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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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The Tale of Zatoichi (座頭市物語) (Japan, 1962) [BD] - 4.5/5
Zatoichi meets honourable but enemy gang affiliated samurai Shigeru Amachi in the beautifully written and directed opening film. It's curious how ninkyo'ish the storyline is (before the genre even existed), with Katsu and Amachi's meetings and discussions being old fashioned romanticized male honour/duty/friendship cinema at its best (you don't find anything quite like this in modern cinema, except maybe in 80s John Woo films). At the same time it steers away from the dull evil gang vs. good gang yakuza film pattern by making both gangs rotten. And the entire movie is funny and touching, with both elements beautifully integrated into the narrative rather than slapped on top of it. Also Amachi, an actor I've sometimes dismissed in his Toei films, is extremely good here. One of the all time best yakuza films.

The Tale of Zatoichi Continues (続・座頭市物語) (Japan, 1962) [BD] - 3.5/5
Part 2. Zatoichi meets a man from the past (Katsu's brother Tomisaburo Wakayama). Enjoyable, wonderfully short (72 min) sequel nevertheless feels slightly superficial compared to the amazing original. The score (by Ichiro Saito instead of Akira Ikufube) dates the film, the storyline is built on back-story threads intentionally left loose in part one, and the Katsu-Wakayama pairing isn't milked to the full until the fantastic last 15 minutes. Still very good, but there was potential for even more.

New Tale of Zatoichi (新・座頭市物語) (Japan, 1963) [BD] - 4/5
Part 3. The first colour entry and a return to top form with comparable honour/duty/respect play as the original film. Zatoichi is about to leave the yakuza life behind when he encounters a man who isn't evil, but must kill Zatoichi because his brother was slain by him. Effective and very touching. Three further points of notice: the film contains one of Akira Ikufube's most beautiful scores, features stunning framing throughout, and intensifies the action with powerful sword action sound effects (something that, typical to older chambara and yakuza films, was largely absent from the first two Zatoichi movies).

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Zatoichi's Flashing Sword (座頭市あばれ凧) (Japan, 1964) [BD] - 3/5
Part 7. Evil yakuza Tatsuo Endo tries to obtain a riverside area from a decent boss who is harbouring Zatoichi without knowing his true identity. Standard entry with a routine storyline. Katsu is lovable as usual and Endo has a great evil laugh.

Adventures of Zatoichi (座頭市関所破り) (Japan, 1964) [BD] - 3.5/5
Part 9. Sometimes you can do without a good plot. The characters, scenery and the hugely atmospheric final duel, all handled with finesse, make the uninspired `yakuza scheming with corrupt officials to extort villagers` plot surprisingly unobtrusive. Smooth sailing with the world's most lovable movie character.

Zatoichi's Conspiracy (新座頭市物語・笠間の血祭り) (Japan, 1973) [BD] - 3.5/5
Part 25. The last of the original run before the 1989 one-time revival. This one is better than the previous few entries, more in line with the classic 60s films than some of the cruder 70s entries. Nothing unique, but there's a nice atmosphere and the film makes a satisfying closing for the series.

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Keiko Sekine x 6

With Laputa Asagaya running a Keiko Sekine / Daiei Lemon Sex series in Tokyo soon, but me not being there, I gave myself a quick introduction to Daiei's early 70s youth film star at home since most of these films are streaming on Amazon Prime (also out on DVD). Btw, Sekine now goes by the name Keiko Takahashi... ever since she married Banmei Takahashi.

High School Affair (高校生ブルース) (Japan, 1970) [VoD] – 2/5
Daiei youth eros with a school girl (cute Keiko Sekine in her debut role) getting accidentally pregnant after a tender moment with a boyfriend. Charmingly innocent with an old fashioned score, sweet characters and amazing metaphors (the love scene cross-cut to a basketball match has to be seen) until suffocating conservatism kicks in and robs it of all the joy. Sekine's character turns into an irritating drama queen in the process. The lesson is: sex is a filthy thing and will destroy a youngster's life. This was the opening film in Daiei’s Lemon Sex line, which was quite a bit tamer than what other studios were putting out. The theatrical poster, however, is surprisingly daring for Daiei, with Sekine in a wet see-through shirt... at 15.

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Child Bride (おさな妻) (Japan, 1970) [VoD] - 2.5/5
High school girl Keiko Sekine part-times as kindergarten teacher and falls in love with the young single father of her favourite student. She becomes his wife and the child's mother. Expectedly sweet and tame, but also a curious contrast to High School Affair with its pro shagging-minors narrative. But then again, shagging minors has always been a popular activity among the conservatives and this movie doesn't stray far from its conservative roots. Quite watchable nevertheless, not least because of Sekine, who had a lot of charm to her. This was supposed to be her debut film, but became no. 2 when Daiei used her as a replacement star in High School Affair a few months earlier.

The Forbidden Fruit (新・高校生ブルース) (1970) [VoD] – 2.5/5
More Daiei conservatism, this time disguised as sex comedy. A group of boys makes a pledge to lose their virginity. One of the targets is ultra-chaste Keiko Sekine who preaches in class "sex without love is for wild animals, not for human beings". This is actually moderately entertaining despite of, or because of, its American style hypocrisy that simultaneously preaches about love and morals but can't resist being a bit naughty (or perhaps it's the other way around, doesn't really make a difference). A sequel to High School Affair.

The Awakening (成熱) (Japan, 1971) [VoD] - 2/5
A barely disguised 'Keiko Sekine and pretty scenery` concept film set in various small towns during summer festival season. The story excuse aka plot centres on two rival high schools competing in photography. Tension and romance ensues. Quite watchable, but ultimately unrewarding (save for the "let's raid the agricultural high school" line that surely can't be heard in any other film). For some reason Sekine doesn’t get naked this time, and there's nothing even discreetly erotic in the movie, which is greatly at odds with the Lemon Sex Line billing.

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Love for Eternity (高校生心中 純愛) (Japan, 1971) [DVD] – 3/5
High school lovers and part-time runaways Keiko Takahashi and Saburo Shinoda try to escape the conservative world that won't accept their relationship. A real rollercoaster, emotionally and quality wise. Sekine hits career low in a hysteric crying scene, then climaxes in a love scene in the clouds (which is awesome)! The adults are all toxic cunts, which gets your blood boiling because you really care for the young protagonists and wish they'd have the upper hand.

Play (Asobi) (遊び) (Japan, 1971) [VoD] - 3/5
Keiko Sekine gets the Yasuzo Masumura treatment. Shy girl Sekine from shitty home hooks up with unconfident youngster Masaaki Daimon who is revealed to be a yakuza under peer pressure. The story is told with frequent flashbacks to be past putting present moment scenes into an emotional context. This is Masumura in Electric Jellyfish mode, only the spark isn’t quite on the same level. There an overload of misery (especially with the bad parents) and characters feel like they’re on rails towards doom. But it comes alive big time when they decide to fight the destiny, with a very rewarding and touching last half an hour of gritty youth escapism. Easily Sekine’s most rebellious Daiei film.

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Kinji Fukasaku x 5

Blackmail is My Life (恐喝こそわが人生) (Japan, 1968) [DVD] - 3/5
One of the films Kinji Fukasaku helmed for Shochiku instead of his native Toei. The breezy youthful touch found in his film indeed fits Shochiku better than gangster heavyweight Toei, though one also feels this could’ve been a Nikkatsu film. The cast and crew are largely Toei people, though. Hiroki Matsukata is the titular blackmailer heading a very Nikkatsu esque youth gang gradually moving on to bigger fish to blackmail. Hideo Murota gets one of his best roles as Matsukata's pal, for once playing a good guy (if a blackmailer can be described as such). This was actually the 2nd time the source novel was adapted; it was preceded by a 1963 Toei film Life of Blackmail starring Tatsuo Umemiya and Sonny Chiba in a very different kind of rendering of the storyline (Chiba's policeman/former best friend character does not even appear in Fukasaku's version). Fukasaku's film is the more rebellious and faster paced one with frantic cutting between past and present to explain ongoing scenes on the fly. There’s a flashback overkill but it's an interesting way to tell a story anyway, and unmistakably Fukasaku.

Violent Panic: The Big Crash (Japan, 1976) [35mm] - 4/5
An utterly insane action film that is one of Kinji Fukasaku's lesser known movies, despite featuring one of the greatest car chases of all time. Tsunehiko Watase is a bank robber trying to escape the country with his girlfriend while being chased by the police and his dead partner's maniac brother (Hideo Murota) who wants his share of the cash. Fort the first 60 min it's an enjoyable heist drama set to Toshiaki Tsushima's (Battle without Honor and Humanity) terrific score and with excellent turns by Watase and Sugimoto (her best performance was in the previous year's ATG film Preparation for a Festival), followed by an incredible 20 minute demolition derby car chase. Imagine The Blues Brothers directed by Fukasaku as an ultraviolent crime film and you'll get the idea. Also features a hilarious Takuzo Kawatani performance as policeman whose girlfriend (Yayoi Watanabe) has constant trouble remaining faithful.

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Lovers Lost (道頓堀川) (Japan, 1982) [VoD] - 3/5
A Kinji Fukasaku Shochiku drama about two young blokes in Osaka. The origin is a novel by Teru Miyamoto, whose Muddy River was filmed by Kohei Oguri a year before. Fukasaku’s film is a bit of an acting showcase for relative newcomers Hiroyuki Sanada and Koichi Sato, a JAC talent and Rentaro Mikuni’s son, playing a wanna-be painter and a pool player respectively. It is spare-part Ken Ogata Tsutomu Yamazaki as the latter’s hated father who is brilliant, though, while Keiko Matsuzaka steals the first billing just because her face had most marketing value. Maki Carousel, Mariko Kaga, Tsunehiko Watase and Megumi Saki (from Red Violation and Rape Ceremony) are in it too. Slow at first, but eventually electrifying with strong drama and a great pool duel at the end, followed by a totally over-the-top death scene. The 80s also brought a little pervert out of Fukasaku with remarkable nude scenes in one film after the other. Here we get, among other topless scenes, a crazed two minute nude dance for the camera, all in the name of serious drama narrative!

Legend of the Eight Samurai (里見八犬伝) (Japan, 1983) [35mm] - 4/5
An extremely entertaining samurai fantasy based on the Satomi hakkenden story, which Kinji Fukasaku had already adapted into a disappointing sci-fi film Message from Space a few years before. It's unmistakably a Kadokawa production, with fine production values and superstar cast starring Hiroko Yakushimaru and JAC sweetheart Hiroyuki Sanada at the height of their idolhood. Sanada was in terrific physical shape at the time and Yakushimaru, one of the cutest girls ever to grace Japanese cinema, had the kind of freshness about her performances that other idols couldn't even dream of. Sonny Chiba and Etsuko Shihomi are an added bonus. The sets are wonderfully over the top, the film is colourful and there is a genuine feel of a fantasy adventure. Special effects vary between great and amusingly cheesy. The soundtrack, with songs by Dan O'Banion, contains more greatness than is humanly possible to express in words. An utterly enjoyable (and enduringly popular in Japan) piece of pop samurai cinema for boys; only a notch below Fukasaku's finest films.

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House on Fire (火宅の人) (Japan, 1986) [DVD] - 3/5
80s novel adaptation of the stormy private life of a novelist, thankfully directed by Kinji Fukasaku. It's quite long at 132 min and feels even longer with Fukasaku cramming 3 hours worth of drama into 2, but not boring thanks to Fukasaku's sparkling direction and drama that is both believable and a bit outrageous. Ken "I am the best actor of the 80s" Ogata is his usual great self in the lead and so are all the actresses playing wives and mistresses, including Mieko Harada and her heavenly breasts.

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Daiei time! Took a free trial for Amazon Prime's Kadokawa Channel.

Yakuza Priest (やくざ坊主) (Japan, 1965) [VoD] – 2/5
Messy ‘fallen monk opens a business’ picture in which nothing interesting happens. Shintaro Katsu, still half in Zatoichi mode, plays the hoodlum monk who gambles, brawls and womanizes his way through the uneventful non-story. It even lacks exploitative or technical edge. But it does have one saving grace (in addition to Katsu): the underused Mikio Narita as Katsu's ronin opponent. Typecast to the point of boredom in the 70s yakuza films, Narita’s 60 swordsman roles have been a real discovery. A watchable film, but criminally weak considering the potential and talent involved. Followed by one sequel.

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Bloody Shuriken (赤い手裏剣) (Japan, 1965) [VoD] – 2/5
Dagger throwing anti-hero Raizo Ichikawa rides into a spaghetti western town full of crooks and a hidden treasure everyone wants to locate. Watchable yakuza / jidaigeki / western hybrid is occasionally stylish, but too superficial to make you care about what's going on.

Woman Gambling Expert (女の賭場) (Japan, 1966) [VoD] – 2.5/5
Part 1 in the 17 film Daiei series. An old man commits suicide after being accused of cheating in gambling den by a crooked yakuza (excellent Fumio Watanabe in a routine role). His restaurant owner daughter (Kyoko Enami) becomes the next target. Conservative Daiei surprisingly initiated this series two years before Toei took reign of the female gambler genre with Red Peony Gambler. But the origin is still evident. This is mainly a Daiei woman drama with yakuza elements until the electrifying last 15 minutes when Enami decides to learn the trade and get even. In a Toei picture, that scene would have played after the opening credits, or even before them, and served as the starting point for the story.

Love for an Idiot (痴人の愛) (Japan, 1967) [VoD] – 3/5
A couple goes domestic World War III in Masumura's exceedingly 60s gender satire. A pre-otaku era salaryman (excellent Shoichi Ozawa) gets a young wildcat (Michiyo Yasuda) as his pet, a role she goes along with for a while till she gets bored with the old geezer trying to fit her into his idea of what a woman should be like. There are some crazy outfits and amazing still photos, wickedly funny observations about desperate men, and fine performances too, but the lack plot can make all the rage a bit numbing at times. Michiyo Yasuda, who is better known as Daiei’s late 60s action Duracell Bunny (Lady Sazen and the Drenched Swallow Sword, Bamboo Leaf Omon) does a surprisingly daring role, however, there is doubt whether it’s really her or a body double in the numerous nude photos. Oh, and the English title is a bit different from the Japanese “An Idiot’s Love”, the idiot being the salaryman. Based on a 1924 novel by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki - bit ironic considering how unmistakably 60s Masumura's film is. There had been at least 2 earlier film adaptations as well, in 1949 and 1960.

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A Certain Killer's Key (ある殺し屋の鍵) (Japan, 1967) [VoD] - 3.5/5
Refined, stylish action thriller with professional killer Raizo Ichikawa hired to assassinate a businessman. Ichikawa, with his handsome looks integrated into a character who immerses in traditional arts when not assassinating people, doesn't look much like a hired killer, but that's one of the film's charms. From story to stylistic touches, the film does most things a bit differently, without becoming overly quirky. Captivating, even when nothing in particular is happening. A sequel to A Certain Killer, also a stylish film, but this sequel is even more focused and low key, better.

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Electric Jellyfish (The Hot Little Girl) (しびれくらげ) (Japan, 1970) [VoD] - 3.5/5
A drunken dumbfuck father Ryoichi Tamagawa falls in yakuza debt trap after drawing attention by bragging about his sexy model daughter Mari Atsumi. He figures he can get the money from her jerk boyfriend Yusuke Kawazu, who just sold her body to a sleazy American to advance his own career. Meanwhile she's growing determined to tell everyone to go fuck themselves. An angry little Masumura film with dynamite Mari Atsumi on fire. Half of the dialogue is yelled, and the classical influenced score is overwhelming. For modern audiences the film may be a bit of an eye opener: this is where Sion Sono got his drama dynamics. A follow-up of sorts to a less exciting Masumura / Atsumi picture Electric Medusa (1970).

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Kadokawa x 3

Curtain Call (愛情物語) (Japan, 1984) [VoD] – 3.5/5
Utterly crazy Kadokawa dance flick with an amazing, ultra-80s "Broadway" musical opening which also collects all the black dudes in Japan into one scene! It's poor man's Flashdance, Streets of Fire, Michael Jackson and every 80’s female pop star in one, and it's one of the best manifestations of Kadokawa, whose strategy was to bring Hollywood spectacle into Japanese filmmaking. And this was helmed by the big man himself, narcotics criminal Haruki Kadokawa. The story is about 16 year old Tomoyo Harada going on a trip to find a lost father, then making a father figure of a nice middle aged man (the always watchable Tsunehiko Watase) while training for a musical audition. Showman Kadokawa was less a storyteller and more a monkey in the director's chair. But it works here, and there's no denying the musical scenes, many of which even the most hard-core 80s junkie would admit are cheesy as hell, deliver the fun and the sheer amazement.

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Inujini seshi mono (犬死にせしもの) (Japan, 1986) [VoD] - 1/5
Fisherman Hiroyuki Sanada and two pals go pirate in 1947 Japan. A rather miserable drama with awful quirky direction and performances, including a couple of Japanese Richard Nortons. Sanada is the only one who comes off at least half-tolerable. I gave up after 40 minutes and fast-forwarded the rest, which seemed to be even worse.

Lover’s Time (Koibitotachi no jikoku) (恋人たちの時刻) (Japan, 1987) [VoD] – 3.5/5
Kadokawa discoveries, part deux. Great opening scene with cute, disturbed girl (Michiko Kawai from Somai’s P.P. Rider) silently watching the sea. She sees a lonely surfer boy swallowed by the waves. The next moment two biker guys emerge and try to rape her. The surfer boy manages to drive the goons away, but gets knocked out in the process. The girl, who seems more irritated than shocked by the incident, comes out from hiding, still minus the clothes which she doesn't seem to mind. As the story continues, he develops an obsession to get her to go out with him. The girl (she lives with an old sculptor as his nude model) then asks him to track down a missing person.

There's an odd quality to the film from the very beginning that I kept wondering about till Japan-best screenwriter Haruhiko Arai's (Rape Ceremony, Distant Thunder, Vibrator) name popped up in the OP credits, followed by Shinichiro Sawai's directorial credit. Sawai did Tragedy of W with Hiroko Yakushimaru, and this movie has the same kind of grip and relative grit. Not Arai at his most steady handed, yet endlessly interesting with plenty of unusual character details and melancholy, often captured by Sawai with ultra-long takes against gray Hokkaido fall backdrop. And the score is a by a certain Joe Hisaishi, who plagiarized his own work for A Scene at the Sea. Almost like a film from an alternative universe where idols do nudity and have traded bubblegum pop for dark psychological movies.

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Also, the curious thing about Arai is that throughout the 80s essentially every second of his scripts were filmed as a Roman Porno and every second as mainstream or arthouse production, and most of them could've been any of the three with minor or no modifications.

Edited by Takuma

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Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman (新座頭市・破れ!唐人剣) (Japan, 1971) [35mm] – 3/5
This is the only film in the series where Zatoichi farts! On someone's face, even! The reason I bring this up is that that fart in descriptive of the film: funny and functional, but rather unambitious, which is a shame for this being Zatoichi vs. the One-Armed Swordsman, Katsu vs. Wang Yu. Pitting the two giants against each other is only right, but doing it on the excuse of cultural and linguistic misunderstandings is just lazy writing. There was potential for more. Also, you’ve got to wonder how smoothly the filming went? Neither one of the two stars are known as the easiest people to work with, and this has them playing their most beloved characters in a Japan vs. China death match. Reportedly an alternative cut was released to HK audiences with additional and altered footage.

The War of the Sixteen Year Olds (十六歳の戦争) (Japan, 1973/1976) [35mm] – 4/5
Funeral Parade of Roses director Toshio Matsuda's bloody excellent youth film set in rural Japan. This has one of the best opening scenes I've seen since Kiyoshi Nishimura's Too Young to Die (1969), with a young man arriving a town, and falling in love with a 16 year old girl as they watch the police pull two dead bodies from a river, all against a great rock song (the film's soundtrack is absolutely stunning!). Pure cinema! The film then follows their relationship as WWII traumas begin to surface in the town and lead the film down a far darker - and ambiguous - path. There are some jarring cuts and imperfections that make the film no less fascinating, and an amusingly gratuitous topless scene for Akiyoshi who looked pretty stunning at 19. Filmed independently in 1973, but not released until 1976. This became instantly of one my favourite 70s youth films!

Failed Youth (青春の蹉跌) (Japan, 1974) [35mm] – 4.5/5
Tatsumi Kumashiro's legendary youth film. This was his first movie for Toho, a departure from Roman Porno. The politically conscious script by Kazuhiko Hasegawa (The Youth Killer, The Man Who Stole the Sun) follows indecisive university student Ken'ichi Hagiwara and hopelessly in love younger girlfriend Kaori Momoi in the midst of young confusion, violent student radicalism and an era where modern and traditional clashed. It's a slow-burner, but excellently acted by Hagiwara and Momoi (also look out for Meika Seri as a street beggar) and filmed with loads of meaningful long takes, including an amazing love scene in the snowy mountains near the end. And the score is just beautiful! Kumashiro's masterpiece, no doubt! The film's obscurity shows just how little Toho cares for their own catalogue titles: chosen by the nation's best known film journal Kinema Junpo as the 21st best Japanese film ever made, Toho has not even bothered putting the film out on DVD (though it’s finally coming in December 2019).

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Crazed Beast (狂った野獣) (Japan, 1976) [35mm] – 3.5/5
Sadao Nakajima's outrageous action farce that is essentially one 78 min action sequence. Punks Takuzo Kawatani and Ruyji Katagiri highjack a bus which, unbeknownst to them, is already carrying a bigger bad guy Tsunehiko Watase. This is an obvious production follow-up to Kinji Fukasaku's car chase film Violent Panic: The Big Crash (1976), with largely the same cast but more hysterical approach. The bus is loaded with quite some characters and the cops chasing the bus are the most self-destructive bunch I've ever seen. Watase, who had already starred in Violent Panic, got a bus driver’s license and proceeded to do his own stunts, including flipping the bus on its side (the other actors who remained inside the bus were the expendable Piranha Corps. Kawatani, Katagiri and Takashi Noguchi, the rest of the passengers were replaced with dolls) despite Nakajima trying to stop him! I hated this film upon my first viewing about 10 years ago when I expected a serious action drama à la Violent Panic, but found it quite amusing this time. The funniest scene: an old woman consoles children who are scared of Kawatani’s character: "don't worry, that uncle will be caught and get death penalty".

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Mosquito on the 10th Floor (十階のモスキート) (Japan, 1983) [35mm] – 2/5
Yoichi Sai's debut, a depressing life-is-shit picture with Yuya Uchida as a cop in debt (to the bank, not the yakuza, unfortunately). He proceeds to do... very little. I first saw this on DVD and found it largely a bore; a 35mm screening a decade later did not change my mind. Flat filmmaking and a non-eventful story that Uchida's convincing performance can't save.

The Miracle of Joe Petrel (海燕ジョーの奇跡) (Japan, 1984) [VoD] – 3.5/5
Toshiya Fujita's gangster film loosely based on the 4th Okinawa Yakuza Conflict (also the base for Okinawa Yakuza War, 1976) where a Kyokuryu-kai president was shot dead by a hitman. The film starts out a bit dull, but gains momentum when the titular killer flees to Manila (fully fiction from here on) where he hooks up with Japanese small time gangster (Yoshio Harada) who deals anything from women to VCRs. Fujita uses the foreign location expertly, capturing the corruption, dirt, sleaze and beautiful nature, while steering away from the travel show / tourist filmmaker approach that plagues many similar Japanese productions. Leading man Saburo Tokito could be more charismatic and there are a couple of misfire clichés in the action, but overall the film is impressive.

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Trivia: Toei originally acquired the rights to the novel the film is based on, and intended to make it with Kinji Fukasaku and Yusaku Matsuda. It went into pre-production and reportedly had a sales poster ready, but after various problems (it seems first Matsuda insisted on re-writing the script, then heroine Setsuko Karasuma dropped out because she felt Toei had exploited her in her previous film The Four Seasons: Natsuko (四季・奈津子) (1980) and she wanted nothing to do with the studio, and the release date was closing) the production was cancelled.

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Heaven Sent (Kamisama ga kureta akanbo) (神様のくれた赤ん坊) (Japan, 1979) [VoD] - 3/5
A surprisingly good road movie drama/comedy with careless Tsunehiko Watase finding out he's a dad to a small kid - maybe. The mother took off and left a list of 5 potential dads. Watase of course figures it must be one of the other 4. Companion Kaori Momoi isn't all too happy but stick along for a road trip to dump the kid to the real dad (the others can be blackmailed out of some money, they figure). One of the funniest segments features Watase catching one of the potential dads… in the middle of his wedding ceremony! Jidai geki & yakuza veteran Kanjuro Arashi (in his last role at 76 years old, he died the following year) is in the film too, in a bit that's bound to bring a smile to any genre film fan's face. Also, the child (child, not baby despite the erroneous Japanese title) is not irritating at all, in fact, he barely does anything but sit silently). Honest crowd pleasing entertainment, but also well made with good pace and script. Haruhiko Arai is credited as contributing writer, but the main credit should no doubt go to writer-director Yoichi Maeda.

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Play it, Boogie-Woogie  (スローなブギにしとくれ) (Japan, 1981) [VoD] - 3/5
A slice of life picture with a bar / semi-drifter girl, an angry youngster with a bike, a divorced asshole, and a middle aged woman living with him. There's no plot, just one year of gritty life. And it works. Yoshio Harada (the asshole's friend), Hideo Murota (bar owner) and Kahori Takeda (teenage mom) have supporting roles, Kenji Sawada, Akira Takahashi and several others cameos. Toshiya Fujita directs.

Time and Tide (時代屋の女房) (Japan, 1983) [VoD] – 2/5
Nice guy antique store owner Tsunehiko Watase meets idiosyncratic girl Masako Natsume, then later another odd girl (also Natsume). A rather dull and very Shochiku-like drama co-scripted by Haruhiko Arai, whose usually identifiable touch is barely visible here, save for the normal guy / strange girl premise. Watase is very good (he's hugely under-rated, with solid performances one after another in both action pictures and dramas), the score is alright and there's some good use of cat-cam, but the film lacks bite.

Downtown Heroes (ダウンタウンヒーローズ) (Japan, 1988) [VoD] - 1/5
Deadly Yoji Yamada boredom. Even Hiroko Yakushimaru can't save this as she is barely in it despite being the 1st billed. Yamada is more interested 1940s boy’s boarding school drama and nostalgia than her or, well, anything of interest. Had I had a rope, I would’ve probably hanged myself watching this.

Sting of Death (死の棘) (Japan, 1990) [VoD] – 2.5/5
An unfaithful family man and a ‘jealous to the point of mental illness’ wife face each other in a series of heated but unnaturally formal dialogues only interrupted by occasional surreal visions and scenes of almost horror film like dark atmosphere. Not an easy watch at 114 min, nor am I sure if this is good cinema, or just pretentious art. But it is, at least partly, oddly captivating and somewhat memorable, and that's something. 1990 Cannes Grand Prize of the Jury winner. Director Kohei Oguri releases films very sparsely: he has directed only six movies in 34 years, from 1981 to 2015.

The Lowlife (最低。) (Japan, 2017) [VoD] – 3.5/5
Exceptionally unbiased examination of women involved in the Japanese AV industry, based on a book by the AV superstar Mana Sakura. The film follows a young AV actress (Kokone Sasaki) whose narrow minded mother keeps putting blame on her over her career choice, a high school girl (Aina Yamada) bullied over her mother’s AV past (the same moral composition as the 1st story but in reverse), and a 34 year old woman (Ayano Moriguchi) who tries AV due to her husband’s lack of commitment to family life. This must be one of the most female centered films I have seen, not only all main and most supporting characters being women, but every scene focusing on how they feel as opposed to what they do. Rather than focusing on the industry; the film deals with people involved in the industry. Thoroughly well acted (with Kokone Sasaki way above her usual level) and directed with unexpected finesse by the frequently disappointing Takahisa Zeze. That is, before the film becomes a crying fest towards the end. Somehow I feel like forgiving that. And no, the film doesn’t shy away from the sex and nudity that naturally accompanies the subject despite being a mainstream film with major female audience appeal.

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Edited by Takuma

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Cat Girl Gambling x 3

Cat Girl Gambling (賭場の牝猫) (Japan, 1965) [BD] - 3/5
Early female gambler film, surprisingly not by Toei or Daiei, but the hip Nikkatsu. Yumiko Nogawa is very good in the lead, extremely beautiful and determined yet somehow fragile in a way most Toei heroines were not. The fact that she does not fight in the film translates to character realism rather than conservatism. The gambling scenes are excellent as well, with the course of the game depicted in detail, which is vital for sustaining suspense and not always done right in yakuza films. There's even the fun game tactic laid out for all the wannabe cat girl gamblers out there: show some thigh and the players are less likely to notice you are cheating! And finally, the film is lower key and void of the pathos of many Toei films. A richer storyline and more focus on the modern milieu would not have hurt, however. As it stands, the film is good but not especially memorable.

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Cat Girl Gambling: Naked Flesh Paid Into the Pot (賭場の牝猫 素肌の壷振り) (Japan, 1965) [BD] - 2/5
A direct follow-up with Nogawa now working in a bathhouse where gangster runaway Nitani (different role than last time) seeks shelter. Nogawa’s detective uncle is again investigating the case with young partner Tatsuya Fuji. Nogawa is her usual electrifying self, but the story is dull as dishwater with no gambling until the second half and only about 45 seconds of action in the entire film. Nikkatsu fans may get more out of it than I did.

Cat Girl Gambling: Game of Sharpened Fangs (賭場の牝猫 捨身の勝負) (Japan, 1965) [BD] – 2.5/5
The last in the trilogy, notably better than part 2. Nogawa gets acquainted with an honourable gang boss running a strip joint (!) (no nudity, however) who is being harassed by a crook boss. The enigmatic Nogawa dominates the screen, especially whenever someone tries to fuck with her - she's really fantastic, like Meiko Kaji but cuter and spicier. And she wears tattoos perhaps better than any other female star. She also gets to do a bit more action here, in addition to the great dice matches. But as usual, the storyline isn't especially dynamic and doesn't always even feel much like a gangster picture with the softer Nikkatsu drama touches.

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Sister Street Fighter x 3

Sister Street Fighter: Hanging by a Thread (女必殺拳 危機一発) (Japan, 1974) [BD] - 3.5/5
Fun Shihomi flick suffers from some shaky cam excess, something that director Yamaguchi invented in late '74 (probably a Fukasaku influence) but gradually let go off in 75. It's still a lot of fun with guest star Kurata, Hideo Murota in rare main villain role, sleazy smugglers operating jewels into girls' arses, that awesome apocalyptic shot near the end, and some kiddie porn (is that Eva Ionesco? She seems to have been big in Asia... her Playboy photos are in one of the Shaw Bros.'s Criminals films too) that EVERYONE had forgotten was in the film until BBFC made it front page news.
 
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Return of the Sister Street Fighter (帰ってきた女必殺拳) (Japan, 1975) [BD] - 3.5/5
The most excessive film in the series. Shihomi goes through her entire Chinese wardrobe, wheelchair villain Rinichi Yamamoto organizes a fight tournament reminiscent of Wang Yu films (one fighter is a fucking Zulu!) and my idol Osman Yusuf appears for 10 seconds as strip joint customer. Only a notch away from overly goofy, it still remains on the cool side and is mostly well paced at lovely 77 minutes. Shunsuke Kikuchi's score rocks the socks off as usual, and Yamaguchi thankfully does away with the shaky cam. But the storyline is a rehash of the first two films (how many relatives / friends / friends' relatives to be kidnapped does she have?) and Ishibashi is again denied the finale he deserves, which slightly hamper the enjoyment.

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Sister Street Fighter: Fifth Level Fist (女必殺五段拳) (Japan, 1976) [BD] - 3/5
The least in the series, yet packed with small pleasures. Shihomi in a hippie costume, future ATG director Claude Gagnon as a US drug lord, and ATG talents Ken Wallace & Michi Love as half-blooded siblings in a ridiculously manipulative yet sympathetic sub-plot. Shigehiro Ozawa helms it as pg-rated affair, which is a stumbling point for many fans. The real problem: a conservative doubt whether girl power goes all the way after all, given in Watase's speech about a woman's place and later verified when he needs to save Shihomi, something unheard of earlier in the series.

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King Kong vs. Godzilla (キングコング対ゴジラ) (Japan, 1962) [VoD] – 3/5
Fun entry with an awesome monster pairing, a more watchable than usual media satire storyline, and perhaps the most awesomely ridiculous Godzilla discovery scene in the whole series. Osman Yusuf appears for a few seconds as well. Version reviewed: Japanese.

Son of Godzilla (怪獣島の決戦 ゴジラの息子) (Japan, 1967) [VoD] – 2.5/5
Godzilla teaches toxic masculinity to his son. Intelligent kaiju film was 50 years ahead of its time.

The X from Outer Space (宇宙大怪獣ギララ) (Japan, 1967) [VoD] - 3/5
A pleasant surprise for a non kaiju fan. The opening half is dull as they tend to be, but then you get Guilala, the Nicolas Cage of giant space monsters! From there on it’s non-stop destruction with a wonderfully monotonic score, an exciting car vs. giant monster chase, and the infinitely charismatic antenna-headed space-bird on drugs, Guilala.

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Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (ゴジラvsスペースゴジラ) (Japan, 1994) [VoD] – 2/5
The cutest minilla ever almost saves this watchable but unremarkable entry. The end fight has potential for an epic, but comes off unfocused. Megumi Okada from Hana no Asuka gumi co-stars, the score rips off You Only Live Twice.

South to the Horizon (南へ走れ、海の道を!) (Japan, 1986) [VoD] – 3/5
Three Okinawa punks fuck with the yakuza and pay the price. Fast forward one month and shift gear to revenge film as combat vet older brother Koichi Iwaki comes out of the jungle for vengeance. The main target is yakuza boss Hideo Murota. Delightfully violent b-action film disguised as Shochiku studio production, by former porn director Seiji Izumi who splatters the walls with blood and can't even resist wielding some chainsaw. Plenty of bad writing, several gaijin supporting actors (mostly good, not bad guys) and music cues so bad they shouldn't suffice even for b-cinema. And it's all rather enjoyable; the kind of action cinema Japan wasn't producing anymore in the 80s. You just need to get past the deceivingly dull opening act. Director Izumi’s 80s mainstream work has been a discovery: he also did the renegade biker cop film On the Road (1982) and the gritty delinquent girl rock picture Majoran (1984), both minor cult classics.

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Four Days of Snow and Blood (226) (Japan, 1989) [VoD] – 1.5/5
Dull military drama tries to humanize the men behind the infamous Feb. 26 1936 coup d'état attempt. This is of the few male-centric films by late Hideo Gosha who had switched almost exclusively to women’s cinema in the 80s. It makes no difference, the man was long out of touch. The only points of interest here are the ridiculously packed cast – stars like Tetsuro Tanba, Tatsuya Nakadai, Tatsuo Umemiya, Hiroki Matsukata and even Takuzo Kawatani popping up in 2 minute roles, sometimes without a single line of dialogue (Nobuo Kaneko) – and the perspective which is strictly with the renegade military men. The other 2/26 film I've seen, the 1962 Ken Takakura film The Escape, focuses on the prime minister hiding in the house (barely featured in this film at all) and the police trying to save him.

For those who slept in their history class, the incident was about a conservative military wing trying to assassinate Western minded politicians, the prime minister being the prime target. They invaded the prime minister's house with several hundred men, but lacking smart phones and Google Image Search they committed the fuck-up of the century and killed the wrong man (the brother-in-law posing as the prime minister) without ever realizing their mistake. The real prime minister managed to hide in the house for several days and finally escape.

Edited by Takuma

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I recall liking Godzilla vs Space Godzilla - Space Godzilla himself has a great design IMO, and Minilla (or whatever his name was in this - IIRC, he changed name in each of the Heisei movies he was in and I  think he was "baby" in Mechagodzilla II and Jr. in Destoroyah) is quite adorable.

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High Noon for Gangsters (白昼の無頼漢) (Japan, 1961) [DVD] - 4/5
An excellent, racially and sexually charged heist thriller with gangster Tetsuro Tamba blackmailing 4 foreigners (a black G.I., a racist white American and his wife, and a Korean) into robbing an armoured vehicle with him, girlfriend and yakuza bro Sone. "$300 000 for me, $200 000 for the six of you, that's $50 000 a head" Tamba says, and remarks after being told his math is off "school math won’t do, at least two of you are gonna die, that’s $50 000 a head". There's terrific tension throughout and some witty dialogue in both Japanese and English (Tamba interpreting his Japanese lover for the American wife: "She said you're pretty charming for a pig"). The foreign cast is passable, and the white American actually speaks fluent Japanese while Tamba speaks understandable English. The heist itself is a bit rushed and there's an uninspired twist here and there, but only noticeable because the film is damn good overall! Fukasaku’s 1st full length film.

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A Man's Showdown (男の勝負) (Japan, 1966) [TV] - 1.5/5 
Hideo Murata was a pretty big ninkyo star in the 60s despite lacking anything resembling charisma. His enka singing career ensured his popularity. This is a co-starring vehicle for Murata and Shigeru Amachi, an actor who did better when portraying suffering, morally compromised tough guys (e.g. Yellow Line, The Tale of Zatoichi). They make a rather dull heroic duo against crooked Bin Amatsu. Young Sadao Nakajima directed this under Masahiro Makino’s supervision. The film feels more Makino than the Nakajima. Not so much a terrible film as just a boring one. The only energetic scenes are in the mid third: a duel between Murata and Amachi, and a stylishly executed sakazuki scene.

Delinquent Street (不良街) (Japan, 1972) [TV] - 2.5/5
Lightweight yakuza romp with a cool Hiroki Matsukata theme song and an ultra-violent finale, where the heroes massacre at least 40 bad guys. Matsukata, Hayato Tani and a moustached, sun glassed Shingo Yamashiro make a three man punk gang. Girlfriend Mari Tsutsui hangs around in revealing tops, and Bunta Sugawara shows up in two scenes. Yukio Noda directs with a tad more seriousness than some of his other films, and Yamashiro is surprisingly tolerable, even cool. It's just regretful the film is another waste of a great title: there is no delinquent street here.

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Hobo General (Kinkin no lumpen taisho) (キンキンのルンペン大将) (Japan, 1976) [VoD] - 1/5
A forgotten Teruo Ishii comedy, by far one of his worst films. Kinya Aikawa (Sugawara's co-star in the Truck Yaro series) is a silly country bumpkin in Tokyo without home or friends. Extremely tame, childish, unfunny gags and some weeping follows. Imagine the comedy segments from the Abashiri Prison series extended into a feature length film minus all the yakuza stuff and you are... still not low enough. This is a far cry from the naughty comedy genius of The Executioner 2: Karate Inferno which looks like a Stanley Kubrick picture in comparison.

Taiyo no koibito: Agnes Lum (太陽の恋人 アグネス・ラム) (Japan, 1976) [TV] - 2.5/5
A Toei curiosity that misleadingly occasionally pops up in Pinky Violence context. This isn't actually a movie, but a 25 min gravure film with Hawaii beauty Agnes Lum. Japanese men had such a crash for Lum (familiar from magazines and commercials) that Toei sent action director Atsushi Mihori (Criminal Woman: Killing Melody) to Hawaii to film this piece, and unloaded it onto screens as theatrical youth triple bill with Gang of Men: Delinquent Prison and Detonation: 750cc Tribe. Difficult to evaluate from the cinematic side - it largely lacks one - but for what it's worth, Lum looks stunning and (the costume department) has impeccable taste in bikini. Includes slow-motion running in bikini, and the Hawaii locations provide additional eye candy. Lum comes off sweet and naive, and the single interview scene where they try to force her talk about her body feels nasty and exploitative (unless her reactions were scripted for the pleasure of sadist Japanese viewers).

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Best Guy (ベストガイ) (Japan, 1990) [VoD] - 1/5
A miserable Top Gun derivative from Toru Murakawa. The biggest problem is that while it's as superficial as Top Gun, it's not any wilder, imaginative or exploitative, it's just duller. The characters are cardboards, the Canadian band doing the music awful, and the film goes on forever at 114 min. The action, with some decent flying clumsily mixed with cast insert shots and background projections, seems half-watchable at first but even these scenes drag to no end. The title supposedly refers to a Japan Air Self-Defense Force rank, but it conveniently also works as a Karate Kid reference (known as “Best Kid” in Japan).

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Nikkatsu Youth Film x 3

Goodbye Mr. Tears (涙くんさよなら) (Japan, 1966) [VoD] – 4/5
A delightful Nikkatsu youth musical from the days before director Shogoro Nishimura became a Roman Porno vending machine. An American-Japanese girl (16 year old Judy Ongg who starred in Nishimura's tremendously enjoyable Sun Tribe picture Return of the Wolf) travels to Japan in search of a lost mother, hooks up with a bunch of musically minded youngsters (actor/singer Ken Yamauchi and his fellow Young and Fresh band members + Meiko Kaji) for a road trip, hitches a ride in 60s pop super stars The Spiders's tour bus, all while being chased by mass media (one persistent reporter being played by Akira Takahashi, a future Roman Porno heavy). Perhaps not a huge artistic achievement, this is nevertheless terrific fun with great location work, wonderful pace at 81 min, amazing colors popping straight through the screen, and some very funny character play between the too-lovely-for-her-own-sake Ongg and jealous kid Kaji. The title comes from a Japanese 1965 pop song that found popularity after American singer Johnny Tillotson performed it in Japanese and English - he's in the movie, too!

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Youth A Go-Go (青春ア・ゴーゴー) (Japan, 1966) [VoD] - 4/5
Another insanely energetic Nikkatsu youth / music picture with student kids (Ken Yamauchi & Young and Fresh again) starting a band. They cross paths with the The Spiders (prominently featured in the film) and find a vocalist in a strange girl (awesome Judy Ongg who gloriously mixes Japanese, Mandarin and English) they meet while practicing in an abandoned church. Also features the most awesome moment of cameraman going nuts with the film's swing and starting to do crazy zooms and movements before flipping the whole camera upside down. Meiko Kaji is in the film too, in a minor little sister role.

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The Evening Sun Is Crying (夕陽が泣いている) (Japan, 1967) [VoD] – 3.5/5
Another one in a series of Nikkatsu youth films starring Young and Fresh and made in a fruitful collaboration with The Spiders who’d contribute new hit songs and play a supporting role in the storyline. A pessimist might call it shameless commercialism, but why not when everyone, the audience included, benefitted from the results. This film plays out like a more realistic, low key version of Youth a Go-Go with very a similar storyline.The difference is that this time the student band struggles to find any success, as such a band in reality probably would. Curious observation: cinematography somehow levels up 20 minutes before the film’s closing, with some fantastic framing and use of the widescreen format.

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Nikkatsu Roman Porno x 4

Castle Orgies (色暦大奥秘話) (Japan, 1971) [VoD] - 1.5/5
Nikkatsu's half-arsed, first ever Roman Porno production (a double feature with Apartment Wife: Affair in the Afternoon). Setsuko Ogawa stars as a girl forced to leave her boyfriend to join the shogun's harem. This was strictly a concept film: take a routine period drama, add sex scenes and expect audiences to pay up. They did. Loads of sequels followed. Two points worth noting: 1) Some of the music is lifted from Blind Woman's Curse (1970) and 2) All male roles in the film are worth a round zero.

Enka jōshikō: kizudarake no kaben (怨歌情死考 傷だらけの花弁) (Japan, 1972) [VoD] – 1.5/5
Naive small town girl Setsuko Ogawa goes to Tokyo to become a singer, discovers the industry is full of jerks. An early Roman Porno drama may appeal with its nostalgia and relative restraint, but it really doesn't have cinematic merits of any sort. Except maybe the most ridiculous falling off a cliff shot I've ever seen. Koyu Ohara directs, but you wouldn't guess it if his name wasn't in the credits.

Sex Highway (SEXハイウェイ 女の駐車場) (Japan, 1974) [VoD] - 2/5
Plenty of sex, but no highway. This seems like an aimless miss at first, but an old geezer's young wife falling in love with a young bloke makes for watchable character drama during the 2nd half. Helps that the wife is played by the sweet Yoko Katagiri who delivers one of her better performances. This is also surprisingly un-explicit for 1974. Not to be confused with the Nikkatsu action influenced Sex Rider: Wet Highway (1971).

Lusty Discipline in Uniform (セーラー服色情飼育) (Japan, 1982) [VoD] – 3/5
Middle aged, well dressed professor has a crush on a cute high school girl, starts harassing her with obscene phone calls. And he's the film's hero! At first a positively ridiculous piece of Japanese pop culture - surely no other country could produce films like this - but it's only so far till you start feeling bad for the victim, and become disgusted by the filthy bastard of a protagonist. But then, what do you expect from a film written by Gaira Komizu! He wins you over again by the end. Kazumi Kawai, an insanely pretty young actress in her film debut role, plays the stalking interest. This was her first and only foray into Roman Porno, which has further elevated the film's status. She went on to act on TV and films, including Chusei Sone's Blow the Night (1983), before taking her own life by jumping off a building in 1997 at the age of 32. Title is a bit of a misnomer btw, there's little lust under this girl's uniform, and Kawai does little more than topless nudity as contractually stated. The film remains one of Nikkatsu’s most popular titles, having been released theatrically multiple times, as well as on VHS, DVD (4 times!) and BD!

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Edited by Takuma

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Nikkatsu x 4

The Beautiful Teen (美しい十代) (Japan, 1964) [VoD] - 2.5/5
A young yakuza punk (Mitsuo Hamada) falls in love with an adorable orphan girl (Mieko Nishio) who is going out with a sweet guy (Akira Mita) who loves kids, animals and singing. Guess who wins her heart? A pretty enjoyable Nikkatsu youth / lightweight yakuza mash-up if you can get past the above mentioned relationship realism (!). The only problem is that the film proceeds nicely towards a climax that... never arrives. It almost feels as if the screenwriter died before finishing the story (though that was not the case, she, Fukiko Miyauchi, survived until 2010). Oh and the film’s English translation title is an absolute disaster: The Japanese title refers to an age period (10-19), not some pretty teenager!  

You and I (逢いたくて逢いたくて) (Japan, 1966) [VoD] - 1.5/5
A rather unbearable vanity project / fan film for singer Mari Sono, disguised as Nikkatsu youth film. A college girl (Sono) participates a look-a-like competition for beloved idol Mari Sono (Sono again) and wins it. The film's first half is made of shockingly unfunny and boring college drama/comedy but it gets a bit better when the showbiz hits in. Tetsuya Watari and Chieko Matsubara play reporters, Meiko Kaji a school girl friend. Their roles aren't worth a lot. Still, the film at least looks good. I had to resort to a fair bit of fast forwarding to make it to the end so I may have missed something.

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Love Eternal (骨まで愛して) (Japan, 1966) [VoD] - 3/5
A romantic Nikkatsu action film with the always charming Tetsuya Watari / Chieko Matsubara pairing. Watari is a young yakuza who finds new life in rural Hokkaido until the past comes knocking. Nobuo Kaneko is the crooked boss, Joe Shishido a nemes / friend and Ruriko Asaoka a woman from the past. Slick and good looking film with decent characters, though ultimately nothing too special. Based on a Takuya Jo hit song “Hone made aishite”, adapted into a film screenplay by songwriter Kohan Kawauchi himself who doubled as both screenwriter and songwriter (and had a successful career in both).

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My Sweetheart (君は恋人) (1967) [VoD] - 2/5
A Nikkatsu youth / musical about a young actor making a comeback (Mitsuo Hamada making a real comeback after an 8 month hospital stint following a bar fight that nearly blinded him) in a yakuza film that he feels is too dark and needs to be re-written. The tale unfolds with the “film” being the main story and the “reality” interacting with the fiction. Despite the curious concept and meta aspect, this is mass entertainment with several musical numbers and tons of cameos & supporting roles with major stars (Yujiro Ishihara, Ichiro Araki, Tetsuya Watari, Joe Shishido, Meiko Kaji, Akira Kobayashi, The Spiders etc.). The ridiculously long opening credits with a list of nearly a dozen songs featured in the film give some indication. Not much coherence or innovation to be found here, just superficial mass entertainment.


Toei Yakuza x 2

Gambling Code and Feuds (仁義と抗争) (Japan, 1976) [TV] - 2.5/5
A bizarre Toei yakuza film that is fundamentally a semi-fairytale of a husband and wife willing to do a lot for each other... despite the husband being a bit of a jerk. Hiroki Matsukata does his usual energetic act as a lone wolf operator who bounces from one gang to another and kills people occasionally for living. His wife runs a restaurant but it’s not long until she's helping out the husband by part-timing as geisha in yakuza meetings. It makes zero sense and has even less credibility, yet it’s not entirely over-the-top either. Neither the characters nor the film seem to know where they are heading or what the film's tone should be. The strange, upbeat musical score just adds to the confusion. But it does have some entertainment value and pretty cool supporting turns by gang bosses Joe Shishido and Asao Koike (who looks great in gray hair and gray yukata, btw).

The Boss's Head (総長の首) (Japan, 1979) [DVD] – 1.5/5
A long, star studded yakuza drama; the epitome of the new era. It cuts down the violence and takes 40 minutes to set up what a mid-70s film would have done in 4. The remaining 95 don’t go any faster. There are dozens of characters, most of them of little importance to the story, and many of them not even yakuza. Reiko Ike appears briefly as a reformed ex-sukeban. Neither the character's past nor the character otherwise matter.

 

Junya Sato x 3

Gambler - Counterattack (博徒斬り込み隊) (Japan, 1971) [DVD] - 3.5/5
Part 10 in the Gambler series (not to be confused with the Gambling Den series) which begun as ninkyo films, but got hijacked into the jitsuroku territory by Kinji Fukasaku and Junya Sato. This one is an impressively cold depiction of lone wolf Koji Tsuruta (in a more cynical role than usual) becoming a gangster clan's consultant. Director Sato focuses on the underworld politics and power struggle that involves the yakuza and a cold blooded, calculating police commander Tetsuro Tamba who would love to the clans slaughter each other off. It's a talkative film with some superb, atmospheric scenes, but not as intense as some of Sato's later movies, or as comprehensive as in Organized Crime 2 (1967), Sato's best gangster film.

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Violent Gang Re-Arms (暴力団再武装) (Japan, 1971) [DVD] - 4/5
Fundamentally honourable but occasionally ruthless yakuza (Koji Tsuruta with darker shades than usual) is set in charge of a port business by a syndicate who are complete arseholes in suits and to whom nothing but money matters (including extremely menacing Tetsuro Tamba). The port workers (lead by Asao Koike and Tomisaburo Wakayama, both wonderfully cast against type) retaliate with strikes and by establishing a union. The police (Fumio Watanabe as the head, another excellent piece of casting against type) are more beneficial to the yakuza than the common man. This is one of director Junya Sato's best pictures, a strong, political piece of filmmaking disguised as a yakuza film. There is a dynamic depiction the corruption in society and the socio-political network comprising of all kinds of people coming in touch with the yakuza, an area Sato did better in his films than Kinji Fukasaku.

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Gang vs. Gang: The Red and Black Blues (ギャング対ギャング 赤と黒のブルース) (Japan, 1972) [VoD] - 3.5/5
Stylish, well written tale of a to-be Olympic sharpshooter (Koji Tsuruta in one of his best later day roles) who wastes a blackmailing chinpira scum, then has a gangster boss (Noboru Ando in a very good role) waiting for him at the prison gates four years later. The gang could use a man of such talent. There's the usual Junya Sato surplus of gangster brutality, as well as all players from cops to gangsters to civilians laid on the chess table, but also a romantic ninkyo breeze with Tsuruta a man of honour who falls in love with a suicidal woman (Hiroko Fuji, the weakest performance in the film) who witnessed him commit an assassination. One of the rare films that successfully merges bits of ninkyo romanticism with jitsuroku grit, producing a tough film with heart instead of a mediocre halfway-there effort that was the more common outcome of this formula.

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Edited by Takuma

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Fukasaku x 2

Rampaging Dragon on the North (北海の暴れ竜) (Japan, 1966) [VoD] – 3/5
A fishermen vs. yakuza pot-boiler similar to many others (e.g. North Sea Chivalry, 1967) made around the same time. An evident pay-check job for Fukasaku, yet more energetic and entertaining than most of its kind. There are some overly clichéd plot developments, but also a delighting little twist at the end that I've never seen in any other yakuza film. Good performances as well: back in hometown punk Tatsuo Umemiya full of energy, villagers Yoko Mihara & Toru Yuri (in a less comedic role than usual!), opponent gambler Joji Takagi (a typical ninkyo role that always tends to be good), Hideo Murota looking literally dirty, etc.

Ceremony of Disbanding (解散式) (Japan, 1967) [DVD] - 3/5
"What are we, the yakuza, without honour and humanity?" A rare ninkyo effort from Fukasaku, one that embraces the genre's old fashioned form to the point of becoming unrecognizable in the director's filmography. There are several lyrically melancholic scenes with Tsuruta witnessing his old yakuza pals consumed by greed and abandon the traditional way of the yakuza, a beautifully depicted honour/duty play with rival clan ex-bodyguard Tamba, and mature performance by Junko Miyazono as a woman from the past. It’s a shame the scrip as a whole isn’t quite as accomplished, failing to give some wonderful scenes the context they deserve. Note: not to be confused with Gambler: Ceremony of Disbanding (1968), also directed by Fukasaku.

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Nishimura x 2

Attack on the Sun (白昼の襲撃) (Japan, 1970) [35mm] – 3.5/5
Two punks and a girlfriend come in possession of a handgun in Kiyoshi Nishimura’s politically and socially conscious Toho action film. This has similar vibe to early 70s Nikkatsu new action, only with Nishimura’s trademark aggressive jazz score and international flair with G.I.s and their offspring flocking the bars in the era of ANPO controversy. An interesting film, though one of the lesser works by fascinating director Nishimura, mainly because of some slower patches and poor acting by the foreign enforcements. The Japanese cast does better, especially lead Toshio Kurosawa and girlfriend Noriko Takahashi (who had an exceptionally captivating presence and facial features. Unfortunately Takahashi would go on to retire soon after co-starring in Jun Fukuda’s City of Beasts later the same year following marriage at the age of 24).  

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The Target of Roses (薔薇の標的) (Japan, 1972) [35mm] - 4/5
Superb Kiyoshi Nishimura action thriller with professional killer Yuzo Kayama hired to assassinate a foreign photographer (Rolf Jesser) and a Chinese woman (Zhen Zhen). Before soon, he falls in love with the woman and realizes his own employer is the Japanese branch of a neo-nazi organization planning to initiate the fourth reich! This features some of the most beautiful, naturalistic cinematography I've seen in any Japanese film, and very little music, which elevates the intensity near the level of Too Young to Die (1969), Nishimura's masterful debut film. The almost documentaristic attention to detail and observation, together with a rather outrageous (but cleverly down-played) plot ensure there is not a single boring scene in the film. The movie was shot in Japan and Hong Kong, the 1st half mainly in Japanese with some English, German and Chinese whereas the 2nd half is mainly in English, which isn't a problem because Kayama almost never butchers a line beyond understanding (something that was/is not a given with Japanese actors). His delivery does tend to go stiff when delivering English dialogue (as if he was looking at cue cards?) and the dialogue isn't exactly award winning stuff, but small flaws shall be forgiven when the rest of the film is so damn good. Only if the otherwise badass ending had had a bit more inspired action design the film would be even better.

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Others

Rising Dragon's Iron Flesh (昇り竜鉄火肌) (Japan, 1969) [35mm] - 3/5
Teruo Ishii somehow found time initiate this ninkyo series at Nikkatsu in 1969, the year he helmed no less than 6 movies at Toei. A bit of a routine production, Ishii nevertheless elevates several scenes above the film's level with his personal injection of the perverse: there's an unexpected 30 min prison segment complete with a gratuitous bathing scene, a super violent fight where Hideki Takahashi's sword causes someone's face to explode, and a cool final massacre with the heroes repeatedly aligning their tattoos into one big dragon as they proceed in the midst of the action. Not a great movie, but features enough stand-out scenes to warrant a viewing. The series was a vehicle for singer gone actress Hiroko Ogi (best known in the West as the older prisoner who helped Meiko Kaji in the 1st Female Prisoner Scorpion film) who does alright in the lead. Ishii skipped the 1st sequel (he was busy, no shit) but was back on board for the 3rd and best known instalment, Blind Woman's Curse, which traded Ogi for Kaji.

Ichi the Killer (殺し屋1) (Japan, 2001) [Netflix] - 3.5/5
Never been a huge fan of this, but I've grown to like it. Miike has always been good at location work and this, too, captures the threatening 90s anguish Tokyo much like Shinya Tsukamoto films. The violence seems surprisingly tame by today's standards; in a world where Hostels, Saws and Night Comes for Us pass for mainstream entertainment, Ichi could almost be downgraded to a “15”.

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