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Takuma

Japanese Movie Mini Reviews

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Yasuharu Hasebe triple

Massacre Gun (みな殺しの拳銃) (Japan, 1967) [VoD] - 2/5
Hitman Joe Shishido and his yakuza brothers, hothead Tatsuya Fuji and failed-boxer-in-love Jiro Okazaki, turn against their rotten boss and try to make money on their own. A rather tiresome Nikkatsu yakuza film that smells of a programmer picture. It's not so much a "bad film" as a movie whose kind have been made in too large quantities. Chris D. associated Massacre Gun with A Colt is My Passport and Branded to Kill, calling them a loosely linked trilogy. There is no direct (if any) connection between the films, and Massacre Gun is by far the least stylish and innovative of the three.

Retaliation (縄張はもらった) (Japan, 1968) [VoD] - 3/5
Just out of prison yakuza Akira Kobayashi is tasked with taking a city under his control from two other gangs, using his wits a few trusted men. Fast paced neo noir throws in enough violence, boobs - including a glimpse of Meiko Kaji - and kinetic camerawork to keep the audience entertained. The plot is a bit convoluted, but generally avoids the kind of predictable, prolonged melodrama that often hurt yakuza films, including Hasebe's Massacre Gun, of the era.

Savage Wolf Pack (野獣を消せ) (Japan, 1969) [TV] - 3/5
An slightly unusual piece of Nikkatsu New Action where the bad guys are more interesting than the hero. Tatsuya Fuji leads a homemade gang of savage villains, one of whom (Mieko Tsudoi) is a party girl who loves hurting people and dancing topless in disco. The bunch may seem like generic pack of bullies at first, but eventually grow into a tragic, perhaps even allegorical (of the post war Japan and the kind of people it gave birth to) bunch of sad anti-heroes. It is no wonder Fuji fought to get the role. Tetsuya Watari is slightly miscast as the actual hero, a back-from-Alaska hunter whose sister was raped and driven to suicide by Fuji's gang. He becomes the unwilling protector of a runaway girl (Mieko Fujimoto in a worthless role) who is also being targeted by the baddies. Director Yasuharu Hasebe inserts surprisingly graphic violence (one guy has his guts blown out), and would basically re-use the Fuji gang in a hippier context in the first Stray Cat Rock film.

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Noboru Ando triple

Japan's Underworld History: Blood Feud (日本暗黒史 血の抗争) (Japan, 1967) [TV] - 2/5
Just how many times could Toei tell the same story of a small gang made of goofballs rising from the ruins of WWII Japan? It's a formula that was done to death in the 1960s until the ultra gritty jitsuroku genre pumped some fresh energy into it in the 70s. "Blood Feud" falls into the gap that existed between the better defined ninkyo and jitsuroku genres, featuring too much comedic relief to convince as a gritty gangster tale, and not enough action and romanticism to come off as solid escapism entertainment. It's just not a very exiting film. Or perhaps I've seen too many of these films. Toei audiences apparently had not; a sequel followed later the same year.

True Account of the Ando Gang - Yakuza and Feuds (やくざと抗争 実録安藤組) (Japan, 1973) [DVD] - 2/5
An underwhelming jitsuroku yakuza film depicting Noboru Ando's rise from a delinquent school boy to a remarkable gang leader. Despite some ultra violence, including a fork in the eye, axe in the arm, and the cutting of Ando's face, the film is surprisingly bland. The tale is very much told by the numbers, except for a strangely laidback soundtrack that is at odds with the cruelty seen on the screen, and an anti-climatic ending which build up for a huge gunfight which it chooses not to show at all. Also, although the film is set in the 50s some of the cityscapes are unmistakably 70s. The film is the second part in the series that begun with the equally boring Yakuza and Feuds (1972). The third and final film, True Account of the Ando Gang - Story of the Attack (1973) would be a notable improvement, however.

True Account of the Ando Gang - Story of the Attack (実録安藤組 襲撃篇) (Japan, 1973) [TV] - 3.5/5
Noboru Ando was a real life gangster who ordered a non-fatal hit that left a businessman seriously injured in 1958. Ando was arrested after 35 days on a run, and sentenced to prison for eight years (of which he serve six), after which he disbanded his gang and became a reasonably successful yakuza film star utilizing his own notoriety. This is the third and final film in a series based on Ando's life, and the most realistic of them. Director Junya Sato goes for a documentary approach, accounting the events before and after the infamous incident almost hour by hour. Due to its realism, the film is far less violent than most jitsuroku movies (only one person is killed in the film) but mostly no less intense. The film is visually very stylish, mixing grainy images with stylish use of colour and shadows, and features a solid cast with Ando as himself; Eiji Go as the gangster who shot the businessman (the bullet he fired went through the target's arm into his chest), and several other tough guys like Rikiya Yasuoka. For an interesting comparison piece, see Noboru Tanaka's lesser but much more over-the-top sexploitation accounting of the same incident, Noboru Ando's Filthy Escape into Sex (1976).

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The Magic Serpent (1966) - (original title: Kairyu Daikessen) - Produced by Toei Studios. This mixture of jidai-geki and kaiju sensibilities is a lot of fun to watch. The Ogata clan is overthrown by their principal retainer, Yuki Daijo, who is assisted by a magical ninja named Orochimaru. Orochimaru isn't just good with the katana, but he can transform into the titular monster, too. Some loyal samurai are escorting the daimyo's son, Ikazuchimaru, to safety, when the dragon monster strikes. The kid is saved by a giant hawk, who takes him to a remote mountain where another magical ninja raises and trains the kid. Coming of age, Ikazuchimaru learns the truth of his parentage and goes back to old family castle to seek revenge. Giant monster and OTT ninja action ensue. One interesting observation is that in the Japanese version, both the dragon and the toad monster that Ikazuchimaru eventually transforms into have generic giant monster roars. When the movies was exported to the States, the distributor not only dubbed over the actors' voices, but the monsters too: the serpent sounds like Godzilla and the toad monster sounds like Rodan! Also, the ninja action is so utterly bizarre that I can only assume that this film was director Ching Siu-Tung's major inspiration for Duel to the Death.

 

The Green Slime (1968) - Co-produced by Toei Studios and directed by Kinji Fukasaku. This is not just a strange movie on its own merits, but it feels almost like pure and utter madness to make a US-Italian-Japanese co-production with American actors meant to appeal that market, and then have Toei do the FX, knowing that they commanded even lower budgets than Toho did at that time...and make a movie the same year 2001: A Space Odyssey changed the rules for special effects. The movie plays like Aliens had it been directed by the Super Sentai (or Power Ranger) people. A team of astronauts led by Robert Horton land on an asteroid headed for Earth in order to blow it up, and bring the title substance unwittingly back onto their space station. The green slime absorbs the energy from the decontamination chamber and turns into a tentacled man-in-a-suit  monster with a penchant for electrocuting people. The humans must find a way to destroy them and save their own skin before the creatures can get to Earth. There are a lot of colorful sets, optical effects, and special FX, none of which are very realistic, but fun nonetheless. Also co-starring one of the true treasures of Italy: Luciana Paluzzi.

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Theatre of Life: Return of Hishakaku (人生劇場 続飛車角) (Japan, 1963) [DVD] - 3.5/5
Beautiful and emotional closing half to Tadashi Sawashima's film adaptation of the famous, often filmed yakuza novel. Together with the first film, Theatre of Life: Hishakaku (1963), these are considered some of the earliest and most influential ninkyo yakuza films. They are, however, a little unusual entries because of their approach to the subject matter. This film picks up four years after the first film ended. Honourable yakuza Koji Tsuruta is just out of prison, but his love Yoshiko Sakuma has fled because she's ashamed of the relationship she had with Ken Takakura in the previous film. Tsuruta then falls in love with another woman, a gang boss' daughter. What is unusual is how the film depicts Tsuruta family life, happiness and rise in the ranks, eventually becoming an oyabun himself, as opposed to the stereotypical stoic ninkyo hero who neither gets to shows nor enjoy love or emotions. In terms of cinematic style and themes of honour among old school yakuza, the two films are however unmistakably everything audiences would come to expect from Toei ninkyo films, and serve as an excellent starting point for newcomers.

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Sex and Fury (不良姐御伝 猪の鹿お蝶) (Japan, 1973) [35mm] - 4/5
Finally got to see this in 35mm, although the print was a little dark and deteriorated. Seminal pinky violence classic with Reiko Ike and Christina Lindberg, featuring one of the coolest action sequences ever filmed, but not quite on par with the very best in the genre due to some programmer-type screenwriting. Since I've reviewed this more than once before, I shall refrain from going into more detail this time.

Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs (0課の女 赤い手錠) (Japan, 1974) [35mm] - 4.5/5
Superb, unbelievably violent action thriller is like Street Trash directed by Kinji Fukasaku as a straight action picture. Miki Sugimoto is an undercover cop infiltrating a gang of brutes who have kidnapped a politician's daughter. Her task is to eliminate the evil men one by one and save the hostage. Some of the violent scenes are hard to take, but the film is also stunningly stylish, well paced, set to a terrific score by Shunsuke Kikuchi, and spiced with ultra-black humour (in an interrogation scene two guys in the background are already digging a grave!). The final pay-off is also extremely satisfying, with one of the most badass action climaxes in 70s cinema. The leading role is probably Sugimoto's best, and there are excellent supporting performances by Tetsuro Tamba and Hideo Murota. It's a film that keeps getting better on every viewing (I still remember when I was first introduced to the film long time ago, and wondered if it was ok to enjoy an action movie as violent as this).

True Account of Hishakaku - A Wolf's Honor and Humanity (実録飛車角 狼どもの仁義) (Japan, 1974) [TV] - 3/5
Interesting although not especially visceral de-romantization of the Theatre of Life saga for the jitsuroku era. Bunta Sugawara portrays "Hishakaku" as a short tempered, violent yakuza and thief who falls in love with prostitute Rie Nakagawa. Tsunehiko Watase and Kyosuke Machida are his pals, Akira Kobayashi an enemy. Mostly unexceptional but entertaining and relatively slick late film by director Shinji Murayama who was more of a 60s filmmaker. It's also one of the few jitsuroku style films set in Taisho and early Showa era as opposed to post WWII. Curiously, this was probably the first and only Theatre of Life film that was indeed a true account to an extent. It is a little known fact that the original novel was based on a real life yakuza called Hikoichi Ishiguro, whose account however was fictionalized and romanticized to no end in the novel and film adaptations. This film goes back to the real Ishiguro, as depicted in the grittier 1974 novel "Okami domo no jingi", rather than the Theatre of Life novel from the 1930s.

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Fossilized Wilderness (化石の荒野) (Japan, 1982) (Japan, 1982) [VoD] - 1/5
A cop (Tsunehiko Watase) is framed for murder. At the same time something fishy is going on at the mountains which are swarming with gangsters and shady businessmen with metal detectors. He's got to solve what's that all about while being chased by the cops. Novel-based overlong (123 min) pseudo epic of a crime film, in many ways typical 80s Japanese mainstream cinema at its worst. Producer Haruki Kadokawa is probably to blame for the dull commercialism and expensive but mind-numbingly dumb action bits that prove money alone doesn't do the job. Watase's sunglasses and snowy Hokkaido scenery at the end are the best things about the film. Director Yasuharu Hasebe was better suited for leaner, meaner action and exploitation films.

His Motorbike, Her Island (彼のオートバイ彼女の島) (Japan, 1986) [VoD] - 3.5/5
A lesser known, romantic Nobuhiko Obayashi film about a young biker chap on the road searching for himself after breaking up with a girlfriend (Noriko Watanabe). He then runs into another girl (Kiwako Harada) who shares his love for bikes. "All my dreams play in black and white" he says, and consequently half of the film is painted in black & white or a blend of muted colours and grainy black & white film, seamlessly shifting from one to another throughout the film. While there are some cliché parts, it's really quite a charming tale with some truly cinematic audio-visual sequences. Performances are all good, especially Harada who is charming despite occasionally overdoing her cuteness/cheeriness act, and has a wonderfully funny and cute hot spring scene with nudity. And balance the eye candy, there's is plenty of rear nudity by the male protagonist, played by none other than the 22 year old fluffy haired Riki Takeuchi, almost unrecognizable in his debut role!

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Edited by Takuma

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Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001) - (original title: Gojira, Mosura, Kingu Gidorâ: Daikaijû sôkôgeki) - Produced by Toho Studios. This was probably the most anticipated Godzilla film of the last two decades, as it was directed by Shusuke Kaneko on the heels of his very well-received Gamera trilogy. Fans were expectant that Kaneko would bring Godzilla back to the heights of the best of his 60s films, and for the most part, those fans were satisfied. There were some fans who were a bit disappointed with the story, a few vocal fans from the older generation that outright despised Godzilla's depiction as a creature of almost pure evil--in one scene, he hears a fleeing woman scream, which brings his attention to the populace at his feet. He responds by decimating them all with a radioactive blast that results in a mushroom cloud. Tying Ghidorah's origin to Orochi of Japanese mythology was the best way to make him into the nominal good monster. The miniatures, some of the monster suits, the explosions, and the animated rays look great. Some of the CGI, especially the glow effect used on Ghidorah, hasn't aged well. In the end, it's an entertaining movie with some nice effects, entertaining monster fights, and a great score by Koh Otani. 'tis not my favorite Godzilla movie, though.

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Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000) - (original title: Gojira tai Megagirasu: 'G' Shomêtsu Sakusen) - Produced by Toho Studios. In this alternate universe, Godzilla attacked Tokyo in 1954, but then only returns to attack nuclear power plants, causing Japan to change its energy policy and creating an energy crisis. In order to hoist itself out, Japan creates a weapon that fires artificial black holes to defeat Godzilla. While testing the weapon, a wormhole is opened to the Carboniferous Era and lets a giant dragonfly into our world, which multiplies and infests Japan, causing Shibuya to flood. In order to feed the swarm's queen, the dragonflies, called Meganura, need a powerful source of energy, such as Godzilla. Titans...will...clash!

Fan opinion on this particular film is particularly divided, with some praising it for being an unpretentious monster rally with some nice fight scenes that call back to the 60s and 70s, while others dismiss it as a half-*ssed rehash of tired clichés with uneven special FX to boot. I've always been in the first group. There are lots of great individual scenes (the infamous Godzilla surfing sequence, Godzilla fighting a swarm of Meganura, etc.), held together by a wonderful score by Michiru Oshima (Full-Metal Alchemist) and some good casting (60s actress Yuriko Hoshi plays the lead scientist). One of my favorite moments has Godzilla returning to see after surviving the first black hole attack, only to pause, turn around, look the female protagonist in the eye, and then turn around again and continue his journey. It's very well played.

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Inspired by the positive experience I had in Tokyo a few months ago seeing Shogoro Nishimura's pre-Roman Porno mainstream films, I decided to see some more of his Roman Porno stuff.

White Skin Glimmering In the Darkness (闇に浮かぶ白い肌) (Japan, 1972) [VoD] - 3/5
Young wife Kazuko Shirakawa goes missing during her honeymoon, only to return six months later with a memory loss. Husband Hironobu Takahashi, who lives in a big mansion (also utilized in Noboru Takana's Midnight Fairy) is happy, but his blind sister Yuri Yamashina smells something fishy. Relatively decent early Roman Porno with an Edgar Allan Poe style mystery / horror story and supernatural elements. Sex is kept in check and there's some nice ero-guro imagery towards the entertaining climax, although one shouldn't get hopes up too high. Director Shogoro Nishimura was the most prolific of all Roman Porno directors. He rarely reached the quality of his pre-Roman Porno mainstream pictures during the pink era (1984's Fujunna kankei is an exception), but this film was one of the better attempts.

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Lusty Wife: Temptation of Flesh (色情妻 肉の誘惑) (Japan, 1976) [DVD] - 1.5/5
A sexually frustrated housewife runs into a creepy gypsy lady who tells her she's going to die unless she gets laid soon. Oddly enough, she doesn't go on a sex spree but instead gets scared. A rare specimen among Roman Porno, a sex film veering to occult horror. The plot is ridiculous and Shogoro Nishimura's direction utterly mediocre, but there are some bizarre moments especially towards the end that are worthy of some attention.

Pleasure in the Mirror (鏡の中の悦楽) (Japan, 1982) [DVD] - 1/5
A college kid starts spying on his sister's sex sessions thru a magic mirror and of course soon wants to join in. One would assume this film was done after the success of Pink Curtain, Nikkatsu's other similarly themed and slightly classier picture, but "Pleasure" actually came first, by a 14 day margin. With this subject matter, with even more sex than usual packed into 65 minutes, it's guaranteed to leave its audience feeling dirty, even if it looks and sounds surprisingly good. There's a lot of interesting talent behind the camera; director Shogoro Nishimura, assistant director Naosuke Kurosawa (Zoom Up: Rape Apartments, 1980), writer Chiho Katsuura (House, 1977) and cinematographer Yoshiro Yamazaki (Outlaw: Heartless,1968), most of them slacking with the exception of Yamazaki. Actor Nobutaka Masutomi, one of the most recognizable male faces in Roman Porno, seems to have been dubbed by someone else than himself for some reason.

Ran no nikutai (蘭の肉体) (Japan, 1984) [VoD] - 1.5/5
Roman Porno vending machine Shogoro Nishimura must have been trying to entertain himself with this sex film disguised as a gangster flick. Two small time goons and debt collectors (a guy and a girl) accidentally cause a desperate man to jump to his death from a high roof. Other people living in the house retaliate, causing the guy to run and the girl to seek shelter in one of the apartments. Unfortunately what could've been "The Porno Raid" then turns into a standard sex drama with one girl and too many (outlaw) guys with the hots on her. The gangster stuff adds slight curiosity to it, but is ultimately little more than a minor backdrop.  How disappointing.

Gate of Flesh (肉体の門) (Japan, 1977) [VoD] - 2.5/5
Nikkatsu's semi-lavish Roman Porno adaptation of the famous novel, produced with a larger than usual budget and released with an exceptional 97 minute running time. It's a good story and there are fine, even poignant moments depicting life in the post war slums. Director Shogoro Nishimura also inserts occasional effective moments of beauty and hope. Ultimately, though, one has to ask exactly how much point was there to the film other than money. Seijun Suzuki's 1964 adaptation was just as violent and erotic despite having less nudity, and twice as stylish. A more realistic touch to the drama is the only new contribution this version has to offer.

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Edited by Takuma

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On 4/3/2018 at 5:39 PM, Takuma said:

Unfortunately what could've been "The Porno Raid" then turns into a standard sex drama with one girl and too many (outlaw) guys with the hots on her.

This line made me laugh out loud.  I still have hope that Japan will one day produce a movie with this title, stranger things have happened!

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Roman Porno treasure hunt continues

Eros Schedule Book: Female Artist (色暦女浮世絵師) (Japan,1971) [VoD] - 2/5
A sick artists finds success with dirty paintings he based on sketches done by her wife (Setsuko Ogawa), who in turn was left with a fixation for eros after being raped by a semi-retarded drooling nobility idiot. Passable period film, and director Chusei Sone's debut film. Like many of his early pictures, this one relies on a set of good looking, sometimes unusual (the grittiness of the rapes come as a surprise) images and scenes to carry a film that is not consistently good filmmaking. He did helm some superior efforts though, such as Secret Chronicle: Prostitute Market (1972), before delivering his finest pictures in the late 70s and early 80s (Red Violation, Red Classroom etc.)..

Beads From a Petal (花弁のしずく) (Japan, 1972) [VoD] - 3/5
Interesting if uneven directorial debut by Noboru Tanaka, whose background in French literature and poetry is worth keeping in mind when watching his early films. This movie, about a traumatized, sexually frigid woman (Rie Nakagawa in her first Nikkatsu film), is constructed as an allegory for the Japan that was defeated in WWII. The film borders on ridiculous at times, especially when it comes to her treatment in the hands (quite literally) of a doctor, but it's so well shot and edited, conveying an almost paranoid sense of mental insecurity, that it easily keeps the audience on board for 70 minutes. It is precisely the kind of film a young director veering towards arthouse would make when given some money and a condition to do something centring around sex. Tanaka, unlike some others, saw Roman Porno as an opportunity to create unique stories and art within certain confinements.

Afternoon Affair: Metamorphosis (Japan, 1973) (昼下りの情事 変身) [VoD] - 3/5
A young woman (Miyoko Aoyama) earns extras cash working as a prostitute at night, unbeknownst to her family and friends. Another good-ish early film by Noboru Tanaka, and a contrast and companion piece to his debut Beads From a Petal (1972). There's not terribly much character depth for a film that is essentially a character study, but Tanaka shows visual ambition again, creating long scenes void of dialogue (and sex), using only music and images as means of expression. Flowers and colours are used symbolically throughout the film. Attempts at depicting the flow of life in a metropolis via various supporting characters (brutish flower shop owner Akira Takahashi, his wife Moeko Ezawa and brother Morio Kazama etc.) fall short though; their lives are overly sexualized for the sake of adding more (boring) sex into the film.

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Jitsuroku: Ganso manaita show (実録・元祖マナ板ショー) (Japan, 1975) [VoD] - 1.5/5
The birth of the "manaita show" (strippers engaging in sexual acts with the audience on stage) as presented by junk director Katsuhiko Fujii. Still, it is questionable if this "true account" was based on much other than Nikkatsu's budget and box office calculations. It was yet another film that put the word "jitsuroku" (true account, or docu-drama) into its title, a trend initiated by Toei yakuza films in the early 70s and soon adapted by Nikkatsu (Naked Resume: True Story of Kazuko Shirakawa; Gypsy Rose: A Docu-Drama; Jitsuroku Abe Sada aka A Woman Called Abe Sada etc.). The film stars Yuri Yamashina alongside real strippers doing what they do best. There is one amazing strip dance number with genuinely impressive staging, choreography and music. Unfortunately the rest of the film is a series of dull sex scenes linked with meaningless brief dialogue bits, as one would expect from D-grade director Fujii.

Bridal Doll (団鬼六 花嫁人形) (Japan, 1979) [VoD] - 2/5
A young man falls in love with a woman (Asako Kurayoshi, an actress with very expressive eyes) who has been sold as human doll to an slimebag who is into SM. He responds by kidnapping the slimebag's wife and subjecting her to similar treatment. This is junk director Katsuhiko Fujii's arthouse picture, a melancholic, impressionist revenge movie with occasional surreal visual sequences. Fujii paints the frame in red, cuts to historical past and shows a crucifixion, not entirely unlike directors like as Nobuhiko Obayashi, Shuji Terayama and Shunya Ito. But Fujii could never dream of being in their league, and this film is a superficial imitation with lesser execution and little meaning to the images. Still, it's a bit better than most other Oniroku Dan SM junk. The score is quite beautiful at times.

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Love Beast: Flower of Vice (愛獣 悪の華) (Japan, 1981) [VoD] - 1/5
Other than being a sort of come-back series for actress Jun Izumi, who starred in two Nikkatsu films in 1976 before trying a mainstream career with other studios, the Love Beast series is interesting for being crime films within Roman Porno. The follow-up to this movie, the Naosuke Kurosawa directed neo noir Love Beast: Attack! (1981), was rather successful. This opening instalment by workman director Akira Kato fires blanks, however. What begins as a 'yakuza giving heat to a bar owner and his girl (Izumi)' thriller soon turns into 'abducted girl trained for prostitution' boredom. That is, sex, sex, sex. How disappointing.

Virgin nanka kowakunai (ヴァージンなんか怖くない) (Japan,1984) [VoD] - 3/5
The Warriors (or perhaps more like The Bronx Warriors) goes Roman Porno in a punk action gang chase film! Except there is only one gang, and the runaways are a motorbike riding radio DJ who offended a gang member, and a guy who comes to her rescue. It's certainly a unique film in the Roman Porno series, for the main gang alone, which includes a crazed blonde punk, guys in gladiator clothing armed with blades and nunchakus, and two crazy women who look like pro wrestling escapees, all with ridiculous sex drives. Rikiya Yasuoka also appears as a sort of gang godfather. Luckily and unluckily the film was helmed by Hiruyuki Nasu, a trendy but somewhat talentless director with music video sensibilities, one who was never better than the scripts he worked with. The film is a mess with lots of potential; a better filmmaker could have made something really cool with the material. Still, it's a entertaining ride with punk and rock that earns an extra point for its sheer peculiarity.

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Ran no nikutai (蘭の肉体) (Japan, 1984) [VoD] - 1.5/5
Roman Porno vending machine Shogoro Nishimura must have been trying to entertain himself with this sex film disguised as a gangster flick. Two small time goons and debt collectors (a guy and a girl) accidentally cause a desperate man to jump to his death from a high roof. Other people living in the house retaliate, causing the guy to run and the girl to seek shelter in one of the apartments. Unfortunately what could've been "The Porno Raid" then turns into a standard sex drama with one girl and too many (outlaw) guys with the hots on her. The gangster stuff adds slight curiosity to it, but is ultimately little more than a minor backdrop.  How disappointing. 

Seifuku yurizoku - Warui asobi (制服百合族 悪い遊び) (Japan, 1985) [VoD] - 3/5
Cute lesbian schoolgirls in a love triangle! Questionable but functional entertainment by Koyu Ohara, a director capable of going back and forth between roughies and pop flicks. His tender side was always his best side, and that's what puts this film a few notches above the competition. Although the film may have been nothing but an excuse to fill the screen with girls in (and without) sailor uniforms, it's really quite a sweet film with evident sympathies for its heroines. From cute dialogue exchanges ("do you think we're doing something wrong?" heard as best friends Mami Mochizuki and Mayumi Asakura discover girl love by accident) to solid character confrontations (Chie Yamaguchi, delivering an unexpectedly strong performance as a mentally unstable girl in love with an about-to-be-married man, walking into the bride's condo to confess) and plenty of attractive skin, the film somehow achieves the unusual: you start rooting for these girls, and not just to take their clothes off.

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Seifuku niku-dorei (制服肉奴隷) (Japan, 1985) [VoD] - 1.5/5
Potential but disappointingly underwritten dark drama about a high school girl (Mami Mochizuki) who is bullied and sexually abused both at home and in school. There are moments powerful filmmaking, many of which have to do with Mochizuki's performance. She was a young actress with seemingly limited acting talent but good screen presence. In fringe and school uniform, playing an alienated and disturbed teenager, she shared much with the early 2000s Chiaki Kuriyama. This was the last of her only five Nikkatsu appearances (followed by a small role in Obayashi's His Motorcycle, Her Island before apparent retirement). It is too bad the film, helmed by the frequently disappointing Junichi Suzuki, features more sex than storytelling. A missed opportunity.

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Edited by Takuma

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On 9/6/2013 at 8:54 PM, Takuma said:

Score (Japan, 1995) [DVD] – 4/5

V-cinema gone big screen in a B-cinema classic. Atsushi Muroga’s action film shamelessly rips off Reservoir Dogs, throws in John Woo action, and mixes with nonsensical “cool” dialogue. The film lacks a single idea of its own, but it’s incredibly energetic and action packed with non-stop gunplay, explosions and car chases. The cast is a collection of V-cinema tough guys playing Tim Roth look-a-like, Anthony Wong –look-a-like, and a couple of Michael Madsens + and local Filipino stuntmen performing insane stunts. The film is set in Nevada, but the police are driving cars that have Manila’s logos on them!

I got through watching this one recently, and should have known the man known as @Takuma would have already seen it!  Nevertheless, I offered up my own humble thoughts on it here - 

http://cityonfire.com/score-1995-review-hitoshi-ozawa-japanese-gangster-vegas-manila/

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The rest of my Roman Porno treasure hunt

White Whore (白い娼婦 花芯のたかまり) (Japan, 1974) [VoD] - 2.5/5
Dark and cold, if not very deep psychological drama by Masaru Konuma. It takes a bit of patience because there's a random filler sex scene right at the start, immediately sending the film off the rails. But there's better things to come. Well, "better". Yuri Yamashina is a hooker, always dressed in white (hence the delicate title), with a brother confined in a wheelchair. She keeps feeding him with young girls (some willing, others not) until one day she's raped (by a laundry delivery boy) in front of him, much to his delight. Things only get more twisted after this sexual awakening. This isn't one of Konuma's best pictures, but the storyline and arty approach work alright once you get over the poor start. His finest films remain the breezy love story Wandering Lovers: Dizziness (1978) and the atmospheric horror drama Woman In the Box 2 (1988).  

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Female Teacher: Boy Hunt (女教師 少年狩り) (Japan, 1975) [VoD] - 2/5
There's a slight promise of something unusual with a title like "Boy Hunt", an anomaly among the more comfortably chauvinist "Woman Hunt" titles. And indeed, an all boy's school set film with a predatory female protagonist seems to have been a bit much for the Roman Porno audiences whose faith in their manhood had to be restored by having dentist Akira Takahashi drilling the fore mentioned heroine, and a bunch of schoolboys target her in the name of vengeance (her ex-student committed a suicide)... All of which largely undo the promise, especially when her misconducts are, despite the title, largely limited to an ex-romance and shaving misbehaving boys' pubic hair as a punishment in one scene! A bit of an odd film, and not really that bad of a movie even if it's a bit pedestrian in execution.

Slave Wife (奴隷妻) (Japan, 1976) [VoD] - 3/5
Kimono wearing wife Naomi Tani is assaulted by hilariously over the top American G.I.s before being abducted by bitter former servant Akira Takahashi. Tolerable direction and focused storyline, effective cross cutting between present and past, unexpected ending, and Takahashi as the abductor make this film more watchable than most of its SM companions. Takahashi was an unsung hero of Roman Porno; a decent actor who spent two decades playing second fiddle to actresses when Nikkatsu went Roman Porno, usually portraying gangsters. Quite often he'd manage to breathe life - even a tiny bit - to characters that were intended as nothing more than plot tools. This film features one of his biggest roles, and he doesn't disappoint.

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Rape Shot: Momoe’s Lips (レイプ・ショット 百恵の唇) (Japan, 1979) [VoD] - 2.5/5
This fast paced, surprisingly watchable pop thriller emerges as junk director Katsuhiko Fujii's best film. It's about a sleazy asshole reporter (Noriaki Abe with an amazing 70s moustache and perm) trying to bust pop star Miki (Minako Mizushima) for drugs while she's also being targeted by kidnappers and protected by a Terminator like bodyguard (Toei actor Shinzo Hotta in a ridiculous role). While the film's title is Momoe Yamaguchi exploitation it seems the project itself was influenced by Koyu Ohara breezy pop films and Yasuharu Hasebe's crime films (Abe also starred in Hasebe's tonally similar Secret Honeymoon: Rape Train). It's still sloppy filmmaking with some dull sex scenes and zero depth (you'll notice your attention drops the second there isn't something cool on screen) but it remains more watchable than you'd expect, is finely shot and even has some cool music.

Live Act: Top Stripper ((本)噂のストリッパー) (Japan, 1982) [VoD] - 3.5/5
A genuinely warm slice of life piece following the lives of a small strip theatre staff and dancers, and a very sympathetic young man (mainstream actor Ken Miyawaki) who falls in love with a dancer called Gloria (Kaori Okamoto). Meanwhile, a lonely and sweet girl named Yoshiko (Ayako Ota, looking like an 80s idol ala Hiroko Yakushimaru or Tomoyo Harada) befriends him and falls in love with him. There's a bit of crude sex as a genre burden and the characterization could benefit from a longer running time, but those are relatively minor flaws. This is one of those films people go in expecting a skin flick and come out having experienced something more profound: a good story with decent characters. It also functions as a decent, musically oriented zeitgeist to early 80s Japan. Writer / director Yoshimitsu Morita helmed his most celebrated film The Family Game the following year.

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Elder Sister's Diary (Japan, 1984) (姉日記) [VoD] - 1.5/5
Hiroyuki Nasu (Bebop High School, 1985) was Nikkatsu's gun for hire for trendy, commercial entertainment in the mid 80s. He helmed pictures like Lesbians in Uniforms (1983) with the audio-visual touch of a music video director (and corresponding character depth). This film is a beach resort set Pink Curtain (1982) meets Sun Tribe lite with no other point than to milk the "brother in love with hot elder sister" concept. The Sun Tribe reference mainly epitomizes in the tremendous, cool as hell closing scene where the protagonist (Kaoru Oda) cuts her hair short and takes off her bikini top as she speeds to open sea in a motorboat operated by her brother who is left speechless by her coolness, all set to blazing pop music. Bravo!

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That's Roman Porno: Smile of Goddesses (ザッツ・ロマンポルノ 女神たちの微笑み) (Japan, 1988) [VoD] - 1.5/5
A 95 minute collection of clips (not trailers, like sometimes claimed) from Roman Porno films, disguised as a "documentary" (which it is not, save for an occasional narrator voice or an screen text), released in commemoration of the series after the series came to its end in 1988. There are no great discoveries to be made for well educated Roman Porno aficionados as all the clips are from relatively well know films.

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The Loyal 47 Ronin (忠臣蔵) (Japan, 1958) - 3/5
Slightly uneven but generally good Daiei version of the famous story. The film gets to an underwhelming start with a by-the-numbers opening act depicting the events that lead to Lord Asano pulling his sword on Kira, but the segment is either too long or too short (Hiroshi Inagaki showed a more detailed version is Chusingura, Kinji Fukasaku wisely condensed the whole opening act, which simply serves as a trigger to the actual story, to just a few minutes in The Fall of Ako Castle). However, the film improves once the main narrative begins and the focus is on Oishi (the excellent Kazuo Hasegawa), the struggling leader of the vengeful samurai tormented by his will for revenge and the necessity to keep it a secret even from his own family in order to fool the enemy. The supporting cast includes big name actors like Shintaro Katsu, Takashi Shimura and future yakuza film super star Koji Tsuruta before he moved to Toei in 1960.

Samurai Vendetta (薄桜記) (Japan, 1959) [DVD] - 2.5/5
A side-story following one of the samurai, Horibe Yasubei (Shintaro Katsu), from Chushingura (The Loyal 47 Ronin) before the famous incident. The film opens with the samurai marching in the snow to raid Kira's house, but then moves back in time to show Yasube's rise in the swordsman ranks and his friendship / rivalry with Tange Tanzen (Raizo Ichikawa), serving the Uesugi clan which would side with Kira. A good looking but not especially engaging Daiei picture has its fans; I however occasionally found myself wondering why I should care about this story?

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Chusingura (忠臣蔵 花の巻 雪の巻) (Japan, 1962) [DVD] - 3.5/5
This is perhaps the most popular of the Loyal 47 Ronin adaptations, helmed by Hiroshi Inagaki of the Samurai Trilogy with grand production values at Toho. At 207 minutes it is in some ways the most detailed of the three adaptations I have seen (the others being Watanabe's 1958 film and Fukasaku's 1978 film), especially in terms of the opening act, which lasts a full hour, and Kira's character who is given unusual amounts of characterization. The film can be, however, a bit less affecting than the other two movies, partly due to Koshiro Matsumoto's low key portrayal of Oishi. The same can't be said about Toshiro Mifune who is the very definition of a crowd pleaser in his supporting role as a sake loving odd loner of a swordsman. Akira Ikufube's grand score includes a variation of his Godzilla theme played during the massive, exciting raid at the end.

Path of Chivalry (侠客道) (Japan, 1967) [TV] - 1.5/5
Chris D had nothing but praise for this transitional ninkyo / jitsuroku (though not based on a true account) yakuza film by Norifumi Suzuki. I wish I could share his enthusiasm. This is yet another Toei yakuza film that suffers from a lack of identity. It's neither about the romantic chivalry (ninkyo) nor the gritty reality (jitsuroku). It's just a standard programmer about yakuza gangs quarrelling with other yakuza gangs, filmed without anything to make it stand out from the rest. It's also a good reminder that leading man Noboru Ando, with his mediocre acting talent and limited screen charisma, was better suited for supporting roles.

Gambling Den Assassins (必殺 博奕打ち) (Japan, 1969) [TV] - 3/5
Part 7 in the Gambling Den series, and one of the better entries alongside parts 4, 6 and 8. None of the films are connected story / character wise. This time Koji Tsuruta is a gambler who feels sympathetic towards a woman whose naive husband is driven to a debt trap by a rotten gambling den owner (Tatsuo Endo) and his dishonest card dealer (Isamu Nagato). The plot is standard stuff and features too much talk, but there's also a decent balance between melodrama and lyricism in the form and storytelling. Tsuruta was a perfect fit for these kind of roles, with the stoic and emotional sides nicely mixed in his screen persona.

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Shinjuku's Number One Drunk: Killer Tetsu (新宿酔いどれ番地 人斬り鉄) (Japan, 1977) [TV] - 2/5
Below average Toei yakuza mayhem from late 70s when the genre was already past its prime. Bunta Sugawara is the titular character, just out of prison and giving trouble to his own gang who don't know what to do with him. Contrary to the film's title, they are quick to dispatch him away from Shinjuku to a more distant location where he brawls with other gangs and causes trouble with a bunch of other small time goons (Makoto Sato, Hiroshi Tachi etc.). One of the film's three screenwriters was the ero-guro specialist Masahiro Kakefuda, but do not expect anything special here. This film might work better were it not directed by Yutaka Kohira (who did great with Dragon Princess but disappointed with everything else), who manages to turn the premise of Sugawara as a booze loving hothead into a sloppy, run of the mill genre product. There's some sex and violence, but none of it packs much punch, and the action scenes are sloppy. It's not until the last 15 minutes that the film's drama comes alive with a couple of powerful confrontations and a solid jitsuroku style visual touch.

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Crest of Betrayal (忠臣蔵外伝 四谷怪談) (Japan, 1994) [DVD] - 2/5
Kinji Fukasaku merges two classic tales in this film which is best described by its original title: "A Chusingura Story: Yotsuya Kaidan". It's a Loyal 47 Ronin spin off following one of the Ako clan members, with a ghost story twist. Visually good looking (and not just Saki Takaoka's breasts, which are impossible not to mention), but the over the top theatrics feel jarring in this context. For rough reference, imagine crazed Keiko Oginome from Fukasaku's Triple Cross (1992) doing period drama, and yes, she is indeed one of the central players in Crest of Betrayal. For a far more satisfying Fukasaku take on the Loyal 47 Ronin see Swords of Vengeance aka The Fall of Ako Castle (1978).

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Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds (1977) - aka Kyôryû kaichô no densetsu - Produced by Toei Studios. In a cave near Lake Sai at the foot of Mt. Fuji, a "petrified" egg hatches and a kaiju-sized plesiosaur is loosed into the lake. It starts eating people on the eve of the region's "Dragon Festival." A geologist who's father had found the cave years before becomes obsessed with finding the dinosaur, while authorities try to find the monster before it devours more people (once more, the plesiosaur is the size of a kaiju, how can they not find it). Things are complicated by the appearance of the baby pterosaur (which is the size of a baby Rodan) and the eruption of Mount Fuji. I've always enjoyed this movie more than others. I find it endlessly fascinating that this film was released on VHS in the States under the "Just 4 Kids" Banner--the same people who released the Sandy Frank dubs of the Showa Gamera movies back in the day. This is because the movie in question is gorier than the two Carnosaur sequels combined. People are torn apart by claws, we see a decapitated horse onscreen, a woman pulls the top half of her friend out of the water (entrails hanging out), and severed limbs strewn about. There's a woman's bare rear and nipple scene in a shower sequence...before she gets devoured. I'm sure it was all cut, but I'd like to understand the cognitive dissonance between a person who feels that Japanese FX movies can only be enjoyed by children and their reaction to watching this. On the subject of FX, I love how Toei seemed to released a big FX movie the exact same year Hollywood released some sci-fi film that was a complete game-changer. That happened with Green Slime and 2001: A Space Odyssey, and it happened with this and Star Wars.

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On 5/29/2018 at 1:37 AM, Killer Meteor said:

I love that film for its funky soundtrack!

 

Technically it has no dinosaurs or monster birds...

Did I make a mistake skipping it in Tokyo when they had a Tsunehiko Watase retro?

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The Beast Must Die (野獣死すべし) (Japan, 1959) [DVD] - 3/5
Sophisticated literature student (Tatsuya Nakadai) moonlights as a robber and murdered, not so much for the money but for the sheer excitement of killing human beings and getting away with it. An early Haruhiko Oyabu (Youth of the Beast, Resurrection of the Golden Wolf) adaptation by Toho action/thriller director Eizo Sugawa who directed several interesting films. This movie is captivating when it focuses on its protagonist; the segments following the detectives after him are less interesting. The ending is quite bold for a 1959 film.

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Bushido: The Cruel Code of the Samurai (武士道残酷物語) (Japan, 1963) [DVD] - 2.5/5
Repetitive and overlong, but powerful criticism of the Japanese social hierarchy and the unreasonable side of the traditionally romanticised bushido code. The film chronicles eight generations of Iigura family men (cleverly, all played by Kinnosuke Nakamura), from the 17th century to the modern day, who met their destinies under cruel and corrupt rulers. One of the men, without the slightest doubt in his words, teaches his son that the greatest thing in a samurai's life is receive an opportunity to kill oneself for his lord. Episodic (literally) for most of its running time, it is the final story that ties the string of sad destinies to modern day Japan and makes a powerful point. It's also fun seeing Nakamura tackle eight characters in one movie, though that's about as far as "fun" goes. The level of cruelty on display occasionally rivals that of late 60s Teruo Ishii movies, only lacking their graphic visualization, and the cathartic revenge part that Ishii usually granted his viewers. Dark stuff.

Daimajin (大魔神) (Japan, 1966) [Hulu] - 3/5
The first in Daiei's famed tokusatsu trilogy. These are interesting for being set in period, with poor villagers praying for mythical stone god Daimajin to rescue when they are enslaved by evil lords, giving the films an altogether different aura than Toho's sci-fi monster films. Like many of Daiei's mainstream productions, this is a professionally made, good looking and occasionally exhilarating picture that suffers from one-dimensional characters. There are the good and suffering, and the bad, and absolutely no shades of gray or story complexities. I guess such simplicity can have its own charm. If one can put up with that, we are left with an often atmospheric film with some beautiful scenery and absolutely fantastic special effects work. One has to wait for the showdown till the last reel, but special effects are almost seamlessly blended in, exceeding in quality most Godzilla films not to mention any CGI garbage Hollywood studios are putting on screens these days.

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The Return of Daimajin (大魔神) (Japan, 1966) [Hulu] - 3/5
This is a bit of a rehash of the first movie, with a similar story told with slight modifications. This time an evil lord attacks a peaceful village by the sea whose inhabitants worship a stone god statue on a small island. Directed by samurai film master Kenji Misumi (Lone Wolf and Cub), this is actually a better told (and written) story than the original. The special effects showdown, however, is not quite as impressive although it's well done to say the least.

Continental Drifter (大陸流れ者) (Japan, 1966) [TV] - 3/5
A ninkyo yakuza film shot on location in Hong Kong. The motif is a water refinery under construction to free the locals from having to buy their water from gangsters at extortionate prices. Honourable Japanese yakuza Minoru Oki, who is in charge of the construction, is killed by evil gweilo Osman Yusuf and his Japanese associate Tetsuro Tamba, who does evil yojimboing pitting the Chinese and Japanese against each other. Koji Tsuruta is sent to replace Oki and resolve the conflict. Initially, the film seems lacking since Tsuruta's character never encounters the moral conflicts that form the backbone of a good ninkyo film. It is however Tamba's character who begins to develop interesting moral ambiguity as the story goes on. There are other points of interest as well: the locale, the international cast, and the English proficient Tamba utilizing his language skills, all of which begin to manifest themselves once the film gets over the dullish first 30 minutes. There's perhaps a bit of inherent, unintentional racism with the Japanese getting the more heroic roles, but the film means well, and the exact same kind of storylines and characters appear in Japan set yakuza films with all Japanese casts as well.  

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Samurai Rebellion (上意討ち 拝領妻始末) (Japan, 1967) [DVD] - 4/5
The original title for this film, "Execution of Order: Receiving the Wife", is quite different from the English one yet they are both apt. A young woman and an unwilling samurai family become human tokens when a local lord gives arbitrary orders for people to marry and break up serve his own political interests. The young samurai and his father (Toshiro Mifune) decide to take a stand against this madness that is enabled by the traditional Japanese social hierarchy, even if it was to cost their lives. A socio political family tragedy that ends in a hell of a bloodbath, this is indeed a film that escapes easy classification. Interesting, well acted and beautifully filmed with some striking compositions, its biggest accomplishment may lay in the social criticism that has kept it - a 1967 samurai film set in the 18th century - timely to this day.

The Beast Must Die: Mechanic of Revenge (野獣死すべし 復讐のメカニック) (Japan, 1974) [DVD] - 3/5
A thematic follow-up with sex and violence upped to the 70s standards. Once again the protagonist (Hiroshi Fujioka) is a devil is disguise, a literature teacher also working as an assassin but betraying his employers. The film's nihilist and action packed final reel is especially memorable, and would make modern mainstream audiences shake their heads in disbelief. It is too bad the film is not always as captivating, with the antihero surrounded by boring corporate bosses and desperate women (one of them played by Mako Midori) whose worries aren't too interesting. Sugawa was a director whose coldness and relative minimalism was well suited for tensely written thrillers (e.g. Beast Hunt, 1973); this movie serves that need intermittently.

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Daredevil Drivers (マッハ'78) (Japan, 1978) [Hulu] - 2.5/5
A minor carsploitation classic with nonexistent artistic achievements partly out-weighted by some of the most insane car stunts ever committed to film. The storyline is about Japanese and American stuntmen competing each other in a tournament in USA where they perform death defying car and crash stunts. What's interesting is that while the story is fictional, the film essentially plays out as a documentary since the stunts are real, often shot in a single take, even showing the real medical personnel pulling the poor driver out of the wreck. Nearly all cast members are stuntmen and it's difficult to believe many of the outcomes could've been scripted. Some of the stunts are impossible to witness without going all "holy shit!" Cinematically the film is amateurish with a ridiculously thin romantic side story (with "Hollywood Star" Linda Stayer who appeared in a total of two films!) and dull sequences documenting a real car museum and race event. Nevertheless, with achievements like "word record car jump" (158 metres) and "359 demolished vehicles" the film found relatively wide international distribution in the early 80, mainly on video, and still manages to astonish in places.

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Trailer:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FI8Qb6z0B9I

 

Edited by Takuma

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Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion (女囚701号 さそり) (Japan, 1972) [DVD] - 4/5
Uneven but thoroughly entertaining mix of honest exploitation, arthouse visuals and angry politics. First and foremost it was a collaborative effort by politically active debut director Shunya Ito, who channelled the political turmoil of the era (from constant ridicule of the Japanese establishment to a hostage segment echoing Asama Sanso), production designer Tadayuki Kawana, who based the prison design and character dynamics on Auschwitz, and Meiko Kaji, who in a career defining role created a near mute avenger capable of retaining her dignity under any male oppression (a theme that runs strong in the first three films). Add surreal visuals with skies turning apocalyptic red during massacre and a prisoner morphing into a demon out of anger (as striking as those images are, they are always justified as supporting or exaggerated means of storytelling, rather than as disconnected symbolic images, something that many copycats and phony art films have gotten wrong) and we've got a film that beats almost anything in the genre except its own sequels. Compared to the follow ups there is a certain lack of focus that leads to a salad bowl of ingredients, and it is slightly burdened by having to tell the background story (like Ogami Itto in Lone Wolf and Cub, the protagonist is so interesting that the film works better when closely exploring the present than when over-viewing dramatic background story).

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Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 (女囚さそり 第41雑居房) (Japan, 1972) [35mm] - 5/5
The sequel turns a straight forward 7 female convicts on the run scenario into a surreal anti-patriarchal odyssey, a theme touched in the previous movie and perfected here. After breaking free from the chains set by men (also note that every single one of them were chained in the first place because of treacherous men) the women try to escape but the society keeps setting its patriarchal shadow over them at every turn. The most amazing segment comes when madness escalates in hijacked bus full of old men bragging with the Chinese women they raped in war, with Ito cross cutting to the women laying their vengeance and surreal sequences of the masculine society judging the women. Kaji does amazing job acting with her eyes (she has only two lines, a total of five 5 words) and contributes a couple of extremely well utilized (thanks to the terrific editing) songs to the soundtrack. There are also some memorable bits of Argentoan violence, with the guards (Hideo Murota, Shinzo Hotta + warden Fumio Watanabe in his best role) often in the receiving end. An amazing film, one of the finest pictures of the 1970s.

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Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable (女囚さそり けもの部屋) (Japan, 1973) [35mm] - 4.5/5
Superb third film is a fascinating, melancholic character study that concludes the original trilogy. Director Ito, who had originally wished to set the film in hell, injects a lot of mythology against which Kaji's runaway character comes out as a tragic woman destined to live a demon's life, a fate she accepts despite a silent yarning for normal life. There are several amazingly good, existential scenes contrasting her and a young prostitute (Yayoi Watanabe) who is not yet in touch with her identity. With its fairytale touches and references to Kojiki (the tale of Izanagi and Izanami) the film comes out a sort of alternate vision of the real world (or hell, indeed) modelled after character psyches. This is precisely what makes the movie such a logical continuation to its predecessors while simultaneously breaking new ground (something that Ito handled extremely well throughout his 3 entries). While not as outrageous as Jailhouse 41, cinematically there's not a false note in it, with Ito and Kaji in perfect command of their arts, and cinematographer Masao Shimizu painting absolutely sublime visuals. A beautiful, under-rated near masterpiece.

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Female Prisoner Scorpion: Grudge Song (女囚さそり 701号怨み節) (Japan, 1973) [35mm] - 2.5/5
Shunya Ito resigned from the series after completing what was meant as a trilogy, one that retained an amazing quality and variety by going from a politically coloured exploitation to surreal anti-patriarchal odyssey and finally a melancholic character study. The fourth film, helmed by gun for hire Nikkatsu action director Yasuharu Hasebe, was purely economics at work. The film shows promise initially by pairing runaway Kaji with a former student radical left badly scarred emotionally and physically by police brutality. It works as groovy 70s crime cinema with a Nikkatsu Outlaw influence for a while despite being completely at odds with the series' underlying thematic with its romance (isn't the theme song all about trusting in men being a woman's crime?) and lack of patriarchal criticism (female warden this time). It is not a bad film, but by the time it gets to its compulsory prison part and revenge episode, it's evident it's trying new and old at the same time, with the latter element coming out as nothing but a pale shadow of Ito's films, lacking his vision and goals, and adding little noteworthy new.  

New Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (新女囚さそり 701号) (Japan, 1976) [DVD] - 2.5/5
Toei was quick to reboot the series with Yumi Takigawa in 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 and political awareness is no match for that of Shunya Ito. There are moments where the film really takes off, such as Nami’s final revenge mission, but most of it is fairly routine. Takigawa is a pretty girl, and she did well in School of the Holy Beast, but she lacks the kind of charisma and strong screen presence this role requires. She comes across about as threatening as a wet kitten. The film is also surprisingly light on exploitation with very little in terms of sex and nudity. All of this probably comes down to director Kohira who was no master with the ladies. His bitter words about actresses "being difficult" when asking them to go nude may reveal a thing or two about his talent, and why the film got stuck somewhere between the empowerment and exploitation of females without doing either one very well.

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New Female Prisoner Scorpion: Special Cellblock X (新女囚さそり 特殊房X) (Japan, 1977) [DVD] - 3/5
Director Kohira seems to have learned something from his mistakes. Here he doesn't even attempt a feminine revenge tale but goes for a masculine action picture instead. This time Nami (Yoko Natsu, a model turned actress with the charisma of a mannequin) causes a power struggle between the new warden (karate villain Masashi Ishibashi) who can't get a hold of the women, a more experienced young guard (Nikkatsu's excellent youth/action star Takeo Chii) and the warden's trusted, rifle wielding hothead (rock star gone unexpectedly good youth/rebel actor Hiroshi Tachi). It's an excellent male cast that gives the film a very masculine identity. There are some dull prison clichés in first reel and Kohira still doesn't have a clue how to do surrealism (Nami getting raped by a bunch of cat men is a tragicomic example) but once the focus shifts to prison control dynamics and escape action the film delivers alright. At odds with the series identity it may be, but better this than screwing up another entry.

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Female Prisoner Scorpion: Death Threat (女囚さそり 殺人予告) (Japan, 1991) [DVD] - 1.5/5
The first new Sasori film since New Female Prisoner Scorpion: Special Cellblock X (1977), this is a V-Cinema restart rather than a remake. This is actually a bold attempt at doing something original, and it shakes the franchise in ways that would not be acceptable in the modern fanboy era. The premise is as follows: retired warden Goda (yes, he's still alive in this version) sends a female assassin to prison to kill Nami who is now a middle aged woman! Cool, eh? Unfortunately the execution itself is lame as a bag of potatoes, starting from the god-awful disco pop cover of the original theme song. None of the political spark nor the visual style of the original series is here to be found (a bit surprising considering this was helmed by Evil Dead Trap director Toshiharu Ikeda). Now, for those who wish to read spoilers (since the film is not worth watching, nor will probably ever be available in English), here's how the storyline goes. The assassin, who now carries the number 701, kills her target but learns she's been betrayed. It was the wrong target and the real Nami died 20 years ago when she was murdered by Goda. Her spirit, however, lives and the betrayed assassin becomes the new Scorpion, assuming the name of Nami Matsushima at the end. Pretty cool. Too bad the film isn't.

Sasori in U.S.A. (Scorpion's Revenge) (Japan, 1997) - 2/5
Another restart film, this time a theatrical release although I suspect this was produced for the video market and only given minimal theatrical run. In any case, it's a bit better than you'd expect, a passable b-film with some nudity, one explosion (yes, this actually has production values, minor they may be), a bit of action, and shot in USA. There are quite a few American actors as well, giving typical b-film performances that some people might describe as "bad". Nami (uncharismatic but passable TV star Yoko Saito, daring to show her boobs here) is this time a woman living in the US, falsely accused of murdering her husband and sent behind the bars. If you don't think of it as a Female Prisoner Scorpion film but rather a normal WiP flick it's quite watchable, and would be up another half star if the ending wasn't such a letdown with some very underwhelming action and car chase. The director is Daisuke Goto, better known for some watchable pink films (A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn, Blind Love).

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Scorpion: Double Venom (サソリ 女囚701号) (Japan, 1998) - 1/5
Unrelated follow-up to Sasori in U.S.A, scripted but not directed by Daisuke Goto. This time the film is set in Japan, with Nami (Chiharu Komatsu) a nurse who goes to prison for murder. This is a surprisingly inoffensive film, with a good amount of nudity and some lesbian sex but nothing sleazy at all, even the prison guards are nice people. Not so much a terrible film as one that ultimately doesn't leave any kind of impression at all. Tomoro Taguchi plays a villain and has one or two decent moments.

Scorpion: Double Venom 2 (サソリ 殺す天使) (Japan, 1998) - 1.5/5
This is a continuation of the story that begun in the previous film, with Nami still played by Chiharu Komatsu. Both films were released theatrically on the same day. It's a marginally better film than the first, for reasons I cannot recall anymore two weeks after the viewing (which probably says something about the movie). It might have had something to do with the general ridiculousness of the picture, especially the ending which is so dumb it's almost genius.

Female Convict Scorpion (蠍子 / さそり) (Hong Kong / Japan, 2008) [DVD] - 1/5
Incomprehensible Hong Kong adaptation of the manga throws in wire fu to accompany amateurish artistry and dull drama. The original series was a political avant-garde exploitation spectacular; this exploitation free bore has absolutely none of that, and feels extremely un-Sasori for its overt HK style. I'm actually more critical towards this film than the recent Japanese soft porn versions. Those were just economics at work. But when they produce an adaptation of Japanese material in Hong Kong and go through the trouble of importing a Japanese leading lady, yet they don't seem to have a clue what they are doing, you gotta wonder what was the point? And then they have Nami fight a flying swordsman! As additional irritation, there is no satisfying language option for the film. In Cantonese the main character (Miki Mizuno) ends up dubbed, in Japanese nearly everyone else (including Simon Yam, giving the only worthy performance in the film). Both tracks also punish the listener with the same ear shattering cover of Meiko Kaji's theme song.

Female Prisoner No. 701: Sasori (女囚701号 さそり外伝) (Japan, 2011) [DVD] - 1/5
Extremely dull pinku reboot with depressingly bad production values. They couldn't afford even remotely convincing prison sets, hence the movie looks like it was filmed in an old school building, which is probably correct. AV actress Asuka Kirara (no relation to similar sounding kaiju monsters) takes over the lead role and makes some of the earlier reboot stars look like a bunch of Meryl Streeps in comparison. Nami is working for an IT company this time, betrayed by a lover as usual. There is really nothing of interest here, or at least I don't think there is: half of the film is so dark you can't see what's going on. A sequel followed in 2012, my desire to see it did not.

Edited by Takuma

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Gambler (博徒) (Japan, 1964) [TV] - 2.5/5
Noble boss Koji Tsuruta takes in young hothead Hiroki Matsukata who is in love with prostitute Junko Fuji. Tatsuo Endo and Shigeru Amachi are the rotten bad guys who have forgotten jingi. This early ninkyo film shows some of the most detailed yakuza ceremonies I've seen. It's a shame the storyline doesn't reach the same depth. There's a shortage of complex duty/honour conflicts and, ironically, gambling compared to some of the later, finer ninkyo films.

Abashiri Prison: Duel in the Wilderness (網走番外地 荒野の対決) (Japan, 1966) [DVD] - 2/5
Part 5. A mediocre-at-best entry. The first 15 min is dedicated to Toru Yuri and others goofing around in the prison (typical for the series, and Ishii, unfortunately) before things take a bit more serious turn. Once out of the slammer, Takakura befriends horse breeders harassed by the yakuza. I initially thought this was one of those southern entries with summer setting but it seems it was shot in Hokkaido after all with a bit of spring snow and scenery here and there. There's not much else to write home about, except perhaps the unusual ending which is void of excessive bloodletting.

Abashiri Prison: Challenging the Wicked (網走番外地 悪への挑戦) (Japan, 1967) [DVD] - 3/5
Part 9. A summer set Abashiri Prison film with no scenes set in neither the prison nor Abashiri was usually a bad sign. Not this time, though. This one's got a dynamite opening with credits where Takakura's name explodes on the screen in the biggest red font you've ever seen. The next scene is a hostage situation with armed delinquents. The storyline that follows (Takakura with delinquents) is an unexceptional melodrama but there's a bit of that jazzy touch you find in late 50s and early 60 Ishii films (e.g. the Gang series). The ending is great again with violent action and a great tie up to the next film. Not quite top tier Abashiri (1, 3, 8 ) but probably the best of the rest.

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Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter (野良猫ロック セックス・ハンター) (Japan, 1970) [35mm] - 4/5
There's an angry (and timely) political action film hidden under a misleading commercial title (something that Nikkatsu would make a habit of in the Roman Porno era). A mixed blood watadori (very young Rikiya Yasuoka) wanders into a town searching for his sister, but clashes with racist youth gang (led by Tatsuya Fuji) who are set to clean the city of half-blood bastards to protect the women... when they are not abusing them themselves! Meiko Kaji is the leader of a more decent girl gang, but interestingly in a relationship with Fuji. No sex hunters to be found anywhere in the film. Director Hasebe made a trademark of helming politically coloured films and the denying any political message in interviews. Perhaps it was indeed arthouse/exploitation gonzo writer Atsushi Yamatoya (who also wrote the very loosely based re-working Sex Hunter: Wet Target, 1972) who put that stuff in the film (and Chiho Katsuura in the Roman Porno films). Hasebe handles the pace and live music (including the mixed blood girl group Golden Half) well, except the repetitive violence and abuse could've been cut down. Energetic/punkish Kaji is good, but I prefer her silent Sasori / Lady Snowblood persona; the singer gone actor and future yakuza villain heavyweight Yasuoka is more interesting here. Undeniably influential for the pinky violence genre, I still have difficulties labelling this series as pinky violence as these are pure Nikkatsu with their youthful trendiness. Pinky Violence was more of a Toei thing, especially if going by J Taro Sugisaku's original definition (though there's an odd non-Toei film here and there, like Toho's first Rica pic, that is hard to label as anything else).

Did the Red Bird Escape (赤い鳥逃げた?) (Japan, 1973) [35mm] - 4/5
Fantastic "70s depression" zeitgeist about two small time goons (Yoshio Harada, Masaaki Daimon) and a girl (Kaori Momoi) living together and trying to make money with frauds and blackmails. The opening scene sees rifle wielding hired hand Harada catch an unfaithful wife with her pants down with Daimon, both men hired by the husband. The film is a bit of a slow burner, not entirely unlike Tatsumi Kumashiro's slacker drama Africa's Light (1975), but the fantastic cast really makes you care for the sad bunch (of which carefree slacker girl Momoi spends half of the movie topless). Also kudos to cinematographer Tatsuo Suzuki. Whether it's about capturing grey streets, orange sunsets or snowy mountain roads, the cinematography is nothing short of terrific. Director Toshiya Fujita is at his element with this kind of material. He's ironically best known internationally for his most atypical film, the period revenge fairytale Lady Snowblood.

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Aesthetics of a Bullet (Japan, 1973) [35mm] - 3.5/5
Toei director Sadao Nakajima helmed this film for Art Theater Guild. The outcome feels exactly that. A lowlife wannabe gangster (Tsunehiko Watase) gets his chance to reach for the stars when a local gang send him to Kyushu with a gun & a stack of money. Little does he realize he's being used as a scapegoat. There's an evident Toei vibe to the premise, but the film portrays gangsters as incompetent losers who cannot even start epic trouble. Watase especially seems be to enjoying himself playing a bigger loser than usual, a man who sells rabbits and lives off his girlfriend's money. Miki Sugimoto joins the cast in the film's latter half, which is nice, though she'd go on to make a far bigger impression a few years later in her second ATG film, Preparation for the Festival (1975). Rock band Zuno Keisatsu provides the electrifying soundtrack.

Saburai: Way of the Bohachi (忘八武士道 さ無頼) (Japan, 1974) [TV] - 2.5/5
Disappointing follow-up to Teruo Ishii's chanbara masterpiece Bohachi Bushido: Code of the Forgotten Eight (1973). Ishii mentioned in an interview that he didn't even know Toei had made a sequel. This is a blatant re-telling of the original, with Goro Ibuki playing Tetsuro Tamba's role, although it's not clear whether this supposed to be a remake or a sequel. The storyline is almost the same with many scenes playing out exactly the same way! And this came out less than a year after Ishii's film! Someone ought to ask writer Sadao Nakajima what on earth was going on in the pre-production? It still has its own trashy appeal with just as much sex and violence as Ishii's film, but it is also incoherent in characterization and lacks the style, pace, originality and superb action of Ishii's film. Aside from a couple of fun new additions (Reiko Ike as a woman dealer and Takuzo Kawatani as her abused servant in a gloriously misandric role, for once!) the film feels like a copy by a lesser filmmaker, that man being the mediocre Takashi Harada. Ibuki and Harada, however, teamed up for a better ninja sexploitation the following year, Shitakari Hanjirô: (Maruhi) kannon wo sagase, which, like this film, was based on a Kazuo Koike comic book.

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Vampire Clay (血を吸う粘土) (Japan, 2016) [VoD] - 1.5/5
There's been anticipation that special effects maestro Soichi Umezawa could be the next Yoshihiro Nishimura. Alas, that was not to be, not yet at least. This low budget idol horror fails to follow up his wild SFX showcase Y is for Youth and psychological body horror short Thorn. On the positive front side there's an almost fanatic avoidance of CGI in favour of practical effects on display here. Unfortunately the tale of desperate art students attacked by blood thirsty clay (yes!) is as boring as it gets. The film is also strangely dull in technical terms: the music is terrible, the video and sound editing lacks any punch and the ending is extended beyond any sense. It's also restrained enough in terms of splatter to have landed a G rating in Japan, though it would still equal to a soft R in the United States.

Edited by Takuma

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1 hour ago, Takuma said:

Fantastic "70s depression" zeitgeist about two small time goons (Yoshio Harada, Masaaki Daimon) and a girl (Kaori Momoi) living together and trying to make money with frauds and blackmails.

The following year, Masaaki Daimon would play the lead in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, for all those kaiju otaku out there.

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Three Lakes Prison: Widespread Brutality (三池監獄 兇悪犯) (Japan, 1973) [TV] - 3/5
Try to beat this opening: dirty prisoners working in a coal mine dig a tunnel to the neighbouring mine... a tunnel full of sweaty topless girls in physical labour. Someone's tipped off the guards though, and as they return every man is shot (3-15 times). A 1973 Toei film by Shigehiro Ozawa, this initially seems like a male version of WiP movies, complete with bare-assed men marching the corridors, naked guys in tiny cages, a silent protagonist, and at least one third of the inmate population being gay. How odd. Unfortunately the film then tones it down considerably to become a socially aware, violent drama about Meiji Era Japan which was exploiting prisoners to finance their war with Russia. The jitsuroku influence is obvious. The film's weak link is Koji Tsuruta, the venerable samurai and ninkyo star who is obviously disgusted to be in this movie, and would quit Toei very soon after. Co-stars Joe Shishido, Goro Ibuki and Minoru Oki give more passionate performances. Uneven but interesting film, and peculiar for its coal mine setting. Note: misspelled by IMDb and Chris D.'s as "San ike kangoku", the correct reading is "Miike kangoku: Kyoakuhan".

The Four Roughnecks (あばよダチ公) (Japan, 1974) [DVD] - 3.5/5
Four young slackers (three incels and one Yusaku Matsuda) with total disregard for honesty and other people's property retreat to a isolate, riverside hut with a girl (Sayoko Kato) who hooks up with them. This 70s neo-taiyozoku film is stacked with constant cheap sex jokes (Gajiro Sato groping anything that moves, and even trying to rape a goat) but the cast is so good and director Yukihiro Sawada helms with such energetic swing that the film easily wins over. There's surprisingly much sex and nudity, as if Sawada forgot the Roman Porno gear on (this was one of Nikkatsu's few non-Roman Porno films of the 70s) but it's all cheerful and fun rather than pervy and dull.

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Song of Ossan of Kawachi (河内のオッサンの唄) (Japan, 1976) [DVD] - 2/5
Takuzo Kawatani, Toei's loud mouth punk bit player and comic relief, somehow landed starring a role in this short running series. This first film is a countryside drama/comedy with a yakuza undercurrent. Kawatani is fun to watch as good hearted village ossan (middle aged man) with no patience at all for anything, but the film doesn't utilize his talent for loud mouthing and tragicomedy as much as it should. There's too much non-eventful drama with supporting characters (young trucker guy Koichi Iwaki, his gal Emi Shimizu, and even a grumpy grandma) in what is a family friendly affair on top of all (light violence and brief boobs only). The film only becomes genuinely entertaining when Kawatani goes against Tokyo yakuza Kenji Imai at the end... largely because in spite of his overly optimistic attempts he nearly always gets his own ass kicked.

Song of Ossan of Kawachi: Yokita no ware (河内のオッサンの唄 よう来たのワレ) (Japan, 1976) - 3.5/5
Now we're talking! This is the Takuzo Kawatani show the first film should've been! The ossan runs into a sympathetic conman (excellent Kunie Tanaka) whom he mistakes as a gambling genius. He agrees to shelter his gal (spunky Hiroko Isayama) which sends all kinds of sparks flying with his wife, the other piranhas and gangsters. And then there's Hideo Murota taking the piss out of Kawatani at every turn! This is a very enjoyable sequel that omits the dull drama of the first film and replaces it with fast pace and likeable characters. Also included is a cool soundtrack, a gambling duel that makes most proper gambler movies pale in comparison, and lots of hilarious moments with the short tempered Kawatani haunted by objects that are destined to land on his face. For a comparison especially apt for this film, Kawatani was the Donald Duck of Toei!

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Piranha Corps (ピラニア軍団 ダボシャツの天) (Japan, 1977) [DVD] - 2/5
The third and final mid 70s Takuzo Kawatani starring vehicle, unrelated to the two Ossan of Kawachi films. Kawatani is a small time Osaka thug hanging out with his scarred aniki Isao Natsuyagi. There's a wonderfully pathetic fight at the end with Kawatani and fellow piranha just scratching each other's faces and crying their eyes out, but other than that there's not much truly outrageous stuff in the film, nor as much piranhas as the title would have you expect. The film is neither very funny nor too violent, which  was perhaps to be expected from director Kosaku Yamashita. In the 60s his name served as automatic recommendation for any film he made. In the 70s he somehow lost his touch, perhaps not keen on the modern yakuza mayhem, and his films became lifeless. Note: this was a standalone film with no follow-ups. The other Piranha Corps film listed by Chris D. and IMDb does not exist.

A Pool Without Water (水のないプール) (Japan, 1982) [DVD] - 4.5/5
An absolutely astonishing, almost hypnotic dive into the psyche of a man who becomes a morally corrupted but not downright evil rapist. Yuya Uchida, a rock star turned absolutely fearless actor, is excellent as bored, sexually frustrated family man who discovers he can take advantage of women during their sleep without getting caught using chloroform. Feeling quilt, he actually prepares breakfast and does the house cleaning for his regular victim. It is for its refusal to outright condemn its protagonist that the film is so unique, challenging and thought provoking, tied to Japanese society and its film history of sympathizing otaku, and frankly couldn't exist in almost any other country. It is also darkly humoristic, but strictly labelling it as black comedy would be an attempt to avoid facing the film as what it is. One of Koji Wakamatsu's best films, greatly aided by Katsuo Ono's stunning score and Uchida's amazing performance. He gave fantastic performances in films like Erotic Liaisons (1978), Rolling on the Road (1981) and No More Comics (1986), playing a fallen detective, asshole rock star, and paparazzi, not afraid to show himself in a negative light or sympathize low lives.

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Edited by Takuma

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Sadao Nakajima sex doc x3

Nippon '69 Sexual Curiosity Seeking Zone (にっぽん69 セックス猟奇地帯) (Japan, 1969) [DVD] - 2/5
Student demonstrations, plastic surgery, body painting, 8mm porn film shoot, strip joints, underground theatre groups and a man who wishes to be treated as a dog and wants to drink his mistress' pee (this may have been an inspiration to Teruo Ishii's Shameless: Abnormal and Abusive Love, 1969). A commercial shock documentary in the tradition of Italian mondo films, which had been remarkably popular in Japan based on the sheer amount of them that got released throughout the 60s in the land of the rising skirt. The disgusting plastic surgery footage aside this Sadao Nakajima film is quite tame, with sexual content limited to a fair few topless shots. It is a little more rewarding as late 60s time capsule featuring real underground figures and street footage, also the 60s student movement and street demonstrations prominently in presence.

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Pilgrimage to Japanese Baths (驚異のドキュメント 日本浴場物語) (Japan, 1971) [DVD] - 1.5/5
A strange, semi-authentic documentary exploration of Japanese public baths and hot springs. The entirely fictional frame story features a man burdened by a mother complex journeying around Japan in search of a great bath. The Eiren synopsis speaks of nostalgia and tradition tied to spiritualism and health, contrasted to the modern era and captured with hidden cameras. It is questionable how much of that actually comes through in this 18 rated (by 1970 standards) film where half of the time you know the scenes are staged. That being said, its R18 labelling seems extremely dated by today's standards (toplessness, c-section, Turkish bath footage with no explicit sex). It's one of those cinematic oddities that don't exist anymore in the internet era.

Twisted Sex (セックスドキュメント 性倒錯の世界) (Japan, 1971) [DVD] - 2/5
"Modern Japan. Sex is everywhere. There we have a woman with a woman. Or is it a man after all? What is a man or a woman anyway?" The third and final in Sadao Nakajima's sex doc series covers transvestites, gay men, lesbians, tattoos and S&M. This one is actually interesting in parts, especially in its romantic portrayal of gay men, something which is greatly aided by Ichiro Araki's cool score that blesses the entire film. There's also some interesting footage with Nippon Irezumi Club needle masters creating sadistic full body tattoo art with the kind of visions of torture hell familiar to viewers from Teruo Ishii's ero guro films. The doc gets less interesting when it moves to S&M content (Oniroku Dan also appears here). Again, the film is perhaps more valuable as cinematic curiosity and time capsule than as informative doc, but it is cinematically more accomplished than the first two. Oh and the words quoted in the beginning? The voice belongs to narrator Ko Nishimura, probably best known to foreign audiences as the priest in Lady Snowblood (1973).

King x 3

King of the Widow-Killers (未亡人ごろしの帝王) (Japan, 1971) [VoD] - 1.5/5
Part 3 in the King series (1970-1972). There were 5 films  in total, all starring Tatsuo Umemiya as a young bloke who leaves his poor family and doctor dad behind to make fortunes in a big city with the help of his big slong. Yes, you read that right. There's also comedy, a bit of melodrama and some action when he runs afoul with gangsters. I have not seen the first two films, but considering the series theme song was called "Manhood's Symbol" and each of the three latter films followed the same formula, it's reasonable to assume the first two were in the same alley as well. This film features Umemiya becoming a gigolo. There's no nudity or good laughs, but it does feature the 'pop star about to go Roman Porno' Sally May as one of Umemiya's customers (Umemiya must have had a thing for blondes as he screwed a Caucasian girl in every other sexploitation flick he did, climaxing with the Oh Wonderful Utamaro (1974) where he claims to have had real sex with co-star Sharon Kelly). Other cinematic achievements are modest but there is the kind of technical basic quality to the film and direction that keeps it just about watchable.

King of Porno (ポルノの帝王) (Japan, 1971) [VoD] - 1/5
Dumb Tatsuo Umemiya / Shingo Yamashiro comedy about a young bloke whose dick grows to inhuman dimensions (obviously a role tailor made for star Umemiya's ego). He visits a doctor, impresses ladies and opens a porn shop before running afoul with yakuza... With few laughs, sparse nudity and one big slong that is little utilized and never seen, this is dull junk, as bad as some of director Makoto Naito's other films with Umemiya. The boredom gets to the point where watching a big fake dick would probably have been more fun than what the film has to offer. Well, it does at least have the subtly titled theme song "Manhood's Symbol" by Umemiya!

Fun trivia: director by Makoto Naito would go on to helm Etsuko Shihomi's 13 Steps of Maki. Assistant director Yutaka Kohira would do Dragon Princess.

King of Porno: Red God of the Turkish Bath (ポルノの帝王失神トルコ風呂) (Japan, 1972) [VoD] - 2/5
This is a better than the previous film, with more naked girls, more outrageous scenarios and visually more stylish. There's an especially hilarious Umemiya's dick vs. brothel scene, as well as some fun stuff with Umemiya putting up a whorehouse with only foreign girls he's picked up from the street. Yumiko Katayama is in the film as well. Unfortunately the film keeps abandoning its own good ideas, even the Turkish bath theme is ultimately just a background elements. Also, opening and closing 20 minutes, in which absolutely nothing interesting happens, are excruciatingly boring.

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Kigeki / Comedy x 3

The Master of The Turkish Bath (Kigeki toruko-buro osho-sen) (喜劇トルコ風呂王将戦) (Japan, 1971) [VoD] - 1/5
Dull as dishwater Shingo Yamashiro comedy about a pig sound making silly man who finds success in brothel business with his equally silly male and female cohorts. Don't expect any naughtiness as this is essentially a family friendly affair (no graphic sex whatsoever, a tiny bit of nudity) despite the subject matter. Worse yet, there's not one interesting scene in the film. Ok, perhaps the "Mobile Toruko" at the back of a truck was a fun idea. And there's Bunta Sugawara cameo. They don't count to much. The humour is mainly based on people making funny faces or saying silly things. Yusuke Watanabe helmed this travesty. One of the films in Toei's related-in-name-only Kigeki/Comedy series, following Toho's similarly titled 60s series.

Sex, Gamble And Big Money (Porno gamble kigeki: O ana, chu ana, heso no ana) (ポルノギャンブル喜劇 大穴中穴へその穴) (Japan, 1972) [VoD] - 1/5
Panty stealing gambling addict becomes a gigolo but quits because the customers are too ugly. He then begins running various scams relating to prostitution and gambling with his associates. This is another Shingo Yamashiro / Yusuke Watanabe comedy. Watanabe was a capable drama director (e.g. the excellent, noirish Two Bitches, 1964) but awful with comedy, at least as far as these Yamashiro films go. This film's highlight is when Yamashiro snatches panties from a bathhouse and the owner turns out to be an old granny.

Sex Up And Down (Kigeki sex kobo-sen) (喜劇セックス攻防戦) (Japan, 1972) [VoD] - 2.5/5
Amusing Shingo Yamashiro sex comedy about a love doctor treating miscellaneous patients. Miki Sugimoto plays one of the three sukeban girls who barge into his clinic and demand to be hired (her role is small though). The supporting cast also includes Tooru Turi, Yukie Kagawa, Yoko Mihara, Yayoi Watanabe and Ryuhei Uchida as "pervert ninja". Unlike Master of the Turkish Bath, this film is absolutely packed with boobs - and gags dumb enough to get some laughs. Norifumi Suzuki's sex comedies like the two onsen geisha films make a good comparison as this resembles them. There's not much plot or exceptional qualities, but director Shin Takakuwa does acceptable job keeping things watchable and not overly goofy. He also directed one of the best Sonny Chiba films, the cop thriller A Narcotics Agent's Ballad (1972).

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Yellow Line (黄線地帯) (Japan, 1960) [DVD] - 3.5/5
A very enjoyable Shin Toho noir by Teruo Ishii. There's a terrific opening with hitman Shigeru Amachi accepting an assignment and then walking into the Tokyo night. During his getaway he kidnaps a lady (Yoko Mihara) whose boyfriend (Teruo Yoshida) then tails them to Kobe where they hide in a red light district. There's a great momentum through most of the film (minus the 2nd quarter), especially towards the ultra intense climax, as well as moody sets and fascinating location work capturing the Japan of the era. One sexy night club especially is pure Ishii. On the minus side we are served the worst black face job you'll ever see, on what appears to be a Caucasian blonde actress from her looks. This was Part 3 in the Line series, the only one in colour.

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Fire Line (火線地帯) (Japan, 1960) [DVD] - 2/5
The 5th and last Line film, scripted but not directed by Teruo Ishii. At first this feels like Shintoho action gone Nikkatsu youth film. Unfortunately it then settles on a more casual gangster action gear. Technically quite slick, but uninvolving and unremarkable.  

The Rapist (続日本暴行暗黒史 暴虐魔) (Japan, 1967) [DVD] - 2/5
Wakamatsu / Adachi arthouse pink supposedly inspired by the infamous serial killer / rapist Yoshio Kodaira. A traumatized Japanese man attacks young women in a small seaside town and drags their naked corpses to a cave where we get an occasional colour scene in an otherwise b/w film. Wakamatsu fans may be in for a treat; I found this a bit uninvolving and pretentious like many of his other films. There's intermittent, dry artiness without the kind of constant momentum and characterization that the films of his that I like, Shinjuku Mad and A Pool Without Water, have. Note: this is part 2 in the "Dark Story of a Japanese Rapist" series. There were four films in 1967-1970 + one that might be part of the series in 1972. There's confusion about the English titles as there are several of those, none are well known, and parts 1 and 2 both sometimes get called "Dark Story of a Japanese Rapist".

Hot Springs Geisha 2 (温泉ポン引女中) (Japan, 1969) [DVD] - 3/5
The first Hot Springs Geisha (1968) film, a harmless sex comedy and one of Teruo Ishii's dullest efforts, only managed to sneak in one or two brief topless shots. This sequel does more in the opening credits scene alone. It's a skin flick in and out, but thankfully one with an enjoyably laidback swing, drenched in 60s aesthetics, and without too many boring bits. And just when you're about to get a bit tired of it, it throws in a bizarre nude party scene with Tatsumi Hijikata's Butoh dancers! And then there's a super violent shocker final reel that makes you wonder if the filmmakers decided they should've gone the Joy of Torture (1968) route instead. Though unjustified quality wise, you can't quite help but to see the Beneath the Valley of the Dolls (1970) parallels. This is as good if not better than the two Norifumi Suzuki directed instalments (parts 4 and 5).

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Hot Springs Geisha 3 (温泉こんにゃく芸者) (Japan, 1970) [DVD] - 2/5
This is a step back in the wrong direction after the wild and entertaining part 2. Somehow it's a whole lot tamer as well. A small town girl (newcomer Miwako Onaya) becomes a geisha to make money to send home. There are some minor points of interest like Ichiro Araki and street demonstrators, but generally speaking not much interesting or exploitative happens until the great climax where she competes in a three set sex duel. The scene is outrageous, not least because her own (foster) father is there to coach her!

Gambler's Code - Loyalty Offering (博徒仁義 盃) (Japan, 1970) [TV] - 2/5
Three yakuza brothers grow apart when chivalrous Bunta Sugawara goes to prison for his clan. Kyosuke Machida goes bad under Tatsuo Endo's rotten influence, Sugawara is still the same when he's released and Goro Ibuki is confused. And then thereäs Tomisaburo Wakayama who becomes a Christian priest who occasionally kicks people in the face with karate kicks. Unexciting ninkyo yakuza film sounds more fun than it is, being mainly a sappy melodrama with one-dimensional characters and too much crying after suffering and dying characters.

Taifu Club (台風クラブ) (Japan, 1985) [35mm] - 5/5
A long time personal all time favourite and frequently considered one of the finest Japanese films ever made (e.g. Kinema Junpo), I finally got to see Shinji Somai's youth film masterpiece in 35mm. This is Somai at the height of his powers, diving into the sexually confused psyche of a group of third year junior high school students trapped in a school building during a typhoon, shot in a slow-burn fashion that takes some patience but comes with incredible rewards. The ending with Yuki Kudoh walking in the midst of flourishing nature and soaked roads captures the hopefulness of childhood like no other film ever. Another incredible scene is the slow tracking shot dance scene. Aside from the wonderful performance by Kudoh, it's not so much a character film but something that caught an era, location, and adolescence on film. Admittedly it's an auteur film and there are bits where Somai is flying a bit too high, e.g. the scene where the boy kicks the door 73 times, but then again those bits only add to its fascination.

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Akira (アキラ) (Japan, 1988) [35mm] - 4.5/5
My 3rd time seeing this in 35mm, as amazing as always. It seems I'm always in Tokyo when Akira screens, and of course I had to go this time as well since I was in town. It's a good print save for a few scratches but the sound was a bit shrill this time around. I'm not sure if the theatre at fault or what, as I don't recall any audio issues the last two times I saw it (clearly the same print) in 2016 and 2014. It probably didn't help the audio was cranked up really high.

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Modern Yakuza x 3

Modern Yakuza: Outlaw's Code (現代やくざ 与太者の掟) (Japan, 1969) [DVD] - 3.5/5
Surprisingly good transitional ninkyo / jitsuroku film sparks nicely in both genres, unlike most similar 'halfway-there' efforts. Bunta Sugawara is a jailbird back on the streets, a rough and violent but also chivalrous man who makes friends with a fellow yakuza (Kyosuke Machida). Perhaps better than any other yakuza film, this movie  captures the psyche of a man just out of prison with no friends, no home, nothing to go back to. It's also beautifully filmed with ninkyo romantics and jitsuroku roughness somehow co-existing without cannibalizing each other. Add a bit of noirish atmosphere, a great Tomisaburo Wakayama supporting role (he sings also!) and an ultra bloody ending, and the film successfully overcomes its unexceptional story and the comedy-resembling Shingo Yamashiro stuff inserted in the middle. Fine effort from Yasuo Furuhata, whose films often strike as dull to me.

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Modern Yakuza: Outlaw's Honor and Humanity (現代やくざ 与太者仁義) (Japan, 1969) [DVD] - 3/5
Noirish but not especially moving tale makes Sugawara play the second fiddle to young lovers (Masakazu Tamura, Ai Sasaki) on the run from the yakuza. Sugawara is the loyal yakuza brother trying to protect them, Ryo Ikebe an older brother obliged to bring the runaways to his boss. Violent and stylish, with some excellent character dynamics between Sugawara and Ikebe, it's a shame the central story about the young lovers is superficial and predictable, giving the viewer little reason to care.

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Modern Yakuza: Loyalty Offering Breakdown (現代やくざ 盃返します) (Japan, 1971) [DVD] - 1.5/5
Slow moving and quite frankly boring part 3. Dodgy boss Koike orders loyal and clueless Sugawara to stab another boss, who is actually a pretty decent man with a rational son (Hiroki Matsukata). Sugawara eventually comes to realize this. Oddly enough, this is a ninkyo film rather than anything even remotely resembling the modern, soon-to-come jitsuroku films. Should've been called "The Conservative Yakuza" instead.

Note: this is part 3, not part 4 like Chris D claims (he mistakenly included Outlaw of Shinjuku in the series). The series then continued with Sadao Nakajima's Three Cherry Blossom Blood Brothers (1971) and what is the best known film in the series, Fukasaku's Street Mobster (1972).

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Others

Zatoichi the Outlaw (座頭市牢破り) (Japan, 1967) [BD] - 4/5
The consequences of dealing death come haunting Zatoichi in this excellent entry. This was the first film produced Katsu's own company as opposed to the more conservative Daiei (still the distributor here). He got the politically minded Satsuo Yamamoto to helm the film with a great character touch. While the film retains all the humour, action and chivalry of the series, it also shows the corrupting effect of power and how the men Zatoichi slays are, in fact, real people. Rentaro Mikuni has an excellent supporting role as a yakuza boss sympathizing poor farmers.

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Zatoichi and the Fugitives (座頭市果し状) (Japan, 1968) [BD] - 3.5/5
A good, darker than usual entry with a powerful ending. This was made soon after Zatoichi the Outlaw (there was one film in between) and in its depiction of Zatoichi's vulnerability it feels like a follow up of sorts. Takashi Shimura (likeable noble doctor) and Kyosuke Machida (one of the titular fugitives) provide good support. I haven't paid much attention to Machida in his Toei films, but he's pretty good here.

Violent Money Network (暴力金脈) (Japan, 1975) [DVD] - 3/5
If you ever wondered what a capitalist corporate & society satire would look like as a Toei jitsuroku yakuza film, here it is. Hiroki Matsukata stars as boxer turned small time thug who makes a living by marching into company offices and starting trouble until they pay him to leave, or he gets paid by a third party who has hired him to make trouble. Scriptwriter Kazuo Kasahara based the character on a man called Kaoru Ogawa whom he interviewed while doing research for Battles without Honor and Humanity. This is quite a different type of film though the cast, crew (Fukasaku was originally set to direct before being replaced by Sadao Nakajima) and the underlying mentality are largely the same. Also, there's no explicit violence or sex until Reiko Ike walks into the picture around the 50 minute mark in one of her better drama roles. The lack of violent mayhem makes this a smaller picture than some of its contemporaries, but the Nakajima - Matsukata pairing produces energetic results, and there are nice supporting turns by Takuzo Kawatani (thug) and Tomisaburo Wakayama (Ike's sugar daddy), among others. Also features an extremely funny cat killing scene.

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My Hero Academia: Two Heroes (2018) - 4/5

I went to see My Hero Academia: Two Heroes when it was released in theaters for a couple days in America, despite having never watched the show or really knowing what it's about. And I surprisingly thought it was pretty awesome. I think seeing this movie in a packed theater that was laughing and cheering through the entire movie really made the overall experience more exciting. If I had seen it by myself, I'd probably only be giving it a 3.5/5. But still, the whole experience was incredibly exciting. The first hour of the film was really straightforward, creative, and entertaining. The plot is essentially "Die Hard meets The Poseidon Adventure" except an anime and with superheroes. But during the last half hour, things just go crazy and there's a lot of twists and turns. I was having a blast. And the audience I saw it with was losing their minds watching it too. My Hero Academia: Two Heroes is a funny and thrilling animated movie with fun characters, great villains, and an exciting story.

 

The Scythian Lamb (2017) - 3.5/5

This movie's freaking weird. It was such a strange and interesting movie to watch. It’s a dark comedy with many unique characters. There’s pretty much no narrative structure to this movie and you never really know what’s gonna happen next. But even then, the series of events is still really funny. All of the performances were great too. My favorite character was played by Kazuki Kitamura who’s great in everything I've seen him in. Had this movie followed a more traditional structure, I probably would’ve liked it more. But it was still very entertaining and unique nonetheless. And I saw this with a crowd too, and they laughed the entire time.

 

Sukeban Deka The Movie (1987) - 3.5/5

This is a movie I’ve been meaning to see for the longest time, mainly because of its premise, and also because the show is @Takuma's avatar picture, so it's gotta be good. And now that I've seen it, I thought it was pretty great. It’s very silly, entertaining, and over-the-top. The exaggerated sound effects, the cheesy music, the fun fight scenes, and the gimmicky characters are all part of this movie’s charm. However, there are a few dramatic moments that fall flat. None of the deaths left an impact to me simply because I didn't feel like I knew any of those characters (perhaps they have bigger parts in the show, which I haven't seen). None of the characters feel very fleshed out, except for the main character probably. Then again, I don’t think you’re supposed to take this movie (which is about a group of high school girls who fight people with yo-yo’s made of steel) very seriously. I thought Sukeban Deka The Movie was just an incredibly fun movie with many exciting scenes, some funny moments, adorable leads, and a great theme song. That theme song has been stuck in my head all week.

 

Sukeban Deka The Movie 2: Counter-Attack of the Kazama Sisters (1988) - 3.5/5

I thought this was a very silly and fun sequel. I love how earnest and determined the main character is, and I love how over-the-top the villains are. There's a romantic subplot in this movie that I felt was superficial but kinda sweet. Having Kosuke Toyohara in this movie was a nice bonus since I thought he was great in Godzilla vs King Ghidorah. He's a wonderful "overactor". There are some pretty funny and exciting moments throughout. However, just like the first film, there’s very little development for any of the characters and the dramatic moments are weak. Strangely enough, I thought the first film had a bit more depth and emotion to it. But still, I wasn't bothered by that too much since the action is fun, the characters are enjoyable, and the tone is so over-the-top. It's hard to judge this movies harshly since I had a lot of fun watching them. And I doubt that it was supposed to be taken very seriously.

Edited by KenHashibe

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The Sukeban Deka movies are fun, but the TV shows are so much better. There were three (1985-1987), each with different cast and characters. The 1st one, with Yuki Saito as the sole lead, was the darkest with a lot of focus on her alienation. The 2nd one, Legend of the Girl in the Iron Mask, generally considered the best, is just an amazing pop culture epic with incredible storyline, soundtrack, and episodes referencing everything from Casablanca to Female Prisoner Scorpion. The third one, Romance of the Ninja Girls, is a high school ninja girl remake of Star Wars... enough said, I think.

Each show was so different that each one could be considered "the best" for different reasons. They are also a bit less over the top than the movies, especially with less overacting, which ironically makes them more outrageous.

From the movies the 2nd one (with the cast from the 3rd show) is my favorite, with a lovely Verhoeven esque future on display. The 1st one (with the cast from the 2nd show) is fun too but a bit too over the top. Both obviously suffer a bit if you haven't seen the shows as the "reunion" aspect and new twists are lost on the viewer.

Can`t help but to post a few screencaps.

Sukeban Deka I
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Sukeban Deka II
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Sukeban Deka III

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Of course, I own the OOP box sets for all of them

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Probably the most beautiful things in my collection.

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The Greatest Post-War Gambler (戦後最大の賭場) (Japan, 1969) [DVD] - 3/5
With all the criticism on remakes and reboots these days, it's good to remember that back in the 60s and 70s it was ok to remake a movie a mere 12 months after its release. This is a modern day re-imagining of director Kosaku Yamashita's own Big Time Gambling Boss (1968), which was a Shakespearian ninkyo yakuza tale about conflicting duties and honour. Koji Tsuruta stars again as the noble hero, Tomisaburo Wakayama is out and Ken Takakura plays the role that roughly corresponds to Wakayama's hot headed character whose friendship with Tsuruta is tested when conflicts arise. Chris D. named this as one of his favourite ninkyo films; I found the first half a bit too slow and preferred Big Time Gambling Boss, though this is decidedly more low key and quite good towards the end.

Evil Boss vs. The Henchmen (悪親分代貸) (Japan, 1971) [TV] - 2.5/5
A conceptually fun twist to the usual ninkyo formula with Tomisaburo Wakayama as... The Evil Boss! He's the corrupt bastard who'd normally function as the villain threatening the heroes, who are largely absent from this film. Made between Wakayama's similar Story of Japanese Evil Men films (1971, 1972), this one is a bit better than them. The film still underperforms with little action, no sex, and a deadly boring first 30 min, but the concept does begin to spark eventually and the ending is a ton of fun. Also features a goodish Wakayama vs. Bunta Sugawara fight that echoes their brawls in the Wicked Priest series.

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Also catching up with recent JP Cinema

Liverlief (ミスミソウ) (Japan, 2018) [DVD] - 2/5
Junior high school kids murdering each other is something that could end up looking ridiculous if not handled with delicasy or stylish excess. That is exactly what happens in this long but hollow revenge drama about a bullied girl going after with her wrongdoers. The problem: her transition is not believable and the hysterical little devils, badly played by idol-like girls, are as convincing as the film's constant GCI snow. Being an Eisuke Naito film, there is excess, with eyes stabbed, mouths slit open, guts hanging out and so on, but few of the gory set pieces are well choreographed. It's only during the last 20 minutes that the film finds cruel beauty in its blood soaked images.

The Limit of Sleeping Beauty (リミット・オブ・スリーピング ビューティ) (Japan, 2017) [DVD] - 3.5/5
One of the few recent Japanese films to grab you by the balls, a wild acid trip into the psyche of a desperate actress in the crossfire of love, dreams, abuse, clown, and psychedelic night club where she part-times as a circus girl. There's a lot of Aronofsky, Iglesia and Tsukamoto in the film, with a bit of Spring Breakers Korine and plenty of director Ken Ninomiya's own approach where music and visuals are inseparable (there's about three album's worth of good music in the film). His energy and that of the cast (especially Yuki Sakurai from Sono's Tag) transcend the budgetary limits that show in lesser image quality than the superb visuals deserve. You can tell Ninomiya never went to film school - or if he did, he skipped the classes - but stayed home watching movies instead. There lies the film's flaw as well: originality is lacking as the influences are too evident. But give him time, this is one of his first films, a remake of his (equally stylish and and similarly flawed) short film of the same title from a few years back.

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Call Boy (娼年) (Japan, 2018) [DVD] - 4/5
This film's got to have the longest, relatively most realistic sex scenes in any mainstream film. It's also another terrific, emotionally brutal and ultra-realistic film by the most interesting director in Japan, Daisuke Miura. The opening alone is great: a handsome university student is picked up by a seductive older lady. When they get to her place, the gist is revealed: he's not to have sex with her but her mute daughter, while she watches. She's also the owner of a call boy service to which he is soon hired. This is an adaptation from Miura's own stage play - a world where he gained notoriety for his abusive directing methods aimed at bringing the best out of the cast, and whether you approve his methods or not, the performance are once again terrific (as they were in his romantic-comedy-gone-punk Boys on the Run and modern-day-Roman-Porno with style and psychological depth to boot Love's Whirlpool). I hesitated seeing Call Boy for its lower tech looking visuals, but the otherwise stylish camera work, New York jazz score and superb character realism overcome it. The realism is partially relative, though, with perhaps a bit too much AV influence to the slick sex scenes (though you could argue that`s exactly what the young Japanese are influenced by in real life) and half of the customers being in the Ami Tomite / Yuki Sakurai / Kokone Sasaki (all Sion Sono actresses, btw) range of burning hot, and the rest including Daiei star Kyoko Enami (!), now in her mid 70s, in an unexpectedly sweet role. All that's quite ok, this IS cinema after all.

River's Edge (リバーズ・エッジ) (Japan, 2018) [BD] - 3/5
Set in early 90s Japan, ironically soon playing at Tokyo International Film Festival's "Japan Today" series. Bullies, bulimia, secret gay relationships and a slaughtered cat... with its "shocking story", digital image and amateurish "talking to the camera" scenes it feels like a j-dorama director going big screen - something you shouldn't feel with experienced Isao Yukisada. Perhaps this is Japan(ese cinema) Today indeed. That being said, it is captivating with its dramatic story, surprisingly graphic sex, good performances and the always watchable Fumi Nikaido. Oh and did I mention she goes nude in the film? Good for us. Also, shot in 1.37:1. You don't see that often these days.

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