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Takuma

Japanese Movie Mini Reviews

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Front Row Life (かぶりつき人生) (Japan, 1968) [DVD] - 2/5
Tatsumi Kumashiro's debut film about a moody gal whose fat mother is a stripper. The daughter gets a bit into the same trade, and runs into some unpleasant men, one of whom wants her to star in a pink film. Kumashiro fans should enjoy this as it’s unmistakably his work; I wasn't that impressed by it though, nor were the audiences at the time it seems. Kumashiro was back to assistant duties until Nikkatsu went Roman Porno. This film is tame compared to those, a character drama with mainly talk, but there are a few (non-striptease) scenes that show brief glimpses of nudity while pretending to be part of serious narrative. You get the feeling they calculated how much they could get away with.

The Turkish Bathhouses of Japan (札幌・横浜・名古屋・雄琴・博多 トルコ渡り鳥) (Japan, 1975) [TV] – 3/5
A Toei documentary exploration of "Turkish baths". The film features toruko-wanderer Meika Seri employing herself in the country’s many brothels in a fictional frame story into which documentary footage and interviews with real pros are inserted. Shingo Yamashiro narrates, Tsusai Sugawara pops up, and there’s footage of foreign prostitutes and a visit to a women’s toruko with male workers. The most obscure thing we learn: 90% toruko girls own a pet because they are lonely! Some of the lengthy footage with bubble specialist sex workers doing their thing is also interesting, though marred by tons of fogging, and this being an exploitation doc you can never be quite sure what’s staged and to what extent. The structure works pretty well anyway, with real footage balanced with a fictional road movie drama and not too many boring moments. A bit better than Sadao Nakajima’s similar pictures from a few years earlier. Note: Turkish baths were re-named into Soaplands in the 80s after the Turks took offense. The younger Japanese are no longer familiar with the term “toruko”.

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The Day of No Return (Kaerazaru hibi) (帰らざる日々) (Japan, 1978) [DVD] - 3/5
A young man (Toshiyuki Nagashima) returns to his hometown and recalls his youth, including an unlikely friendship with a brutish bully (Jun Etô), and a girl (Kahori Takeda from Pink Hip Girl) whose father (Atsuo Nakamura in a Yoshio Harada role) was a yakuza. Told in parallel in 1978 and 1972 with plenty of period detail. Another good, though not exceptional film by Japan's top youth film director of the 70s, Toshiya Fujita. He's ironically best known abroad for his most atypical film, Lady Snowblood. Perhaps that makes sense though, as revenge films travel better, and serious youth dramas are a genre the Japanese are for some reason much more comfortable with than the rest of the world.

Prey (餌食) (Japan, 1979) – 4/5
Yuya Uchida x Koji Wakamatsu x Reggae. Uchida is a pot smoking ex-rocker back from the States. He hooks up with a small community of ex political radical, a bozo zoku style lone youngster and a teenage girl while growing increasingly concerned about the heroine trade conducted by gangsters in the show biz back-stage. A little more laidback than your average Wakamatsu fair, with an amazing non-stop reggae soundtrack and no graphic sex. Not the director at his most intense, yet unmistakably Wakamatsu all the way to the ending where Uchida goes postal in bright daylight and starts shooting random people on the street.

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Shanghai Rhapsody (上海バンスキング) (Japan, 1984) [35mm] - 3/5
Enjoyable but overlong Shanghai musical set in the 30s and 40s. With Fukasaku's usual frantic pacing I was quite enjoying the film until at 45 minutes I realized there's still two thirds to go (most directors would’ve taken 80 minutes to get that far). Plenty of singing and dancing in night club context, a gwailo gangster speaking English and Japanese in the same sentence, and a brief, hysterical Etsuko Shihomi karate scene (she has the film’s biggest supporting role as Chinese girl marrying a Japanese musician). For a while I though the film was drawing a naive depiction of Japanese-Chinese co-living until I realized the war just hadn't started yet. When it does, it’s Japanese soldiers executing children on the streets. Not what the target audiences expected perhaps, but this wouldn't be a Fukasaku film without that kind of brutal honesty.

Big Magnum Kuroiwa Sensei (ビッグ・マグナム黒岩先生) (Japan, 1985) [DVD] – 3/5
“Violence education is my motto”, explains one of the new teachers at the School without Honor and Humanity, an institution full of delinquents, neo nazis and girls flashing their breasts (imported Nikkatsu actresses, I believe). And by "violence education" he means using violence in education. But the real badass in the school is the other newcomer, Kuroiwa sensei, a harmless looking old man who is actually a secret agent armed to the teeth, sent by the Board of Education! A relatively insane Kazuhiko Yamaguchi high school action comedy runs out of bullets at the end when the educational Rambo has to clear the school of bad boys without actually killing anyone. Lame. It's because the film was a family friendly mainstream comedy manga adaptation, released just prior to the 80s high school action boom (Be-bop High School and Sukeban Deka followed soon). It's still a good bit of fun, though.

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Railroad Man (鉄道員) (Japan, 1999) [VoD] - 1/5
Old man devoted his life to work instead of family and spends most of the movie seeing b&w and sepia toned flashbacks. Popular Takakura movie could just as well have been women's sappy TV drama because nothing sets it apart from those other than the occasional widescreen landscape shot. Shinobu Otake's wife character so exceedingly tailor made for female TV audiences that any other viewer's head is likely to explode à la Scanners.

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