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Retro Cinemas and Cult Films in Japan (+ Sonny Chiba festival!) - Some Content NSFW

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My second visit to the Kazuhiko Yamaguchi retrospective was to see Oh Wonderful Utamaro (Shikojo Toruko Nikki) (1974).

The film is a mildly/moderately amusing Toei Porno comedy. Kelly is an American nymphomaniac who literally falls off from the sky with parachute. She's meant to be picked up by a local yakuza gang, but "Porno Broker" Tatsuo Umemiya gets to get first (“look, a naked woman jumped off the plane, let's pick her up”). Umemiya then makes her work in his Turkish bath, which she doesn't mind at all. In fact, she does eight men on her first night and still wants more. Unfortunately poor Umemiya has trouble “getting it up”... or to be more precise, it always gets up at the wrong moment (usually when some is trying to kill him) so she mainly ends up shagging other guys.

It’s a pretty ridiculous film with hippies, yakuza, lots of sex, silly comedy, Kelly, and a bit of action at the end. The best supporting character is an English speaking hippie dad taking care of a baby and having sex (at the same time) with Harumi Tajima (the girl with big boobs who appears in the poster for the final Sukeban film, and has roles in a few other pinky violence films as well).

Not bad for what it is: I found myself somewhat entertained most of the time even though I’m not a fan of (soft) porno comedies. What’s also nice is that we have the cast speaking in their own tongues: no dubbing here. Kelly speaks English, and a few sentences of (understandable) Japanese here and there, the rest of the cast speaks Japanese and a few sentences of (understandable, again) English here and there.

The film is a fun curiosity, but don’t kill yourself if you never get to see it.

Here are some stills
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As a very pleasant surprise, Sharon Kelly had sent a new video greeting to the Japanese audiences, which was played before the film. She shared some memories about working on the film, such as having no idea what was going on half of the time. She recalled how in one scene they gave her a machine gun but she didn’t really know who she was to be shooting at. She also remembered the costumes, some of which were utterly ridiculous (as you can see in the poster). She also said she got along well with director Yamaguchi, whom she found much hotter with his cool 70s look and sunglasses than her co-star Tatsuo Umemiya.

[Umemiya, of course, had a very different opinion about his charm. Apparently he claimed in an interview back in 1974 that Kelly was so under his spell that they had real sex in the film. Almost certainly not true!]

[Oh, and Kelly was no stranger to Japanese audiences prior to the film's release. Her American films Teenage Bride (1970), A Scream in the Streets (1973), and The Dirty Mind of Young Sally (1973) had been released theatrically in Japan in 1973-1974, and the Japanese late night TV program "11 PM" had been covering her several times].

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And here's some unrelated program playing in Laputa
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Oh, and I also visited Meguro Cinema to see Mad Max: Fury Road again. Fury Road had a successful mainstream release last summer, but has become a real cult hit since then, playing in almost every indie cinema who are organizing cosplay events, double screenings with older Mad Max movies, and other program around the film. Meguro Cinema had "Thunder Screenings" where the volume had been cranked up. All the theatre staff was also dressed as the film's characters.

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Japanese theatrical posters from the original films

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This guy was also promoting the screenings on the street
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I just had the real life Abashiri Prison yakuza film experience on my way home. Try to imagine the scene:

 

It's a winter afternoon in Hokkaido. Cold, snow everywhere, and the train travels between a long line of mountains (on the right) and a freezing semi-story sea (on the left). I'm sitting in the train when an old man, maybe in his late 70s, boards the train. He's wearing a thick coat and a huge winter hat, and he looks just like Kanjuro Arashi (the "Devil Tiger") in the Abashiri Prison series. He sits down, looks at the sea through the window, and start singing in quiet, low and broken voice something that sounded like theme song from a 1960s Toei yakuza film. He kept singing all the way for about 25 minutes.

 

That was cool as hell.

 

I imagined his story. Born in the late 1930, joined yakuza since he was a kid. Had some trouble with law numerous times and finally went to prison in his late 20s in 1967 for killing his wife and her lover. He was sentenced for 18 years, but got out after 15 (in 1982) for good behaviour. He came back to his gang, but in 1989 at the age of 51 he started his own gang. He had become an honourable yakuza who took care of young men who had been in trouble with the law. They were running a gambling business in a small fisherman town.  In the mid 90s a dishonourable gang led by a man who looked like Bin Amatsu came to the town and started exploiting innocent people. It went on until he couldn't stand it anymore, and he went and stabbed the villain to death on October 3rd 1996. He got 19 years this time, and was released from Abashiri Prison today.

 

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Here's a bit more to get you into mood.

 

Abashiri Prison theme:

 

 

Trailer for the 7th movie:

 

 

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A few pictures from the Noboru Tanaka retro in Cinema Vera. Unfortunately some of the most beautiful posters had already been taken down by the time I got there as those films were not playing anymore.

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I was happy to see strong attendance in the screenings, especially on Thursday which was a national holiday. I counted about a dozen females in the Abe Sada screening, including two pretty girls sitting in front of me. Most of them seemed to have come alone or with a female friend.

Village of Doom & Monster Woman '88
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Beauty's Exotic Dance: Torture & A Woman Called Sada Abe
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Midnight Fairy
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Amorous Family: Like a Fox and a Racoon
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Noboru Ando's Account of Filthy Escape into Sex
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Female Teacher
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I wrote mini-reviews of some of the films I saw.

Amorous Family: Like a Fox and a Racoon (Japan, 1972) [DCP] - 1/5
It is odd that Noboru Tanaka, one of the most talented arthouse directors who worked in the Roman Porno series, is also responsible for possibly the most nerve shattering idiot comedy the genre ever produced. It's about a family who are all after the dead-sick grandmother's hidden family jewels. Leading girl Mari Tanaka aside, the characters are all amazingly irritating cartoon caricatures constantly goofing around and making the viewer feel suicidal. This is the first time in 10 years that I've slept in cinema, and it was entirely intentional as I just couldn't take it anymore. Terrible, absolutely terrible.

Midnight Fairy (Japan, 1973) [DCP] - 4/5
A desperate young man ditched by his girlfriend hooks up with a mentally challenged prostitute. Together they set out for a journey that includes kidnapping, raping and kissing goodbye for the rules of the society. This is a superb, overlooked arthouse Roman Porno by Noboru Tanaka. Tanaka lets his camera wander on the streets, beautifully capturing the early 1970s locations and atmosphere. He also creates fantastic, carefully staged images such as baby on a bar desk. It's pretty poignant too: Tanaka seems to suggest that in a civilized society the only innocent person is a retarded prostitute who is too dumb to lie, cheat, and use violence. The film never feels pretentious, though; rather the contrary. It's fun, playful and relatively fast paced. On the minus side the continuity and logic don't always hold water, though Tanaka and supporting actor Nobutaka Masutomi seem to acknowledge this sometimes makes fun of it.

Noboru Ando's Account of Filthy Escape into Sex (Japan, 1976) [35mm] - 3/5
The recently deceased gangster film star Noboru Ando was the real deal: a former yakuza leader who was sent to prison after his man nearly killed a blackmail victim on his order. After his release, Ando became an actor, starring in several fictional movies as well as films based on his own life. The accuracy of these films is probably best demonstrated by the fact that Ando sometimes dies at the end of the story. This film, directed for Toei by Nikkatsu import Noboru Tanaka, shows Ando's fugitive days before his capture. According the Chris D, his sexual exploits were exaggerated "just a wee bit" and that's easy to believe. Here Ando spends his time hiding from the police by taking turns banging his 3 girlfriends and several one night (or one afternoon in front of the pool) stands. It's moderately fun and sleazy, and Ando has his dangerous charm, but one wishes there would be more violence and crime film imagery. The ending is quite a delighting "fuck you" to the police, though.

Beauty's Exotic Dance: Torture (Japan, 1977) [35mm] - 4/5
Leave it to Noboru Tanaka to deliver the most intelligent SM film found in the Roman Porno genre. The final and best film in Tanaka's Showa Mad Love trilogy, it's a true account of a writer/artist with an obsession on the beauty of female torture. After his own wife has been consumed by the physical stress, he hooks up with a bar girl (Junko Miyashita) who, likewise, goes thru an enormous amount of physical stress until her mind and body give up. Tanaka is more interested in the mental aspect of an SM relationship, and its consequences on both body and mind, than exploitation. The usual villain-victim angle is completely ignored. He creates an interesting character drama with several haunting scenes, using silence especially well, and some impressive images in the brutal winter nature where most of the SM scenes are set. Newcomers be warned, though, it's still a rough film and the line between misogynist exploitation and character drama may not always be so clear.

Village of Doom (Japan, 1983) [35mm] - 3.5/5
As a truly odd move, Roman Porno director Noboru Tanaka went to "family film studio" Shochiku for a movie that is not only full of sex, but also so violent it would've been considered a prime example of a video nasty had it been released in the UK back in the days. It's a film that belongs to a genre I like very much: the "something odd going on in a small village" movies. The film follows a young man, unfit for army, who is left practically alone with all the women after the other men are sent to war. He ends up getting seduced by the horny housewives, then dumped by everyone when their husbands return. He eventually goes crazy and conducts an amazingly bloody massacre, the kind that hasn't been seen in Japanese cinema since then until Miike's Lesson of Evil. A fascinating movie, and very bleak. Potentially harmful for mental health. And based on true story. Co-star Misako Tanaka is very cute, btw, and gets naked.

Monster Woman '88 (Japan, 1988) [35mm] - 2.5/5
Noboru Tanaka's final movie is a trendy fantasy / mystery / love story with video game programmers as main characters! A dead woman begins communicating with a young video game programmer via his computer. What's going on? This is one of those movies that keep your interest from beginning to end without ever being especially good. It's strictly a mainstream affair without any exploitation, but the programmer angle is pretty cool indeed. There's also an amusing otaku love story side plot with the guys hiring a pretty girl with big boobs to help them beat the coding deadline, despite her complete lack of programming skills.

My return flight did not go quite as planned. My flight got cancelled due to bad weather and I was left in Tokyo without accommodation. So what does Takuma figure out? "There's a clown movie all nighter in Shin Bungeiza. Problem solved!" I stayed there from 23:00 until around 4am and then went to wait for the first train... which broke down after 15 minutes. Somehow I still managed to get to the airport by 5:45 and miraculously managed to board the 6:05 flight.

Of course it was just my luck that the films played were in German, Japanese and Spanish (and no, my Japanese subtitle reading skills still aren't up to much), and the only English language film played after I had left. But there was positive irony to the one Japanese film being Tanaka's Watcher in the Attic, which I missed at the retro because it screened before I landed in Tokyo. The last time I had seen the film was on Finnish TV about 7 year ago.

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A few photos from Norifumi Suzuki festival in Cinema Vera

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I'm sure they will have new posters on display later when films like Killing Machine screen. Unfortunately I could stay only for a few days. I caught School of the Holy Beast, Star of David, Red Peony Gambler 2, Roaring Fire, The Great Chase, and Shogun's Ninja. All 35mm. So much fun!

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There was another Norifumi Suzuki retrospective in Shin Bungeiza about two years ago. I don't think I have posted pictures before.

Outside the theatre
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Lobby. Posters for other program
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Suzuki Retro program + mini posters on the left. 28 films in total.
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They screened 9 of the 10 Truck Yaro films. One was excluded because there was no decent 35mm print available
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Dolls of the Shogun's Harem + Ninja's Mark
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Onsen geisha films
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I saw the two Onsen Geisha films, which are fun but forgettable time wasters (and feature underage Reiko Ike!), Dolls of Shogun's Harem, which was amazing to see on large screen, and Ninja's Mark, which is a pretty cool ninja exploitation film.

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I also visited Shin Bungeiza's all night screening the other week. Their all nighters are a real mixed bag. Sometimes you get BD screenings, even DVD, and sometimes you get all night of 35mm greatness. This time it was J Taro Sugisaku's "Film School" Vol. 2.

Program
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22:30 Talk show
23:25 Minato no Yoko, Yohohama, Yokosuka (1975) (35mm)
01:05 Girl's Pleasure: Man Hunting (1977) (35mm)
02:25 Rugby Yaro (1975) (35mm)
04:15 Trail of Blood (1972) (35mm)
05:45 Finish

That's what I call a quality program. Four interesting films, none of which are available on dvd in Japan (Trail of Blood has a R1 dvd release, though, and Girl's Pleasure is available for streaming in Japan; the other two are impossibly difficult to see), and all on 35mm!

Only Trail of Blood of Blood was screened from the Mikogami trilogy, but they'd put up posters for the whole trilogy + 1 additional film
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Minato no Yoko, Yohohama, Yokosuka and Girl's Pleasure: Man Hunting
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Minato no Yoko, Yohohama, Yokosuka
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From the right: Hayato Tani, J Taro Sugisaku, a guy whose name I forgot
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Shin Bungeiza's 10m screen is totally awesome.
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Minato no Yoko, Yohohama, Yokosuka was a real discovery. A crazy disco dance youth film plays out like a Japanese Saturday Night Fever with a murder suspect plot. Expect psychedelic clubs, dance till you drop dead all night dance marathon competitions and Downtown Boogie Woogie Band whose song gave the film its title and who appear in the super cool intro scene.

Girl's Pleasure: Man Hunting I have already discussed elsewhere, Rugby Yaro will be reviewed in the Chiba thread in the future, and Trail of Blood probably doesn't need further introductions (I'll probably post a mini-review somewhere later anyway).

So, yeah, that was an awesome nigh. I managed to get back to my capsule hotel by 7 am, sleep till 13:30, then head to Cinema Vera and Laputa Asagaya for three more movies. Learn from the pro, kids!

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I was in Okinawa recently and although I was trying to have a break from movies, I ended up walking into a movie themed izakaya in Naha completely by chance. I guess I can't run my destiny!

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Some fantastic beaches there btw. Miyakojima:

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I was trying to nail the Love & Pop still here :eyebrows:

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Theatre Introduction: National Film Center (Tokyo)

This is one of the best - as well as one of the more frustrating - places to see films in Tokyo.

Positives
- The 35mm prints from NFC's collection are likely to be some of the best you'll ever see.
- Massive retrospectives (e.g.Kenji Misumi retrospective: 51 movies + TV show episodes, all 35/16mm).
- Very cheap prices.
- Decent screen.

Negatives
- A limited number of retrospectives / screenings. Several weeks may pass without program.
- Only two screenings per day when screenings are held.
- 1.5 - 2.5 hour break between screenings (waiiitiiing)
- No photography allowed in the lobby.
- Kind of auditorium-like seats.

This is a national film archive and in some ways its atmosphere resembles a museum more than a cinema. It's a shame that they don't have more screenings, and that they have 1.5 - 2.5 hour break between movies. I often end up seeing only one film even if I was interested in both. Most of their customers are elderly men; I don't think I've ever attended a screening without someone falling asleep and snoring. Program consists mostly of "respectable classics", so don't expect exploitation retrospectives. That being said, they don't shy away from including exploitation and Roman Porno films for example in their massive R.I.P. series that is held once every two years and features a couple of films by every notable Japanese actor and filmmaker who has passed away during that period. Their screen is fine, their 35mm prints usually absolutely gorgeous (they really put most BD releases to shame) and the prices are ridiculously cheap (student price is 310 yen, normal price should be around 500 yen).

Since photography is forbidden inside, I can only share photos from outside the theatre.

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I managed to visit Cinema Vera's Meika Seri retro briefly.

Festival poster. Signed by Seri.
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Graveyard of Honor and Red Light District: Gonna Get Out
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Secret Chronicle: Crimson Goddess In Paradise, Wet Lust: 21 Strippers and Kigeki Tokudashi: Himo tengoku
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I can't believe I didn't recognize Reiko Ike in the Himo tengoku poster until now. I saw the poster already in Laputa Asagaya in 2014 in their Seri retro where I missed film. The film is an alright drama-comedy about strippers and their managers (boyfriends, husbands etc.). Ike shows some acting range as a senior stripper and Seri is good as a girl who seems completely out of her head all the time (and usually pisses on hersef on the stage), but it's cop Takuzo Kawatani who gives the best and funniest performance (I'm starting to warm up to this guy). Director Azuma Morisaki shows some eye for drama and occasional realism, but ultimately it feels like a talented crew improving material that just isn't quite that special.

True Story of a Woman In Jail: Sex Hell, Wet Lust: 21 Strippers, Sapporo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Ogoto, Hakata: Toruko wataridori
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True Story of a Woman In Jail was a tiny bit better than I remembered. Some decent moments with good cinematography and score. But still pretty boring trash. I only watched it because it was a double feature with 13 Steps of Maki.

Wet Lust: 21 Strippers and Sapporo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Ogoto, Hakata: Toruko wataridori
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I've missed Sapporo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Ogoto, Hakata: Toruko wataridori already three times. The first miss came a few years ago when I decided to stay for the full Shunji Iwai triple feature instead of just the first two in Meguro Cinema. This time I was going to see Toruko wataridori after my arrival on Saturday evening, but thanks to a surprise school assignment I had to delay my flight. I was then going to see it on Tuesday just before my departure, but I got sick and left for the airport to hunt for an earlier flight. Cursed film it seems. I don't know if it's any good.

Kigeki Tokudashi: Himo tengoku and Wet Lust: Opening the Tulip
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I found Opening the Tulip to be pretty boring. Clearly one of those films Kumashiro did cause he, too, needs to work to make a living. A Roman Porno pachinko film. Yeah, sounds like something he came up while having a big beer at a bar. It's Kumashiro so of course it has good moments (and satire), but those moments just underline the fact that they didn't really have a solid idea for a feature film.

Wet Lust: Opening the Tulip and Shitakari Hanjirô: (Maruhi) kannon o sagase.
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Shitakari Hanjirô: (Maruhi) kannon o sagase is rare enough not to have an English title (or IMDb page). A pleasantly ridiculous ninja / period drama / sexploitation film with Iga ninja Goro Ibuki searching for a mating partner for the shogun. The previous girl gave birth to a snake (yes, a snake) so the folks are understandably a bit upset. A magician takes him to River Styx and tells them they need to find a woman with a special womb to bear the child. As the only clues, he tells them that the woman will have a small mole in her forehead, and her vagina will shine brightly when she's at the peak of her pleasure (seriously, I'm not making this up). Time for Ibuki to show his amazing sexual skills.

The film is pretty much everything similar modern film are not. Shot on film, with great production values, lavish colours and costumes, and without a hint of self irony! Contains unbelievable scenes like Ibuki jumping upside down on a cross to have sex with a woman who is about to be executed and throwing bombs around to keep the guards at a distance. Good pacing and sex scenes are pleasantly short, if plenty. The film also develops a very romantic tone towards the end. I would have liked more action but there are two enjoyable fights, the latter featuring Ibuki vs. a magician who keeps escaping into paintings. Oh, and did I mention this is based on a Kazuo Koike manga?

Here are a few stills from the film (the orig. title is下苅り半次郎 ㊙観音を探せ, btw).
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I also saw 13 Steps of Maki. I think this was a different print from what I saw 4 years ago in Laputa Asagaya. Not only was it brighter, it seemed like a different cut! I could swear the last time I saw the film, the girls tied to the railway tracks in the opening scene had their shirts ripped off and breasts exposed. Not so this time, although the print wasn't exactly lacking in nudity. Could someone with an access to the film's old TV print (?) see how the opening scene plays out?

The film is perhaps Shihomi's most enjoyable, and certainly her sleaziest. Shihomi is girl gang leader straight out of a comic book, constantly saving her girls who keep getting in trouble. It's basically a pinky violence movie done with a karate heroine. Although there is little plot, the film is well paced. Lots of solid action, no irritating supporting characters or comic reliefs, very little in terms boring side plots, and just when you might start getting a bit tired of it they throw Shihomi in prison and the film goes all WIP. Great theme song too! Someone really need to put this film out on DVD or BD.

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I also dropped by at Shin Bungeiza to see a couple of films from their Tai Kato retrospective, although I'm not necessarily a major Kato fan.

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Theatre of Life, Flower and Dragon, Cruel Story of the Shogunate's Downfall
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Flower and Dragon, Cruel Story of the Shogunate's Downfall
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Flames of Blood
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Cruel Story of the Shogunate's Downfall and Tale of Meiji Era Chivalry: Third Generation Boss
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The films I saw were Flower and Dragon (1973) and Tale of Meiji Era Chivalry: Third Generation Boss (1965). Flower and Dragon is one of Kato's early 70s epics, a nearly three hour Shochiku adaptation of the famous yakuza novel. I have not seen the other film versions, but if we compare this to Kato's The Blossom and the Sword (1973), which, unlike this, was written by himself,  Flower and Dragon feels more like a literature adaptation. It is not the most visual film out there and the climax comes in form of drama, rather than action. However, there is a really good and sensual tattoo scene that I liked very much. Otherwise I was maybe expecting a bit more, and something a bit different, from the film.

Tale of Meiji Era Chivalry: Third Generation Boss (1965), in contrast, is a 90 minute Toei ninkyo film with Koji Tsuruta. This one is a quite conventional ninkyo fare in terms of storyline, but as usual, Kato's execution is remarkably barebones, with melodrama and stylistic devices played down. I'm not sure this is the ideal approach to ninkyo films, which are basically melodramatic genre films about men torn between  duty and personal feeling. That being said, it's a decent film. The film's ending is where the simplicity in Kato's staging of action really works to a fine effect.

This was already the second Kato retrospective held in Tokyo this year, followed by that of National Film Center's a few months ago. This year, which marks the 100th anniversary of Kato's birth, has/will also see(n) a number of Kato films being issued on DVD and Blu-Ray, and a Tokyo Filmex screening of a 4K remaster of The Ondekoza. All the enduring popularity and acclaim suggests I am in the minority with my criticism on some of his trademarks.

I saw the fore mentioned The Blossom and the Sword (1973) at National Film Center a few months ago and liked it very much. Let me copy-paste my mini review here:

The Blossom and the Sword (Japan, 1973) [35mm]
Tai Kato's early 20th century set yakuza epic about an ordinary merchant girl (Yoko Maki) who crosses paths with an assassin (Tetsuya Watari). The encounter sends her to jail as a suspected accomplice. Years later she marries a yakuza boss, whose gang is affiliated with working class people. The boss is wounded by the same assassin, who however has a change of heart when his own boss (Bin Amatsu) turns out a rotten bastard, and he falls in love with the woman.  There are some slow patches and unnecessary humour during the first half - the film was released in two halves with an intermission - but the second half is tremendous. Although Kato is more interested in characters and revealing the oppression of common people than filming stylised yakuza mayhem, he ends the film with a fight scene featuring one of the most striking image compositions in recent memory, with fatally wounded Watari and Amatsu fighting for their lives in the background while another dying man is crawling right towards the camera and spitting blood.

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Coming back to Shin Bungeiza, they will soon have a Battles Without Honor and Humanity marathon. All five films back to back, first day time, then an all night screening.

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Also, speaking of Shin Bungeiza, here's a couple of pics from one of their three Ken Takakura retros they had last year.

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Here's my old mini-review of Theatre of Life, which was one of the films I watched there:

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

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I reposted the missing content

Plus here's something new:

Laputa Asagaya is going to have a Reiko Ike & Miki Sugimoto series in January-April.

Onsen Mimizu Geisha (1971)
Sukeban Blues: Queen Bee's Counter-Attack (1971)
Sukeban Blues: Queen Bee's Challenge (1972)
Onsen Suppon Geisha (1972)

Sukeban Guerilla (1972)
Terrifying Girls' High School: Violent Women's Classroom (1972)
The Lustful Shogun and His 21 Concubines (1972)
Girl Boss: Revenge

Sex & Fury (1973)
Terrifying Girls' High School: Lynch Law Classroom (1973)
Female Yakuza Tale (1973)
Female Yakuza Tale (1973)

Criminal Woman: Killing Melody (1973)

Not on their site yet, but I expect all to be 35mm.

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While I was in Tokyo last time, I also saw a Hell double feature in Meguro Cinema

Too Young To Die (2016) and Japanese Hell (1999)
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Too Young To Die had its moments - a high school hell musical - but it's overlong and really pales in comparison to...
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... Teruo Ishii's Hell, which is oddly fascinating trash despite being ridiculous and under-budgeted. Even has an awesome Tetsuro Tamba cameo.
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Some months earlier I was also in Meguro to see Akira in 35mm...
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This was actually my second time seeing Akira in 35mm... the previous time was in 2014, also in Meguro
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Oh, and this has nothing to do with Meguro, but I also saw Rob Zombie's 31 in Cinema Qualite in Shinjuku
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Somehow I'm always conveniently in Tokyo when a new Rob Zombie film opens. This may not be his finest hour, but it's still solid entertainment!

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Some random pics that I seem not to have posted before. Some are a few years old.

Eurospace was screening the 4 hour version of A Bride for Rip Van Winkle a few months ago. Of course I didn't see it because I was busy watching Norifumi Suzuki films in the next floor...
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And some photos from Laputa Asagya

Graveyard of Honor in Meika Seri series in 2014
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And some classic Nikkatsu
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Nikkatsu Akira Koyabashi films
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Sadao Nakajima's Jitsuroku gaiden: Osaka dengeki sakusen (1976) (two posters for the same film).
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I got to see Takashi Ishii's A Night in Nude in 35mm in Meguro Cinema. Despite its small flaws, it was amazing seeing this in theatre.
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The other film was Kyohansha (1999), a standard gangster actioner electrified by rock 'n roll bad boy Yuya Uchida as a blond, sunglass wearing assassin. He speaks all his lines saying the first sentence in English. "Name?" "My name is Fucking Dead Man".

The films were actually playing in a small Naoto Takenaka special, but they also put up a small Takashi Ishii poster tribute. Ishii and Takenaka had a talk show the previous day, too bad I missed that.

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Also dropped by in Shin bungeiza in their somewhat underwhelming Hiroki Matsukata retro. Underwhelming probably because Cinema Vera will be running a Toei Jitsuroku Yakuza Film series next month, so a lot of cool Matsukata stuff went there instead.

Anyway, I saw Sleepy Eyes of Death 13 and 14. Both are alright films, no 14 especially with Ikehiro's gritty direction, and Matsukata is not bad in Raizo's role. However, he's still no substitute for Raizo, and the films reminded me about how the whole series flirts with exploitation without ever really daring to go all the way. It's a bit frustrating. For the record, my favourite films in the series are parts 8, 2, and 4, in that order.

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I'll post about Laputa's Miki Sugimoto and Reiko Ike series another time. Oh, and lots of cool stuff coming up in Tokyo. Cinema Vera is gonna have a 25 film Teruo Ishii retro from May 20, Jimbocho will screen 20 Seijun Suzuki films from June 10, and Laputa has all kinds of stuff from House to Guts of a Virgin to Evil Dead Trap in their "Into Nightmares" series

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Toei Jitsuroku Yakuza retro at Cinema Vera: Part 1

The Violent Money Network (1975) & Okinawa Yakuza War (1976) & Graveyard of Honor (1975)
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Graveyard of Honor (1975) x 2 + Robbery, Arson and Killer Convicts (1975)
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The Violent Money Network (1975) & Robbery, Arson and Killer Convicts (1975)
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Cops vs. Thugs (1975) & Operation Plazma in Osaka
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Okinawa Yakuza War (1976)
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Okinawa Yakuza War (1976)
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Escaped Murderer from Hiroshima Prison (1974) & Cops vs. Thugs (1975)
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Toei Jitsuroku Yakuza retro at Cinema Vera: Part 2

True Account of Ginza Tortures (1973) & Japan Organized Crime Boss (1969)
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True Account of the Yamaguchi Gang - Life-and-Death Operations on Kyushu (1974) & Japan Organized Crime Boss (1969) & Okinawa 10 Year War (1978)
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True Account of Ginza Tortures (1973) x 2 & Third Generation Yamaguchi Gang (1973)
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Japan Organized Crime Boss (1969) & Account of the Ando Gang: Killer Younger Brother (1974)
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Third Generation Yamaguchi Gang (1973) & Third Generation Boss (1974)
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Third Generation Boss (1974) & Third Generation Yamaguchi Gang (1973)
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Chirashi
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I saw four films. Cops vs. Thugs was as good as I remembered: it starts out a bit messy but develops lots of character depth and social relevance as it goes on. Operation Plazma in Osaka wasn't as good as I remembered. Badass soundtrack and a great cast of badass Toei actors being mean and ugly, also some cool action scenes, but the storyline isn't quite that interesting and character depth is really lacking. It was my second time seeing both in 35mm. Account of the Ando Gang: Killer Younger Brother was a pleasant discovery. An anarchic, violent and fast paced film with Ando as a background character and mad dog Bunta Sugawara in the spotlights. Third Generation Boss on the other hand was a disappointment: a ninkyo-jitsuroku hybrid that isn't satisfying from either perspective. A very polished image of the Yamaguchi clan, lacking both the jitsuroku anarchy and the ninkyo finesse.

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I promised to post something about the Reiko Ike & Miki Sugimoto series at Laputa Asagaya.

Outside the theater. Ad for the retrospective in the bottom right.
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I saw two movies, Criminal Woman: Killing Melody...
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and Female Yakuza Tale
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They also had all kinds of stuff for sale (I actually own two of those CDs)
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I think Criminal Woman is one of the best Pinky Violence movies of all time - probably in my Top 3 with Jailhouse 41 and Bohachi Bushido - and certainly the most feminist. While most films in the genre are a bit schizofrenic in their female exploitation vs. empowerment, this one's got a genuine and thorough sense of girls kicking ass. From the beginning all male characters in the film are doomed, they've got absolutely nothing on these ladies. It's one film you can easily watch in female company (as I have), which I can't say about Bohachi Bushido...

Not related to Ike and Sugimoto, but this is pretty cool
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Here's the chirashi, which is a bit boring since there was no space for stills.
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On another topic, here's the chirashi for Cinema Vera's upcoming Teruo Ishii retro. I'm so gonna have to book flights again! The program is great! They have all of his ero-guro films (The Joy of Torture, Inferno of Torture, Yakuza's Law, Orgies of Edo, Horrors of Malformed Men, Love & Crime, Shameless Abnormal and Abusive Love, Bohachi Bushido) in addition to a handful of his early Shin Toho films, many 60s and 70s Toei crime films, his late films Japanese Hell and Blind Beast vs. Dwarf, and a few other works.

Click on the images to see a larger version (and sorry, the scanner was crap and cut a little bit of image from the sides...)
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Theater Introduction: Cinema Vera

This one of my favourite theaters in Tokyo. I've often posted about it, but I think I never gave it a proper introduction, so here goes. Cinema Vera shows only retrospective program. About 65% of the program is devoted for Japanese film retrospectives, which cover anything from Sonny Chiba to Toei Jitsuroku Yakuza films and Nagisa Oshima. The rest is for foreign films ranging from Italian Neo-Realism to Russian Cinema and silent movies.

All program is played in double features with the same two films playing back to back from 11 am to around 10 pm. As common for theaters that play double features, there are no screening specific tickets but rather entrance tickets that allow you to enter anytime between the films. You can watch both films, or just one if you don't care for the other.

Cinema Vera has a pretty good medium size screen (6.8 x 2.9m). As for 2017, about 75% of the Japanese program plays in 35mm. This depends on the studio, though. I have never seen a digital screening of a Toei film; they've all been film screenings. However, with Nikkatsu you get about 70% film and 30% digital, and with Shintoho you get about 15% film and 85% digital screenings. The digital screenings can be anything from DVD to HD DCP. The film prints are like those of most other theaters; some are amazing, most are fine, some are poor (Shin bungeiza is the same, while National Film Center and Laputa Asagaya tend to have only great prints).

The lobby isn't especially beautiful but they always decorate it with original posters (including some very rare ones) for the current program. The screening room which has 142 seats is pretty good with relatively comfortable seats and usually movie soundtrack played during the breaks. Like in all Japanese theaters of this kind, the audience generally behaves very well, but there's been an increase of irritating hipsters (the worst of whom come to see old movies mainly to laugh at them... I pretty much wanted to kill the young woman who was laughing at Masaki Kobayashi's Harakiri) in the audience. However, you don't run into them often and if you're able to attend screenings on weekdays during daytime, you can avoid them almost certainly. They only show up occasionally for evening screenings, usually during weekends.

Examples of past program
Sonny Chiba Festival (24 films incl. Wolfguy, Army Intelligence 33, Jail Breakers, The Street Fighter, Tokyo daijishin magnitude 8.1...)
Teruo Ishii retro (24 films, incl. Horrors of Malformed Men, Joy of Torture, Yakuza's Law, Orgies of Edo, Prisoner's Black List, Japanese Hell...)
Toei Jitsuroku Yakuza retro (19 films, incl. Okinawa Yakuza War, Cops vs Thugs, Graveyard of Honor, Japan Organized Crime Boss...)
Meiko Kaji retro (19 films, incl. Lady Snowblood, Yakuza Graveyard, Women's Police, Jailhouse 41, Sex Hunter...)
Tatsumi Kumashiro retro (24 films, incl. Rolling on the Road, Front Row Life, Failed Youth, Yakuza Goddess: Lust and Honor...)
Noboru Tanaka retro (20 films, incl. Monster Woman '88, Noboru Ando's Filthy Escape into Sex, Village of Doom, She Beast Market....)
Chusei Sone retro (24 films, incl. Taiyo no kizuato, Hakuchu no onna gari, Red Violation, Red Classroom, Lust Under Uniform, Hellish Love...)
Norifumi Suzuki retro (19 films, incl. Ninja's Mark, Sex & Fury, Killing Machine, Roaring Fire, Star of David, School of the Holy Beast...)
Producer Kei Ijichi retro (18 films, incl. Lost Chapter of Snow: Passion, The Man Who Stole the Sun, Retreat Through the Wet Wasteland...)
Producer Kanji Amao retro (17 films, incl. Tokugawa Sex Ban, Terrifying Girls' High School, Insane Sex Tribe, The Boxer  ...)
The Violent 90s retro (17 films,  incl. Dead or Alive, Rainy Dog, Score, A Night in Nude, Gonin, Boiling Point, Pornostar ...)
Sadao Nakajima retro (24 films, incl. Aesthetics of a Bullet, Kunoichi ninpo, Cold Wind Monjiro, Tokyo-Seoul-Bangkok, Sukeban 5...)
Ichiro Araki retro (15 films, incl. Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs, Delicate Skillful Fingers, Journey to Japan, Neon kurage...)
Noboru Ando retro (20 films, incl. Account of the Ando Gang: Killer Younger Brother, True Account of Ginza Tortures, The Wolves...)

Lobby and ticket counter
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The screening room is there...
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Sonny Chiba
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Edited by Takuma

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A few pics from Jimbocho Theater.

I dropped by before Christmas when they had a series for cinematographer Shinsaku Himeda (left).
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I saw Imamura's Pigs and Battleships (1961) and Kumashiro's Africa's Light (1975). Here's what I wrote about the latter

Africa’s Light (Japan, 1975) [35mm] – 3.5/5
This a bit of a slow burner for nothing much happens in the film. However, you’ll be surprised by how it grows on you. The film is about two semi-slackers (Kenichi Hasegawa and Kunie Tanaka) with an ultra-intimate friendship (wait for the scene where sick Tanaka pees in his pants, and Hasegawa then dries him with a towel) working, slacking and drinking in a freezing Hokkaido town. For a modern comparison point, imagine an early 2000s Nobuhiro Yamashita film with less humour and more 70s grit. Cinematography by Shinsaku Himeda is solid, and the film’s minimal score is quite lovely. The film was a Toho production, one of the many mainstream films by Roman Porno master Tatsumi Kumashiro. His other mainstream film, Failed Youth (1974), is often considered one of the best Japanese films of all time.

Africa's Light (left) and Failed Youth. I really wanted to see  Failed Youth , but had no chance that time. There's no dvd release either...
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Godzilla was there too:
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I also visited there last month when they had a series for dance themed films.

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The only one I saw was Seijun Suzuki's Carmen from Kawachi, which wasn't too bad although I prefer his crime films.

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Somai's Tokyo Heaven, which I've never managed to see. DVD is OPP and ridiculously expensive.
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Finally, this has nothing to do with Jimbocho, but I found a Gremlins miniature vending machine at a train station. Pretty awesome!
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Teruo Ishii retro in Cinema Vera: Part 1/2

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Killer's Black List (1970) (x2) + The Joy of Torture (1968)
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Killer's Black List (1970) + Abashiri Prison 9 (1967)
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Yakuza's Law (1969) + Tattooed Ambush (1964) + Jitsuroku 3 okuen jiken: Jiko seiritsu (1975)
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Abashiri Prison 9 (1967) + Settlement (1967)
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Prisoner's Black List (1970) + Bohachi bushido (1973)
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Woman's Body and the Wharf (1958) + Orgies of Edo (1969)
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Japanese Hell art
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Ishii kantoku
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Seeing Bohachi bushido in 35mm was pretty amazing! Fantastic  action, terrific fast paced scrip, amazing visuals, impeccable imagination and hot girls. Certainly Ishii's best film and one of the masterpieces of pinky violence! This was the first time I realized the ninja played by Ryuhei Uchida belongs to the Kurokuwa clan, the same one that keeps sending assassins after Ogami Itto in the Lone Wolf and Cub films. Of course the Bohachi clan also appears in the 3rd Lone Wolf film...

Orgies of Edo was nice on the big screen also, although I think it is one of the lesser of Ishii's ero-guro films. Gotta love the scene where two foreign midgets rape a Japanese girl, who the gets pissed and starts whipping them in return! Dear Toei, why don't you make films like this anymore?

Woman's Body and the Wharf was a pretty cool and atmospheric, although slightly too talkative 50's sexy noir. Digital unfortunately, but Shin Toho films are hard to come by in 35mm.

Prisoner's Black List basically plays out like an unofficial Abashiri Prison film with added scatological humour. Even features Kanjuro Arashi as Onitora. Kinda entertaining, but the action at the end is rather by-the-book.

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Teruo Ishii retro in Cinema Vera: Part 2/2

Horrors of Malformed Men (1969). Second time seeing in 35mm, amazing as always. The soundtrack is coming out in Japan in June, btw.
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Queen Bee and the School for Dragons (1960)
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Secret Agent 101: Bodyguard Murder (1966). Cool Hong Kong / Macao locations and fast pace with some cool swing, but weak script and ultra shabby stunt action at the end. Shochiku was no place for filming action movies, Ishii admitted in an interview.
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Love and Crime (1969). It's impossible not to have a good time with films like this. That being said, this jitsuroku bloodbath with 3+3 true (love) crime episodes is not among Ishii's best ero-guro films.
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The gruesome, atmospheric and at times hypnotically beautiful Inferno of Torture (1969), whose star...
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... Yumiko Katayama was there! She's 67 years old, but still beautiful and full of energy.
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Someone please interview this girl for DVD / BD extras! She's awesome!
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She was telling some great stories about Toei and how she got into Inferno of Torture, where she plays the first girl tattoeed by both Asao Koike and Teruo Yoshida. She said she joined Toei via Toei's new faces competition (like Sonny Chiba and Ken Takakura before her). Toei brought the screenplay to her but she refused it on basis of the nudity and its extreme nature. The film later went into production with a different actress, who however quit in the middle of filming because she couldn't take it! Meanwhile Katayama had agreed to do a bikini shoot for Heibon Punch, but it turned out a nude photo shoot! She used a fake name, but Toei found out said now she has no excuse not to do (replace the missing actress in) Inferno of Torture.

As many people probably know, Ishii had caused quite a stir with The Joy of Torture which had been hated by the press, and even Toei stars like Tomisaburo Wakayama and Koji Tsuruta publicly spoke against it. There was actually a protest by Toei Kyoto Studios staff against Inferno of Torture during its production. The Ishii gumi ("Ishii gang") was quite widely disliked by the Kyoto staff back then. Inferno of Torture was Katayama's first starring role and not all the attention it brought to her was positive. After the film, Tomisaburo Wakayama had her cast in one of his movies and made her play an extra (a farmer with a dirty face who appears in some group scene with 70 other extras) apparently just to humiliate her because she was in Ishii films.

She also revealed a fun bit of trivia: she had been offered a nun's role in The Joy of Torture, but she refused because she was asked to shave her hair. Unthinkable for a 19 year old girl!

In case your memory isn't so good, Katayama was also in films like Delinquent Girl Boss: Worthless to Confess, Female Prisoner Scorpion and Criminal Woman: Killing Melody

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Edited by Takuma

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I just remembered a few more things Katayama mentioned. She said she's now proud to have been part of Ishii gumi as Ishii's films enjoy cult reputation around the world, but she has actually never seen Inferno of Torture! She can't stomach violent movies! She said she recently subscribed to Toei Channel (TV) but half of the movies there are too shocking for her to watch! She feels like the characters on the screen are real people.

She also recalled the filming experience (Inferno of Torture) as "being naked from 9 to 5".

She was also asked about Asao Koike who plays the serial killer rapist in Love & Crime, and she said she remembers how he was giving her advice how to put on the maebari...

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While I was in Tokyo, I also visited a small theater called Cinema Novecento in Yokohama.
- http://cinema1900.wixsite.com/home

This recently established 28 seat theater is what you could rightfully call a mini-theater. While they are also screening some recent indie films, most of the films are older stuff from kaiju films to film noir and Roman Porno. There are quite a few special events with filmmaker quests, though tickets to these events cost premium price. Screening format varies, it can be anything from 35mm film to DCP or even DVD. Check the website in advance.

There's also a mini-restaurant and bar with a couple of tables.

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I went there to see Ishiro Honda's Rodan (1956) in 35mm.

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I visited Laputa Asagaya and made what will most likely reman the biggest discovery of the year!

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Too Young to Die (死ぬにはまだ早い) (Japan, 1969) [35mm]
Kiyoshi Nishimura is one of the most exciting undiscovered Japanese directors. The opening for this film is cinema at its purest, and best! Nishimura uses very little dialogue as he first shows a man and a woman in bed, making love. We don't know exactly who they are and what their relationship is, but they're not married. Quick crosscuts reveal that he appears to be a former race driver. She makes references to her husband who is away, somewhere. Cut to the following night as they are in a car. They stop in a small bar by the highway. Minutes later a desperate gunman charges in and takes everyone as hostage. This is the premise for Nishimura's gritty and intelligent debut film which serves as a prime example of what is good filmmaking. The film drafts excellent characters without ever over-explaining them, which allows us to feel for them, yet we cannot anticipate their every move. Nishimura's attention for every detail, every drop of sweat, every painful breath, combined with sparse but clever use of music make this one hell of a thriller. Unfortunately, it has never been released on home video.

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Director Nishimura's other films include the existential car chase film Hairpin Circus (1972), often referred as the Japanese Vanishing Point, and the action film The Creature Called Man (1970) that anticipated the 80s and 90s John Woo classics to a stunning degree, featuring everything from slow motion gunplay to heroic bloodshed and a storyline about a detective chasing a professional killer who has fallen in love with a woman. Unfortunately many of his other films remain extremely difficult to see thanks to Toho's general lack of interest in releasing their own films other than Godzilla and Kurosawa on DVD and BD.

Anyway, back to Laputa. I also saw another good Toho action thriller, City of Beasts

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City of Beasts (野獣都市) (Japan, 1970) [35mm]
Director Jun Fukuda is probably best known for his Godzilla films. Those movies gave little indication he could make films this good. This aptly titled film follows a university student (Toshio Kurosawa) who makes friends with a middle aged factory owner (Rentaro Mikuni). The men have a common interest: guns. When Mikuni takes the young apprentice to a shady business meeting, he cold bloodedly guns down the men who showed up with guns. The two click immediately and a father-son like relationship develops between them. Kurosawa's loyalty comes much in need when his mentor's sexy daughter is about to be married to a man with close family ties to the yakuza, who in turn are looking for the men Kurosawa shot dead and dumped in the bottom of a lake. Cold, gritty and fast paced while simultaneously offering a fascinating insights to the characters. Based on a book by Haruhiko Oyabu (Youth of the Beast).

edit: I originally claimed Fukuda directed Godzilla vs. Hedorah, which is of course completely false.

The 2nd installment in Toho's Dracula trilogy, Lake of Dracula (1970), on the other hand was a real bore. The dull, bloodless film attempts to relocate European horror to Japan, but the characters are boring, style is lacking, and the storyline fails to spark any interest.

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Finally, I did not have a chance to see this film (on the right) but I love the title Saraba Moscow gurentai (Farewell, the gangs of Moscow)
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Edited by Takuma

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Shin bungeiza was having a Tsunehiko Watase memorial in May.

I visited there on a Friday at the end of May when they played Girl Boss: Escape from Reform School (1973) and Jeans Blues: No Tomorrow (1974) as a double feature. I was supposed to watch both but since I felt sleepy in the morning I decided to skip Jeans Blues, which isn't especially good and I had already seen it in 35mm a few years ago.

Girl Boss: Escape from Reform School on the other hand was a blast. It's been getting better little by little every time I've seen it, and now I'm finally ready to grant it a four star rating. Genuinely cool characters (especially after the nasty, misogynist Girl Boss Revenge), badass girl power, groovy soundtrack, and bits of good humour instead of dumb comedy. I also liked Kenji Imai, an actor I normally don't pay much attention to, and of course Watase, who is good at playing these kind of rough but somehow pitiable characters. Cool without being too flashy, except for the reform school's standard punishment method which is stripping teenage girls topless, tying their hands behind their back and leaving them in a cell alone. Hah! The best film in the series.

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