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What Asian Films Have You Been Watching Recently?

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  • Originally posted by Jason C View Post
    I can see why Kinji Fukasaku is so well regarded but its surprising how so many of his masterpieces just don't work for me. I appreciate the cinematography and camera work. I see what critics/historians are saying when they praise him for his originality. Even though the stories are well told I just don't seem to enjoy them. In the case of STREET MOBSTER and GRAVEYARD OF HONOR, I vehemently dislike the lead characters. It wasn't a problem until about halfway through the films when their over-the-top histrionics and cartoonishly unbelievable self-destructive behavior wore me out. It becomes unbelievable that the other characters tolerate them to the extent they do. The men should have put a bullet in their heads sooner and no way the women would give them a second look. More importantly, 45 minutes of their ridiculous behavior was all I could tolerate sitting through. (I have the same criticism of another great film, Sadao Nakajima's Aesthetics of a Bullet). All that said, there are some Fukasaku I absolutely adore, like COPS VS THUGS.

    Noboru Ando plays a mob boss in both STREET MOBSTER and GRAVEYARD OF HONOR. He is so damn cool and is easily one of my favorite Japanese actors. Oh how I wish he was the main mob boss in the original BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR films. Nobuo Kaneko ruins those great films. A cool and reserved Noboru Ando in those films would have been amazing.
    As someone who loves Fukasaku films, I'm intrigued by your comments, Jason.

    I agree that the protaganists/anti-heroes are often over-the-top and hard to like, but I guess, personally, I enjoy watching how their behavior impacts others.

    Totally disagree that women wouldn't put up with them. Plenty of women are drawn to these "bad boy" characters. It's in their DNA. Doesn't mean they'll marry and settle down with them, but many are deluded enough to think the man will change for them and "settle down."

    Agree on Noboru Ando.


    • As someone who finds himself constantly butting heads with corporate types, I like the Ishikawa Rikio-inspired characters in STREET MOBSTER and GRAVEYARD... I can sympathise with them and their nihilistic/self-destructive behaviour a great deal :)
      'You know, I'd almost forgotten what your eyes looked like. Still the same. Pissholes in the snow' (my photography website)
      'All explaining in movies can be thrown out, I think': Elmore Leonard


      • Ishihara x 5 (and 1 Watari in the middle)

        Man Who Causes a Storm (嵐を呼ぶ男) (Japan, 1957) [VoD] - 2.5/5
        A Nikkatsu classic with hard-fisted delinquent Yujiro Ishihara put behind drums to replace arrogant AWOL band star Toshio Oida. The boy proves to be an instant sensation. But the yakuza affiliated (backed up by crooked Toru Abe) Oida isn't going let his glory, nor his stripper girlfriend, be taken away that easily. Energetic Ishihara shines, but the conservative drama with Ishihara seeking mother's approval is strictly a product of its time, and can bog down the film's momentum at times. The film remains one of Nikkatsu's more popular pictures, however, and has been remade multiple times.

        Red Handkerchief (赤いハンカチ) (Japan, 1964) [DVD] - 4/5
        Young detective Yujiro Ishihara quits the force after gunning down a drug ring suspect and orphaning pretty girl Ruriko Asaoka. Years later police chief Nobuo Kaneko finds him in the snowy north working as a construction worker and a wandering guitarist! The chief needs help with the old case which remains unsolved and somehow landed Asaoka in Ishihara's ex-partner Hideaki Nitani's amorous hands. Beautifully atmospheric and visually poetic mood action with a great use of metaphoric winter and fall scenery, which reminds of matatabi films. Of course, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to see Ishihara's character as a modern matatabi hero. Though my knowledge of the genre is limited, there is doubt this film is rightfully considered one of the cornerstones of Nikkatsu Action.

        Man Who Causes a Storm (嵐を呼ぶ男) (Japan, 1966) [VoD] - 2/5
        A disappointing remake of the 1957 Yujiro Ishihara film. It's the same storyline, but with conflicts and villains downplayed to the point of the drama becoming toothless. Tetsuya Watari is the new delinquent going band star, Tatsuya Fuji the arrogant drummer, and Meiko Kaji a girlfriend character in a new race driver brother side-plot. Despite the star power, Watari is the only one who makes an impression. It's very much the same film as the original, only with less punch, and in colour this time. No, wait, the original was in colour, too!

        Safari 5000 (栄光への5000キロ) (Japan, 1969) [VoD] - 4/5
        You probably didn't know there was a Japanese 3 hour racing film that is both a sentimental epic and heavily influenced by French new wave. And a good chunk of it is spoken in French. Japanese daredevil driver Yujiro Ishihara crashes near-fatally in Monte Carlo, separating ways with teammate and close friend Jean Claude Drouot. The latter goes on to become a rival, while girlfriends Emmanuelle Riva (of Hiroshima Mon Amour and Haneke's Amour) and Ruriko Asaoka (who speaks all her dialogue with Riva in French) remain close. Motorsports boss Toshiro Mifune and team leader Tatsuya Nakadai then recruit Ishihara for the legendary East African Safari Rally. Koreyoshi Kurahara helms the film with loads of style and intense documentary-like touch in the racing scenes (the climatic rally scene takes over 50 min). Ishihara is excellent as the bull-headed driver, and manages his abundant English dialogue alright (his Kenyan co-driver, on the other hand can speak English well, but not act). The storyline was inspired by real events. This was the no. 1 film at the Japanese box office in 1969.

        The Walking Major (ある兵士の賭け) (Japan, 1970) [VoD] - 3/5
        America is a friend: The Movie. Major Dale Robertson (and sidekick Frank Sinatra Jr.) decides to walk through half of Japan to raise money for an orphanage. And then he walks, walks, once falls into a ditch, and then walks some more. Cute little kids cheer for him, women shed tears of admiration, and once he even stops to put out a fire. A terrible military march keeps playing in repeat. Pretty pedestrian filmmaking to say the least, and could pass for a genuine propaganda piece only if it wasn't produced by the Japanese themselves, Yujiro Ishihara's Ishihara International. And it is a true story, with some invented content, the opening states. It is not without innocent, sentimental charm, however. By the end, you've likely grown quite fond of it. And the last part of the film is genuinely curious. Aside Ishihara, there's Toshiro Mifune, Ruriko Asaoka, Mayumi Nagisa and Michiyo Aratama popping up, faring somewhat worse with their English in what is mainly an English language film than in Safari 5000. The director is b-grade import Keith Eric Burt aka Keith Larsen.

        Fuji sancho (富士山頂) (Japan, 1970) [VoD] - 2.5/5
        Mitsubishi Electric Corporation: The Movie. In 1964 Mitsubishi - yes, they did more than just cars and rice cookers - built weather radar on top of Mt. Fuji under gruelling conditions. And here we have a motion picture epic about their struggles to make that happen, courtesy of Yujiro Ishihara's Ishihara Production. It's big enough a film for engineer protagonist Ishihara to disappear for a good 40 minutes while Shintaro Katsu and Makoto Sato try to drive a bulldozer on top of the mountain. Third billed Tetsuya Watari doesn't appear until well into the 2nd hour as a helicopter pilot. It's a great cast only rivalled by the beautiful scenery, in a decently suspenseful but awfully safe tale of a national achievement. Very much made for mainstream audiences, and indeed, this was the 3rd biggest box office hit of 1970, tied with Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo.


        Ganso dai yojohan dai monogatari (元祖大四畳半大物語) (Japan, 1980) [DVD] - 1.5/5
        Unfunny mainstream comedy co-directed by Chusei Sone and Leiji Matsumoto (based Matsumoto's manga). It's is about a nerdy teenager staying opposite of a yakuza chinpira in a guesthouse. Yuri Yamashina (does not strip) and James Hunt (does not play) pop up briefly. This must rank as one of Sone's most boring films. There are no laughs, no characters to care for, and nothing cinematically inventive. Sone had done much better with another teen comedy, Hakatakko junjo (1978), a few years earlier.

        Tezuka's Barbara (Japan / UK / Germany, 2019) [DCP] - 3/5
        Astro Boy Osamu Tezuka's adult manga brought to screen as jazzy noir weirdness with an intellectual undercurrent. A writer (Goro Inagaki) with "slight mental issues" (he mistakes a lingerie store mannequin for a real woman and tries to make love to it) is saved by bad-mannered, booze-loving, French literature quoting Barbara (Fumi Nikaido). But things only get more bizarre from there on. Lots of interesting talent behind this one: Tezuka's son Macoto helms, Christopher Doyle lenses, and Third Window Films' Adam Torel produces. It's a good looking picture, with a standout performance by (the frequently naked) Nikaido as Barbara. But this could have been even wilder, with tighter editing, better character depth, more cannibalism and, well, let's not give away too much. Still, even with its shortcomings, this is surely the most interesting film in Japanese multiplexes at the moment, one with some bite.


        • The Shogun's Vault (御金蔵破り) (Japan, 1964) [TV] - 3/5
          Teruo Ishii entered Toei with a number of stylish, contemporary capers. Here he does the same formula in Edo, with met-in-prison Hashizo Okawa and Chiezo Kataoka putting on black hoods and scheming to nab the shogun's gold without anyone noticing. The film takes a while to get going, but the heist sequence delivers thrills in spades. Also noteworthy is the opening (all male) prison segment, full of perversity pre-dating Ishii's late 60s Tokugawa films.

          Woman Boss: Chivalrous Fight (女親分 喧嘩渡世) (Japan, 1969) [TV] - 3/5
          A standard ninkyo film elevated by star Nijiko Kiyokawa. At 57 years of age, she wasn't quite the cutie idol Toei put in their other movies. An actress since the early 1930s, she was probably best known to Toei yakuza audiences as the battle axe wife in the Tomisaburo Wakayama's Gokudo series. This film is somewhat a derivative, with mostly the same cast (Kiyokawa, Shingo Yamashiro, Bunta Sugawara, Minoru Oki, Bin Amatsu) and a similar feel. Kiyokawa gets her gang into female wrestling, quarrels with delinquent girls (Hiroko Minami, Masumi Tachibana, and Yumiko Katayama with some amazing fashion), and shoots a bad guy in the eye! Mediocre Takashi Harada helms it with professionalism albeit without originality. But it is lovely Toei gave Kiyokawa a film of her own at this point of her career…. even if they couldn't refuse a bunch of (non)sex appeal jokes.

          Chivalrous Woman (女渡世人) (Japan, 1971) [DVD] - 3/5
          An unusually feminine yakuza picture with Junko Fuji searching for her long lost mother, and becoming a mother figure herself for a girl whose father (Koji Tsuruta) went nagurikomi on an evil gang. Fuji always had a distinctly motherly aura, even at a young age, which still didn't stop her from killing a dozen people and slicing a few arms off, as in this film's opening scene. Another oxymoron: director Shigehiro Ozawa filmed much of this picture in real mountainous locations instead of studio sets, which creates an oddly realistic effect in the fairytale like ninkyo context. A solid film with many good scenes (e.g. clueless/arrogant boss Tatsuo Endo asking for Fuji's name and getting a formal yakuza self-introduction in return) but it could have done with a few barrels of tears less - half of the film is spent about crying over lost and found mothers.

          Chivalrous Woman 2 (女渡世人 おたの申します) (Japan, 1971) [DVD] - 3.5/5
          An unusual ninkyo film that attempts to strip the genre of its trademark romanticism. Junko Fuji is a woman gambler who travels to another town return a fellow gambler's ashes to his parents, and to collect his debt. However, her good deeds are only greeted with ungratefulness, and every action she takes brings more death and misery to the people around her. "We are yakuza, we are destined to live in the shadows" says honourable companion Bunta Sugawara. There is some silly comedic relief in the beginning, and a rather uninspired musical score, but by the bloody climax the film has descended to a level of emotional despair never before seen the ninkyo genre. An inconsistent, but remarkable effort by director Yamashita and writer Kasahara.

          Swords of Death (真剣勝負) (Japan, 1971) [TV] - 3.5/5
          Tomu Uchida's final Musashi Miyamoto film, produced a decade after the classic 5 film series (1961-1964). This one follows Miyamoto's (Kinnosuke Nakamura) encounter with chain and sickle wielding Baiken Shishido (Rentaro Mikuni), which results in a massive, 30 minute battle scene between the two adversaries. At only 75 minutes, this is a compact pack of both hard core action and philosophical discussions. Whether the abrupt ending and the short running time were artistic decisions or merely a result of director Tomu Uchida dying before the film was completed, they often work to its benefit. The film was brought to theatres in February 1971, some six months after Uchida's death.

          Chiwawa (チワワちゃん) (Japan, 2019) [DVD] - 3.5/5
          Fragmented, hectic youth exploration about a group of friends recalling Chiwawa, a cheerful party girl who was found floating in Tokyo Bay in pieces. Director Ken Ninomiya again proves he is (the only new Japanese director) on to something. Here he updates Hideaki Anno's masterpiece Love and Pop to the Instagram age, and does Harmony Korine's (masterful) Spring Breakers with honesty instead of satire, resulting in a film that feels very much on to its time. One can only assume these images spring from the director's own life. And after bombarding the audience with disco lights and life on speed for 100 minutes, he ends the film with a scene where all these young, popular actors have been stripped of make-up, and the result is beautiful. He could've cut the film shorter, though. Side note: contains an insanely funny group sex scene.


          • Outlaw Brothers hadn't seen it since the days of VHS, but recently ran across a DVD copy of it. Quite fun from the last few good years of Hong Kong cinema.
            "No presh from the Dresh!"


            • So all week I've been rewatching the classics of King Hu.

              One thing I've noticed about these seriously towering achievements of cinema are that as with quite a lot of Wu-xia films each King Hu film requires a great deal of patience, but are ultimately rewarding in the end.

              A Touch of Zen has to be my number one, but takes a good hour plus to remotely get anywhere, but instead takes it's time. It's also a strange beast as tonally it changes course in the last third and almost feels like it has part of a second film tagged on in the end. That forest scene is just awesome though.

              Up for a close second is Legend of the mountain, The concept of duelling ghosts, who battle with music is genius and is such an odd but atmospheric film.

              The three "Inn" films (Come drink with me, Dragon gate inn and Fate of Lee Khan) are a bit more limited in scope but don't make them any less interesting.I change my mind constantly as to which of these three I prefer.

              Raining in The Mountain is perhaps the hardest one to digest due to it's limited amount of Wu-xia action but is still great.
              Senior Member
              Last edited by Lalala76; 02-08-2021, 10:56 AM.


              • I love the peculiar way the characters in "Raining in the Mountain" scamper around. That movie grew on me. I rewatched it a couple of weeks ago.
                Senior Member
                Last edited by mjeon; 02-09-2021, 05:52 PM.


                • Bullet Wound (弾痕) (Japan, 1969) [DVD] - 3.5/5
                  Interesting, bloody counter-espionage thriller set in 1969 Tokyo during violent, anti US student protests. Yuzo Kayama is an American-Japanese operative working for the US to uncover an arms deal between an American seller and Chinese communists, and to take out both parties. After almost getting assassinated himself, he takes a wounded civilian (Kiwako Taichi) with him despite living in a world where no one can be trusted. This is a loosely linked companion to Kayama's other sniper / professional killer films Sun Above, Death Below (1968), The Creature Called Man (1970) and Target of Roses (1972), but with a more political approach. And there is no lack of nihilism, as proven by the unnecessarily long torture / interrogation scene. The film's first half runs at leisure pace and ought to have been cut down, but the second half is tight, suspenseful and action packed. The era is captured well, and Kayama is great at channelling lonely tough guy vibes as a man with no true homeland, looked down upon by Americans and Japanese alike.

                  Farewell, Movie Friend: Indian Summer (さらば映画の友よ インディアンサマー) (Japan, 1979) [DVD] - 3.5/5
                  Film aficionado Takuzo Kawatani, whose life aim is to watch a movie in theatre every day for 20 years, makes friends with student boy Naohiko Shigeta and his girlfriend Atsuko Asano whose delinquent girl antics and yakuza affiliations proves troubling, in 1969 Tokyo. This was Masato Harada's (Kamikaze Taxi, Bounce ko gals) first film, a love letter to cinema. Toei's live action Donald Duck Kawatani gives a heartfelt performance in the lead. He's best know as a Piranha Gang member (a group of Toei bit-player hell raisers who spent their nights drunk and days competing who gets the most outrageous on-screen deaths; fellow piranha Hideo Murota is in this film too). But those who saw him in Fukasaku's Gambling Den Heist already knew the underlying talent he had for tragicomedy. Here, from the opening where he runs himself breathless to catch a movie, to reciting movie dialogue at every chance, doing a Dancing in the Rain number, and studying Ken Takakura movies to learn how to deal with the yakuza, Kawatani just oozes sympathy. The film's weakness is giving too much of (the excessive 110 min) runtime to the good but less interesting Shigeta.

                  Tokyo Heaven (東京上空いらっしゃいませ) (Japan, 1990) [VoD] - 2/5
                  A deceased teen idol refuses to go to heaven, comes back to earth as a runaway spirit to try and live an ordinary life. She seeks shelter with a young marketing employee who has just been tasked with covering up her death for a greasy politician responsible for her ran-over-by-a-car mishap. Shinji Somai was arguably the greatest youth film director of the 80s, but he seemed to lose his intimate touch and technical genius as he grew older. This one plays out like a standard domestic 90s drama with a low key fantasy touch akin to Nobuhiko Obayashi. There is one scene, however, where the protagonist meets a childhood friend on a buzzing home district street, all shot in one long take, that sparks the old Somal magic. The film remains a largely forgotten entry in Somai's filmography, though it's been making a bit of a comeback with recent 35mm screenings in Tokyo and VoD distribution.

                  Drug Connection (極東黒社会 DRUG CONNECTION) (Japan, 1993) [TV] - 3/5
                  Toei V-Cinema antics disguised as a theatrical film. Opens with a close-up of bare breasts, in a New York drug lab full of topless men and women processing narcotics, moments before the police raid the place and shoot half of the people dead. The mafia then decides to seek new markets in Japan. Cut to Shinjuku where small time smuggler (Koji Yakusho) is caught between Japanese, Taiwanese and Hong Kong crime syndicates (the latter lead by ruthless Jimmy Wang Yu!) fighting for drug dominance. Enter N.Y. undercover cop (Sho Kosugi!) who has followed the trail to Japan, and a gaijin woman who shows her boobs. Good film! There's a bit of Fukasaku, a hint of mid 90s Miike, and perhaps even a passing resemblance to John Woo here. The action is never quite as catchy as you'd wish, and there is excess length at 110 min, but the great cast and the sheer amount of sex and violence in theatrical wrapping makes this worth a watch. The film's box office failure, they say, sank Toei ever deeper into V-Cinema where the audiences for stuff like this were.

                  The Blood of the Wolves (孤狼の血) (Japan, 2018) [VoD] - 2/5
                  Toei is back at the gangster game… with a film that opens with a close up of shit coming out of a pig's ass. The turd finds its way to a man's mouth, who is soon to be found dead, initiating a police investigation lead by take-no-shit detective Koji Yakusho. An ugly portrait of ugly business, as witnessed by idealistic rookie cop Tori Matsuzaka. Over-rated director Kazuya Shiraishi borrows heavily from Fukasaku, which only highlights this film's relative shortcomings. Gone is the filmic look, gone are Toshiaki Tsushima's badass riffs, replaced by a nauseatingly dull modern soundtrack, and while Yakusho is good in his role, the cast just doesn't have the grit of the 70s Toei guys in films like Okinawa Yakuza War or Osaka Shock Tactics. These modern stars come out as great pretenders, which is what the whole film ultimately is.


                  • Japan's Underworld (日本暗黒街) (Japan, 1966) [TV] - 3.5/5
                    A super-stylish gangster / action film with ex-mobster Koji Tsuruta forced back in action when his ill-lucked buddy (excellent Ko Nishimura) gets himself in trouble with the yakuza. The film achieves nothing profound, but it's got a great, unmistakably 60s swing (probably attributable to comedy / musical director Masaharu Segawa) and even a bit of spy film influence. There's an excellent jazzy score, superb cinematography and spot-on performances / characters that are loving caricatures of the kinds of tough guys and beautiful women that populate these sort of noirish gangster tales. Koji Tsuruta in particular is at his Humphrey Bogart best here. Very enjoyable..

                    Funeral Parade of Roses (薔薇の葬列) (Japan, 1969) [VoD] - 4/5
                    A hugely important, semi-documentary exploration of the late 60s Tokyo underground gay scene, helmed by experimental director Toshio Matsumoto and starring the to-be gay star Peter in his first role at the age of 16 or 17. Matsumoto blends purely fictional storytelling (that borrows from an ancient Greek play) with genuine interviews about gay life, drugs and anti-government protest that were going on in the streets of Tokyo at the time. Most of the characters are what modern audiences might see as drags, but what wasn't so clear cut back then, e.g. Peter who dresses up as woman, but has not gone through a sex change operation (something that would also have been nearly impossible in 60s Japan, though fellow star Maki Carrousel did go through that and nearly died), and identifies himself as gay. Groundbreaking upon its release when gay and trans characters were usually reduced to comic relieves in hit films such the Abashiri Prison series, or heinous villains such as in Teruo Ishii's Shameless: Abnormal and Abusive Love (1969), the film still remains a fascinating zeitgeist, a visual tour de force, and a showcase for the brilliantly captivating (and it must be said, gorgeous) Peter.

                    Women Hell Song (おんな地獄唄 尺八弁天) (Japan, 1970) [VoD] - 2/5
                    There's something fascinating on a scholastic level about a near-lost film scripted by underground hero Atsushi Yamatoya, starring the first ever pink queen Katori Tamaki (of Flesh Market, 1962) and helmed by one-man soft porn factory Mamoru Watanabe as of his 200+ films. But this is just another dose of Yamatoya's half-baked pink terrorism coming out as little more than a pretentious sex roughie. A female outlaw who does a tiny bit of gambling (the popular comparisons to Red Peony Gambler are largely unwarranted) is violated by two villains and one lawman, and then goes for revenge. Another girl gets violated some more. Little happens aside a multitude of rapes, but some of the B&W compositions look good, and you can read it all as commentary about male cruelty if you so wish.

                    Gushing Prayer: A 15-Year-Old Prostitute (噴出祈願 15歳の売春婦) (Japan, 1971) [VoD] - 4/5
                    Mesmerizing philosophical-political exploration with four 15 year olds, one of them pregnant, set on beating the sex-driven adult world that is trying to swallow their souls. Koji Wakamatsu's main screenwriter, to-be Red Army fighter and convicted terrorist Masao Adachi's poetic youth film and pink flick is constantly balancing between true art and ridiculous-pretentious. But it has so much to say, and it unfolds on screen via such striking images, accompanied by a hypnotic score, that it comes out as nothing short of Pure Cinema. Many indie filmmakers have attempted the same, few have succeeded this well. This instantly became one of my favourite youth films of all time. Trivia: Japan's all time best screenwriter, Haruhiko Arai, served as “director's assistant” in this film.

                    Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time (シン・エヴァンゲリオン劇場版𝄇) [DCP] - 3/5
                    Anno completes his remake quadrilogy after battling COVID release restrictions, Godzilla, and depression. He seems to have emerged victorious since this is the most positive, life-embracing of the franchise known for mirroring Anno's unstable mental health. Now if I could just remember what the heck happened in the previous film, which I saw in theatre eight (!) years ago, I could probably appreciate it even more. As usual, the mecha action is as boring as ever (I've no clue what makes it so popular, the choreography is a mess) but what happens between those fights is more interesting. Following the opening action bore, Anno finds time to settle down in the countryside with his emotionally healing characters, with no mecha is sight for the next 60 minutes. He's got all the time in the world, with a massive 155 min run time. And there's finally a conclusion to Shinji's story, surely a relief to those who were sending Anno murder threats in the 90s after the earlier psycho-acid-mindfuck endings. But for its added coherence and positivity, the film is never quite as gripping, nor fascinating, as what he had achieved before in anime or live action (his masterpieces, Love & Pop, Ritual).


                    • The Ghost of the Hunchback (怪談せむし男) (Japan, 1965) [TV] - 1.5/5
                      Greedy relatives fight for their share of a dead man's fortunes. Ghosts start appearing and a few people die at the end. Creepy hunchback Ko Nishimura may have something to do with it. This gothic ghost story may have some appeal to the fans of the genre. For me this was comparable to Toho's Dracula trilogy, whose popularity I could never quite fathom. Like the Draculas, this also travelled a bit, with theatrical releases in at least Italy. Director Hajime Sato is best known for Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell (1968).

                      The Ghost of the One Eyed Man (怪談片目の男) (Japan, 1965) [TV] - 1.5/5
                      A near identical production follow-up to The Ghost of the Hunchback, with Nishimura a murdered company president who comes back haunting the greedy relatives. Once again set in a big mansion. The director is Tsuneo Kobayashi this time, and under his helming the film makes even less sense.

                      Ninja Chushingura (忍法忠臣蔵) (Japan, 1965) [TV] - 3.5/5
                      The last film in Toei's mid 60s female ninja trilogy, all based on Futaro Yamada novels. The first two (by Sadao Nakajima: Kunoichi ninpo and Kunoichi kesho) are somewhat better known. This one is a female ninja side-story to the classic 47 Ronin tale. Ako Clan leader Lord Asano is dead after being ordered to commit hara-kiri (for having attacked Lord Kira). Kira's enraged son has sent his ninja troops after the Ako men and their new leader Oishi (Minoru Oki). Unknown to both parties, Iga ninja Mumyo (Tetsuro Tamba) has been hired by Hyobu Chisaka (Ko Nishimura) to lead six female ninjas to soil the Ako men's reputation and corrupt their morale in an attempt to stop their revenge plan and avoid a clan war. This is a bit of an odd duck in the trilogy, featuring a male lead. The eroticism has been toned down accordingly. The 47 Ronin frame is pretty cool, but also a limiting factor, ensuring the ninjas remain in the shadows and won't conflict too much with the classic tale. And yet there's enough plotting crammed into 83 minutes to fill a 3 hour movie, making it a bit difficult to follow in parts. But despite all this, it remains a cool, unique little genre film with a fascinating premise and plenty of entertainment.

                      Shadow Warriors (影の軍団 服部半蔵) (Japan, 1980) [TV] - 3/5
                      Eiichi Kudo's debated ninja film, later re-made into a legendary Sonny Chiba TV series. This was produced just after when Toei had brought back their big budget, all-star jidai geki (Shogun's Samurai, Swords of Vengeance) and were putting out more comparable productions for the paying audience. The days of mass produced, small budget genre films had largely come to an end. Hence here we have a 136 min tale of political intrigue, with Koga and Iga ninjas involved. It's a bit of an overlong mess. Yet, it's got a collapsing castle, two Hattori Hanzos (Tsunehiko Watase and Teruhiko Saigo), Aiko Morishita fighting with a three sectioned staff (moments before she is stripped naked), and the infamous(ly awesome) tactical all-day and night ninja battle where the ninjas take turns attacking each other in teams as if they were American football players (they are even wearing helmets and shoulder pads!). A classic example of 80s mental madness raising its head in an otherwise polished, expensive period production. So it's not all bad, not at all!

                      Rise of the Machine Girls (爆裂魔神少女 バーストマシンガール) (Japan) [VoD] - 1/5
                      Abysmal reboot courtesy of Yoshihiro Nishimura protégée Yuuki Kobayashi and Nikkatsu. Kobayashi goes for excessive bad taste that makes the original look like high-brow art (the opening, where two SM girls have their big boobs tied tight, and then sliced off with a sword, lets you know what to expect). Unfortunately the film is embarrassingly badly made, from ridiculous cool posing to endless crap CGI, dwelling in forced "craziness", and heavy infusion of idol culture at its most appalling (it's often hard to tell whether it embraces or parodies it, but one gets the impression it does the former under the guise of the latter). There are some semi-interesting ideas such as apparent inspiration from Midori (the film has a circus setting) and tons of Toei yakuza films references, most of them coming off childish and misguided. Director Kobayashi is a young hood whose breakthrough was the amateurish, but energetic youth biker gang docudrama Kamikaze Cowboys (2016) starring his friends, genuine youth criminals. He's likely a former gang member himself, even if he denies it.


                      • Murder on the Last Train (終電車の死美人 ) (Japan, 1955) [TV] - 3/5
                        Good, if a bit dated true account crime drama based on book released Asahi Newspaper crime reporters. A group of Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department detectives are assigned to investigate the case of a dead beauty on a train. The era being the 50s, they have to go to great lengths to even identify who the dead body is, and the people who might have associated with her, let alone who might have killed her and why. Though frequently singing praise to the police force, there are also interesting, almost documentary-like segments showing police work in impressive detail. The film also served as a predecessor to Toei's famed Police Department Story film series that was launched the following year. The concept would be the same, and most of the cast would return, although in namely different roles.

                        Police Department Story (警視庁物語 逃亡五分前) (Japan, 1956) [TV] - 2.5/5
                        The 1st film in the Police Department Story series, preceded by “pilot film” Murder on the Last Train (1955), which had already established the concept. What is new here is screenwriter Kimiyuki Hasegawa, a former Tokyo police coroner, who would more or less base the storylines on real crimes and realistic police work. The semi-documentary touch became the series' trademark, and perhaps made it a predecessor to the 70s jitsuroku films as well. The series would run 24 films in 1956-1964, most of them B-features running approx. 60 min each, though there was also occasional 90 min entry as well. Sonny Chiba made his silver screen debut as one of the detectives in part 15 (he was also in parts 16 and 17). The series was followed by a TV show called Keiji-san in 1967-1968. This first film is not bad, but a little more straightforward than its predecessor or some of the later ones. Looking back at it now, 65 years after it was made, it has lost its sharpest edge, but it remains an entirely watchable police procedural.

                        Police Department Story 2 (警視庁物語 魔の最終列車) (Japan, 1956) [TV] - 2.5/5
                        A train arrives at the Shinagawa station with 3 dead guards and no money on board. Who did it? This moves a notch faster than the previous film, and has the usual 60 minute running time. This also features some good Tokyo location work that has appreciated in value over the decades. One thing that could be pointed out about the series is actor Rin'ichi Yamamoto. Most Toei fans are more than familiar with him as a slimy ninkyo villain, or a drunken hothead who might redeem himself at the end by joining Takakura or Tsurura in a fight. But he plays a detective in this series.

                        Police Department Story 3 (警視庁物語 追跡七十三時間) (Japan, 1956) [TV] - 2.5/5
                        Another good, if unspectacular police procedural with a neat 53 min running time. The detectives are after a robbery-murderer who is established to be left handed and having used a weapon stolen from a US military officer's home. The investigation leads them to Ueno black market where more stolen items from the same source are for sale. Side note: Yamamoto wears a moustache in this one!

                        Police Department Story 4 (警視庁物語 白昼魔) (Japan, 1957) [TV] - 2.5/5
                        A rich gaijin gets shot dead by a car thief. The investigation leads the detectives after a bigger, organized theft gang. At 51 minutes this is the shortest entry in the series. The pace is expectedly good. It also expands a bit outside the central Tokyo when the murder suspect is found to be someone with an Osaka accent (in addition to loving for 8mm films, which serves as another clue). Cool title too: “Daytime Devil!” Side note: Yamamoto wears a moustache AND a hat!

                        Police Department Story 5 (警視庁物語 上野発五時三五分) (Japan, 1957) [TV] - 2/5
                        Director Shinji Murayama passed away earlier this year at the age of 98. He was a workman director who delivered detective, yakuza and drama films without much of a personal touch, some of them pretty good (e.g. The Navy, 1963; Bitches of the Night, 1966; True Account of Hishakaku - A Wolf's Honor and Humanity, 1974). This movie, his first in the series, unravels at leisure pace until an intense chase at 30 min electrifies it. Unfortunately the intensity does not last. This is not a bad film, almost on par with the earlier instalments, but for being a slightly lesser entry and rather outdated by today's standards (stuff like this would become the standard on TV in the 60s) it shall settle for a lower rating.


                        • The Legend of Love and Sincerity (愛と誠) (Japan, 1974) [DVD] - 2/5
                          A somehow popular adaptation from Ikki Kajiwara's even more popular manga. Little girl Ai goes skiing and is about to commit a hit-a-tree suicide by accident when reluctant little boy Makoto comes to rescue. Fast forward 10 years and they meet again. Ai is now a daughter of high class family, Makoto a delinquent boy constantly fighting. Ai works her magic (her dad's money) to land Makoto in her school, but the boy can't behave, nor love. Repeat to the point of frustration until the film ends. The manga was a big hit among girls, reportedly for its strong female characters, but little of that is in evidence here. One must assume the audiences found their money's worth in bad boy Makoto, played by rock star and idol Hideki Saijo. Saijo used his influence to have newcomer Ai Saotome selected as Ai (she took the character name as her professional name) from 40 000 candidates! Reportedly Shochiku's regular actresses all turned the role down in fear of being lynched by jealous Saijo fan girls. It's impossible to tell if Saotome was the most talented applicant, but from looks of it she probably had the biggest bust (which would be revealed in the early 80s in Playboy and the Roman Porno film She Cat, directed by Toei's comic relief actor Shingo Yamashiro of all people). Takashi Miike adapted the manga into a musical film in 2012 - there's no singing or dancing in this original. Oh and for the non-Japanese readers, “Ai and Makoto” is the Japanese title, whereas the English title uses the literal meanings of their names (Ai = love, Makoto = sincerity).

                          The Legend of Love and Sincerity: Continuation (続愛と誠) (Japan, 1975) [DVD] - 3.5/5
                          A most pleasant surprise; a sequel that outdoes the original in every way. This is, in fact, a sukeban film. Makoto (Koji Nanjo) has transferred to a new school, a low level dump ruled by a sadistic girl gang. Ai follows Makoto to the new school and makes friends with sweet looking Yuki (excellent Yumi Takigawa from Toei's School of the Holy Beast) who turns out to be a "shadow bancho" secretly leading the gang. Then we have a new teacher who tries to handle the situation by beating the hell out of the delinquent girls! He is, in fact, a proficient karate fighter! Though done by the same people as the first film, this is much more action packed and outrageous, often visually imaginative, and packed with those lovely images of badass (or just plain cute in case of Ai) girls walking the city streets. Oh, and this has just about the only scene I can recall of a schoolgirl driving a convertible! Very entertaining, if much lighter and less nihilist than Toei's sukeban films. Side note: Fujiki TDC considered Takigawa's character in this film and the source manga an important turning point in the sukeban genre's development from (primarily) porno in the early 70s to (primarily) mass idol entertainment in the 80s. Portrayed with sympathy, without sexualisation (the only character stripped naked and whipped in the film is Makoto) she appealed to the audiences, many of whom were girls of junior high or high school age.

                          The Legend of Love and Sincerity: Conclusion (愛と誠・完結篇) (Japan, 1976) [DVD] - 1.5/5
                          Disappointing conclusion follows on the previous film's gang action path, however, without the punch. This time Makoto is battling an eye-patched Jubei Yagyu wannabe in school while lonely Ai is crying alone on a beach, making this yet another love story without much of a concrete love story. With its male emphasis, it comes out much like Toei's delinquent boy actioners, only with thoroughly lackluster action and lack of exploitative thrills, perhaps the fault of director Hideo Nanbu (whose later credits include the sub-par martial arts film Karate Wars) who took over from Shigeyuki Yamane. Also worth nothing is that Makoto is played by a different actor in all three films, this time by relative newcomer actor/singer Ryu Kano.

                          She Cat (女猫) (Japan, 1983) [VoD] - 2.5/5
                          Sweet Shochiku idol Ai Saotome became a nationwide sweetheart at 15 when she starred in the The Legend of Love and Sincerity films (1974-1976). Though about innocent as they get, it was already obvious in those films she had more under her blouse than most girls of her - or any - age. Fast forward 8 years and she's in Weekly Playboy, and soon after, starring in a Roman Porno film, all following a career that went TV and never quite got out of there. She Cat comes under the command of Shingo Yamashiro, a veteran of 100 Toei yakuza films as comedic relief, and also the star of many of 70s sex comedies, here filming a script by fellow Toei director Makoto Naito (13 Steps of Maki) and enfant terrible Chiho Katsura (Assault! Jack the Ripper, House). Saotome is a female doc with a hidden past, and the yakuza after her head. Sex, drama, a bit of gunplay, a truly disgusting rape scene and some okama comedy follows in a very 80s package, delivered with an extended 90 min running time and marketed as a (relatively more) mainstream release. Biker / rocker / Toei star Kouichi Iwaki co-stars. Now, this isn't a particularly good film, but acknowledging the background makes it more interesting to see how things (and Ai's blouse) unfold on screen.

                          Meneko: Utsukushiki fukushusha (女猫 美しき復讐者) (Japan, 1992) [VoD] - 1.5/5
                          A very loose, direct-to-video remake of She Cat (1983). Female doc Kazumi Kawai starts investigating a suspicious death of an Indonesian woman who supposedly committed a suicide, but might have been murdered while being her patient. This is commendably different from the original, which may be the only praiseworthy thing about the thoroughly dull production. It omits both the supporting male gay characters and lesbianism, though there is sex and nudity. As with the '83 film, the biggest interest lies in the casting, with the very pretty actress / idol / pop star Kawai substituting Saotome. Her career was literally short-lived: she jumped off a building in 1997, ending her life at just 32. She's probably best remembered as one time Roman Porno star (Lusty Discipline in Uniform, 1982) after which she attempted a mainstream idol career with limited success. Curiously, the world has now lost both she cats since Saotome also met an untimely death (multiple organ failure in 2010, at the age of 51).

                          Note: the film's title is wrong in IMDb. It's "Meneko", not "Onna neko"

                          Welcome to Japan (WELCOME TO JAPAN 日の丸ランチボックス』) (Japan, 2019) [VOD] - 1.5/5
                          Painful political splatter satire and culinary exploration from Japan's not-most-sophisticated political critic Yoshihiro Nishimura. Olympics, immigration policy, hospitality, JK walks and right wingers (with Nishimura himself as ultranationalist leader with Yukio Mishima's photos plastered over his walls) all get their share as Nishimura follows the street battle between two lady warriors, one Japan's protector and the other a supposed evil foreign power. It's a numbing, amateurish mess with little of that professionalism that could be found in Nishimura's 80s, 90s or even 00s films. But there are occasional laugh-out-loud jabs at Japanese politics, a welcome return to CGI-free splatter (one particularly fun scene where Nishimura switches from actors to puppets between shots to allow for exploding heads) and what is probably a Japanese censorship milestone: Hiroko Yashiki's partial pubic hair is frequently displayed in what is a PG-12 rated film. The film was based on its star, idol / songwriter / singer / actress Ena Fujita's 2018 music video Ienai koto wa uta no naka, which Nishimura directed.

                          Note: take this review and rating as "roughly indicative": I couldn't make it through the film without extensive fast-forwarding, and only wrote this because there isn't a single English language review on the net as of speaking.
                          Senior Member
                          Last edited by Takuma; 06-27-2021, 07:43 AM.


                          • Tales of Japanese Chivalry (日本侠客伝) (Japan, 1964) [DVD] - 3/5
                            Part 1 in the long running ninkyo series. Quite curiously, this one is an ensemble piece with Kinnosuke Nakamura, Ken Takakura, Hiroki Matsukata and even Hiroyuki Nagato in equal parts. The series didn't become a Takakura vehicle until later on (this was made before the Abashiri Prison series elevated him to superstardom from spring 1965 on). Producer Shundo reportedly wanted Nakamura to be the star of the series, but Nakamura was unwilling to appear in yakuza films, and only reluctantly agreed to be part of the 1st film, partly explaining the film's structure. The film is a typical noble labourer gang vs. Toru Abe's rotten bastards tale, with Nakamura and Takakura emerging as saviours. It's a famous entry in the genre, and one of the early ninkyo films that set the template hundreds more to come. Excessive melodrama (particularly at the end when Takakura's clansmen all meet their destinies at the same time in different places) aside it's not bad. The last scene is particularly good. Ninkyo giant Masahiro Makino helms - he did the first 9 films in the series - with a notch more vitality than some of his other films.

                            Tales of Japanese Chivalry: Osaka Story (日本侠客伝 浪花篇) (Japan, 1965) [TV] - 2.5/5
                            Part 2. A slow-moving entry. One gets the feeling director Makino was more keen on depicting life in period setting than generating yakuza film thrills, which may explain why he is so highly regarded among action hating Japanese critics. However, there is a very good scene at the end. Quest star / veteran Tsuruta has just cold-bloodedly massacred half of an evil gang when young Takakura arrives the site. The accepting look and slight laugher he gives to the still almost wet-behind-ears Takakura, before the two men walk together to the surviving boss' headquarters, was a premonition of things to come. This is where the series begun to turn into a Takakura vehicle, even if Tsuruta still earned the top billing (despite only appearing in the last 30 minutes!). In a few years time, Takakura would have elevated himself to an equal of Tsuruta.

                            Tales of Japanese Chivalry: Kanto Story (日本侠客伝 関東篇) (Japan, 1965) [TV] - 3/5
                            Part 3. The best of the early instalments. Chris D. described this as seamlessly put together, and he was right. There is a charming old fashioned quality to the filmmaking, created by the images, music and a naive depiction of heroes of a bygone era, creating that Toei ninkyo film atmosphere. Makino also keeps things moving at a good pace, opting out of silly comedy, and saving Nagato from yet another doomed love sub plot. That being said, the character depth and storyline are nothing to be celebrated about, making this an exercise in style but not substance. The storyline here follows punkish Takakura helping fish dealer Minamida defend against yakuza Bin Amatsu. Tsuruta joins the resistance as venerable wanderer (still somewhat maintaining the status quo). The final melee, featuring more fishing equipment utilized as weapons than swords, has a touch of originality to it.

                            Tales of Japanese Chivalry: Duel at Kanda Festival (日本侠客伝 血斗神田祭り) (Japan, 1966) [TV] - 2/5
                            Part 4. The worst of the early instalments, incidentally one of the best regarded among Japanese critics. The film opens with some unwelcome comedy routines, followed by characters crying their eyes out for much of the rest of the film in a near endless array of sobbing scenes. Tsuruta does his last quest appearance until part 10. Two minor points of interest: ninkyo villain Rin'ichi Yamamoto is cast as a good guy for a change, and Hiroyuki Nagato delivers the film's best turn as a melancholic assassin (likewise cast against type). The titular Kanda festival is barely present in the film (in any meaningful way anyhow).

                            Tales of Japanese Chivalry: Duel at Thunder Gate (日本侠客伝 雷門の決斗) (Japan, 1966) [TV] - 2/5
                            Part 5. Takakura is the son of a noble oyabun running a theatre in Asakusa. Rotten Amatsu does his evil deeds and soon Takakura has to take his father's place. This is despite Takakura being a sailor rather than a full-fledged yakuza. This one has a good start, including Asao Uchida nicely cast against type as a good guy, and one particularly surprising plot turn that is better left unspoiled. The rest of the film fails to engage. Although reasonably serious without excess comedy or sobbing, the film feels routine, save for Amatsu's demise. One can once again draw some intended or accidental allegory from the films storyline (Takakura becoming a boss) and lack of major quest roles coinciding with Takakura's rocket rise in Toei ranks.


                            • Song of the Night - Part 1

                              Yanagase Blues (柳ヶ瀬ブルース) (Japan, 1967) [TV] - 1.5/5
                              The first film in the Song of the Night series: an instantly forgettable tale of Shinjuku playboy bartender Tatsuo Umemiya hustling in the night. He sleeps with gangster Fumio Watanabe's girl, which forces him to relocate to Yanagase in Gifu. There he comes across bar lady Yumiko Nogawa and old fart Junzaburo Ban, to both of whom love is just means to get rich. That's about all I can remember about this remarkably tame film. Based on a popular Kenichi Mikawa song, this film started a long series of programmers that semi-thrived in the b-film slot under Toei's double bill system. It wasn't however until the 3rd entry, “Even if I Die”, that Toei came up with the “Song of the Night” moniker that linked the films into a single series. Norifumi Suzuki wrote in his book that these type of Umemiya / seducer films were in high demand, because they made ideal B-feature companions for the over-masculine ninkyo yakuza films (void of any sexuality or notable female characters) that were Toei's A-films. But the sexy films remained notably tame most of the time, and like this one, were often void of any graphic nudity (Mako Midori's sex melodramas tended to be more daring and twisted, however).

                              Sakariba Blues (盛り場ブルース) (Japan, 1968) [TV] - 3/5
                              Part 2, this time based on a Shinichi Mori song (he's also a supporting actor in the film). Umemiya works for a hostess club that hires Nogawa, a woman who needs money for her husband who is waiting at home. Nobuo Kaneko plays two roles, and they are both rich pervert geezers! Spectacular production design and use of colours aside, this is pretty unmoving at first, but gains momentum from halfway on and ends up a dramatic tale of manipulation and love losing out to greed. Umemiya does his usual pimp / hustler / seducer role, which by 1968 was starting to turn into a one man genre of its own, ala Liam Neeson revenge films.

                              Song of the Night Night: Even if I Die (夜の歌謡シリーズ 命かれても) (Japan, 1968) [VoD] - 2/5
                              Part 3. This one took its premise from Shinichi Mori's song Inochi karetemo. To be honest, I can no longer remember what the storyline was about, which should be quite telling of the film's (lack of) quality. More notable than the film was Toei's marketing decision to start calling these a “Song of the Night” series from this film on, something that has caused a lot of confusion over the years. Even Toei's own website mistook “Even if I Die” as the first Song of the Night film upon its DVD release. However, it had already been announced in the original 1968 publicity materials that this was part 3. More than anything, this exemplifies film marketing in the 1960s Japan. Selling films was the 1st, 2nd and 3rd priority, consistency was the 57th. Movies could be attached into a successful series as sequels, sequels could be advertised as openings of new series, and titles could be modified whenever they saw a commercial potential there (Teruo Ishii's Abnormal Love series is another prime example). Fast forward half a century and even Toei themselves don't remember what movie started the series…though they caught up in 2020 when the entire Song of the Night series was aired on Toei's TV Channel, with Yanagase Blues once again identified as part 1 and Even if I Die part 3.

                              Song of the Night: Isazaki District Blues (夜の歌謡シリーズ 伊勢佐木町ブル㠃¼ã‚¹) (Japan, 1968) [VoD] - 1.5/5
                              An instantly forgettable part 4 with Tatsuo Umemiya pimping Junko Miyazono to old man Junzaburo Ban in frequently comedic scenes. It gets more serious during the 2nd half with just-out-of-prison Teruo Yoshida coming to redeem what he considers his. The rest of the film escaped my mind before I had time to write this. But one thing I do recall is Toei's trusted evil foreigner Osman Yusuf appearing in the film… for about 3 seconds.

                              Song of the Night: Nagasaki Blues (夜の歌謡シリーズ 長崎ブルース) (1969) [VoD] - 3/5
                              Solid part 5. This was Hiroki Matsukata's only appearance in the series. Pretty boy Hayato Tani arrives in Tokyo and gets scouted as male host / hooker by Matsukata. Tani's big sis Junko Miyazono comes to rescue from Nagasaki, but fails to convince either one of the men to give up on their easy-money lifestyle. Matsukata then falls in love with Miyazono who already has a fiancé: small time gangster Tatsuo Umemiya. Then there's Reiko Ohara as Matsukata's young but wealthy customer who wants to own him. Good performances and a functional script by Kazuo Funahashi make this work, even if Ryuichi Takamori's direction is mediocre. The most interesting thing about the film is how men are constantly treated as cheap merchandise and sex objects - something that usually only happened to women in Toei's films.

                              Senior Member
                              Last edited by Takuma; 08-05-2021, 07:21 PM.


                              • Song of the Night - Part 2

                                Song of the Night: Harbour-Town Blues (夜の歌謡シリーズ 港町ブルース) (1969) [VoD] - 2.5/5
                                Part 6. Unremarkable but entirely watchable. Party girl Yumiko Nogawa wonders what to do with her life while dating guys left and right, and milking money out of old fool Hisao Toake. The fool's son Kyosuke Machida also has the hots for Nogawa and wants to marry her. Enter conman Tatsuo Umemiya (in a sailor suit he bought from someone) who tells every girl they are the love of his life. And then there's Yukie Kagawa who also wants her share of the old fool's money. This one's got some nostalgic 60s wild youth / young adults swing and a script by Masashige Narusawa (who wrote and directed the ninkyo masterpiece Flower Cards Chivalry, and penned countless Umemiya and Midori sex melodramas) - certainly not his best work but still better than average in the genre.

                                Song of the Night: Villain Blues (夜の歌謡シリーズ 港町ブルース) (Japan, 1969) [TV] -2.5/5
                                Part 7. Umemiya is a former bar barker gone photographer whose pride still hasn't recovered from a girl he couldn't conquer. Young bloke Tani is now doing rounds in the same circles Umemiya used to. He is constantly getting in trouble either because of a girl or competition, or both. Then he falls in love with Umemiya's sister. Meanwhile Umemiya has made a fan out of “don't take no for an answer” Masumi Tachibana, much to the comical dismay of his mother. This film was based on a novel as opposed to a pop ballad, but it doesn't seem to make much difference. There's plenty of story but not much plot to speak of, nor does the film capture the nocturnal atmosphere the way some other in the series do. But director Takamori keeps things moving fast, the Toei gang are all here doing their thing, and Tachibana flashes her boobs once or twice. As harmless time waster this is not half as bad as Chris D. suggested. Kazuhiko Yamaguchi is credited as the assistant director.

                                Song of the Night: Woman (夜の歌謡シリーズ おんな) (Japan, 1969) [VoD] - 4/5
                                Part 8, a hugely atmospheric nocturnal drama about bar girl Yumiko Nogawa coming across night hustler Tatsuo Umemiya. The film opens with devastated Nogawa pulling a knife on Umemiya. "Go ahead, stab me. I'll give you a present, a worthless life" he says with tired voice, before the film cuts back to show how things got to this point. Turns out Nogawa used to work as a hostess for a mean mama Yasuko Matsui and Umemiya, then light-headed little sister Tachibana arrived to complicate things. This is a visually intoxicating, remarkably well written (by Masashige Narusawa) and atmospheric film with great performances. Umemiya in particular is excellent as impulsive and tragic sociopath who is not in full control of himself. He is, in fact, only keeping up appearances while being too weak to leave Matsui. Director Takamori deserves credit for not fucking this up. The only weakness is that the films 2nd half, while good, doesn't quite have the same momentum as the 1st. But this is still a very good film, easily the best in the series.

                                Song of the Night - Street Woman (夜の歌謡シリーズ 女のみち) (Japan, 1973) [TV] - 2/5
                                A little misleadingly titled 9th film. It could be a mistranslation of the Japanese title "A Woman's Path". Umemiya is a former racer seducing women with the help of desperate girlfriend Yutaka Nakajima, who poses as his sister. The first victim is Yukie Kagawa, who is seduced, slept with, and then dumped naked on the corridor next morning, to be "saved" by Ichiro Araki who then dumps her in a hostess bar he and Umemiya work for. Nakajima hangs with Umemiya until she's so hopeless she tries to kill them both. Ah, perhaps "Street Woman" was a less offensive title than "A Woman's Path" after all. The film's surplus of naked Kagawa (incl. topless catfight) plus the usual pretty production design help overcome what is otherwise an unremarkable effort with plentiful terrible comedy (by the musical group Pinkara Trio, whose song formed the film's basis, and who handpicked Nakajima for her debut role). Disappointing considering this was helmed by the king of breakneck entertainment Kazuhiko Yamaguchi during his sexploitation stint (1973-1974) between the Pinky Violence and karate eras. Note that this came 4 years after the previous instalment, while the previous 4 all came out in 1969.

                                Song of the Night: Tearful Love (夜の歌謡シリーズ なみだ恋) (Japan, 1973) [TV] - 3/5
                                Part 10, with Nakajima again. Umemiya does not appear in this one. The base is an Aki Yashiro song written into a screenplay by Masashige Narusawa. Nakajima is a naí¯ve good girl who helps young yakuza punk (Tani) who bumps into her with a gun in his hand and a bullet in his arm. She's working in her mom's hostess bar (one of the girls is played by Yumiko Katayama) populated by horny customers and the mom's boyfriend who also has his eye on Nakajima. Before the tale is over, poor Nakajima's been bullied, harassed and raped (more than once). The more subtle tones of Narusawa's better work are nowhere to be found here, but Nikkatsu Action refugee Buichi Saito helms the film with swift pace (it's only 73 min), plentiful nudity by everyone except Nakajima, and the series' trademark top notch cinematography and production design. An entertaining B-film, nothing more, nothing less (the A-film, btw, was Takakura's Third Generation Yamaguchi Gang, Toei's no.1 film of 1973).

                                A Blood Stained Love Affair (Yoru no enka: Shinobikoi) (夜の演歌 しのび恋) (Japan, 1974) [VoD] - 2.5/5
                                The last entry in the Song of the Night series, still with Nakajima as the heroine. She holds on to her clothes (it took a Yusaku Matsuda to make them gone some 5 years later), so the skin is on the supporting cast. Nakajima is a wanna-be model affiliated with club mama Naomi Shiraishi. Shiraishi is holding on to her toyboy Toshio Shiba by feeding him with money. The money comes from rich geezer Nobuo Kaneko, to whom Nakajima's virginity is secretly sold. But then Shiba falls in love with Nakajima. Enter Tatsuo Umemiya, a sleazy photographer who takes photos and deflowers virgins, and we have a love pentagon. Unremarkable, but nevertheless watchable and trashy entry with plentiful sex and nudity. And it's got a sex-crazed Mexican wrestler in it! Surprisingly, it was helmed by Yasuo Furuhata. Notice the title difference: this was called “Ballad of the Night” (Yoru no enka) instead of “Song of the Night” (Yoru no kayo). However, considering the cast, crew, and concept (“based” on a Aki Yashiro song), it's safe to assume this was either the 11th and last “Song” film, or a failed reboot with a slightly altered title. Toei Channel's homepage and TV ads suggests the former.