locations like in Decapitation Island either. The only memorable scene involves some inventive candle torture.

Cherry Blossom Fire Gang (Japan, 1972) [DVD] - 2.5/5

Junko Fuji's farewell movie brings together just about every Toei yakuza film star: Ken Takakura, Bin Amatsu, Koji Tsuruta, Kanjuro Arashi, Tomisaburo Wakayama, Shiezo Kataoka, Bunta Sugawara, and many others. That may be part of the film's problem. The beauty of the ninkyo genre always was its simplicity - one man or woman caught between obligation and humanity - and it needed a relatively tight focus to play right. Cherry Blossom Fire Gang features some good segments, but it also features so many characters that the storyline loses its focus. To make matters worse, it's hardly a memorable storyline to begin with. It's still an ok film, but genre queen Fuji would have deserved something better, or perhaps something smaller, for her last yakuza film.

Cold Wind Monjiro (Japan, 1972) [VoD] - 3/5

Bunta Sugawara stars as the famous matatabi (wandering gambler / swordsman) character in this film by Sadao Nakajima. It's a more realistic film than many other matatabi movies, focusing on the life during the period and choreographing its action more for realism than entertainment. It also shows the protagonist trying to live an ordinary man's life before becoming a wanderer during the film's second half. It's not the most exciting film in the genre - Nakajima directs with professionalism but little innovation - but the scenery and score are quite beautiful and the film is certainly interesting enough to watch.


Wicked Kempo (Japan, 1974) [VoD] - 2.5/5

A somewhat entertaining martial arts film produced briefly after The Street Fighter has its moments. Yakuza film actor Tsunehiko Watase stars as a bodyguard for hire, a real asshole kind of guy with mean moves straight out of a Sonny Chiba flick. It's a fun flick whenever it lets its protagonist loose; unfortunately the film also sabotages the sound concept with two lame sidekicks and unnecessary comedy scenes. Regular karate film villain Masashi Ishibashi co-stars in a rare good guy role. Worth a look for karate film fans; however, there are several better Japanese martial arts movies out there.

The Youth Killer (Japan, 1976) [35mm] – 2.5/5

This is the first one of the only two films ever directed by Kazuhiko Hasegawa, who would later do the all-time cult classic The Man Who Stole the Sun (1979). The ATG production is about a young man kills his parents and tries to run from the police with his girlfriend. It's certainly a film with something to say: Hasegawa goes for a mixture of gritty realism, social commentary, and highly theatrical acting. At the same time, however, it's a hard film to stomach with almost no entertainment value whatsoever except for Mieko Harada`s naked body, some very darkly humoristic moments, and a great soundtrack by Godiego. Very much an arthouse film for the arthouse crowd, and not a feel-good film in the least.

Abductee (Japan, 2013) [DVD] – 4/5

A middle aged man wakes up in a steel container, all alone, tied up, with no idea who has abducted him, why, and where he's being taken. This is a minimalist gem from director Yudai Yamaguchi, who normally helms trashy exploitation comedies. Despite literally taking place in one container from start to finish the 96 minute movie doesn`t let the viewer off the hook even for moment. On the contrary, it`s an incredibly intense thriller with an intriguing mystery, lively camerawork, stylish score and terrific leading performance by Yoichi Nukumizu, who is the only actor in the movie for over 90% of the time. The ending will divide audiences to those who love it and those who hate it – I was firmly in former camp. What a surprise from mediocre-at-best director Yamaguchi.

Wonderful World End (Japan, 2015) [bD] - 3/5

A quiet 13 year old runaway goth-loli girl (Jun Aonami) falls in love with her idol, a 19 year old schoolgirl model / small time idol (Ai Hashimoto) who is running her own webcast from home. After a slight misunderstanding her boyfriend invites the young fan to their home to stay, which starts eating out their relationship. This film somewhat resembles another similarly themed - and also music driven - movie: The End of the World and the Cat's Disappearance. Wonderful World End, however, is a more intimate, quiet and realistic film, minus the ending which goes to Takashi Miike territory. Ai Hashimoto is pretty good in the lead as a girl who is mainly interested in her own looks, and the film makes some good points about youth, social media and idol culture, despite not being quite exceptional in any way. Director Daigo Matsui made himself an interesting name with the excellent schoolgirl drama Luv Ya Hun (to be released later in 2015). This one isn't as good, but it's still decent.

That's It (Japan, 2015) [DCP] - 3/5

This is Sogo Ishii's long awaited return to punk cinema, only it is not as good as his genre defining classics. It is still mostly decent, though. The opening is the best part: an amazing street chase on foot set to the music and "3ch bazooka sound" by Bloodthirsty Butchers. The film does slow down after that, however, and it could frankly lose 20 minutes in the middle. It picks up again towards the end, until the stupid CGI blood and toy guns kick in and make it difficult to take the bloody mayhem seriously. The cast is good, though, and the film looks pretty nice for a low budget production.

Yakuza Apocalypse (Japan, 2015) [DCP] - 3/5

Here's a film that is difficult to summarize: yakuza vampires turning townspeople into bloodsuckers with bad attitude, a secret underground knitting club, a kappa in cellar, a deadly karate killer in frog suit, The Raid's mad dog Yayan Ruhian as foreign assassin, and a lot more. Takashi Miike's much hyped "return to roots" feasts in excess, but it also lacks the perversity of his early films, highlighted by the Japanese pg-12 rating which equals to BBFC 15 or medium R on the US. It does have its insanely catchy moments, and it's not a CGI fest either, but the film also runs at least 30 minutes too long with a too large character gallery while still leaving the most interesting scenarios underdeveloped. The problem is, Miike has done the same stuff better before, and so have many others. Nevertheless, it's a pretty entertaining two hours and worth a watch; it's just not as badass as it should've been.


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ok, it's been a while since the last update...


Car 33 Doesn't Answer (Japan, 1955) [35mm] - 4/5
A terrific, gritty crime film follows two policemen riding around Tokyo in their patrol car, picking up drunks, hookers, junkies and killers on what seems like a never-ending Christmas night. They finally run into professional criminals who highjack their car and take them as hostage. This is a realistic, atmospheric film that beautifully captures the post-war streets of Tokyo on film while also telling a great story with excellent characters. Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece High & Low would be a good comparison point; however, it's remarkable how much time director Senkichi Taniguchi spends documenting the policemen's everyday work and encounters with random people before turning on the plot gear. A rarely seen gem entirely worthy of a Criterion release. Unfortunately it has never been released on DVD even in Japan.


The Big Gamblers of the Amazon (Japan, 1961) [35mm] - 4/5
New York, 1961. A worldwide gambling committee gathers. The industry is in recession. Japan is seen as the most promising new market. Enter Amazon Kenji (Chiezo Kataoka), a homeless gunman and master gambler (mostly because he cheats) from the jungle, wearing poncho and a huge Mexican hat, who introduces himself by shooting a cigar from a random guy's hand. He's going to be the first one to sink his teeth in the new market. But before he gets there, but he's joined by an Americanized bastard Gold Rush Kumakichi and Jack the Ace, the son of a Japanese geisha on Paris. This is an insane action comedy gem by Shigero Ozawa, the director of The Street Fighter (1974). It's also a fascinating mix of new and old; the type of colourful film sets and costumes from Toei's lavish Kyoto productions combined with mad energy that was running wild at Toei's contemporary Tokyo studios. The film also includes strong western influences and a climatic shoot out where the hero guns down at least 60 bad guys. It only makes sense that halfway into the storyline the protagonist is actually locked up in a mental hospital. Amazon Kenji is a lost 1960s cult hero waiting to be discovered by the world! Only if there was a DVD release...


A sequel, in which Kataoka stars as a homeless gambler from The Himalayas, was released later in 1961. Apparently the sequel also contains a yeti...

Abashiri Prison: Saga of Homesickness (Japan, 1965) [DVD] - 3.5/5
The 3rd film in the series, and one of the best. Like the previous instalment it was shot during a summer and also lacks any prison scenes. However, the screenplay and characters are pretty good this time round and the film features a very atmospheric use of music. Thr film starts with Takakura out of the slammer and trying honest living as a port labourer with other former prisoners gone straight, but of course things are complicated by Toru Abe's villainous rival gang, who want the business all for themselves. There's also a black(face) kid who makes friends with Takakura, but is surprisingly not irritating at all. Although Abashiri Prison was not really a ninkyo yakuza series, this instalments features quite a few typical ninkyo elements, including an honourable, death-sick assassin hired by Abe's gang to fight Takakura.  

Abashiri Prison: Duel in the Snow Country (Japan, 1966) [DVD] - 2.5/5
The 7th film in the series isn't bad, but it doesn't truly come alive until the great finale. Similar to many other weaker instalments in the series, it suffers from the lack of strong plot. There's too much silly comedy, especially with two gay prisoners, and too many meaningless quarrels. The plot doesn't really kick off until during the last half an hour when Takakura is out of the prison and runs into an old man and daughter harassed by a local gang. The film benefits from some impressive winter locations, but the best thing is the highly satisfying, Western influenced gunplay/sword fight finale on the snow covered streets.


Abashiri Prison: Duel at 30 Below Zero (Japan, 1967) [DVD] - 3.5/5
The 8th film in the series, and one of the most entertaining. Takakura runs into an abandoned little girl whose real father is working for a slimy gangster (Toru Abe again) in a snowy northern mining town. Although this entry also doesn't have the strongest of plots and features some silly comedy in the early scenes, it comes with pretty good characters and it makes a good use of locations. Takakura especially gets to do his usual stoic 'worker class hero' act very well here. Like the previous film in the series, it also has a strong Western atmosphere with lots of gunplay, horse riding and Western esque score by Masao Yagi. It doesn't hurt that Tetsuro Tamba plays a major supporting role either.


Abashiri Prison: Duel in the Blizzard (Japan, 1967) [DVD] - 2/5
The 10th and last Abashiri Prison film directed by Teruo Ishii (8 more New Abashiri Prison films were made my other directors). This is another one with a winter setting, which is an instant plus. There are a few other interesting things as well, such as Takakura escaping the prison hiding in a coffin, and an elderly foreign prisoner. Unfortunately the rest of the film is no great shakes. The film mostly composed of loosely linked set pieces: there's the compulsory quarrel with other prisoners, there's the escape, there are the encounters with other gangsters outside of the slammer, and finally there's a bit of something resembling a plot when Takakura runs into a man who had his father killed long ago. The last half an hour features some strong western influences, but it all comes out a bit less stylish than one might wish.

Women's Police (Japan, 1969) [16mm] - 2/5
The young Meiko Kaji flashes her breasts for about two seconds in this otherwise forgettable programmer picture. Unfortunately even that sole delight was ruined by the super-soft 16mm print that screened in Cinema Vera. The film's real star is Akira Kobayashi as a some sort of night life professional looking after Tokyo hostesses and eventually getting in trouble with gangsters. It's a rather lame film in every respect, with nothing especially stylish nor sleazy about it. Of course, it's still technically well made film, but that's not saying much. Kaji, who is the most interesting thing about the film, plays a pretty small role. Oddly enough, the film received no less than three sequels.

Melody of Rebellion (Japan, 1970) [35mm] - 2.5/5
A mediocre yakuza film starring Yoshio Harada as an outlaw who teams up with other rebels after his yakuza clan has disbanded. There's a great series of moody scenes that capture some of that 1970s nostalgia via music and images - something director Yukihiro Sawada was really good at - in the middle of the film. Otherwise it's a bit underwhelming movie with some comedic scenes, some serious ones, and not very much consistency to any of it. The supporting cast is great, e.g. Tatsuya Fuji, Takeo Chii and Meiko Kaji, but their roles are forgettable. Harada, too, would've deserved a better film. He was a charismatic badass comparable to Yusaku Matsuda, but he ended up in mediocre movies way too often.

Cold Wind Monjiro: None of My Business (Japan, 1972) [35mm] - 2/5
The second and final Cold Wind Monjiro film. Both films offer a more realistic look at the matatabi heroes of the past. They intentionally lack many stylistic devices and are pretty short on action. Unfortunately, they also lack interesting storylines and characters, although Bunta Sugawara is pretty good in the lead role. This second movie is the weaker of the two, mainly because it lacks the beautiful locations and some memorable scenes the first film had.

Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs (Japan, 1974) [35mm] - 4/5
This must be one of the trashiest and most brutal Japanese crime films ever made aside Junya Sato's equally sadistic yakuza film True Account of Ginza Tortures (1973). Nearly everyone is an irredeemable psycho here. Miki Sugimoto stars as female cop who infiltrates a psychopath rapist scum gang who has kidnapped a politician's daughter. Another cop (Hideo Murota in his favourite role) is tailing them from a safe distance until it's time to take action. It all leads to an incredibly groovy, and unbelievably violent climax. Immoral pinky violence cinema at its best, but not for the easily offended, and never to be passed uncut by the BBFC. Viewers may observe a slight Meiko Kaji vibe in the film, from the theme song to the badass heroine. There's that influence for sure, but it's also because the film is based on a manga by Tooru Shinohara, who also wrote the Female Prisoner Scorpion comics.

And what a pleasure it was seeing this from a gorgeous 35mm print!


Lupin the Third: Strange Psychokinetic Strategy (Japan, 1974) [35mm] - 1/5
As universally bashed as the recent Ryuhei Kitamura Lupin III film was, this earlier live action adaptation is even much worse. It's an incredibly lame and unfunny caper slapstick comedy clearly aimed at children. The gags are childish, the anime-like acting is irritating, and there is literally nothing stylish or interesting about the film. Rarely has 82 minutes felt so long. Avoid like plague!

Lady Snowblood (Japan, 1973) [35mm] - 4.5/5
A terrific revenge movie with an great storyline and an atmosphere that slightly reminds of old fairytales (those that were full of death, sex and brutality). Meiko Kaji stars as a girl born in prison whose only purpose in life is taking revenge against four ultra-nationalist scum who killed her father and raped her mother. It's a heavy film, and very political as well, the kind film of that could not be made in Japan anymore. Kaji is excellent, and her theme song is truly unforgettable. It's an unusual film for director Toshiya Fujita, who specialized in contemporary youth/crime films. Lady Snowblood essentially served as an early screenplay draft for Kill Bill: a female revenge film divided into chapters where the protagonist goes after the bad guys one by one in the order they are on her death list. Plus, Tarantino borrowed dialogue, music, and images from the film.

Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance (Japan, 1974) [35mm] - 3/5
Solid, but still a bit disappointing sequel needlessly continues the storyline. While it's true both films are based on a comic book that ran several volumes, the first movie was such an emotionally draining experience that the protagonist's transformation to wandering heroine after all she went through just doesn't feel right. That being said, this is another politically charged storyline that certainly offers several points of interest and features a good cast. The action scenes are a little more flamboyant than in the first film, which doesn't really work to its favour because Kaji isn't the best swordswoman out there. Her strength is intensity and acting skill, which are the two elements the first movie handled very well even in the action sequences. Nevertheless, this is a pretty good film; it's just no match for the excellent first movie.

Tonda Couple (Japan, 1980) [Original Version] [35mm] – 3.5/5
Two high school kids – a girl and a boy – end up sharing an apartment due to an error. An amusing love-hate relationship ensues. This was Shinji Somai`s first movie, a manga adaptation that resembles 1970s youth comedies but also showed the director`s eye for upbeat youth films. It's funny, energetic and contains many imaginative visual details while still being a very mainstream crowd pleaser. It was also the film that made half of the nation fall in love with the 16 year old Hiroko Yakushimaru, who appears here in her first starring role. The film was re-released the following year as an extended 120 minute “original version” which is now the standard version of the film. “Hiroko Lovecore” (love + encore) was written in big letters in the poster.

Sailor Suit and Machine Gun (Japan, 1981) [Complete Version] [35mm] – 4/5
Shinji Somai's second film instantly became the all-time idol film classic. Hiroko Yakushimaru stars as a high school girl who ends up inheriting a miserable four man yakuza gang from his dead father. It's a mixture of gangster satire and youth pic, with the former usually being a burden for the latter. The film tends to be at its best in small quiet scenes, where seemingly nothing happens, such Hiroko wandering around in her apartment or stopping in front of a store mascot at dawn. These are the scenes that show Somai's skill with characterization, as well as creating atmospheric moments. Hiroko is at her best in the film, giving a natural performance that is as fresh as the air in the early morning. Of course, her theme song is also a huge classic. The film also features Somai's first long tracking shot, a nice, if occasionally shaky 4 minute shot that follows characters from a park to the streets and to the other side of the town as they jump on motorcycles and the camera is loaded on a truck. Like Tonda Couple, the film was re-released as extended version in 1982, but the original version is maybe a little bit better.


Taiyo no kizuato (Japan, 1981) [35mm] - 4/5
The year 1981 saw two modern sun tribe films hit the screens almost simultaneously. Kichitaro Negishi's brilliant updating of Crazed Fruit (1956) was released by Nikkatsu in April. Chusei Sone's Taiyo no kizuato came out already bit earlier from Toei. The excellent youth film follows a delinquent boy who runs into his shy little brother, and his innocent girlfriend, for the first time in 11 years. He brings them to his beach crib where he's having fun with his no-good friends. This initiates an interesting psychological game where the big brother never seems quite sure if he wants to protect or destroy his brother's innocence. The film also packs literally every single genre cliché in the most enjoyable form: car chases, boat chases, motorcycles, fist fighting, sex, nudity, disco scenes, and rock music. Ken Ogata has a terrific supporting role as the main character's father, an alcoholic university professor who is constantly holding parties and couldn't care less if his son has raped some random girl or not. Probably director Sone's best film, but unfortunately this too has never been released on DVD or VHS.


Keiji monogatari 2: Ringo no uta (Japan, 1983) [DVD] - 2.5/5
The second film in the drama/romance/action/comedy series which is best remembered for, but not best described by, its hanger nunchaku action. As usual, the detective hero played by the beloved television actor Tetsuya Takeda is transferred to a new town where he interacts with the locals, falls in love, and kicks a little bit of ass. These are the kind of movies that go well with Japanese television audiences with all their gentle melodrama, comedy, and depictions of idyllic small town life. Fun action scenes in which the hero takes out the bad guys in inventive ways are just a small addition to the mix. Also, it's nice how in the 1980s Japanese family movies could still find  a way  fit in a few pairs of bare boobs somewhere.


P.P. Rider (Japan, 1983) [DCP] – 4.5/5
Yakuza gangsters kidnap a local kid, a fat bastard called Debu, whose father is involved in drug trafficking. His friends, two boys and one girl pretending to be a boy, then set out on a strange odyssey to find and save him. This is an utterly bizarre, and equally brilliant, film scripted by Leonard Scharder (The Man who Stole the Sun, 1979) and directed by the eccentric genius Shinji Somai. Like many of Somai`s films it runs a bit too long at 118 minutes, but it's so original, so thrilling and so full of Somai`s trademark camerawork that one does not care. The visual style sometimes resembles of Nobuhiko Obayashi's wild images (House), but with Somai`s brand of intimate, low key youth cinema which remains credible no matter how outlandish it got.


Lost Chapter of Snow: Passion (Japan, 1985) [35mm] – 4/5
This film is somewhat a turning point on Shinji Somai's career. It was his return to idol cinema four years after the monumental genre classic Sailor Suit and Machine Gun (1981). It was the movie that followed his real masterpiece, the defining Japanese youth film Taifu Club (released in 1985, filmed in 1984). How do you follow such benchmark classic? You can see a clear twist here, which lots of heavy handed symbolic imagery and melodramatic storytelling that were not so evident in Somai's earlier movies. Even then, it's an excellent movie. Sukeban Deka girl Yuki Saito stars as an orphan girl who grows up to love her stepfather. Somai throws in his magic from the very beginning, opening the movie with a great 14 minute take. Saito is pretty decent in the lead role and recorded an excellent theme song for the film. The movie was shot in Hokkaido, in Sapporo, Chitose and other locations, with many scenes being filmed a few hundred meters away from where I now live.


I cross that bridge almost every day... too bad I wasn't here 30 years ago.

Lady Battle Cop (Japan, 1990) [DVD] - 2.5/5
Toei's semi-entertaining V-Cinema cash-in on the popularity of Robocop. Here we have a lethally wounded tennis champ (who can't play tennis) turned into battle cop in a metal suit with high heels to fight an evil multinational syndicate. Enter the good old karate villain Masashi Ishibashi (in not one of his best roles) and a CIA developed evil wrestler with psychic powers. The film borrows its theme and dystopia from the Verhoeven classic; otherwise it's more in line with Japan's own tradition of tokusatsu entertainment, which no doubt inspired Robocop as well. Too bad the film tends to be a bit mediocre for the most part, and pretty lame in the violence department as well. Cool theme song (which steals half of its melody from Sukeban Deka III) combined with metal hero on a motorbike footage provides some great moments, though, and the film is amusingly nonsensical.


Hana-Bi (Japan, 1997) [35mm] - 5/5
Kitano's masterpiece, some of the most perfect filmmaking ever committed to film. I don't even have words describe how stunningly good it is.

Gonin Saga (Japan, 2015) [DCP] - 2/5
New generation, new Gonin. You know a filmmaker is in trouble when the film opens with 20 minutes of non-stop flashbacks and even then the audience is unable to follow the incredibly convoluted plot. Worse yet, the new cast consists mostly of pretty boys whose beard probably hasn't started to grow yet and who look about as convincing with a gun as a fashion model. It's no better than a cheap television drama for the first 70 minutes; then something happens. A dynamic heist scene kicks in, the protagonists are chased by assassins played by real actors, and the film concludes with the most violent and exciting gunplay scene in Japanese cinema since Battle Royale. No CGI, no fucking toy guns, no lame ass posing, just ultraviolent butchery, especially after one guy finds himself an Uzi. Talk about an uneven film!

Nowhere Girl (Japan, 2015) [DCP] - 3.5/5
A flawed but fascinating psychological drama by Mamoru Oshii. Nana Seino stars as an art school student who suffers from some sort of trauma for which reason she's given special treatment. She's being bullied by other students, her teachers are growing sick of the situation, and she seems to be going crazy. But there's more than meets the eye, and she's more than a little dangerous, as proved by a certain ultra-violent sequence near the end. It's an extremely slow paced movie bound to drive some viewers crazy, but it's also quite an interesting and extremely rewarding film. Seino is fine in the lead role, and the slow pace works when she's in the frame. Some unfortunate CGI blood weakens the impact. Director Oshii, much like Hideaki Anno, is one of those anime masters whose live action filmography is vastly under-rated, with his own fans usually being his harshest critics. Nowhere Girl is unlikely to change that situation.

Tag (Japan, 2015) [DCP] - 3.5/5
Sion Sono kills more high school girls than a medium size natural disaster in this often energetic, but uneven horror film. The story is loosely based on the popular manhunt franchise by Yusuke Yamada (already adapted into 5 other movies and two series), but Sono goes his own way and brings the film closer to his own Suicide Club and certain David Lynch twists than Yamada's straight-forward dystopias. In Sono's film Japanese high school girls find themselves targeted by someone - or something - that starts slaughtered them in epic fashion. The film is bound to anger the more sensitive viewers, although it also offers interesting commentary on the Japanese schoolgirl phenomena. The film suffers from some lame CGI effects; however, it also features some nice practical gore and fantastic camerawork with lots of aerial shots done with drones. The all female cast - there isn't even a single male seen during the first 70 minutes - is solid as well. Sono is consistently good with young actresses, bringing the best out of them in nearly every film he makes.

Love & Peace (Japan, 2015) [DCP] - 3.5/5
Most people probably didn't expect Sion Sono to direct a family friendly kaiju movie, but here it is. A small turtle flushed down the toilet finds a new home in the Batman Returns esque sewers where a good hearted old drunk is living with talking dolls, amusing retro-robots and all kinds of small animals. Meanwhile his original owner, a bullied owner office, worker becomes an arrogant rock star. Then the turtle begins to grow - a lot. There's an abundance of lovely handicraft on display: puppets, miniatures, and men in rubber suits, with CGI kept to the minimum. It's a nice moral story and a sweet fantasy film; should be just as entertaining for children and adults alike, and very much a Sion Sono film with all its manic overacting. However, it's still missing the final touch - whether it was overflowing anarchy, energy, or depth - that Sono's best movies - Love Exposure, Noriko's Dinner Table, Hazard, and Suicide Club - had.


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Roman Porno treasure hunt continues


Another mini review set:

Sensual Classroom: Techniques in Love (Japan, 1972) [DVD] - 1.5/5
Despite the title, this early Noboru Tanaka film is very much an arthouse affair; only not a very good one at all. Tanaka actually manages quite a few stylish visuals and good musical choices throughout the film. Unfortunately none of this helps when he completely misjudges what passes as serious art and what is just plain ridiculous. Half of the film comes out unintentionally funny. For a far more successful effort see Tanaka's Midnight Fairy (1973), which had the same artistry but none of the clumsiness that sinks this movie.

Naked Resume: True Story of Kazuko Shirakawa (Japan, 1973) [DVD] - 2/5
Nikkatsu's first pink queen Kazuko Shirakawa stars in this entirely fictional true account supposedly based on her life. It was her farewell role before retiring and marrying a Nikkatsu executive. Chusei Sone helmed the film. Despite making up events at every turn, and featuring such exotic ideas as sex with clowns, the film feels oddly ruotine effort by director Sone. It's a shame the film barely touches her film career at Nikkatsu. Indeed, the filmmaking parts, and especially the ending which features many cameos and film clips from her movies, is the film's best part.

100 High School Girls: Secret Motel Report (Japan, 1975) [DVD] - 1/5
The 1973-1975 period is often referred as a mid-career slump in director Chusei Sone's filmography. It is a good generalization; however, there were occasional inspired films during this period as well. Unfortunately this isn't one of them. The film opens in black & white, which reminds of Sone's wrongfully  bashed 1974 movie Modern Prostitution: Lust Under Uniform. Unfortunately none of that film's stylish cinematography and decent plotting can be found here, and the use of black & white film for the first 15 minutes serves no actual purpose. The plot shows a little bit of promise at first - a reporter begins investigating a motel where illicit high school girl activity is supposed to take place - but it doesn't go anywhere and the whole movie is directed without any kind of passion or inspiration. Oh, and there aren't nearly 100 high school girls in the film - 10 would be a better guess.

Kindan: Seifuku no modae (Japan, 1976) [DVD] - 1/5
There are so many terrible movies in the Roman Porno genre that it's always a bit sad when you come across one that actually wouldn't be so bad if it only had something going for it. This is the case here. A school girl falls in love with her cousin, who first has a skiing accident and then turns out to be an asshole, and finally his friend seduces her. Whatever. This could be a passable melodrama as far as music and acting goes, but there's very little reason to care about anything that's going on. The only point of interest is the snowy mountain locations featured in the opening scene. Sadly, the rest of the film takes place in boring suburbs.

Wandering Lovers: Dizziness (Japan, 1978) [DVD] - 3.5/5
This is one of Masaru Konuma's best films, a breezy love story about two youngsters on the run from the world (and people they owe money to). Konuma keeps the tale moving fast enough and shoots many scenes early morning so that you can almost feel the fresh air coming through the screen. The best thing about the film, however, is the two leads. Toshiyuki Kitami and Megumi Ogawa seem to have genuine chemistry between them. They are energetic, a little quirky, and frankly quite adorable. You find yourself really caring about them, which is a rare thing in the Roman Porno genre. Even the potentially sleazy storyline - they run into an older guy who suggests they should earn money by having sex in front of paying elite audiences - feels oddly innocent in this context.


Teacher Deer (Japan, 1978) [DVD] - 1/5
Chusei Sone was a frustratingly uneven director who could deliver a dull misfire like this even during the most innovative era of his career (1978-1981), which contained several excellent films like Red Violation (1980) and Taiyo no Kizuato (1981). This one is about a mixed race teacher who enters a high school in order to pursue revenge on a man who did wrong to his father decades ago. It's an overlong erotic thriller with no thrills. Style is severely lacking, characters have zero depth, and the storyline is quite pointless. It should also be noted that the film has nothing to do with SM, despite the usual fairytale review by the Weissers claiming otherwise. Only if they'd actually watch the movies they review. Then again, they can consider themselves lucky they didn't have to endure this one.

Woman of the Afternoon: Incite (Japan, 1979) [VoD] - 4/5
A fresh, colourful and fast paced gem that is absolutely best experienced without any expectations. But if you're not convinced just yet, allow me to go to the spoiler territory. The film opens as a breezy and romantic road movie with Natsuko Yashiro running from her jerk husband, heading for a road trip, making friends with sympathetic young gay guy, and even getting herself into a car chase. Then, without any warning, the film completely changes direction as she runs into redneck psycho rapist killers in a God forsaken small town. And then there is the pitch black humour. In one scene the rednecks are gang raping women and one of them cracks such as good joke that his friend has to take a break from raping. He even says "I'm laughing so hard I can't do it". Hilarious. Screenwriter Chiho Katsura also wrote Assault! Jack the Ripper, Zoom In: Rape Apartments, House, and many other classics.


Zoom Up: Rape Site (Japan, 1979) [VoD] - 3.5/5
Koyu Ohara legendary violent pink film has been missing in action for decades. A lot has been written about it, with some reviews calling it the most brutal and misogynist film ever made, and others guessing it's a lost film. Of course, none of those critics had ever seen the film as it was buried in Nikkatsu's vaults all this time. Truth be told, in terms of graphic violence it may not be the most repulsive film ever made. In fact, Nikkatsu had already made more violent movies before. However, it is a mean movie with some classic kills and a pitch black view on humanity. The film kicks off with a serial killer lurking on women in the night; however, what's most interesting is how all other characters seem to lose their mind because of the fear and paranoia, ending up committing almost as many crimes and murders as the actual killer. It's a well made exploitation film, with a solid thriller structure, an entirely misfit, laidback 70s score, and a view on women that can be summarized in the main character's words "be so kind, rape me again!". Pretty lovely smut, quite interesting from a historical perspective as well, but obviously not for all viewers.


Zoom Up: Sexual Crime Report (Japan, 1981) [DVD] - 1/5
The 4th film in the loosely linked series was directed by Nikkatsu's worst filmmaker, Katsuhiko Fujii. Rape queen Yuki Kazamatsuri stars as a radio DJ who has married a rich businessman. One night on her way to work she's gang raped by a motorcycle gang. It turns out her innocent looking maid was behind it all, and soon the gang pays her another visit. Despite the film's title, there is no crime report or any investigation aspect. Nor is the film much of a thriller. It's simply a badly written excuse for sex scenes, some consensual, some not. Those viewer expecting something in line with the first two films in the series need not bother. Nor does anyone else.

Female Teacher Hunting (Japan, 1982) [DVD] - 2.5/5
A surprisingly decent storyline that suffers from a boring main character and Nikkatsu's usual minimum sex scene quota. A delinquent schoolboy is accused of raping a female classmate. He didn't do it, in fact no one did, but he decides rape her since he's being accused of it anyway. He then quits school, gets into further trouble, and is taken in by a yakuza couple who run a bar in the seaside. His teacher goes looking for him while also having an affair with a married man - a side plot that no one could care less about. Rape queen Yuki Kazamatsuri is the film's official star as the female teacher; however, the real interest lies in the youngsters who thankfully get at least as much screen time as she does. There's is cruel irony as well as slight psychological and existential tones to the film, quite well handled by director Junichi Suzuki, who also helmed the terrible Women in Heat Behind Bars. If it wasn't for the main character and boring sex, this could even be called "good".


Cabaret Diary (Japan, 1982) [DVD] - 2/5
Kichitaro Negishi returned to Nikkatsu for one final movie after his successful Art Theatre Guild production Distant Thunder (1981). Unfortunately it is not one of his best efforts, despite a screenplay by top scripter Haruhiko Arai. It's a corporate satire and a sex biz overview in equal proportions, following a guy working at a pink salon as a waiter. He constantly gets slapped, hit, and shouted at by his yakuza-like, power-abusing and patriotic superiors who are somewhat exaggerated versions of traditional Japanese company bosses. The film initially seems to have some bite, but the satire wears off, there's too much sex, and the characters aren't all that interesting. Negishi did much better with the superb, misleadingly titled Rape Ceremony (1980), also written by Arai.

Wives' Rape Mansion (Japan, 1985) [DVD] - 3/5
And the award for the most misleadingly titled and mistranslated film title goes to... Nobuyuki Saito's surprisingly decent character drama. A middle aged couple are having conflicting views on getting children, with the wife having no interest in kids. The poor husband then spends his nights sitting in front of fridge and remembering the better times... and finally dials the phone sex number his colleague gave him. Despite certain Roman Porno trappings, it's a surprisingly well handled film by with slick visuals, broken chronology, and good leading performance by the mainstream actor Sabu Kawahara. The film also co-stars soft toy mini Godzilla, features strawberry flavour eatable pants, and makes a Hiroko Yakushimaru joke. Talk about chic. The title's suggested rape only takes place during the last five minutes, and is a part of the couple's marriage drama, so those expecting a thriller or violent pink film will be sorely disappointed.

Poor Thomas Weisser got everything wrong in this review, starting from the title which features two mistranslations in three words. First of all, the "mansion" in the original title (Hitotsuma Boko Mansion) is a loan word which, when used in Japanese, refers to an apartment, not mansion like in English. Secondly, the wives should be in singular, not plural. And then Weisser thought this would be a violent pink film. He went on to explain how "the plot tells the story of a rapist specializing in high-rise condo assaults" and concluded his review by stating the film is a "mean-spirited rape flick". Nope, none of that is in the film. It's a marriage drama about a middle aged couple.

Most Western viewers will probably miss the admittedly lowbrow but funny joke when the husband farts in bed after holding for long time and says "kaikan" (wonderful"). That's an expression Hiroko Yakushimaru popularized in Sailor Suit and Machine Gun when she uttered the word after finally firing the gun at the end of the film. The expression instantly became a pop culture classic.


Spectacle of Buds (Japan, 1986) [DVD] - 1/5
If the ever so unreliable Thomas Weisser is anything to go by, singer Yoko Kon stayed in the headlines not only because of her musical performances but also for rumours about her inverted nipples. Nikkatsu's former star director Noboru Tanaka came out of Roman Porno retirement to reveal the mystery in this slice-of-life film starring Kon. Yes, she had strange boobs. But whose idea was it to build a 100 minute movie around those boobs?! Director Tanaka could make a technically competent film with his eyes closed, but this one just doesn't have anything going for it, except for one truly bizarre scene where Kon is looking at a photo of a naked baby and then starts touching herself.

Waiting Wet Woman (Japan, 1987) [DVD] - 3/5
An interesting late Roman Porno scripted by top writer Haruhiko Arai (Distant Thunder, Vibrator, It's Only Talk). The film takes place in a small town during a typhoon. A woman living alone is visited by her ex-husband. At the same time a young couple who are about to break up get trapped in the town as public transport is cut off. Director Yasuaki Uegaki is best known for the over-rated Pink Curtain films. He does much here, paying a lot of attention to characters, visual details, and nature. The first sex scene doesn't come until around the 30 minute mark. The film feels more like the work of Kichitaro Negishi or Shinji Somai than your typical Roman Porno product. Unfortunately the film doesn't quite hold till the end. The last 20 minutes is the weakest, with a long dull sex scene, and quite an underwhelming finish for the storyline.

The film's title - Machi nureta onna - features some terrible wordplay, though. Not only do we have the ever so popular Nikkatsu buzzword "nureta" (wet) for once applied to a film where it actually rains, it's combined with "machi" with means "wait" in its written form but is pronounced just like the other "machi" which means "town". So, Waiting Wet Woman - Wet Town Woman. If I was 13 years old I'd probably find this funny and cleaver. Now my brain just hurts.



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Theatre of Life: Hishakaku (Japan, 1963) [35mm] - 3.5/5
Solid old school yakuza melodrama that is considered one of the first ninkyo films. Koji Tsuruta is an honourable gangster who goes to prison after killing an enemy boss, leaving his runaway prostitute girlfriend on his own for years. While he's away, his own boss is assassinated and the gang disbands. Some years later former gang mate Ken Takakura, now earning an honest living as a rickshaw man, falls in love with Tsuruta's girl without knowing about her history with him. Soon after Tsurura is finally released. This film has a bit more focus on the love story than most ninkyo films, but the genre elements are very much present and well used. The film also sports good performances and a charmingly old fashioned look. The story itself is very famous and has been filmed multiple times. Most adaptations, like this with its cliffhanger ending, focused on one part of the story and left the rest for a sequel (that sometimes followed, and sometimes didn't).


Zatoichi the Fugitive (Japan, 1963) [BD] - 3.5/5
A very entertaining and character driven 4th film in the Zatoichi series. Zatoichi encounters a woman he once loved, who has now hooked up with a desperate swordsman. Good story, good characters, and an emotionally powerful climax. This is a better movie than many of director Tokuzo Tanaka's other films.


Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold (Japan, 1964) [BD] - 3/5
Zatoichi meets Chuji Kunisada, a famous Robin Hood like character who has appeared in dozens of his own films, in the 6th film in the series. Director Kazuo Ikehiro had nice grittiness to his style, but Daiei was one of the most conservative studios in Japan, which set limits to what he could do. This film has nice sets and locations, but it does feel a bit conventional with its "stolen tax money" plot. One also wishes there was a bit more character depth to the menacing villain Tomisaburo Wakayama.


Kyokotsu ichidai (Japan, 1967) [35mm] - 2/5
Another ninkyo yakuza film from the era when the genre peaked. Unfortunately this one is a pretty hastily put together programmer picture. Ken Takakura is a soldier who deserts and joins an honourable yakuza gang. Of course there's also a villain gang in the town, with leader Bin Amatsu evil as usual. Funko Fuji has a slightly interesting double role as Takakura's deceased mother and a prostitute who resembles her. Too bad the film largely lacks plot and the kind of strong 'between rock and a hard place' dynamic that a good ninkyo film should have. It simply throws in some big names, a Takakura theme song, some silly comedy, and assumes the audience will buy it. Most did, actually.


Hot Springs Geisha (Onsen anma geisha) (Japan, 1968) [DVD] - 1/5
This is one of those films that in some ways doesn't deserve the low rating I'm giving it - after all, it's a technically well made film with some good looking cinematography, a solid cast (Yoko Mihara, Masumi Tachibana, Teruo Yoshida etc), and Teruo Ishii as the director. But then again, how do you survive a 90 minute a dated sex comedy with no laughs and no nudity other than in one amusing pool fight scene? You don't. Norifumi Suzuki helmed much better instalments in the same series a few years later, partly thanks to the new era allowing him much cruder jokes and sexier content.


Flower of Chivalry's Life Story: Gambling Heir (Japan, 1969) [35mm] - 2/5
Drama heavy Nikkatsu ninkyo with Chieko Matsubara and Hideki Takahashi. Supporting star Meiko Kaji has a couple of great moments, including a nice gambling scene and a scene where she takes out two bad guys who attack her during bath. Unfortunately the rest of the film is standard drama with little to make it stand out from the rest.


Whipmaster: Ballad of Death (Japan, 1970) [VoD] - 3.5/5
A spin off for the Wicked Priest series with Bunta Sugawara as the blind, whip wielding yakuza monk. He's also got a cub with him, blind just like him, as he wanders around Japan and fights evil gangsters. While not necessarily a true classic of its genre, the film rises above its programmer status thanks to atmospheric music, badass performance by Sugawara, and some very satisfying, ultra-violent karate/swordplay/whip action. In fact, if you didn't know better you'd swear this was a 1974 production with heavy influences from both the Lone Wolf & Cub films and Sonny Chiba's karate movies; however, this predated them all.



Way Out, Way In (Japan, 1970) [35mm] - 2.5/5
An amusingly dated morality tale about high school bad boys and girls. One of the film's memorable parts involves an innocent student boy harassed by a sexy girl, which traumatizes him to the point that he can't help but to imagine all women naked and start groping them in the train. Other highlights include a psychedelic night club scene and a groovy  opening credits sequence with motorcycle footage mixed with images of bare breasts. Nevertheless, it's pretty tame stuff for its era, just like many other Daiei exploitation films which lagged several years behind competitors in terms of graphic sex and violence. It seemed like the proud samurai film giant was somewhat unwilling to jump the bandwagon, but were forced to thrown in at least moderate exploitation to keep up with the competition.  This film did, nevertheless, prove successful enough to receive no less than three sequels and was also released in the US as 'Way Out, Way In'. The original title is Koukou bancho ("High School Boss").


Bloody Feud (Japan, 1971) [VoD] - 3/5
Chipmunk Joe Shishido plays an honourable yakuza just out of the slammer. Makoto Sato is his old friend from another yakuza clan. Sneaky Ryuhei Uchida manipulates the two against each other by killing men from both clans and having them blame each other for it. Functional yakuza film lacks originality until the memorable final act, which sees the half-dead Shishido and Tatsuya Fuji heading for a final journey to catch the main villain after the big battle that normally ends yakuza films. The film also features a kick-ass score by Hajime Kaburagi. Meiko Kaji appears in a small supporting role, but doesn't have much to do.



Bohachi Bushido: Code of the Forgotten Eight (Japan, 1973) [DVD] - 4.5/5
A stunning exploitation chambra based on super violent comics by the Lone Wolf & Cub author Kazuo Koike. Tetsuro Tamba plays nihilistic swordsman who joins a depraved yakuza gang whose life consists of nothing but sex, torture and prostitution business. He is hired to wipe out their competition by killing the other clan's customers and shaming their women. This initiates a counter-attack and Tamba becomes target for ninja assassins. An incredibly colourful, stylish, and often surreal film with exciting action scenes and terrific performances. Tamba is a real stand out, as are the deadly (and frequently naked) Bohachi clan female bodyguards. The screenplay must have been exceptional as the film comes with terrific pacing, entertaining cut-to-the-bone plot, and badass dialogue. This was exactly the kind of material director Teruo Ishii excelled with.



Truck Yaro (Japan, 1975) [35mm] - 3.5/5
The first film in the series director Norifumi Suzuki is best known for in Japan. Bunta Sugawara and Kinya Aikawa star as two truckers, the former an eternal bachelor who always falls in love with the wrong girl, and the latter a family man with an authority problem. The first film establishes the formula: an almost schizophrenic mix of silly comedy, fast action and tender drama, with locations playing a major supporting role. The series would see the two truckers ride all around Japan, stop by at local festivals, race rival truckers (Junko Natsu in the first film, Sonny Chiba, Tomisaburo Wakayama etc. in the later ones), and always get in trouble with the police who would try to stop them in the climatic final chase. Although the first film isn't the best, it's still a very enjoyable action/comedy/drama. The series also serves as cinematic documentation of the now-extinct dekotora (decorated truck) culture which saw lone truckers decorating their vehicles in the most imaginable ways.


Gambling Den Heist (Japan, 1975) [35mm] - 3.5/5
A rarely seen humoristic caper by Kinji Fukasaku. Three miserable punks come up with a plan to rob a yakuza gambling den. Things don't go quite as planned. A fun film with a superb robbery scene and excellent tragicomic supporting performances by Takuzo Kawatani and Hideo Murota. The middle third is a bit slow, but otherwise the film comes with the energy expected from Fukasaku. This one is just much lighter and more humoristic than his usual nihilist crime epics. Great score as well.


Violent Panic: The Big Crash (Japan, 1976) [DVD]- 4/5
An utterly insane action classic that is one of Kinji Fukasaku's lesser known films, despite featuring one of the greatest car chases of all time. Tsunehiko Watase is a bank robber trying to escape the country with his girlfriend while being chased by the police and his dead partner's maniac brother who wants his share of the cash. Fort the first 60 min it's an enjoyable heist drama set to Toshiaki Tsushima's (Battle without Honor and Humanity) terrific score and with excellent turns by Watase and Sugimoto (her best performance was in the previous year's ATG film Preparation for a Festival), followed by an incredible 20 minute demolition derby that is unlike anything else ever seen. Imagine The Blues Brothers directed by Fukasaku as an ultraviolent crime film and you'll get the idea.



Authentic Account: Osaka Shock Tactics (Jitsuroku gaiden: Osaka dengeki sakusen) (Japan, 1976) [35mm] - 4/5
A very entertaining jitsuroku yakuza film by Sadao Nakajima, who spent most of his career contributing to genres other directors had made popular. Here he unleashes an unoriginal but highly effective vision of gang wars breaking out on the streets, all set to a kick-ass score by Toshiaki Tsushima. It echoes both Kinji Fukasaku and many Italian crime films from the same era. Hiroki Matsukata and Tsunehiko Watase are at the top of their game as ugly and brutal gangsters. The pretty boys that populate modern Japanese gangster films would piss in their pants if they came across these guys. There are some slow parts in the beginning, and the film lacks any real characterization, but it's so entertaining with great action scenes and badass mayhem that it doesn't really matter.


Busu (Japan, 1987) [35mm] - 3/5
Jun Ichikawa's first film, an enjoyable though not unforgettable slice of life film about an introvert girl who moves to Tokyo. It's a low key film, though there's also some cool montage set to pop music that really captures the time and place. The title means "ugly" but that doesn't refer to star Yasuko Tomita's looks: she's quite cute.


*** Nobuhiro Yamashita Early Works start ***


Night Imitate Summer (Japan, 1996) [DVD] - 1/5
Amateurish 8mm short film gives no indication of Yamashita's talent. The 11 minute film follows a salesman who finds himself in a building full of crap and crappy people. Yamashita's trademarks are nowhere to be seen, and the film is not really worth a watch even as a curiosity.


Rotting Woman (Japan, 1997) [DVD] - 3/5
This must be the most unusual thing Yamashita has ever done: a gruesome zombie film dedicated to Lucio Fulci. Shot on 16mm, the film shows one woman's slow transformation into a zombie after being fatally bitten. It's simple film, but the short running time (10 min) makes it work and the gore effects are great. The film was shows on quite a few international festivals, where audiences probably labelled Yamashita a rising horror talent. How ironic for a director who, in reality, became known as the Japanese Aki Kaurismäki.


Season Seeds (Japan, 1998) [DVD] - 2/5
Two lazy guys stuck in a small apartment. This one is starting to feel a bit like a Yamashita film, and it stars Yamashita himself, but it's neither very funny not especially interesting. 8mm again, runs 19 minutes.


Hiroshi and Rolan (Japan, 1999) [DVD] - 1/5
Frustrating 12 minute short film about a Japanese guy and a very irritating foreign girl in a small hot room. This is not the kind of clever understated humour Yamashita became known for. The only point of interest is Hiroshi Yamamoto in the starring role. Runs 12 long minutes, shot on Hi8 and looks like crap.


105 Yen Hamburger is Not Cheap(Japan, 2000) [DVD] - 2/5
Yet another one room dialogue film, this time about fast food and dating. Yamamoto co-stars and improvises  - one can hear Yamashita laughing behind the camera. He's having more fun than the audience. The 15 minute film, shot on digital, feels oddly amateurish considering Yamashita had already completed his enjoyable debut feature film Hazy Life (1999) by that time.


*** Nobuhiro Yamashita Early Works end ***


Azumi (Japan, 2003) [DVD] - 2.5/5
This film will always have a special place in my heart as it made me fall in love with Aya Ueto for quite a few years, collect just about anything related to her, and probably influenced they way I grew up to be and where I ended up as well. I've been hesitant to watch it again in the fear or ruining those memories. Now, a more than decade later, a lot of the film's appeal is indeed gone. For starters, the film could lose about 50 minutes of its 143 minute running time as much of the drama is utterly uninspired, predictable and poorly paced. The stylized action works at times - the vertically spinning camera at the end is still fantastic - but there's a bit too much posing and one does wish Aya was a little faster. On the positive side the film lacks some of the caveats that would plague more recent Japanese films: CGI is relatively minimal, and the movie looks fine for being shot on film. Also, it remains a dozen times better movie than Shinobi: Heart Under Blade (2005).



Attack on Titan: Part 1 (Japan, 2015) [Flight] – 2/5
There was a cute girl in this one, but she got eaten.


Attack on Titan: Part 2 (Japan, 2015) [Flight] – 1.5/5
There was no cute girl in this one.

This year’s major Japanese mainstream bait, released in two parts just like Rurouni Kenshin last year.  The two films are surprisingly dark and violent with the titans ripping human bodies into pieces (Part 1 was cut in Hong Kong to avoid CAT III) for PG-12, but the action scenes are frustratingly nonsensical. Characters using wires to move and attack the giant titans was a nice idea, but half of the time the wires don’t seem to be attached to anything. In the second film we also get a bloated final battle that goes on forever and includes every cliché imaginable. The same can be said about the characters: boring, superficial, and clichéd, mostly portrayed by charisma-free actors who either are or look like idols. Special effects include some nice touches (also look out for Noboru Iguchi, and makeup artist Yoshihiro Nishimura’s other pals, as Titans) but the plentiful CGI looks like, well, CGI. The first movie still remains somewhat watchable due to the interesting premise and decent pace, but the second one really isn’t worth it.


Round Trip Heart (Japan, 2015) [Flight] – 3.5/5
It is thanks to directors like Yuki Tanada that Japanese mainstream cinema still produces occasional pleasant rides that aren’t plastic idol flicks – even when they star an idol. Ex-AKB-48 Yuko Oshima is as a twenty something train waitress who is semi-kidnapped by a divorced, pick pocketing film producer (Koji Okura) for a road trip. He’s looking for a chance to escape his miserable life even for just one day, and she seems to be having enough worries of her own not mind disappearing for one day. There’s a bit of today’s Nobuhiro Yamashita, a bit of early 2000s Ryuchi Hiroki, and of course plenty of Tanada. It’s a gentle, somewhat understated film with some wonderful moments and no actual romance in it, despite the Japanese title ‘Romance’. Oshima and Okura both give solid performances as well.

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Bloody Spear on Mount Fuji (1955) - (original title: Chiyari Fuji) - Produced by Toei Studios. Fascinating jidai geki set during the Edo Period (I think). The movie opens with several sets of characters boarding a boat to cross a river. There's a young samurai and his two retainers, one of whom carries an awfully-long yari, or spear. There's a woman and her daughter. There's an old man and his daughter. There's a mustached fellow who's careful about keeping his face covered with his straw hat. There's also a young boy who fords the river in his undies/diaper. Later that evening, they all meet up at the same inn in the next village and we slowly learn about each of them, their travails and objectives. The movie isn't an action film, but a character study or slice-of-life movie set in period, and it's all the more interesting for that. The English title derives itself from the film's only fight scene, that comes at the very end. To be perfectly honest, the showdown between the characters and some arrogant, elitist samurai feels completely tacked on and doesn't mesh well with the rest of the movie (it's also not very well mounted, but that's neither here nor there). The movie should've ended right before that, where the lead samurai character declares that all the talk of heroism and bravery ascribed to the samurai class is unfounded, but normal people who go about their lives in the most honest way possible are the real heroes.

13 Assassins (1963) - (original title: Jûsan-nin no shikaku) Produced by Toei studios. A vassal of daimyo who happens to be the Shogun's youngest half-brother commits suicide in front of the house of one of the Shogun's councillors. The vassal's farewell letter requests his Lord's abdication, but the request is denied by the Shogun and the case is closed. Knowing that the Lord is a tyrant, and that he'll soon be promoted to the Council, which will give him further inpunity to his crimes, the councilor asks the Court Inspector to assassinate the Lord. The Inspector sets about the nigh-impossible task getting together the people he trusts the most, and the samurai whom they trust the most. Meanwhile, the Lord's head samurai, an old rival of the Inspector's, is just as wily and a game of wits begins as the trap is set to kill the Lord on his long journey back to his territory.

This two-hour jidai geki is 75% drama and 25% action, with all of the sword fighting being left for the last 30 minutes. The rest of the movie is building tension as the two teams try to outmaneuver each other like a game of chess, with conversations about the life and purpose of the samurai padding things out a little more. Chiezô Kataoka is great as Inspector Shimada, who maintains calm in the most difficult circumstances as he and his men plan the right time to strike, knowing full well that their mission is one of suicide. Even when he has to convince his nephew to join the cause, he never loses his cool, even when his nephew's behavior is initially an affront to the Bushido code. The final battle is classic David vs. Goliath shenanigans, as the 13 assassins use their surroundings to advantage to take down the Lord's guards, numbering more than 50. Admittedly, you'll need a bit of patience to get there, but the payoff is worth it.

Also of note is that the score is provided by the legendary Akira Ifukube, best known for his work on the Godzilla movies and other Toho sci-fi flicks. His music is instantly recognizable, and I noticed that his theme for Mechagodzilla from the 1993 Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II was taken from this movie.


Three Outlaw Samurai (1964) - (original title: Sanbiki no samurai) Produced by Shochiku Studios. A wandering samurai (an incredibly bad-a** Tetsuro Tamba, who played Tiger Tanaka in You Only Live Twice) holes up with a trio of farmers holding the magistrates daughter hostage. A series of bad harvests have left the local peasants starving and the magistrate refuses to help them. The samurai, Shiba, takes up their cause and is soon joined by Sakura, another wandering samurai and spearman who had been jailed by the magistrate for traveling without his papers. The magistrate hires some ronin, some professional assassins known as "The Gods of Death", and his own personal bodyguard, Kikyo, to ferret out the farmers and their new allies.

Really good jidai geki with a lot of action, some awesome characters, a few interesting twists and a nice ending. The action is typical samurai stuff, with people being downed in one or two strokes of the sword and although our heroes live to see tomorrow, a lot of people on both sides get hewn down with by the sword. Tetsuro Tamba is too cool for school as initially apathetic and ultimately righteous samurai who ends up believing more in the cause of the peasants than they themselves do. The pseudo-romantic subplot involving one of the other samurai is very reminiscent of Tom Cruise's romantic subplot in The Last Samurai.

Samurai Rebellion (1967) (original title: Jôi Ichi: Hairyô tsuma shimatsu) - Produced by Toho Studios. Toshiro Mifune plays Ishiburo Sasahara, a renown swordsman in the employ of the Aizu clan. He has a shrewish wife and two sons, one of whom, Yogoro, is reaching the age of marriage. Things start going south for the family when the daimyo orders Ishiburo's son to marry his ex-lover/concubine. Sasahara's wife is against the idea, but you don't really say no to your feudal lord. The wedding goes forward and Yogoro's new bride is actually a great wife and the two have a happy marriage. But then the daimyo declares that the son he had with Yogoro's wife is to be his heir, and it would not look good to the other feudal lords if the successor's mom was married to a vassal. Ishiburo, who has never known a happy marriage, puts his foot down and tells the Lord and their lackeys to go screw themselves. Things go to hell from there.

Very fascinating jidai geki that makes an interesting commentary on the plight of women within Japan's old feudal system, as they were nothing but objects to be bartered at the whim and will of the feudal lord. It was bad enough that Ichi, the girl in question, had to give up her fiancé to be the daimyo's concubine. Then he passed her onto to another, only to rescind on that AFTER the two had fallen in love and had a child together. Actually, the feudal system was a hideous b**** goddess to everyone who wasn't a daimyo or shogun, when you get right down to it. The action doesn't kick in until the 100-minute mark, so be patient. The first hour is set-up, the next 40 minutes build up the tension as the two sides spar with words and threats, and finally Mifune cuts loose. Worth a viewing or two. 

Assassination (1964) – (original title: Ansatsu) – Produced by Shochiku Studios. A very complex historical drama set in 1863, at about the time that Commodore Perry was opening Japan to the West. The general idea is that the Emperor wants to keep Japan closed to foreign influences as it had been for 300 years, while the current Shogun wants to welcome foreigners into the country. The plot itself involves a high official of the Shogunate asking one of the ronin who works for him to assassinate a man named Kiyokawa (Tetsuro Tamba), a powerful swordsman who initially was working for the Imperial government, but who may have flip-flopped over to the Shogun’s side. Most of the movie tells us the story of Kiyokawa in the form of numerous flashbacks told by people on both sides of the conflict. The non-linear narrative and the presence of a female character named O-Ren makes me wonder if this film wasn’t a big influence on Quentin Tarantino. The last five minutes or so are almost one long POV shot, belonging to the man who has been hired to kill Kiyokawa. There’s almost no swordplay action in this, but the story is interesting enough to warrant more viewings.

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Kill! (1968) - (original title: Kiru!) - Produced by Toho Studios. Very complex tale of two men--one a farmer wishing to become a samurai, another a disillusioned samurai who wanders the country as a vagabond--who arrive at a desolate town torn apart by a violent conflict between the corrupt daimyo and the Yakuza, who in this film, are renegade samurai fighting on the side of the peasants. The two men initially take opposite sides, but eventually team up to fight for the side who's in the moral right. There's some decent action here, some nice character scenes, and an interesting story on the whole. Veteran Godzilla composer Masaru Sato channels his Morricone in the score, while Toho kaiju alumni Akira Kubo, Yuriko Hoshi, and Yoshio Tsuchiya have important supporting roles in the movie. Recommended.

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Re-posting missing stuff...

Honour Among Brothers (Japan, 1966) [TV] - 3.5/5
Solid ninkyo yakuza film by one of the genre's best directors, Kosaku Yamashita. Unlike some others, Yamashita could usually be relied on to deliver films with good characters. This one stars Saburo Kitajima as swindler who is caught cheating by yakuza movie villain Toru Abe. Owners of the gambling den, honourable yakuzas Hiroki Matsukata and his boss Hideo Murata, put their honour at stake when they decide let him free for three days so that he could meet his mother, whom he has been searching for all his life, while Abe does everything in his power to profit from the situation. A good film with some very powerful moments, and great supporting performance by Koji Tsuruta, although some of the plot twists have since become a bit of a cliché.

Zatoichi Challenged (1967) [35mm] - 3/5
An entertaining Zatoichi film with a great final duel. The standard storyline and direction are a little disappointing considering the film was helmed by Kenji Misumi, but this was a common problem with many Zatoichi films.

Zatoichi Goes to the Fire Festival (Japan, 1970) [35mm] - 3.5/5
A fine Zatoichi film that feels like a journey to the long-gone Japan. Great scenery, pretty girls, and better than average characters. The only disappointing aspect is the final duel between Katsu and Tatsuya Nakadai, which is not bad, but should've been better considering the talent involved.

Side note 1: one of the most beautiful 35mm prints I've ever seen. I could have eaten if for breakfast.
Side note 2: almost full house, great to see Zatoichi remains very popular.

Master Night Manipulator: 1000 Women Killer (Japan, 1971) [TV] - 1.5/5
Playboy Tatsuo Umemiya is a pimp who tricks and blackmails girls into prostitution, and sleeps with all of them, including one blonde gaijin. It's a rather good looking film, but it's a bit difficult to find a reason to care. It's not a comedy, it's not much of a crime film, and it's so mild that it can barely be balled exploitation. It's just a movie about playboy Umemiya. Colourful visuals are the films biggest - and perhaps only - appeal. Original title: Yoru no teihashi: suke chi hitokiri.

Wild Cop (Japan, 1973) [DVD] - 3/5
Dirty Harry influenced cop film with Tetsuya Watari as a detective who spends most of his time beating, drugging or suffocating suspects. And when he isn't, he's either giving nasty looks to his superiors or visiting a girl whose boyfriend he killed. Gritty and entertaining, but mostly unexceptional. More action and character development wouldn't have hurt; now the film pales in comparison to Kinji Fukasaku's terrific and somewhat similar Yakuza Graveyard (1976), also starring Watari. The finale is quite memorable, though, with Watari literally crashing into the villains' headquarters with a front loader, and the film is never boring.


Wild Cop Returns (Japan, 1973) - 3/5
A slightly superior sequel. There's a great scene early on where cop Watari handcuffs a gangster to his patrol car window, throws the poor man on the roof and then rides back to the station as if there was nothing odd going on. It's scenes like this that make both Wild Cop quite fun to watch, but they also suffer from the lack of characterization and action scenes that aren't quite as stylish as you'd wish (although they are entertaining). The film contains a best insult in recent memory, with Watari calling a certain woman "cockroach bitch".

Beast Hunt (Japan, 1973) [35mm] - 3.5/5
A gritty, extremely realistic cop film follows detectives trying to track down a bunch of kidnappers who are holding a company boss for ransom. The film contains some exceptionally intense sequences and scenes that reach a completely unexpected outcome. It's lacking in character development , though, and often trades cinematic thrills for realism. What it does with its material is nevertheless quite impressive. Though not quite as good, it could probably be named as one of the seminal Japanese police films alongside Car 33 Doesn’t Answer (1955) and High and Low (1963).

The Lost Virgin (Japan, 2002) [DVD] - 3/5
Director Toshiki Sato was one of the "Four Heavenly Kings of Pink", who were using the genre to make highly personal films, and whose work often found more appreciation among the arthouse crowds than regular pink audiences.  This one is a realistic drama about a single woman who loses her virginity to a no-good guy while in high school, then meets him again 5 years later, and then one more time 10 years later. Though hardly an exceptional film, and the acting isn't all that great, there’s something oddly captivating about its socially conscious depiction of the era and characters. It’s unmistakably a film born between the late 90s / early 2000s pink and indie drama genres. The screenplay was written by Shinji Imaoka.

Litchi Hikari Club (Japan, 2015) [DCP] - 3.5/5
Odd, but interesting film by young rising talent Eisuke Naito, who can usually be relied on to deliver something spicy. This one is based on a fantasy/dystopia/horror/boy's love manga following a group of 14 year old boys who are seeking eternal beauty. They build a robot, Litchi, which is programmed to abduct beautiful young girls for them. However, their sexual desires are purely homosexual. The film is being largely marketed for female audiences with its popular "boy's love" theme - indeed, there were quite a few high school girls in the audience - while director Naito is what you'd label as "violence director". There isn't so much violence in Litchi Hikari Club, but when the violence hits, it's incredibly juicy and meaty splatter done without a drop of CGI. Litchi, likewise, is a fantastic steam punk creation brought to life using only practical effects. The characters, beauty seeking, ultra-cool, manga-like gothic boys can be somewhat alienating for many viewers, and their power/love struggle is the film's weakest point. The film also runs a bit too long. But damn if the ending isn't fantastic, and feature one of the greatest "human explosions" ever.

The Bride of Rip Van Winkle (Japan, 2016) [DCP] - 2.5/5
Well, this was frustrating. Iwai, the director of such incredibly good films as Swallowtail Butterfly and All About Lily Chou Chou, has gone all Japanese and delivered a melodramatic tear fest. Without going into spoilers, it has us follow a naive girl putting her trust in the wrong people. All for the sake of tears, and then some more tears. The film also deals with family rental, something Sion Sono did much better in Noriko's Dinner Table a decade ago, and cyberspace, something Iwai did much better more than a decade ago in All About Lily Chou Chou. It's all the more disappointing because it's not a bad film. It looks and feels Iwai; not Iwai at his best but Iwai nonetheless, and it's very, very well acted by lead star Haru Kuroki. The three hour running time isn't a problem at all either. The shorter 2 hour cut would probably be best avoided as I can only imagine it emphasizing the weaknesses and cutting out much what is good about the film. As a director Iwai still seems worthwhile, but as a writer, what happened?

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Re-posting missing stuff...

Gambling Den (Japan, 1967) [DVD] – 2/5
The first film in the 10 part Gambling Den series, all starring Koji Tsuruta and many of them featuring Tomisaburo Wakayma in a villain role. This opening instalment is unfortunately one of the weakest. Tsuruta is an honourable gambler who decides to help two other men (Kyôsuke Machida and comic relief Shingo Yamashiro) save two women from a yakuza run brothel. Unfortunately too much time is spent on silly humour and a straight forward story that lacks any nuance. The themes of honour and humanity are quite weak here, and the film is largely missing the "between a rock and a hard place" dynamic that is important for a good ninkyo film. There is a decent amount of gambling scenes, but they also tend to be low on tension. The final encounter with evil gang boss Seizaburô Kawazu is satisfying, however.

Gambling Den: One Lone Dragon (Japan, 1967) [DVD] – 2.5/5
The 2nd film in the series is a slight improvement over the first. This time there's less comedy, a decent supporting performance by Tetsuro Tamba, and a tattoo contest storyline that gets rather interesting towards the end. It’s also a ridiculously emotional affair, with crying and tears in every other scene. Far from the best ninkyo films, but it’s quite watchable nevertheless. Oddly enough, there’s very little gambling in the film.

Gambling Den: Showdown of Invulnerability (Japan, 1967) [DVD] – 2/5
The 3rd film in the series isn’t terribly bad; it’s just underwhelming on every area. There’s more gambling this time around, including several different dice games, but one gets the feeling director Ozawa is sometimes treating them as a necessary evil. It’s only towards the end that tension begins to rise; in some of the earlier scenes we are mostly treated static images of men sitting in gambling den, with little attention given to the actual game. Tomisaburo Wakayama plays the villain, but his character lacks any depth. Comedy is thankfully kept to the minimum and the film remains watchable throughout. One minor point of interest is seeing the pretty Masumi Tachibana is a small supporting role a few years before Teruo Ishii delighted the world by stripping her of unnecessary garments in the Tokugawa films.

Running in Madness, Dying in Love (Japan, 1969) [DVD] -  2/5
Koji Wakamatsu has always been hit and miss for me, some of this social commentaries coming out very powerful (e.g. Shinjuku Mad), and some, such as this, feeling too theatrical. The film opens with a young man participating in violent anti-government protests, then returning home where things get out of hand and his policeman brothers ends with a bullet in his stomach. He escapes with his brother's young and suicidal wife. The story and characters are just an excuse for leftist director Wakamatsu's political monologue. It's nice to see filmmakers with so much to say, but he should've focused more on the cinematic aspects. The landscapes are appealing, though, especially towards the end when the characters arrive Hokkaido.

Kôkôsei burai hikae (Japan, 1972) [VoD] - 2/5
The first film in the Muramasa trilogy. These are relatively obscure films for never having been available on video, despite being Toho films based on a Kazuo Koike manga. Unfortunately, this is not an exploitation movie like most other Koike adaptations, but a comedy. Murasaki is a high school boy who gets all the girls and beats the guys with his karate and kendo skills. But he's not all that much of a badass; in fact he's just a goofy manga hero gone live action character who needs to get to Tokyo to meet his brother. On his journey he meets various silly characters, sleeps with at least half dozen girls, beats an all-gaijin girls' motorcycle gang, and makes some money. Harmless mainstream / family friendly entertainment with some laughs and nostalgia, and quite a few pairs of boobs.

Crest of the Wolf (Japan, 1973) [VoD] - 3.5/5
The first of the two live action films based on the Wolfguy manga franchise. There were two mangas being published simultaneously: "Wolfguy" and " Adult Wolfguy", aimed at youth and adult readers respectively. This movie was based on the former, which followed its werewolf hero as a bullied high school boy. It's a quite an imaginative and often atmospheric, if sometimes cheesy story that suffers from a couple of slow patches. Young Yusaku Matsuda appears as a villain. Although the material was aimed at younger readers, the films is quite bloody and features copious amounts of nudity. However, the film pales in comparison to the incredible Toei adaptation Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope (1975), which upped the sex and violence to a whole new level.

Crime Hunter (Japan, 1989) [DVD] - 2.5/5
The very first V-Cinema production; a stripped to the bone action film about a cop avenging his partner's (the very young Riki Takeuchi) death. Running only 60 minutes, there isn't much other than action and a tiny bit of sex in the film. Most of it is mediocre, but the grande finale is a stand out with our heroes blasting bad guys away with grenade launchers and heavy machine guns - first grade weapons pornography. There's a decent bit of pleasant V-Cinema nostalgia to be had - they don't 'em like this anymore. Star Masanori Sera makes a surprisingly uncharismatic hero, though; bad guy Seiji Matano fares much better with his Yoshio Harada looks, and the real Yoshio Harada is in the film too! One interesting thing about the film is that it's not clear where it is set. The main characters are Japanese, the clubs are filled with Caucasians, the signs are in English and "Little Tokyo" is written at the side of the main character's patrol car.

Chônôryoku kenkyûbu no 3 nin (Japan, 2014) [VoD] - 2/5
Nobuhiro Yamashita is no stranger to cinematic experiments, but this goes to a whole new level. It started with Shinji Imaoka contributing a screenplay for a high school girl sci-fi film. Kosuke Mukai then wrote a fake documentary screenplay about the making of that movie (which had not been filmed yet). Yamashita hired three idols to star in the sci-fi film, without telling them he was also filming the faux-documentary at the same time. He then had a small army of other actors pretend to be filmmakers, agents, and other crew, to have the girls believe they were making a sci-fi film. The outcome is an odd, but overlong and rather cheap experiment with occasional moments of genius. The best part features Yamashita working his magic to get a solid performance out of one of the girls by having her co-stars insult her real personality rather than the character she plays, evoking a genuine and spirited response.

Garm Wars: The Last Druid (Japan, 2014) [DCP] - 3/5
Mamoru Oshii's live action sci-fi fantasy was quite universally panned upon its release. That wasn't necessarily without a reason, but as usual, I found it quite interesting. Oshii has created an entire fantasy universe with its own mythology, strange creatures, odd technology and confusing terminology. It takes a bit of effort from the viewer to even get a grasp of what's going on. It could be described as cheap CGI fantasy - it is a far cry from the likes of Ghost in the Shell - but it's strangely watchable at the same time. It certainly feels like an Oshii film, Kenji Kawai's score is beautiful as usual. Mélanie St-Pierre, Lance Henriksen and Kevin Durand star - yep, it's an English language movie.

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And here's some new reviews:

Tale of Meiji Era Chivalry: Third Generation Boss (Japan, 1965) [35mm] - 3/5
A rather conventional ninkyo fare as far as storyline is concerned; however, director Tai Kato's execution is remarkably barebones, with melodrama and stylistic devices played down. I'm not sure that is the ideal approach to ninkyo films, which are basically melodramatic genre films about men torn between duty and personal feelings. That being said, it's a decent film, and Kato's enduring popularity and critical acclaim suggest I'm in the minority with my criticism. The film's ending is where the simplicity in Kato's staging of action really works to a fine effect.

Devil's Temple (Japan, 1969) [35mm] - 3/5
Shintaro Katsu plays a bad guy in this arthouse jidai geki by Kenji Misumi. It's good, but feels a lot like a theatre play shot on film. The entire movie is set in only a handful of locations: two rooms and a veranda count for over 90% of the film.

Lady Sazen and the Drenched Swallow Sword (Japan, 1969) [DVD] - 3/5
A female version of the one-armed, one eyed swordsman Tange Sazen. There had been quite a few adaptations, both male and female, since the 1930s. Michiyo Yasuda stars in this one. She wasn't always fast enough to convince with a sword, but in terms of attitude she could more than stand up against male actors. Some action scenes utilizing a stunt double are pretty good as well. As was quite usual to Daiei jidai geki films, the production is all around professional but the storyline doesn't especially stand out (evil lord, valuable sword, women mistreated, drama and action ensue). There is however, an undeniable cult film aura around the film and its concept.


As a side note, one can easily come across database entries and even a review (!) for a 1968 film called "Lady Sazen". However, no such film exists and never did. Some people, it seems, are a bit too eager to cover rare films without double checking if they were actually filmed or not.

The Fort of Death (Japan, 1969) [DVD] - 3/5
The second film in the trilogy (following Killer's Mission) is less of a samurai spy flick and more of a Seven Samurai variation. Tomisaburo Wakayama leads a five man army defending a small village from corrupt officials. His trademark gatling gun comes in use. Action, ninjas, silly sex jokes, and an amazing body count provide entertainment even when the storyline and execution fail to rise above average.

Eight Men to Kill (Japan, 1972) [DVD] - 2/5
The last film in the trilogy is the weakest of the three. Wakayama is again a doctor/bounty hunter, this time hunting for stolen gold. Wakayama is good, but the storyline and Shigehiro Ozawa's direction are routine. It's watchable, but lacks highlights. More action wouldn't have hurt either. It's especially disappointing considering this came out the same time when Togo was releasing the far, far superior Lone Wolf and Cub films.

Trail of Blood (Japan, 1972) [35mm] - 3/5
Kazuo Ikehiro's take on deromanticizing matatabi / wandering swordsman tales, including the popular Chuji Kunisada character (a Robin Hood like outlaw who also appears in a couple of Zatoichi films), whose men are portrayed as mad dog killers in this film. Ikehiro's movies often fall short of greatness for not being refined enough; however, at the same time they are nearly always interesting for his gritty and energetic approach. Perhaps a good way to summarize him as a director is quote his answer about his favourite spaghetti western: Django (1966) (rather than something by Leone).

Aesthetics of a Bullet (Japan, 1973) [35mm] - 3.5/5
Workman director Sadao Nakajima took one film break from Toei's genre pictures to helm this Art Theater Guild production. It is, in fact, not that different from his Toei films, although it has a certain independent film aura with extra attention to realism and detail. The film portrays gangsters as incompetent losers who cannot even start epic trouble. The protagonist is a street thug who makes his living selling rabbits and living off his girlfriend's money. He finally gets a chance to rise through the ranks when he's sent to Kyushu to kill a man. Star Tsunehiko Watase is clearly enjoying playing a bigger loser than usual, although he hadn’t reaches his peak as an actor yet. Pinky Violence starlet Miki Sugimoto is an interesting piece of casting; she'd make a bigger impression a few years later in ATG's Preparation for the Festival, though. Rock band Zuno Keisatsu provides the electrifying soundtrack.


Flower and Dragon (Japan, 1973) [35mm] - 2.5/5
One of Tai Kato's early 70s epics, a nearly three hour Shochiku adaptation of the famous yakuza novel. I have not seen the other film versions, but if we compare this to Kato's The Blossom and the Sword (1973), which, unlike this, was written by himself, Flower and Dragon feels more like a literature adaptation. It is not the most visual film out there and the climax comes in form of drama, rather than action. However, there is a really good and sensual tattoo scene that I liked very much. Otherwise I was maybe expecting a bit more, and something a bit different, from the film.

Shitakari Hanjirô: (Maruhi) kannon o sagase (Japan, 1975) [35mm] - 3.5/5
A pleasantly ridiculous ninja / period drama / sexploitation film with an Iga ninja searching for a mating partner for the shogun. The previous girl gave birth to a snake (yes, a snake) so the folks are understandably a bit upset. A magician them they need to find a woman with a special womb. She will have a mole in her forehead, and her vagina will shine brilliantly when she's at the peak of her pleasure (seriously, I'm not making this up). Shot on film, with great production values, lavish colours and costumes, and without a hint of self irony! Contains unbelievable scenes like Ibuki jumping upside down on a cross to have sex with a woman who is about to be executed and throwing bombs around to keep the guards at a distance. I would have liked more action, but there are two enjoyable fights. Based on a Kazuo Koike manga.

Kigeki Tokudashi: Himo tengoku (Japan, 1975) [35mm] - 2.5/5
An alright drama-comedy about strippers and their managers (boyfriends, husbands etc.). Reiko Ike shows some acting range as a good hearted senior stripper and Meika Seri is good as a girl who seems completely out of her head all the time and usually pisses on herself on the stage. It is however cop Takuzo Kawatani who gives the best and funniest performance. Comedy star Shingo Yamashiri is officially the leading man, though.  Director Azuma Morisaki shows some eye for drama and occasional realism, but ultimately the film feels like a talented crew improving material that just isn't quite that special.

Aoi sei (Japan, 1975) [TV] - 1.5/5
The first film by Yutaka Kohira, who later helmed a handful of competent genre films (Dragon Princess, New Female Prisoner Scorpion). This one is a Toei youth film about two high school girls who spend time on beach and yacht with a couple of guys. A bit of sex, some rock music, and a fight or two ensue. An unimaginative sun tribe influenced youth film that isn't as much a total disaster as it just fails to engage on any level. Matters are made worse by the fact that the soundtrack contains the awesome Downtown Woogie Bogie Band song Minato no Yoko, Yokohama, Yokosuka, which was also used as a theme song in a Shochiku youth film called "Minato no Yoko, Yokohama, Yokosuka", which was an utterly cool little film and featured an appearance by the band. The comparison makes Aoi sei look even worse.

Robbery, Arson and Killer Convicts (Japan, 1975) [TV] - 1.5/5
Strangely unbalanced prison escape film plays out like a jazz tuned buddy flick, except its heroes often engage brutal violence and rape. The contrast is distracting yet too weak to generate any kind of shock value. Truly bizarre, but not in an entertaining way. As it stands, this is another example of ninkyo film master Kosaku Yamashita losing his edge in the 70s. The film kind of works in the beginning until the viewer realizes there is little point to anything that unfolds on the screen. Hiroki Matsukata and Tomisaburo Wakayama star as the odd couple attempting to escape together. One would've expected a far better film from this trio.

Graveyard of Honor (Japan, 1975) [35mm] - 4.5/5
Devastatingly powerful jitsuroku yakuza film, and one of the darkest, most violent Japanese films ever released to mainstream audiences. The true story follows a maniac small time yakuza (Tetsuya Watari) on the US occupied streets of post WWII Tokyo, ready to fight anyone who steps on his way. It's not a rags to riches tale, but a rags to sewer tale. Nikkatsu actress Meika Seri makes a brief but powerful appearance as a drug addict hooker. Her scenes are among the film’s most tragic and hauntingly beautiful. Kunie Tanaka is even better as another lowlife drug addict who barricades himself in a building with Watari to fight the police. One of Kinji Fukasaku's best films.

Sweet Whip (Japan, 2013) [VoD] - 1/5
Exceptionally nasty, pretentious SM drama and violent porn fantasy following a woman as abducted high school girl and traumatized adult years later. What ensues is two hours of raping, beating and humiliation, mostly shot in two locations. Do not expect to find director Takashi Ishii's once so elegant aesthetics here; those have been traded for porn film close ups of genitals - censored of course (the film is an unbelievable mosaic mess with blurring applied to nearly every scene). Add classical music, a narrator, and a climax you can see coming miles away, and you've got a film that ultimately isn't as offensive as it is incredibly dull, nearly unwatchable. Ishii was once a shining talent of neo noir; now just a dirty old man with camera.

Flower and Snake: Zero (Japan, 2014) [VoD] - 4/5
Most SM films run the same old tired formula. There's a proud housewife in a need of shaming, provided by men who rope discipline her all the way to the morally dubious romantic happy end. Not so here. This one starts with police raid into an underground SM shoot - something that immediately turns into a bloody gunfight. It's a deliriously over the top crime film / S&M movie fever dream with an intriguing mystery plot, violence that occasionally slips to the splatter action territory, and one hell of a climax. It's also very erotic, thanks to stylish direction, attractive cast and decent characters (a blackmailed female cop who does karate, an abducted wife, and a cute giggling young woman who discovers she loves S&M). The storyline frequently (unintentionally) borders ridiculous, but that only works to its benefit. The only liability is that none of the cast look very convincing with guns; that being said, the weapons are "real" and the film is a feast in practical effects.


25 (Nijyu go) (Japan, 2014) [VoD] - 1.5/5
Everyone is after a bagful of gangster money in this boring dud, which celebrated Toei's 25 years of V-Cinema. It's a shame it's so bad when the potential was there. The studio gathered just about every major V-Cinema star (minus Riki Takeuchi) and even allowed to filmmakers to go practical with real guns, explosions and (mostly) practical effects. Unfortunately it takes an eternity before the action begins, and once it does, it's surprisingly dull and poorly staged. One of the major problems in the film is that it has a constant comedic undertone, and is acted in a "tongue in the cheek" and "don't give a shit" manner. This was supposed to be badass trash for male audiences, but it's more like a bunch of 50 year old V-cinema stars fooling around and looking intentionally unconvincing.

Edited by Takuma

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The Joy of Torture (Japan, 1968) [DVD] - 4/5
The first film in Teruo Ishii's series of ero-guro films that critics called the low point of Japanese cinema and Toei's own stars (e.g. Tomisaburo Wakayama, Koji Tsurura) bashed. There was even a large protest by the employees of Toei Kyoto during the production of Inferno of Torture. The early films were, or course, smash hits, with this one ranking no. 9 at the yearly box office for domestic films. People these days often forget what a good film it is. It’s the gruesome and exaggerated history of Japanese capital punishment in the Tokugawa era told in three short stories, starting with a deceivingly romantic tale of doomed love, later climaxing with an unbelievable torture orgy where a mad tattoo artist asks an execution/torture squad to help him with inspiration for his to-be masterpiece tattoo “Joys of Torture”. Unlike some other similar films, The Joy of Torture has well written storylines, excellent pacing and lavish production values to support the violence and nudity. They truly don’t make them like this anymore.


Orgies of Edo (Japan, 1969) [DVD] - 2.5/5
There is a scene in this film where a woman is sexually assaulted by two midgets, and it’s not even the film's most politically incorrect scene. That should be considered a merit of some sort, I believe. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is not as exciting. The film is a follow up The Joy of Torture, again utilizing a three episode format, but this time toning down the violence and focusing on abnormal passions. In plain English: more nudity than blood. Out of the tree, the second story is the best, focusing on a woman who can only get excited by having sex with the "ugliest" and "most abnormal" men she can find. The other two stories are less interesting tales of a naive girl fooled into working in a brothel and a mad lord who enjoys mistreating his female servants. Entirely watchable, but mostly unexceptional.

Yakuza's Law (Japan, 1969) [DVD] - 3.5/5
Contrary to what many Western fans believe, Teruo Ishii was first and foremost a gangster film director. It is true, however, that the ero-guro films he made in the late 60s were some of his most inventive and enjoyable films. Yakuza's Law’s combines the two genres. Unlike his other films from the era, there’s almost no female nudity on display as the film focuses exclusively on men torturing each other. It's an incredibly violent film; basically torture porn long before the term had been coined. Ears and fingers are cut off, eyes are gouged, faces are burned, and bodies are crushed in three episodes set in the past and modern. The first episode, with Bunta Sugawara, is the most brutal, while the second one with Minoru Oki has the best storyline. The third episode is a super stylised, super violent, jazz tuned action with Teruo Yoshida as the kind of master gunman you might encounter in a Seijun Suzuki film. Oddly fascinating and “cultish”, although not on par with Ishii’s best films.

The Red Silk Gambler (Japan, 1972) [DVD] - 3/5
Teruo Ishii's female gambler film has several good moments, but suffers from a messy script. Eiko Nakamura is a yakuza searching for a man (Bunta Sugawara) who once saved her life. Unfortunately he is now affiliated with her enemy, including the daughter (Reiko Ike) of a man she killed. This was intended as the first in a new series, but no sequels followed. It's easy to see why. Not only was the ninkyo yakuza genre past its prime, this one doesn't use the genre elements very effectively. There are also too many characters and Nakamura lacked the charisma of Junko Fuji. Ishii does, however, manage many visually stylish scenes and some nicely staged action. He also throws in some nudity and ero guro elements similar to his 60s shock cinema, although in a toned down form. Based on a storyline by Oniroku Dan, btw.


Africa’s Light (Japan, 1975) [35mm] – 3/5
This a bit of a slow burner for nothing much happens in the film. However, you’ll be surprised by how it grows on you. The film is about two semi-slackers (Kenichi Hasegawa and Kunie Tanaka) with an ultra-intimate friendship (wait for the scene where sick Tanaka pees in his pants, and Hasegawa then dries him with a towel) working, slacking and drinking in a freezing Hokkaido town. For a modern comparison point, imagine an early 2000s Nobuhiro Yamashita film with less humour and more 70s grit. Cinematography by Shinsaku Himeda is solid, and the film’s minimal score is quite lovely. The film was a Toho production, one of the many mainstream films by Roman Porno master Tatsumi Kumashiro. His other mainstream film, Failed Youth (1974), is often considered one of the best Japanese films of all time.

Keiji Monogatari 3: Song of the Surf (Japan, 1984) [DVD] - 1.5/5
Popular, but seriously underwhelming third film in the series. Karate cop Takeda is sent to a seaside town to look for a missing murder suspect. He befriends the man's family, and end up doing very little else. The film feels like a crossover between a travel advertisement and a television drama. Supporting cast is made of "normal women" with "normal worries". It is all evident the film is flirting with female audiences who want to cry and sympathise with movie characters. Cheap and manipulative. Action is sparse and poorly executed as well.

Keiji Monogatari 4: Song of the Black Current (Japan, 1985) [DVD] - 1.5/5
The series saw a tiny improvement with this 4th film. This time Takeda is kicked out from the police force and finds a new job at a yakuza run night club. The tagline "detective became a yakuza"raises false hopes. The trailer slogan, "the heroine is 7 months pregnant" is more describing. Also, by this instalment, the main character had basically turned into a benevolent teddy bear with no human defects whatsoever.

Keiji Monogatari 5: Song of the Echoes (Japan, 1987) [DVD] - 3/5
Quite unexpectedly, this is possibly the best film in the series. Takeda is kicked out from the police force again after knocking out both himself and his partner during an arrest, and being carried to safety by the criminal he was supposed to arrest. He gets his job back, however, when another town needs a fresh face to go undercover and protect a dancer who life has been threatened. Not only does the film feature some moments of comedy genius, it's also much better written with a proper storyline and grittier approach to characters than the previous three films. Action is pretty solid as well, and the film looks cinematic.


Japanese Hell (Japan, 1999) [35mm] - 3/5
Oddly fascinating trash by Teruo Ishii. A messenger from hell gives us a walking tour to the inferno, where silly looking demons are torturing and dismembering evil doers. As a sign of true inspiration and delightfully poor taste, the "victims" in the film are obviously real persons: otaku murderer Tsutomu Miyazaki and the perpetrators of the Tokyo subway sarin attack, all of whom were still alive (some awaiting trial) at the time. The film then proceeds to show what lead these men to hell. Inadequately budgeted and not convincing in the least, but strangely satisfying, and compared to modern exploitation, even well made. No CGI or tongue in the cheek humour, but instead fun sets, light and practical effects. Also, it's impossible not to smile at the closing credits which feature pretty women undressing against colourful sets - in hell! Good old Ishii. There's also a clever cameo by Tetsuro Tamba!  

Too Young to Die (Japan, 2016) [DCP] - 2/5
Hell is populated by rock bands in this modestly entertaining hell musical, in which a high school boy tries to fight his way out of the damnation. The only way seems to be to impress the evil rock gods of hell. There are some clever and funny moments, and a mainstream comedy like this could certainly be worse, but does it need to run 125 minutes? No. Music and sets are not too bad.

Your Name (Japan, 2016) [Flight] – 3.5/5
Currently the 2nd highest grossing Japanese film of all time, Your Name seems to be will finally earning Makoto Shinkai the recognition he deserves. Ironically enough, it’s not one of his best films. The teenage body swapping film adds a new twist to the cold concept: the hero and heroine only switch bodies for one day at a time, and have no control over when it happens. The film goes from a humoristic and romantic first half to a far more dramatic second half, but doesn’t reach the quality of Shinkai’s best films, such as Garden of Words and 5 Centimeters Per Second, which established him as the best animation director in the world. Also, the compulsory-for-a-big-release soundtrack by a popular band Radwimps is quite terrible as expected. However, it is still an enjoyable film and offers a nice look into life in the countryside vs. modern Tokyo metropolis, which make homes for its two protagonists.

Edited by Takuma

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Son of Godzilla (1967) - (original title: Kaijûtô no kesses: Gojira no Musuko) - This is actually a very enjoyable Godzilla movie, despite the "stain" of bearing Jun Fukuda's name on the director's chair. The story mixes tropical island hijinks (apparently a theme that was popular in Japanese cinema as a whole), an interesting neo-Malthusian story that seemed to be gaining traction at the time, and lots of monster fighting. The puppets used for Kumonga (Spiega in the English dub) and Kamakiras (Gimantis in the dub) are expertly realized--this could have given Them! a run for its money had it come out in 1954, when the latter scored a Best Visual FX nomination. Now that I've read August Ragone's biography of Eiji Tsuburaya, I can further appreciate the FX not directly related to the monsters, like the matte paintings and thousands of miniature trees created for the island sets. Bibari Maeda is  also a darling as Saeko (Riko in the dub). A minor classic in my book.

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Fall Guy (1982) - 4/5

I happened to find this movie at a Japanese video store in my area. I heard that Fall Guy had won Best Picture at the Japanese Academy Awards, so I thought "How bad can it be?" Other than its title, director (Kinji Fukasaku, director of Battle Royale), and critical praise, I knew nothing about this movie going in. And I was pleasantly surprised.

Fall Guy is hilarious. I loved this movie. The performances, though overacted (probably intentionally), are terrific. Keiko Matsuzaka, especially, is just fantastic. The movie starts off very funny and satirical despite its dark story, but suddenly becomes horribly depressing towards the end. Fall Guy features possibly the most violent temper tantrum I've ever seen in a movie. The last 30 minutes of Fall Guy is actually quite powerful. There are a few flaws though: there is an uncomfortable rape scene that left a bad taste in my mouth (even though it's very brief and non-explicit). Also even though Morio Kazama's character is hilarious, he's incredibly unlikable.

But still, Fall Guy is a very funny, depressing, strange, unpredictable, suspenseful, heart-warming, heart-breaking, dark, disturbing, and fun movie. Fall Guy is a unique movie-watching experience to say the least. Highly recommended!


*Fall Guy very noticeably inspired Stephen Chow classics including Love on Delivery (1994) and King of Comedy (1999).

**Criminally brief cameos by Sonny Chiba, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Etsuko Shihomi.


I'm planning on watching Sailor Suit and Machine Gun soon. I haven't seen it yet, but I've listened to the theme song about a million times this past week.

Edited by KenHashibe

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@Takuma Have you seen Detective Story (a.k.a. Tantei Monogatari; 1983)? I'm interested in seeing it because Hiroko Yakushimaru stars in it, the trailer looks cool, and I love the theme song. I haven't heard anything about the movie itself though, and I'd like to know if you'd recommend it (of course, if you've seen it).

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2 hours ago, KenHashibe said:

@Takuma Have you seen Detective Story (a.k.a. Tantei Monogatari; 1983)? I'm interested in seeing it because Hiroko Yakushimaru stars in it, the trailer looks cool, and I love the theme song. I haven't heard anything about the movie itself though, and I'd like to know if you'd recommend it (of course, if you've seen it).


Well, basically it's the worst possible movie you could get with the Negishi/Yakushimaru/Matsuda combination. Which doesn't mean it's bad. It's just not that special considering all the talent involved. Forgettable detective romance. But don't let that prevent you from seeing it if you're interested in it. Just don't expect it to be one of her best films.

From Yakushimaru, please see Sailor Suit and Machine Gun (1981), Legend of the Eight Samurai (1983) and Tragedy of W (1984). Tonda Couple (1980) and The Aimed School (1981) are also pretty good. Never Give Up (1978) isn't too bad either, although it could be better.

Edited by Takuma

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