Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Takuma

Japanese Movie Mini Reviews

Recommended Posts

Sailor Suit and Machine Gun (1981) - 4/5

I don’t really know how to start this mini-review so I’ll just cut to the chase. Sailor Suit and Machine Gun was fantastic. There’s a lot to love in this movie. Hiroko Yakushimaru is adorable and she gives a very real performance as Hoshi Izumi. The supporting characters are also quite enjoyable while the villains are despicable as hell. This movie is also very atmospheric. Most of the time, I felt that I was there with the characters watching things unfold. A lot of that has to do with how the movie was shot. You should be able to notice very quickly that this movie is pretty much entirely made up of very impressive long shots. There are probably more minutes in the run time than there are cuts. One long shot in particular (about 35 minutes in) blew me away by its length and scale. If you’re looking for a witty, fast-paced action comedy, you may be somewhat disappointed. Despite its funny premise, this movie isn’t particularly funny or action-packed. For the most part, this movie is actually quite dark. But still, the main appeal of the movie is its characters, story, and atmosphere. Also, of course, the theme song is freaking amazing.

4/5 leaning on a 4.5/5

 

*Oh, hey, the detective dude from Shall We Dance? (Akira Emoto) is the detective in this movie too. Cool cool.

17 hours ago, Takuma said:

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.

I’ll still probably end up seeing Detective Story. Based on the trailer, it looks like a film I’ll enjoy. I'll let you know what I think of it.

Legend of the Eight Samurai and Tragedy of W are already on my “movies to watch” list. I’ve been looking forward to seeing both, but oh man, Tragedy of W seems pretty depressing from what I’ve seen/heard about it. Tonda Couple, The Aimed School, and Never Give Up are also movies I wanna see, but they’re not super urgent for me to see.

Thanks for these recommendations.

Edited by KenHashibe

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

W's Tragedy (a.k.a. Tragedy of W; 1984) - 3.5/5

My Hiroko Yakushimaru binge continues with W's Tragedy which is about a girl named Mita (played by Yakushimaru) who is willing to do just about anything to get the lead role in a play. Overall, I liked W's Tragedy quite a bit. As a full on drama, it succeeds at being engaging and involving all the way through. The performances are great all around. Hiroko Yakushimaru gives a terrific performance and really gets to show her acting chops. I mainly had two issues with it though: (1) I felt the romance between the two leads was somewhat forced and superficial. I didn't feel the compatability between them. (2) It may sound weird saying this, but I think this movie should've been darker. Despite the terrible things Mita does in the movie, the movie is strangely inconsequential.

SPOILERS (I'm about to spoil certain plot points, including the ending, so proceed with caution):

Spoiler

So towards the middle of the film, Mita accepts taking the rep for sleeping with that one dude who died while having sex. I thought that the main drama would come from Mita being tempted to tell everyone the truth. Or maybe there would be drama about her dealing with the guilt of lying to everyone just for fame. Like an internal battle against herself. Instead though, she seems to have no problems with doing what she does despite how terrible it is. The only really bad thing that happens to her is she has problems with her boyfriend. But even then, he shows up to her performance and forgives her.

And then when the boyfriend gets stabbed, I thought "Oh, him dying is the 'tragedy' that the title is referring to." But, nope, he lives too. I could've gone with a bit more heartache or melodrama coming from a movie with "tragedy" in the title.

Overall, though, I still liked W's Tragedy. It's a very compelling and well-written drama with terrific performances. I had problems with it, but I feel I'll enjoy it more after a rewatch. And as always, the theme song is SO GOOD. This one was composed by Joe Hisaishi, composer of many Hayao Miyazaki films, and holy crap, it's great. 

 

Next up, The Legend of the Eight Samurai...

11 hours ago, Takuma said:

Hah, I think there's still space for some more :laugh

You can never own too much of her stuff!

Edited by KenHashibe

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There's a great line in Tragedy of W when Hiroko says "Don't hit me in the face, I'm an actress".

I don't know if you are aware but Sailor Suit and Machine Gun exists in two versions: the 1981 theatrical cut (112 min) and the 1982 re-release Complete Version (130 min). The longer version features some nice additions (Hiroko drying her hair and walking on the street!) but also some not so nice additions (Hiroko nearly getting raped, more scenes with the detective and the gangster boss). Overall I'd consider the shorter version the better one.

Of course I own both versions, the long one on DVD and both on BD

 

SFKWBSFC.jpg

 

SFKWBSBC.jpg

 

51olsG4IlLL.jpg

 

Oh and in case you haven't seen this video with Riki Takeuchi:

 

 

Edited by Takuma

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 hours ago, Takuma said:

There's a great line in Tragedy of W when Hiroko says "Don't hit me in the face, I'm an actress".

I don't know if you are aware but Sailor Suit and Machine Gun exists in two versions: the 1981 theatrical cut (112 min) and the 1982 re-release Complete Version (130 min). The longer version features some nice additions (Hiroko drying her hair and walking on the street!) but also some not so nice additions (Hiroko nearly getting raped, more scenes with the detective and the gangster boss). Overall I'd consider the shorter version the better one.

Of course I own both versions, the long one on DVD and both on BD...

Oh and in case you haven't seen this video with Riki Takeuchi:

I love that line from W's Tragedy (Tragedy of W; I've seen both titles being used).

I saw the 112-minute version. If I'm not mistaken, I think that's the only version with English subtitles, which I unfortunately need. As far as I know, the only release with English subtitles is the Hong Kong region 3 DVD. Are there other releases with English subtitles that I don't know about? I don't really care which version of the film it is (112-min or 130-min), as long as it has subs.

I don't think I need to see the 130-minute version, but I guess it'd be neat to see just so I can say I saw it.

Also, yes, I have seen Riki Takeuchi's cover of the theme song. I've seen pretty much every version of this song that's out there.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 hours ago, Takuma said:

The HK DVD is the only subbed release available.

Damn. I have yet to come across a copy of that version (Yeah, I had to watch Sailor Suit online. Sorry for being terrible :sweating. In my defense, if I had waited to find the HK DVD, I wouldn't have been able to see the movie for a LONG time). I'll keep my eye open for the Hong Kong DVD's for Hiroko Yakushimaru's movies, in particular Sailor Suit and Machine Gun and Detective Story. I'd love to own them.

Edited by KenHashibe

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Police Department Story 12 (Japan, 1960) [35mm] - 2.5/5
The 12th film in the long running series (Sonny Chiba co-starred in parts 15, 16 and 17). The majority of the films were one hour b-features, while some, such as this film, ran close to 90 minutes. They were all written by a former police forensics, who loosely based them on real cases and emphasized realistic police work. This one is an average entry. An unknown woman's body is discovered in a cargo train travelling between Tokyo to Osaka. Where was she killed, and did someone try to mislead the police by transporting the body? Shot in Tokyo and Osaka, with a decent use of locations.

Wicked Priest 2: Ballad of Murder (Japan, 1968) [TV] - 2.5/5
Tomisaburo Wakayama is an ass-loving priest travelling Japan and fighting evil whenever he's not chasing girls. Average yakuza / jidai geki film that doesn't really stand out on any area. Guest star Bunta Sugawara is the film's most memorable character as vengeful blind priest. Note: I have not seen the first film in the series.

Wicked Priest 3: A Killer's Pilgrimage (Japan, 1969) [TV] - 3.5/5
The second sequel is sexier, funnier and features better action that part 2. This time Wakayama travels to a small seaside village terrorized by a mix bunch of thugs and anti-government rebels. Things slow down somewhat during the middle third, but there's a fair amount of splendid cinematography that captures the mythical atmosphere of the by-past (cinema) samurai era. Wakayama also has a great fight with Sugawara.

wic1.jpg-wic2.jpg

Wicked Priest 4: Wicked Priest Comes Back (Japan, 1970) [TV] - 2/5
The third film was the best of the Wicked Priest sequels. The fourth, in turn, is the worst. An instantly forgettable  standard yakuza flick with a weak plot and plenty of dull comedy scenes.

Gambling Den: Drifter (Japan, 1970) [TV] - 3.5/5
No. 8 in the series. Koji Tsuruta is a wandering yakuza searching for a young woman who had cut her ties with her yakuza father and doesn't even know he's been dead for years. Director Kosaku Yamashita's ninkyo films were always elegant, old fashioned and well written. This film is no exception. There is a fine scene in the beginning captures the genre's essence. A benevolent old boss, stabbed by an enemy, dies in Tsuruta's arms. Tsuruta tells younger gang mate "this is how we, wandering yakuza, end up". As outlaws and outcasts, the honourable yakuza would try hard to live by the code and never exploit the innocent; yet they'd end up dying on a cold alley stabbed by a faceless enemy henchman. That's the tragedy and romanticism of the ninkyo way in a nutshell.

Wicked Priest 5 - Drinking, Gambling and Women  (Japan, 1971) [TV] - 2/5
Another underwhelming entry with standard yakuza film storyline and lots of comedy. It's a bit naughtier than the earlier films, although still refraining from any nudity. What makes this a notch better than the previous film is the great Wakayama vs. Sugawara due that ends the film on a good note. Sugawara's character also appeared in his own spin off movie, the ultra violent Whipmaster (1970), which is better than most of the Wicked Priest films.

New Female Prisoner Scorpion #701 (Japan, 1976) [DVD] – 2.5/5
Toei was quick to reboot the series with Yumi Takigawa taking over Meiko Kaji’s role. This one is a loose remake of the 1972 original. Director Yutaka Kohira helms passable WIP entertainment, but his visual eye is no match for that of Shunya Ito. There are moments where the film really takes off, such as Nami’s final mission of revenge, but most of it is fairly routine. Takigawa is a pretty girl, and she did well School of the Holy Beast, but she lacks the kind of charisma and strong screen presence this role requires. The film is also surprisingly light on exploitation with very little in terms of sex and nudity. That being said, the film is by no means bad, just a little underwhelming compared to the original.

news1.jpg.news2.jpg

New Female Prisoner Scorpion: Special Cellblock X (Japan, 1977) [DVD] – 2.5/5
The second and final New Female Prisoner Scorpion film stars Yoko Natsuki, who was just about the most uncharismatic actress you could imagine for the role. Thankfully, the supporting cast fares much better, with yakuza film stars Takeo Chii and Hiroshi Tachi as prison guards and karate villain Masashi Ishibashi as the warden. The screenplay features a couple interesting elements, such as Chii’s character who has his own way of doing things. Director Yutaka Kohira and screenwriter Tatsuhiko Kamoi keep the film moving especially during the second half, but as far as the surreal scenes go, it’s painfully obvious they lack the understanding of the material that Shinya Ito had. In Ito’s films the surreal images served as exaggerated symbolism as well as visual feast; here they serve no purpose and tend to be more amusing than impressive.

Gakidama (Japan, 1985) [DVD] - 2/5
55-minute straight to video (shot on 16mm) monster movie from the "golden age" of Japanese underground splatter and straight to video horror. This one was clearly inspired by Gremlins, featuring a mini-size blood thirsty monster that not only likes biting and slicing his victims, but also frequently attacks their genitalia. There's some wonderful special effects work, as well as some not-so-convincing but nevertheless amusing monster puppet work on display. It's just too bad that the film is neither very gory not especially interesting. Except for a tense bathroom sequence, it tends to be a little bit boring.

Biotherapy (Japan, 1986) - 2.5/5
Straight-to-video splatter with an utterly ridiculous plot about a revolutionary serum, and an alien who is killing scientists in the most brutal ways to obtain it. It's unintentionally cheesy despite the gruesome effects, and hardly convincing in any area, but well paced at just 35 minutes. There's a certain charm related to the film unmistakably being a product of its time and genre. Amusing junk.

Cyclops (Japan, 1987) - 3/5
A group of men are seeking a new carrier for a parasite-like creature in this 52 minute horror film that comes with an amazing pay-off. There is no splatter prior to the climax, but once it gets there the film turns into a jaw dropping monster special effects extravaganza full of flesh, blood and slime. Those who remember the last few monster bosses from the Resident Evil 2 (video game) will feel instantly at home. Not too much happens in the film prior to that, and it's directed and edited in a truly odd fashion. For example, when someone rolls in her sleep, we see her rolling about 30 times, from 6 different angles. It's jarring, yet somehow interesting at the same time and makes the film more watchable.

cy1.jpg.cy2.jpg

Shimauma (Japan, 2016) [VoD] - 2.5/5
A friend of mine called this "the film that most resembles Ichi the Killer since Ichi the Killer, albeit with less style." His description is quite accurate. A young gangster runs into a cross-dressing geek whose business is mutilating and torturing people for money (though he's starting to get bored with it because they "always torture the guy and rape the girl. So usual!"). Non-stop sadism with a revenge plot ensues. Director Hajime Hashimoto did the superb Flower and Snake: Zero a few years ago. This one tones down the eroticism to a handful of graphic nude and sex scenes and ups the bloodshed. The violence gets a little tiresome towards the end, but there is no denying there is something strangely captivating about the film. Performances are fine, and there are some great moments of black humour. The fact that is got an R15-rating in Japan is a miracle, and not a small one either.

Colonel Panics (Japan/Australia, 2016) [Yubari Fanta] - 4/5
A superb cyberpunk film about a man hired to test a virtual reality game that seems more realistic than the reality itself. The game appears to be infected with a computer virus that makes characters harbour extreme right wing ideologies and apparent hatred towards women. While the film looks stylish and sounds even better, and is sure to raise some eyebrows with its graphic sex and violence, it's the ambitious screenplay that really makes it work. What is the connection between the film's two storylines? What is the relationship between actual reality and manufactured reality, and which one is influencing which more? The film takes quite a bit of brainwork just to get a hold of it and is almost impossible to fully digest with just one viewing.

Edited by Takuma

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Takuma, can you describe in more detail what Yumi Takigawa lacked in comparison to Meiko Kaji? I've watched the original four films of Sasori series with Kaji and she always had that intense stare and forceful style of action, Takigawa actually looks quite like Kaji but what is she lacking specifically as I haven't seen the two semi sequels to the original four. Also, just how bad was Yoko Natsuki?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, De Ming Li said:

Takuma, can you describe in more detail what Yumi Takigawa lacked in comparison to Meiko Kaji? I've watched the original four films of Sasori series with Kaji and she always had that intense stare and forceful style of action, Takigawa actually looks quite like Kaji but what is she lacking specifically as I haven't seen the two semi sequels to the original four. Also, just how bad was Yoko Natsuki?

Well, basically, she lacks that state. Or in other words, the charisma. When Kaji looks at you, you feel like her eyes could kill you. When Takigawa looks at you, it's just a pretty girl who seems a little frustrated with you looking at you. It's a little hard to believe she could hurt anyone.

Natsuki is like a human shaped robot, although that description makes her sound scarier that she is.

The beauty of Kaji's performance was that she was able to express so much with so little. Takigawa and especially Natsuki try to imitate that but fail to express almost anything.

Edited by Takuma

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Himalayan Wanderer (Japan, 1961) [TV] - 2/5
A very loose sequel to the wonderfully nutty The Big Gamblers of The Amazon. Unfortunately this one is not half as much fun. It has the same lead cast, including Chiezo Kataoka, but that's where the similarities end. In this film Kataoka (not a gambler this time) finds a yeti in the Himalaya and brings him to Japan. Not much interesting happens since bringing a yeti out to the public is no easy task and we end up spending too much time with a fake-yeti (Eitaro Shindo). Reporters and gangster businessmen alike are after the real yeti, who spends most of his time sleeping in Kataoka's bathtub. A poor man's King Kong with a lot of filler material between the relatively good opening and closing parts.

Kunoichi ninpo (Japan, 1964) [DVD] – 4/5
Great debut feature by Sadao Nakajima feels like a mixture The Ballad of Narayama (1958) and Female Prisoner Scorpion (1972) with female ninjas. The atmospheric exploitation flick follows a group of female ninjas fighting against male ninjas who have been hired to assassinate them. Solid action and many visually stylish, surreal sequences. The use of studio sets is cool, although sometimes very obvious. There are also some bare breasts on display, although only in non-sex scenes. 1964 marked was the year when nudity started becoming common in mainstream films in Japan, but it was still kept separate from sex for several years.

kuno1s.jpg'kuno2s.jpg

Kunoichi kesho (Japan, 1964) [DVD] – 1/5
A miserable sequel by Sadao Nakajima to his own terrific debut film Kunoichi ninpo. This time he goes for a tongue-in-the-cheek parody which even features musical scenes and constant nerve-breaking comedy. An unfortunate reminder that stupid post-modernism existed in genre cinema already 50 years ago.

Red Angel (Japan, 1966) [TV] - 4.5/5
Disturbing yet beautiful and deeply touching study of humanity and the madness of war. Ayako Wakao stars as war nurse serving Japanese soldiers in China. The field hospitals are a hell on earth with floors covered in blood and rotting bodies lying everywhere. Some of the injured soldiers are letting their wounds get infected in the fear of being sent back to the battlefield, others are denied returning home because their dismembered bodies would hurt the public morale. She keeps helping them even after she's molested and raped, but it's unclear whether she's a blood covered angel or a woman so numbed by the brutality of men that she no longer feels anything towards herself. She later falls in love with a morphine addicted doctor who keeps amputating men night and day because that's "all he can do". Poetic, brutal, thought provoking and extremely powerful.

reda1.jpg'reda2.jpg

Velvet Hustler (Japan, 1967) [DVD] - 2.5/5
Considered one of the Nikkatsu Action classics, I must say this wasn't entirely my cup of tea (admittedly I'm much more of a Toei man than a Nikkatsu fan). The Nikkatsu Action labelling may be slightly misleading, as it often is, considering there is essentially no action in the film. Tetsuya Watari is a young, flamboyant playboy gangster who performs a hit in Tokyo in the opening scene. The rest of the film he spends in Kobe, mainly sitting in the harbour, going to trendy bars, and getting bored with his girlfriend. Stylish execution, but not much happens in the film.

Big Time Gambling Boss (Japan, 1968) [DVD] - 4/5
Part 4 in the Gambling Den series, generally considered one of the finest yakuza films of all time and compared to Greek tragedies by Yukio Mishima. The comparison is apt as the film plays out like a "Japanese Tragedy" arising from the traditional codes of honour, loyalty, and seniority. The tragedy begins when Koji Tsuruta, the highest ranking man in a yakuza clan, refuses leadership out of courtesy. The second man in line (Tomisaburo Wakayama) is bypassed for to being in prison although he's about to be released. A dishonest senior member (Nobuo Kaneko) gets his own candidate (Hiroshi Nawa) selected despite Tsuruta's objections. Valuing gang loyalty above anything, Tsuruta accepts the decision and backs it up, unlike friend Wakayama who begins a fight against the new boss who doesn't not realize he is being used by Kaneko. Beautifully written and in a way restrained (no major final fight), although overly melodramatic story about the conflict between personal feelings and a loyalty for a system.

btgb1.jpg'btgb2.jpg

Yakuza Masterpiece (Japan, 1970) [VoD] - 4.5/5
Shintaro Katsu gives the performance of a lifetime in this absolutely mind blowing yakuza film by Yasuzo Masumura. Katsu is a hot headed gangster who treats women like trash, except for his little sister (Naoko Otani), whose innocence is his only pride. He guards her night and day and beats all the boyfriend candidates to hospital, desperately trying to make sure she won't become what he is. But after he lands in jail (for not only beating the shit out of four men, but also the policemen who came to arrest him) she's left alone. Ironically, she chooses to follow her brother's path. A thoroughly gripping film with amazing performances by Katsu and little sister Otani, who can more than stand up against Katsu. This film serves as a good reminder that modern Japanese gangster films are nothing but a lame joke compared to movies like this; and Otani has more balls than the entire male cast of Gonin Saga (2015).

yaze1s.jpg'yaze2s.jpg

not Japanese film, but let me put it here anyway because of Reiko Ike:

The Bedevilled (Hong Kong, 1975) [DVD] - 1.5/5
As the short lived Pinky Violence genre ran out of popularity in the mid 70s, Reiko Ike found herself looking for other work opportunities. She had small supporting roles in Toei's yakuza films, did one movie for Nikkatsu, and also found time to appear in this Hong Kong horror. Unfortunately it is just about the worst movie you could get with the Ike + Golden Harvest + HK Horror combination. Ike is an innocent wife raped by a sleazebag young master. The man is later found dead, with Ike missing and her husband getting the blame for it. Court drama and vengeful ghosts ensue. Ike looks great in Chinese clothes (and yes, she does get rid of them multiple times) but it's hard to get excited about the film. As a court drama it's boring, as horror it's just silly. It even end of an educational moral note. Do not expect anything shocking or sleazy.

Strange Days (Japan, 2017) [Yubari Fanta] - 1/5
Two sleazy guys run a popular actor's workshop where they hold their customers in captive and basically turn them into sex slaves. How else would an aspiring young actress learn to play roles such as rape victims? Director Yasushi Koshizaka is a veteran of countless straight-to-video exploitation films, e.g. the "Days" and "Missing" series. This is his first independent film in 19 years. He did almost everything behind the screen from financing to directing and cinematography. There's evident potential for an outrageous satire and commentary on how Japanese film industry treats women. Such hopes, however, are best buried immediately. The miserable, badly acted and amateurish looking film is basically 115 minutes of misogynism that comes as close to hard core pornography as possible without crossing the line. If this was intended as satire or social commentary, it must be one of the most misguided, ridiculous attempts at it in the history of cinema. It makes Cannibal Holocaust look utterly sincere in comparison.

Edited by Takuma

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, Takuma said:

Kunoichi ninpo (Japan, 1964) [DVD] – 4/5
Great debut feature by Sadao Nakajima feels like a mixture The Ballad of Narayama (1958) and Female Prisoner Scorpion (1972) with female ninjas. The atmospheric exploitation flick follows a group of female ninjas fighting against male ninjas who have been hired to assassinate them. Solid action and many visually stylish, surreal sequences. The use of studio sets is cool, although sometimes very obvious. There are also some bare breasts on display, although only in non-sex scenes. 1964 marked was the year when nudity started becoming common in mainstream films in Japan, but it was still kept separate from sex for several years.

I didn't even know this movie existed. Did you ever see the Kunoichi Ninpo Cho: Yagyu Gaiden films from the late 90s with Yuko Moriyama?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 minutes ago, DrNgor said:

Did you ever see the Kunoichi Ninpo Cho: Yagyu Gaiden films from the late 90s with Yuko Moriyama?

No, I didn't.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
19 hours ago, Takuma said:

Yakuza Masterpiece (Japan, 1970) [VoD] - 4.5/5
Shintaro Katsu gives the performance of a lifetime in this absolutely mind blowing yakuza film by Yasuzo Masumura. Katsu is a hot headed gangster who treats women like trash, except for his little sister (Naoko Otani), whose innocence is his only pride. He guards her night and day and beats all the boyfriend candidates to hospital, desperately trying to make sure she won't become what he is. But after he lands in jail (for not only beating the shit out of four men, but also the policemen who came to arrest him) she's left alone. Ironically, she chooses to follow her brother's path. A thoroughly gripping film with amazing performances by Katsu and little sister Otani, who can more than stand up against Katsu. This film serves as a good reminder that modern Japanese gangster films are nothing but a lame joke compared to movies like this; and Otani has more balls than the entire male cast of Gonin Saga (2015).

yaze1s.jpg'yaze2s.jpg

Does this movie also happen to be called An Ode to Yakuza and is directed by Yasuzo Masumura? The name Yakuza Masterpiece doesn't seem to come up with much!

Edited by Writ

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 22.3.2017 at 6:17 PM, Writ said:

Does this movie also happen to be called An Ode to Yakuza and is directed by Yasuzo Masumura? The name Yakuza Masterpiece doesn't seem to come up with much!

Yes, seems so. I  didn't know about that title.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Crimson Bat, the Blind Swordswoman (Japan, 1969) - 4/5
Excellent female yakuza film oozing with 60s pop samurai cinema atmosphere, partly due to extensive use of studio sets. There are several things that raise this film above your average genre offering, including a terrific score, unexpectedly good action, and a simple story made more captivating using broken chronology. Lead actress Yoko Matsuyama, armed with a cane sword and two kilos of makeup, looks much like a kabuki doll. That comes with a certain appeal of its own, though a lively portrait is not to be found here. The film and its heroine often get compared to Zatoichi, and while the blind swordsman was an obvious influence, Daiei's female yakuza films with Michiyo Yasuda (Lady Sazen and the Drenched Swallow Sword, 1969; Girl with Bamboo Leaves, 1969) would make a better comparison point. Crimson Bat fairs favourably against them in almost every aspect from action to score and storytelling, except for the heroine's presence where the charming Yasuda easily takes the game.

crim1.jpg'crim2.jpg

Sleepy Eyes of Death 13: The Full Moon Swordsman (Japan, 1969) [35mm] - 2.5/5
Hiroki Matsukata starred in the final two Sleepy Eyes of Death films following Raizo Ichikawa's death in 1969. He does quite well in the role, although it must be said there is no comparison to the iconic Ichikawa. The film is a standard Daiei affair: well made, but feels a bit routine. As a nice surprise, the hero's famous full moon cut technique is a bit different compared to before.

Sleepy Eyes of Death 14: Fylfot Swordplay (Japan, 1969) [35mm] - 3/5
This is the most violent film in the series with several big blood spurts and a few severed limbs. The film aided by rough but energetic director Kazuo Ikehiro who could be relied on to deliver grittier, more interesting films than routine workhorse Kazuo Mori who helmed part 13. At the same time, however, certain core flaws of the series are evident here. It's a series that flirted with exploitation for 14 instalments without ever really daring to get there. As usual, the film is full of nude scenes without any actual nudity. Similarly, Kyoshiro's dark past is something that was teased with since the beginning, but what never actually materialized into anything more that brief flashbacks.

Trapped, Crimson Bat (Japan, 1969) - 3/5
The first sequel opens and closes really well, but gets bogged down during the middle third, which goes down the cliché "yakuza seeking normal life in the countryside" path, complete with a naive idiot of a farmer / love interest who gets everyone in trouble. It is also during those scenes that Yoko Matsuyama, for the first and last time in the series, quite resembles Junko Fuji's warm but lethal personality from her Red Peony Gambler films. Matsuyama, unusually old (32) for a role of this kind, was not a comparable actress but she was probably the most convincing female action performer in Japan at the time. Her sword handling is as good as many of her male colleagues, and she has several great action scenes in the film, including one against a Chinese swordsman. Had the middle third been better, the film would've been excellent.

crims1.jpg'crims2.jpg

Watch Out, Crimson Bat (Japan, 1969) - 3/5
Entertaining third film features several likeable supporting characters, such as a good hearted swordsman played by Goro Ibuki. Yôko Matsuyama is getting better and better at portraying the heroine, who by now easily redeems her place in the pop culture history next to characters such as Zatoichi and the One Armed Swordsman. Although the storyline is a standard affair and the action scenes are not quite as thrilling as in the previous film, the film is generally more even than part 2.

Crimson Bat - Oichi: Wanted, Dead or Alive (Japan, 1970) - 3/5
The final film in the series is the weakest, but it's just a notch below the previous two entries. It feels much like part 3 with its decent but forgettable action and several good supporting characters, including Yuki Meguro as a noble bounty hunter, Tetsuro Tamba as a drunken samurai, and Reiko Oshida as a benevolent boss' daughter. The biggest problem is the return of the dumb peasants, who terrorized part 2 but were thankfully absent from part 3.

Story of Japanese Bad Men (Japan, 1971) [TV] - 2/5
The 1960s saw loads of chivalrous yakuza films with the word "den" (tale or story) in their title. There was the Tale of Japanese Chivalry series (11 films), Tale of Meiji Era Chivalry, Tale of Kawachi Chivalry, and many others. Here we finally have the tale of "Japanese Bad Men", which very much lives up to its title. This is like a Ken Takakura film if Takakura and his benevolent clan had never entered the scenario and we were left only with the villainous gang lead by someone like Bin Amatsu (who actually is in this film). It's a sort of mash up between the 60s ninkyo films and the 70s jitsuroku style that was just emerging. Tomisaburo Wakayma plays a no good hood who joins a villain gang. The rest of the film follows him running a prostitution business and becoming a boss himself. It is, unfortunately, a lot less fun than one would expect due to the lack of a plot, and a relatively low exploitation factor until the spectacularly bloody finale.

Story of Japanese Bad Men: Travelling Companions to Hell (Japan, 1972) [TV] - 1.5/5
Messy sequel is basically a repetition of the first film, but with even less coherence. A ninkyo film it is not, nor a jitsuroku movie despite excessive violence, and as exploitation it is not exploitative enough. The scrip and direction lack focus and style: this little more than a series of scenes featuring bad men doing bad things.

Girl Boss Blues: Queen Bee's Counterattack (Japan, 1971) [DVD] - 3/5
The first film in the series. This was a bit of a turning point for girl gang films, which had started out light and breezy (Stray Cat Rock, and Delinquent Girl Boss). From here on they would get darker little by little as they'd go down the same path with male yakuza films. A new generation of meaner, sexier and dirtier girls lead by Reiko Ike (still underage here) and Miki Sugimoto would take over the screens from the previous generation (here represented by Yukie Kagawa, who gets her ass kicked by Ike). For these girls survival mattered more than honour. This film contains a whole bunch of iconic genre scenes like malfunctioning clothes in girl fights that would be later seen in countless other films, as well as some unique ideas like the "sex on motorcycle" competition . Yet, the film is uneven. It still includes large doses of silly comedy and a frustratingly strong focus on male supporting characters - both influences of the 60s yakuza films. It seems the filmmakers were not yet entirely confident with the girl gang formula - something that would change soon enough.

suke1a.jpg'suke1b.jpg

Girl Boss Blues: Queen Bee's Challenge (Japan, 1972) [DVD] - 3/5
The second film in the series, with (the still underage) Reiko Ike continuing in the lead. Although the film lacks memorable scenes, it’s well made, with good looking visuals, decent characters and a milieu that feels surprisingly real despite some outlandish elements. There are also some quite funny scenes with the girls cheating horny men out of their money. The tone is still relatively light despite the genre already reaching towards the nihilism that would begin to dominate many Pinky Violence films from mid-1972. There are, however, a couple of harsh torture scenes, of which evil sister Chiyoko Kazama sticking shaken Coca Cola bottles to Sugimoto’s you-know-where  leaves a bit of a nasty aftertaste. Tatsuo Umemiya makes a cameo as the “Delinquent Boss”, a character he played in his own film series that ran 17 instalments. Miki Sugimoto has a small supporting role again: she was playing second fiddle to Ike in all her early roles until Onsen Suppon Geisha (1972).

Girl Boss Guerilla (Japan, 1972) [DVD] – 3.5/5
Reiko Ike announced her retirement from film biz in 1972, which lead to Miki Sugimoto being cast in leading roles in this film and Onsen Suppon Geisha a month before. Ike's decision didn’t last more than a month or two, and she was back in time to land a “quest star” role in this film. Some say Ike regretted her decision when she saw Sugimoto crowned as the new queen of Toei Porno (yep, that’s how they were known back then). In any case, this film started Ike and Sugimoto’s silver screen rivalry. From here on Toei would often cast one of them as the heroine and the other as (friendly) nemesis. The film is one of the better ones in the series, a breezy biker girl flick shot in and around the beautiful Kyoto. There’s quite a bit of comedy, most of it funny, as well as some sadistic beatings. A better plot would have improved the film, which, it its current state, barely has any. Worth mentioning is the film has the best topless scenes in the series: these girls walk around with their tattooed breasts out if they feel like it cause they just don’t give a damn.

suke3a.jpg'suke3b.jpg

Girl Boss: Revenge (Japan, 1973) [DVD] – 2.5/5
The 4th and weakest entry in the series. Despite the usual genre charm, this one suffers from suffocating sexism that leaves a nasty aftertaste. Now, someone might point out that hasn't the genre always dwelled in gratuitous exploitation of the female beauty? Of course it has, that why they are called exploitation movies. What makes the difference, however, is how women are portrayed within that context: as weak, disposable pieces of meat, or as bare-breasted amazons kicking ass. This film too often falls to the former category, as best evidenced by the scene where Ike and Sugimoto’s brawl is brought to an end by the former’s boyfriend who slaps Sugimoto in the face and drags Ike into the car. So much about strong women. Throughout the film women are constantly slapped, beaten and raped by the wimpiest of yakuza because, apparently, the gender is at fault. This approach is not only unfortunate but also very anti-climatic. See the 7th film in the series for a prime example of exploitation, with just as much nudity and even all the rapes, done with a genuine sense of female empowerment and ass kicking.

Girl Boss: Escape from Reform School (Japan, 1973) [DVD] – 3.5/5
Sadao Nakajima took over the directorial duties here, which was probably for the best as Norifumi Suzuki seemed to be running out of steam with the series. This is one of the best films in the series; a fast moving entry with only cool girls and not much in terms of frustrating comic reliefs. It's also a stylish one with solid cinematography, some cool action and a badass score that is played on repeat. As the title suggests, Sugimoto and her pals escape from a reform school, which gives the film a slightly road movie kind of structure. Ike also hooks up with small time goon and relatively nice guy Tsunehiko Watase. The nasty sexism of the previous entry is thankfully absent here. However, there is something that keeps the film just short of excellence. It's well made and entertaining, but ultimately not quite as catchy, stylish and anarchic as the very best pinky violence films.

suke5c.jpg'suke5a.jpg

Girl Boss: Diamond Showdown (Japan, 1974) [DVD] - 3/5
Ikuo Sekimoto helmed the last two films in the series. This one, the 6th film in the series, plays it safe. Reiko Ike is a delinquent girl who once stabbed a gangster boss (Toru Abe) and is now being released from reform school. She’s soon back to her old habits. It’s an entertaining enough, but forgettable entry in the series. Occasional sadistic violence is mixed with comedy, and the soundtrack includes songs like “Funky Monkey Baby”. Bad girl Ryoko Ema, who gets a bit more characterization here than usual, seems to be wearing the same dress that Ike had in Lynch Law Classroom. Tsunehiko Watase plays a cool gangster always wearing sunglasses. This was the last film in the series with the original cast; neither Ike nor Sugimoto (absent here as well) returned for the final entry.

Girl Boss: Crazy Ball Game (Japan, 1974) [DVD] – 3.5/5
The final film in the series, done without its original stars Ike and Sugimoto, is perhaps the best. Yuko Kano is the new sukeban and although she was not a star of Ike or Sugimoto's calibre, she still owns the film. She’s got enough looks and attitude to convince and charm. It’s also a well made film with an energetic supporting cast, a groovy score, and a fast-paced script largely void of silly comic reliefs. The film is also enjoyably pro-women within its exploitation context: girls kick ass, nudity is often cheerful (wait for the ridiculous and awesome topless beach scene) and rapes only happen when the girls are outnumbered by yakuza gorillas, rather than women being at the mercy of any male by default. Any wrong doings are of course brutally avenged in the over the top final massacre that might have felt out of place in a more realistic entry, but was a perfect way to retire this series.

suke7a.jpg'suke7b.jpg

Oh Wonderful Utamaro (Japan, 1974) [35mm] - 2.5/5
Director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi was best known for martial arts and Pinky Violence films but he also directed a couple of erotic films. This mildly amusing sex comedy is mainly remembered for starring Sharon Kelly. The American actress plays a nymphomaniac who falls from the sky with a parachute and is picked up by "porno broker" Tatsuo Umemiya who then makes her work in his Turkish bath, which she doesn't mind at all. Kelly is obviously the main attraction here, whether you mean it literally or as a cinematic curiosity. The film itself is a pretty mediocre affair with hippies, yakuza, lots of sex, silly comedy, and a bit of action. Kelly reads her lines in English with few sentences of (understandable) Japanese here and there, while the rest of the cast does the opposite. The best supporting character is an English speaking hippie dad taking care of a baby and having sex at the same time with Pinky Violence co-star Harumi Tajima.

A Haunted Turkish Bathhouse (Japan, 1975) [35mm] - 3/5
Kazuhiko Yamaguchi never enjoyed much critical acclaim, but he helmed some of the most outrageous Toei films of the 70s. Or how does a 1975 cursed cat erotic horror flick loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe sound like? Naomi Tani is an abused wife forced to work in a brothel. When she discovers her husband is behind it all, she's whipped to death (terribly ironic considering she survived all her SM flicks). Her soul, however, comes back to haunt the evil doers in the form of a black cat. The film is quite a Frankenstein job, stealing elements from Poe, SM films, Turkish Bath films, animal terror etc. It eventually gets to the point where the vengeful cat is flying around slaughtering bad guys and finally turns into a runway cast member of the Cats musical. It's all positively insane and entertaining, but any real horror is long gone by this point, and the cat looks especially bored. It also doesn't reach the style of the director's better films. Consider it Yamaguchi's House-lite, Toei Porno style.

A Night in Nude (Japan, 1993) [35mm] - 4/5
A fine reminder of why Takashi Ishii once was one of the most exciting and underrated Japanese filmmakers. This one, written and directed by Ishii, has a magnificent beginning that is best not spoiled. A brief introduction shall do. Muraki (Naoto Takenaka) is simple, sympathetic man running a small proxy business where he does things in behalf of people. He attends funerals of clients' distant relatives, cleans gravestones, takes care of dogs, and so on for small compensation. One day a woman called Nami walks into her office, telling him she's a tourist in a need of Tokyo guide. None of that is actually true; she's from Tokyo and in an abusive relationship with a yakuza boss who won't let him go. Atmospheric, beautifully shot film with several magnificent scenes. However, it's also a bit rough around the edges, including Kippei Shiina's over the top supporting performance, and an ending that, while fascinating, would be even better if Ishii had cut out the last act. Still, this is a seminal 90s neo noir that still hasn't been properly discovered.

ann1.jpg'ann2.jpg

Kyohansha (Japan, 1999) [35mm] - 2.5/5
A mostly standard gangster actioner with the always likeable Naoto Takenaka as a Japanese-Brazilian gangster trying to get his money from the Japanese yakuza. An abused girl (Kyoko Koizumi) hooks up with him. What really electrifies (parts of) the film is rock 'n roll bad boy Yuya Uchida as a blond, sunglass wearing assassin sent after Takenaka. He speaks all his lines saying the first sentences in English. "Name?" "My name is Fucking Dead Man". Otherwise routine affair with some passable action and a bit surprisingly no sex or nudity whatsoever. Not great, but entirely watchable.

Edited by Takuma

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Carmen from Kawachi (Japan, 1966) [35mm] - 2.5/5
A girl from a rural village goes to Osaka and first becomes a hostess first and then later a model. Director Seijun Suzuki was better known for wild gangster films. This drama feels a bit underwhelming in comparison, although there are moments where the film really comes alive with the typical Suzuki energy.

Yoshiwara Story (Japan, 1968) [VoD] - 2/5
Daiei's in-period Women's Prison series is probably best known for the 5th entry, Decapitation Island (1970). This is the 3rd film, and an odd one for it is not set in a prison at all. Nevertheless, it is considered a part of the series. Rather than an inmate, the protagonist is a woman forced to prostitution in Edo. Director Kazuo Mori (of several Zatoichi films) helms technically adequate, but extremely tame exploitation drama. Like most of the entries in the series, this film suggests samurai film studio Daiei and their filmmakers were not keen on jumping the exploitation bandwagon, but could also not ignore the financial realities of the era, hence coming up with films that flirted with exploitation but rarely crossed the border.  

Terrifying Girls' High School: Women's Violent Classroom (Japan, 1972) [DVD] - 3.5/5
A surprisingly mean spirited first film in the series with Miki Sugimoto as a nasty school gang leader. This film was remarkable not so much for being a side product of the Girl Boss series, but for being one of the movies that brought the Pinky Violence genre to darker grounds in 1972. Although the film is not terribly graphic, it is genuinely disturbing, not least because the heroine herself is a ruthless bully. A naive new male teacher tries to calm this down, but his attempts are futile with students greeting new teachers with knives and dead cats. The audience has to wait a good while for supporting star Reiko Ike to appear to find anyone to side with. Over-the-top action scenes are mostly missing, except for an iconic scene with two small school girl armies facing each other. The film also ends with one of the genre's defining moments as the girls burn their school uniforms at the school gate. Occasional silly humour does little to soften things; in fact it only makes the film feel dirtier. Masao Yagi's groovy score, on the other hand, ups the kick-ass factor.

Terrifying Girls' High School: Lynch Law Classroom (Japan, 1973) [DVD] - 4/5
One of the finest films in the Pinky Violence genre, an anarchic, supremely stylish, erotic-grotesque end-of-the-world high school film. It is also, for its over-the-top nature, an easier movie to stomach than the first film in the series. Miki Sugimoto and her three pals (all brought into the film with ultra-cool introduction scenes) are bad girls coming to a new school to find who murdered Sugimoto's former gang boss. Turns out Ryoko Ema's gang is responsible; they've set up a torture lab in a classroom where they are draining poor victims out of their blood. The film's ending, where the entire school is demolished by the rioting students, is a dream come true to anyone who's ever felt frustration towards the educational system. However, the finest proof of director Norifumi Suzuki's talent is that he manages a handful of genuinely touching and beautiful scenes in the midst of all the chaos.

lync1.jpglynch2.jpg

Terrifying Girls' High School: Delinquent Convulsion Group (Japan, 1973) [DVD] - 2.5/5
The 3rd film in the series is a letdown after the supremely anarchic Lynch Law Classroom. This film doesn't really know what it wants to be. There's a bit of serious mother-daughter drama with Reiko Ike and Yoko Mihara, silly perverted high school teachers, the usual sukeban fights between rival gangs, and as a new addition, lots of gaijin raping high school girls. It all works alright as modest exploitation entertainment, but none of it packs too much punch. Director Masahiro Shimura seems to be to blame. He took over the directorial duties from Norifumi Suzuki for this and the following film, which remain his only directorial efforts. He also worked for Toei as an assistant director and contributing screenwriter. As a director he lacked the style, energy and kick ass factor that Suzuki was able to vent into the first two films.

Terrifying Girls' High School: Animal Courage (Japan, 1973) [DVD] - 2/5
The last and the least in the series. This one is a notch more realistic than some of the earlier films in the series, but in Masahiro Shimura's direction that only translates to increased dullness. The film lacks both the groove and the nastiness of the first two films, and adds very little of its own. Reiko Ike is a new student who enters a school where two girl gangs are fighting while the corrupt management enjoys exploiting the students. Old stuff. Minor genre charm aside, probably the most enjoyable thing about the movie is comedic relief Akira Oizumi as a horny English teacher. Oh, and Ryoko Ema is basically a good (bad) girl here for once. I guess that counts for something. The ending is rather good as well, but that comes too late and offers too little.

delc11.jpgdelc21.jpg

Third Generation Boss (Japan, 1974) [35mm] - 2/5
In the early/mid 70s there was a brief period when the old school chivalrous yakuza films and the new documentary style crime films co-existed. This film tries to be a bit of both - a ninkyo true story. Ken Takakura portrays the man who became the third generation Yamaguchi gang boss. The film offers such a polished image of the Yamaguchi gang that it hard to believe there has been any attempt to convey real facts of gang life. The film feels like an attempt to cash in with Takakura's popularity despite the evident fact that he was reluctant to appear in the kinds of ultra-violent and sometimes sleazy films that jitsuroku movies were. Third Generation Boss feels like a compromise and is underwhelming from both perspectives.

Account of the Ando Gang: Killer Younger Brother (Japan, 1974) [35mm] - 3.5/5
Violent, anarchic and ballsy take on the Noboru Ando true story. As most people know, Ando was a gangster jailed for 6 years after one of his men nearly killed a blackmailing target. He disbanded his gang and became a movie star after his release. There's a whole bunch of Ando true account films featuring Ando himself, and it would be a safe bet that most of them take artistic liberties save for the key facts. In this film Ando is a background character, with the spotlights on mad dog Bunta Sugawara, a gang member of his in the film. Sugawara is his usual maniac self, as best evidenced by the great scene where he, after being shot in the stomach, walks to the woman he suspects ordered the hit, pulls a bloody piece of bandage stuck between his guts and throws it at her. Actually, she had nothing to do with it as it was his own pals who were tired of his constant violent and drunken rampages that they ordered him to be killed. Director Sadao Nakajima was a bit of a Fukasaku lite, but he manages a good swing here and is aided by a fast paced script, even though character depth is limited.

ando.jpg

Cops vs. Thugs (Japan, 1975) [35mm] - 4/5
A somewhat atypical Fukasaku gangster film shifts focus from the yakuza to the police station where everyone is best friends with shady underworld figures. The film's got a slightly disjointed start, but develops loads of character depth and social relevance by the end. It really gets great when righteous new supervisor Tatsuo Umemiya enters the frame and starts busting corrupt cops' balls. Suddenly the whole system is in turmoil and wrong people are getting arrested. Bunta Sugawara is his usual great self as a tough detective with flexible morals, and Hiroki Matsukata shines as his gangster pal. Matsukata's got a great scene early on where he's hanging out at the police station and randomly answers the phone, only to find out another gangster is calling the station for a favour. I still don't know how Reiko Ike's pubic hair got past EIRIN - I thought I was daydreaming the 1st time I saw the film in theatre, but now I'm sure about it!. Toshiaki Tsushima's score is fantastic as usual.

Operation Plazma in Osaka (Japan, 1976) [35mm] - 3/5
My second time seeing in 35mm. Last time I probably should've gone with a three and half star rating but I let it slip to four. I may be making the same mistake again, this time to the opposite direction. The jitsuroku saga features little character depth or originality, but comes with fun action scenes and a wonderful cast of Toei actors (Matsukata, Watase, Murota, Ibuki etc.) not afraid to look dirty and disrespectable on screen. Roman Porno actress Yuko Katagiri has a small supporting role as well. Toshiaki Tsushima's badass score is almost a carbon copy of his work in Fukasaku films, and that's a mighty good thing. One just wishes the storyline (based on true events) and characters would be a bit more interesting.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades (1972) - (original title: Kozure Ôkami: Shinikazeni mukau ubaguruma) - Produced by Toho Studios. I actually saw this back when I was 18 or 19, as I had rented it from Blockbuster Video under the title, Lupine Wolf, which I assume was one of the vídeo titles for Lightning Swords of Death, the American theatrical release of the film. It has also been released as Shogun Assasin 2, which makes sense, as that film was composed of scenes from the first two movies, while this is the third film. It's been so long since I originally watched it that I don't remember what might have been edited, although most of it seems to be intact.

Whereas the last movie set up Ogami's mission in the first act and spent the second act on the secondary story before returning to the mission itself, this film has a somewhat labored set-up to the revelation of the mission itself. During their travels, Ogami and Daigoro received an unexpected visit from a peasant girl who was unwillingly sold into prostitution. When one of her future pimps tried to force himself on her, she killed him by biting out his tongue (which I believe is referenced in Kill Bill vol. 1). When the gang responsible for the region's night life, led by the extremely beautiful Yuko Hama, shows up looking for the girl, Ogami gives himself as an offering to let her go free. He survives the buri-buri torture, in which he's hung upside down and spun in circles as several men beat him bloody with bamboo stalks. The female gang leader takes him to her father, who was the counselor to the disgraced and now dead daimyo of the region. He asks Ogami to avenge his master's death by killing the snitch, now an importante administrator of the territory.

The Yagyu more or less take a back seat to the story this time, showing up briefly in the beginning and end. There's also a subplot involving a powerful ronin named Kentai who discusses samurai philosophy with Ogami as well. This film feels like a Spaghetti Western, right down to the finale, which Leonard Maltin compared with the finale of The Wild Bunch, and the song playing as our heroes walk off into the sunset. This is also the first movie where the clímax is essentially Ogami Itto versus an entire army, which he dispatches thanks to hidden guns, his horse-chopping naginata, and dynamite. I'm not quite sure I liked it as much as the first two, but it's still very entertaining. I just wish the first act hadn't been so rape-y.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Mr. Thank You (1936: Hiroshi Shimizu)

A brilliant commentary on depression-era Japan that worked quite well for me. I'm still surprised that the trip was only about 20 miles though. Beautiful location shooting (I wonder how much has been paved over and how much suburbs have taken over). This film could definitely use a stand-alone treament with extras etc... and how it inspired Spike Lee's Get on the Bus (kidding on this one; though I cannot help of thinking of that film).

I have noticed in many essays the mention of the female road worker (not mentioned by real name in the movie like everyone else) as a Korean immigrant. How is this determined? The construction crews both used Koreans and Japanese (now if it was the mines than that would make it even more clear since Koreans were used much more in that dangerous labor though it could be conceived that she was used for the tunneling of the mountain). She seems to speak Japanese quite well, so what are the clues to state she is Korean? Is it the clothes? Is it the accent? Is it the hair? I'm a little confused on where this information is gleaned.
 


When he had a chance encounter with some Korean laborers during the shoot, he devised an impromptu scene in which the driver has a lovely conversation with a young Korean woman who’s working on a tunnel through one of the hills on the winding route. Historically this inclusion is significant. Simply by showing this dispossessed minority group on-screen, Shimizu suggests their essentialness—literally clearing the way for Japan’s vehicles—further proving his humanity, and shouting one last “Arigato!” to his country’s most marginalized folk.

Here is an interesting link to Conrad Totman, A History of Japan: Google Books This source is used in Alexander Jacoby's wonderful online article which I'll add in the NOTES section.

Also a small note from the film and the liner notes: Koresky states that she was working on a tunnel through one of the hills. She never states this. She does state she is going to work on a tunnel in Shinano, but she states that she did road construction at this particular location.

I somehow get the feeling that Mr. Thank You really likes this person (more than most). He knows she is running behind, finds a perfect spot to take a break, has such a smile when he sees her, even offers to give her a ride (somehow I do not think he does this often and just for anyone). This is certainly one of the best scenes in the movie, but there are many wonderful moments in this movie like the dual mustache scene with the salesman from the "shady finance company". There was something quite sublime about the way it was filmed with the kids running to catch the back of the bus and getting a free ride (and staying a bit back whenever they stopped to keep away from Mr. Thank You).

On the Ending: Somehow I got the feeling that Mr. Thank You gave the money to the moga to give to the young girl (or else the thank you to her was because she talked Mr. Thank You into giving it to the young girl or mother). What does everyone think of the ending?

Jonathan Rosenbaum stated he was a bit dissapointed with this movie, but the only reason he gave was the music: Cinema Scope Article.

Arigatô

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Walk Cheerfully (1930: Yasujirô Ozu) 

This is the earliest Ozu and earliest Japanese film I have seen (though one of several silent).  The story is by a now unheralded Japanese auteur Hiroshi Shimizu (with Mr. Thank You being a favorite and which I posted above) and every review I have seen the focus tends to be on Ozu. If one is used to later Ozu films then one cannot help notice the movement of the camera, the compositions, the use of Hollywood references* and the overly melodramatic content.  However, there is a train in there (something that Ozu has usually put in most of his movies; though given the time period I am suspecting that Ozu does not have the directorial pull that he has in later movies) and some camera angles (David Bordwell gives a nice account of them in the link below.)

The story itself is quite basic: a tale of a middling well-dressed gangster (Ken the Knife) who falls in love with a proper woman, Yasue, a secretary who is not worldly like his moll and does not fit in his current world of jazz, crime and late nights.  However, he is willing to remove his tattoo for her.  The story unfolds in exactly the way you would expect it too (with some surprises, but not many) so it never quite got my attention.  I paid more attention to camera angles, references to Hollywood and the United States, dress and acting styles.

There is a baseball reference (obviously the earliest I have seen in Japanese cinema), but a game which would become quite popular in Japan.

This can be seen in the Eclipse series 42: Silent Ozu - Three Crime Dramas.  The Eclipse series are barebones so no extras and a small decent essay by Michael Koresky in the interior of the slim case DVD.

* I believe the main character’s name Ken the Knife is a reference to The Threepenny Opera.  The famous film from Pabst would come out the following year, but the play had been successful worldwide (no idea if it played in Japan.)  At least one jig in the film is directly from The Freshman with Harold Lloyd.  I have read there is some Frank Borzage influence, but I do not know enough of the director to further comment.  There is a Joan Crawford poster in the background for Our Dancing Daughters (I have not seen.)  The boxing poster is a reference to “It Girl” Clara Bow in Rough House Rosie.  Two of the female characters have a Louise Brooks a-line bob haircut. The plot is similar to a Ben Hecht story.  I could see Underworld (1927) being an influence.  I suspect Ladies of the Mob (1928) is an influence based upon the plot description, but it is no longer extant.

Criterion Essays by Michael Koresky
David Bordwell from Poetics of Cinema.
DVD Talk Review

Edited by masterofoneinchpunch

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Japanese Girls at the Harbor (1933: Hiroshi Shimizu)

I rewatched most of it a second time to get the relationships straight. I feel there is a too much use of elliptical narrative (though I love the third person omniscient narrative intertitles that pops up a couple of times like "But in Fact, She Shouldn't Have Gone To See Him" and "But God Wouldn't Forgive Her"). Henry's (Ureo Egawa) presence is especially hurt by the ellipsis because he always appears to be moaning about a lost love and it is really hard to see why three different women find him interesting (other than his bodacious ride) and his scene with the modern-day Yakuza (or maybe they were just wannabes like in Walk Cheerfully) was ineffective.

The relationship between Dora and Sunako was much more intriguing. Dora has to be one of the more forgiving characters in cinema and has that undenying love for Sunako (and Henry) even when it doesn't do her relationship with Henry any good (sending Henry to see Sunako home). The relationship between Sunako and Miura (Tatsuo Saito) the painter was quite funny. He is nothing more than a lost puppy according to Sunako. His attire and demeanor is almost beatnik like and is typical of the starving artist. I was thinking that Sunako forcing him to throw away his paintings has a couple of meanings: one is that since he is going with her she does not want to be reminded of her past that is captured in those paintings, second a dual meaning that if she has to give her career up he does too possibly meaning he might need to get a salary job.

I didn't find myself that engaged with the story or the characters (also somewhat familiar to Walk Cheerfully though the acting is good) so I ended up paying more attention to the technical aspects. The direction is quite well done. The use of the jump cuts are quite jarring (purposefully used; sometimes when I see these it is because of print damage and cells are missing) and have parallel uses. The optical fade-out is quite exquisite in its use. The dolly shots were also well done in the church.

Certainly worth watching -- a second viewing helps though.

Looking through Donald Richie's A Hundred Years of Japanese Films he has a few statements that do not quite fit with the film or are a bit wrong (though it is interesting a see a still that has three of the main females together but I cannot place this in the movie -- I will look more later). Richie states: "three high-school girl friends" which after rewatching the beginning you only get the information of two fitting that description in Dora Kennel and Sunako Kurokawa. Then he has a strange statement in "...the other two go bad and start working in a dance hall." From the apparel of Yoko and her demeanor it seems that she was headed that way much earlier in the film. He also states "There are four camera shots, each progressively closer (from frontal long-shot to frontal close-up)." when in fact there are six. The parallel shot later in film when Yoko is dying is five shots.

A statement I did enjoy was "...the wife's knitting becomes a motif almost Wagnerian in its permutations." The knitting yarn takes a life of its own in many of the later scenes from rolling around to be entangled around Henry and Sunako.

Most of the Eclipse insert essay on this film has to do with Shimizu and very little with the movie. Interesting little comparison between the parallels between this film and Mizoguchi's (though it doesn't name any titles I'm sure the writer was thinking of the Fallen Women Eclipse set smile.gif): "...whose jealousy-fueled fall from grace results in her sinking into geishadom -- would seem to recall those of Kenji Mizoguchi, Shimizu's drama remains less bleak and wholly his own." -- Michael Koresky

Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive. The yarn in this film takes a life of its own.
Eclipse15_JGATH_Yarn.jpg

Nothing ruins a gangster's image like having your arms akimbo:
Eclipse15_JGATH_Akimbo.jpg

It's the most important part of the story, the ending. Actually just an example of some of the Art Deco intertitles
Eclipse15_JGATH.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Lupin the Third: The Plot of the Fuma Clan (a.k.a. The Fuma Conspiracy; 1987) - 3.5/5

I love Lupin the Third. He’s probably one of my favorite anime characters and Castle of Cagliostro is one of my favorite movies of all time. The Plot of the Fuma Clan is another fun entry in the Lupin the Third series though it doesn’t the same heart or wit as Cagliostro. Plot of Fuma is just a fun fluff fest with some creative set pieces and amusing car chases. It’s also nice to have a Lupin the Third movie that gives a bit more focus to Goemon who often has little involvement in other films. It’s kinda distracting not having the original cast do the voices, but it’s still an enjoyable ride.

Bayside Shakedown: The Movie (1998) - 4/5

I’ve never seen a single episode of Bayside Shakedown, but the movie caught my attention since it grossed a LOT of money when it was first released and it was directed by Katsuyuki Motohiro, director of Summer Time Machine Blues, which is one of my favorite Japanese movies. And just like Summer Time Machine Blues, Bayside Shakedown was really funny and really cleverly written. It’s just a really smart movie with great setups/payoffs. Towards the end, it especially becomes really intense and exciting. The performances are also great, especially Yuji Oda as Aoshima. Overall, great movie.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Japan's Violent Gangs: Boss (aka Japan Organized Crime Boss) (Japan, 1969) [VoD] - 3.5/5
The first film in the transitional yakuza film series that paved way for the jitsuroku true account films of the 70s. Koji Tsuruta stars as an old school gangster boss who has become something of a fish out of water in the modern gangster world. Despite some ninkyo elements, and a soundtrack that resembles Teruo Ishii's contemporary gangster films, this movie already leans heavily towards the jitsuroku style. The opening disclaimer states the film to be fictional, but that's not entirely true as it was heavily influenced by true events (the Yamaguchi gang moving to the Kanto area). Director Kinji Fukasaku's trademarks are already in a steady use, including documentary like footage of violent chaos, effective use of still photos, and a nihilistic storyline. While the film is loaded with good performances - Noburu Ando being one of the many who deserve a mention - it's Tomisaburo Wakayama who is the real stand out as a drug addicted, volatile boss who is like a time bomb trying keep himself from exploding.

sf5.jpgsf6.jpg

Japan's Violent Gangs: The Boss and the Killers (Japan, 1969) [VoD] - 2/5
The 2nd film in the series that started with Kinji Fukasaku's Japan Organized Crime Boss. This follow up by director Junya Sato feels somewhat disappointing in contrast. The documentary-like touches and the energetic visual output that made its predecessor feel ahead of its time are mostly missing here, although the film does have a fittingly dark ending. Koji Tsuruta stars again, this time playing a gangster boss who assassinates a yakuza in broad daylight, gets a bullet in his arm in the process, and then hides in a small shop. The main storyline (about what happened before) is then told in flashbacks. Lots of talk ensues. Not terribly bad, just not that exciting either.

Japan's Violent Gangs: Degenerate Boss (Japan, 1970) [VoD] - 2.5/5
Koji Tsurura is a former yakuza gone straight, now running a jazzy night club, in the third film in the series. The films were not connected other than being part of the same series and all starring Tsuruta. This one was directed by Shin Takakuwa, whose brief filmography features one stand out (the superb Sonny Chiba cop drama A Narcotics Agent's Ballad, 1972) and handful of mediocre yakuza films. This film is sort of well made, with some steady handed cinematography, elegant use of colour and light (especially in the night club scenes) and a typically charismatic and stoic Tsuruta performance. However, it feels quite conventional compared to Fukasaku's film that was already reaching toward the 70s jitsuroku cinema. This one is a talkative film with the usual 'ex-yakuza trying to lead honest life while surrounded by underworld acquaintances' storyline. Not bad, and features a surprisingly sleazy op credits scene with a stripper, but a little pedestrian overall

deg1.jpgdeg2.jpg

Japan's Violent Gangs: Loyalty Offering Murder (Japan, 1972) [VoD] - 2/5
The 4th and last in the series was helmed by Yasuo Furuhara, a director whose films I have never especially cared for. He made talkative, character driven crime dramas that were usually neither ninkyo nor jitsuroku films. I suppose there is more-than-usual character depth to be found in his films - if you find them interesting to begin with. It sometimes seemed like he shouldn't have been working in yakuza films in the first place, but in the drama genre where he later ended up. Anyway, Tsuruta is the lead again, this time a guest at a gambling house where he kills two attackers and has to flee from the city. He settles down with old friend and gangster boss Tetsuro Tamba, whose clan is in a conflict with another gang. Tsuruta starts helping him but angers Tamba's neurotic underling Rinichi Yamamoto in the process. Chris D declared this as one of his favourite yakuza films (out of the 1000 or so that he has seen). As often is the case, I don't quite understand where his opinion is rooted. There are some good scenes with Tsuruta and Tamba, and Yamamoto is good in his role, but none of it feels especially captivating. It's not a movie you'd call "bad", just one you don't care much for.

Delicate Skillful Fingers (Japan, 1972) [DVD] - 4/5
My second time seeing this, this time with my girlfriend. I picked this film because it's one of the few Roman Porno films I think are both great and somewhat female friendly... although from a female perspective Hiroko Isayama's (a naive young girl falling in love with a pick pocket) character could surely be stronger. That, and some poor acting and unnecessary sex aside this is such a good film. From the vivid depiction of the early 70s Tokyo to the pick pocketing scenes that are small works of art, the film is loaded with great scenes, not to mention a cool as hell Ichiro Araki performance and a fabulous score that is absolutely firing on all cylinders. It was probably the unlikely pairing of writer Tatsumi Kumashiro (known for his low key approach and social realism) and flamboyant director Toru Murakawa that made the film so great, giving it both style and substance. There's been some guessing that the film was in fact so good that it destroyed debut director Murakawa's career (following the raving reviews he directed 2 more films in the next 6 months, both less-well received, before retiring from cinema for almost a decade).

Criminal Woman: Killing Melody (Japan, 1973) [35mm] - 4.5/5
This is the most feminist of all the Pinky Violence films, in addition to being one of the best. Reiko Ike is the daughter of a murdered man, sent to prison after she fails to kill the yakuza boss responsible. She makes friends with a miscellaneous bunch of girls (each given the coolest introduction scenes since Lynch Law Classroom) who team up with her after they're out of the slammer. It's a relatively simple story told with impeccable style, superb pacing, functional plot and likeable characters. Especially notable is how the heroines are handled by the filmmakers with worshipping rather than sleazy hands. That's not saying the film is lacking it in the nudity and sex department, even featuring the infamous chainsaw intimidation scene and the longest girl fight ever filmed (with malfunctioning garments, of course). However, the approach is quite different compared to some other films in the genre. These women are goddesses, and the sleazy guys are doomed from the start. The men ain't got nothing on these girls.

crom1.jpgcrom2.jpg

Sex & Fury (Japan, 1973) [DVD] - 4/5
Most foreign viewers fail to put this film into a context. As much as a Pinky Violence film, it was also a late descendant of Toei's 60s gambler/yakuza movies. Once a hugely popular genre, Toei was still trying to keep it alive in the early 70s. After their biggest female star Junko Fuji retired, Toei tried finding a substitute. All attempts failed, and each new female yakuza film came out sleazier than the previous. Sex & Fury was the film that essentially burned all the bridges as it wholeheartedly crossed to the exploitation side. No more straight female gamblers were to come. Reiko Ike stars as a female yakuza on a mission of vengeance, while Christina Lindberg (drafted by Toei during a flight from Paris to Stockholm!) is a British (!) spy whose boss is trying to start an opium war in Japan. The storyline is messy with political aspects that director Norifumi Suzuki has no patience to develop; however, the film is visually stunning. Nowhere is that better evidenced than in the scene where Ike, attacked by enemies while taking bath, takes out the whole gang with a sword while in the nude in a snowy garden. The hypnotically choreographed carnage makes that one of the greatest scenes in exploitation film history.

Female Yakuza Tale (Japan, 1973) [35mm] - 3.5/5
Fun but hastily made sequel to Sex and Fury. Teruo Ishii directed the film, but it seems he didn't have much of a script to work with - more like a plot draft written in a hurry. There's a lot of incoherent nonsense between the opening and ending scenes. Ishii makes up for it with colourful images, a plot that revolves around a yakuza gang using girls who smuggle drugs in their vaginas, and a number of fantastic set pieces including the apocalyptic final massacre with two dozen naked ladies slaying yakuza with swords, nails, guns and hand grenades. There's a certain charm to seeing trash like this done with relatively amazing production values, something that would never happen in modern cinema.

sf3.jpgsf4.jpg

Ghost in the Shell (Japan, 1995) [BD] - 4.5/5
The mediocre live action adaptation made me want to revisit Oshii's film, which remains a mind blowing throwback to the 90s cyber punk anime. It's a movie I'm forever dreaming of seeing in 35mm as it is audio-visually an incredibly atmospheric film. It also crams so much complicated plot content and philosophical discussions into mere 82 minutes that it demands the viewer's full attention. It could be argued that it goes overboard with the latter, and even comes out a bit corny with some of the philosophical bits, but that only works in its benefit by giving the film the personality that the chewed out and bland Hollywood film solely lacked. It must be emphasized that Oshii also knows when to slow down and cut out all the talk. I feel it is in part this "inconsistency" - from long silent sequences to dialogue overkill, from juvenile nudity and action scenes to philosophical discussions - that characterizes Ghost in the Shell and makes it endlessly re-watchable.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

After the Storm (2016) - 4.5/5

I just got back from the Japan Foundation in LA where they had a screening of After the Storm. I hadn't heard much about it before and I hadn't seen any trailers for it. All I knew about it was Hiroshi Abe, who I love, is in it. And, man oh man, After the Storm was quite fantastic. With a title like After the Storm, I was more or less expecting a generic tearjerker movie about people dealing with a severe loss after a storm hits. However, I was treated by something totally different. After the Storm is a very much a "slice of life" movie. It just focuses on the characters and what they do instead of having a traditional three-act structure. I usually find "slice of life" movies kinda boring, but I found myself incredibly engrossed and invested in the characters, particularly Hiroshi Abe (of course) who somehow succeeds at being unlikable and very sympathetic at the same time. The grandma (Kirin Kiki) was great too and might've given the best performance in the film. I also loved Yoko Maki (who was also in Summer Time Machine Blues). It felt as if I was there with the characters thanks to the lack of background music and since most of the dialogue scenes are made up of long shots. I think one of the greatest attributes of the film is its message. It really makes you appreciate life and the joys that come with it. Fantastic film.

 

BTW The people at the Japan Foundation were giving away classic movie posters for free, so I copped a 25' by 36' poster of Ore Ni Kaketa Yatsura (1962; a.k.a. The Guys Who Put Money on Me) directed by Seijun Suzuki (Tokyo Drifter). I've actually never even heard of Ore Ni Kaketa Yatsura before. I just thought the poster looked cool (sorry it's sideways). Has anyone seen this movie (*cough* @Takuma) who could give their thoughts? Thanks!

w7o3th.jpg

Edited by KenHashibe

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×