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What Asian Films Have You Been Watching Recently?

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  • Thanks for the SONG OF THE NIGHT reviews, Takuma. Much appreciated.
    Must chase them down.


    • Tales of Japanese Chivalry: Loyalty Offering Suicide (日本侠客伝 白刃の盃) (Japan, 1967) [TV] - 2/5
      Part 6. A routine entry with Takakura an ex-yakuza who tries to lead honest life. Fuji is a sick sister who spends the entire film in hospital. Nagato is back the “doomed chap hopelessly in love” role, only to allow Takakura break his oath and grab the sword at the end. This film should've been better considering it was co-written by Norifumi Suzuki and Sadao Nakajima, both of whom were also making (admittedly not particularly memorable) ninkyo films of their own at the time.

      Tales of Japanese Chivalry: Attack (日本侠客伝 斬り込み) (Japan, 1967) [TV] -3.5/5
      Part 7, a charmingly naí¯ve and old fashioned tale of honour and good deeds. Takakura is a single parent who goes nagurikomi on an evil gang, then flees with his kid. He seeks monetary assistance from noble boss Kenjiro Ishiyama, who helps generously. The boss' daughter, excessively lovely Fuji, becomes a foster mom to the kid. Nobuo Kaneko, the slimiest of the cowardly yakuza film bastards, is a nice guy gang mate who helps Takakura become a tekiya. Toei's regular bit player / dead corpse Takuzo Kawatani pops up as well, with his reportedly first spoken lines in a film (after having acted for 7 years). The best scene: Takakura has a street fight with Amatsu's hired hand Nagato, and they end up sharing a cell for one night. Of course, the men soon find something in common. At the end it's time walk to Amatsu's headquarters and tell him “shinde moraimasu!” One more thing: this film does better job than most at capturing its locale, the still developing streets of Shinjuku, lensed though a thick layer of nostalgia.

      Tales of Japanese Chivalry: State of Severed Relations (日本侠客伝 絶縁状) (Japan, 1968) [TV] - 3/5
      Part 8. This has one of the weakest openings in the series, full of talking heads, comic relief, and with little action of any sort. One would feel confident writing this off as a boring talk fest. Then something happens. Takakura, acting as a young substitute oyabun while the old man is in prison, says he's had it. Leading a yakuza clan isn't something he's made for. He'd rather go straight and do honest money in the construction business. The film then takes a turn to psychological character drama, with some great scenes with the anguished Takakura in the neon lit night. Yakuza collaborators Watanabe and Endo don't take it well, paving way to the inevitable conflict. Notable for being the only film in the series set in the contemporary 1960s.

      Tales of Japanese Chivalry: Flower and Dragon (日本侠客伝 花と龍) (Japan, 1969) [TV] - 3.5/5
      An often filmed gangster tale based on a 1953 novel, surfacing here as the 9th film in this series. Takakura is a young man who becomes affiliated with a number of hard working labourer gangs and eventually forms his own small family. He marries a member of the first gang, while developing a destiny kind of semi-platonic relationship with a dice dealer / tattoo artist Junko Fuji who works at evil Amatsu's gambling den. This is a fine film only suffering from the extent of its source material: even at 112 min the film sometimes feels like it's just scratching the surface. This is particularly regrettable regarding Takakura and Fuji's shared scenes, which are fabulous, but too few in number. Other highlights include Wakayama as the boss of the bosses, only appearing in one scene, and a terrific, unusual action finale where Takakura uses katana and spear while Fuji sings (and blasts bad guys off with a pistol). Toei had adapted the same novel twice before, in 1954 and 1965-1966, both times as two-part films, but I've not seen them to compare. This was Makino's last and best film in the series.

      Tales of Japanese Chivalry: Rising Dragon (日本侠客伝 昇り龍) (Japan, 1970) [TV] - 3/5
      Part 10, a direct continuation to Flower and Dragon. Takakura has gone on to become a successful leader of his own family in Kyushu while leaving card dealer / tattoo artist Fuji behind with her feelings of unfulfilled love and comradeship. She's obsessed to have one last go at Takakura's skin. The film is certainly interesting, but despite focusing on the most interesting aspect of the tale, and being helmed by 60s ninkyo master Kosaku Yamashita, it comes out strangely unmoving. It's perhaps a combination of many things - the overly stoic Takakura set against Fuji's theatrics, captured on film in a non-sentimental fashion reminiscent of Tai Kato - that prevents the film from truly coming alive. It's hard to fault filmmakers for keeping melodrama at bay, especially after some of the earlier sobbing fests in the series, but one feels a bit more emotion would have been in place here. Perhaps a rewatch would reveal deeper levels.

      Tales of Japanese Chivalry - Sword (日本侠客伝 刃) (Japan, 1971) [TV] - 2/5
      Part 11, the last film in the series. Takakura is a good-for-nothing loner who high jacks a postal van, then ends up working for the delivery company after having a manly fistfight with the other employees and impressing the boss. A good-hearted geisha takes care of him before the salary comes, sparking Takakura cry like a baby when confronted by such kindness. Of course he gets to pay back when her brother is found to be working for postal nemesis Amatsu but wishing to escape the gang. Yes, it's all as silly as it sounds, not helped by Takakura's hairdo, which looks like something a 60s student boy half-hippie might wear, or alternatively a fluffy bird's nest. It wouldn't be wrong to consider that a merit, however. The other positive is the many spaghetti western esque wide shots in empty wastelands, giving this film a distinct look in the series.


      • A Fugitive from the Past (飢餓海峡) (Japan, 1965) [TV] - 4.5/5
        A criminally neglected, Criterion-worthy crime epic set against genuine backdrops. Three criminals lead by Inugai (Rentaro Mikuni) commit a robbery-arson-murder in a small Hokkaido town and escape with the cover of a typhoon that spreads the fire (based on 1954 Iwanai fire that destroyed 3000+ buildings) and leaves the shores with floating dead bodies (based on the 1958 Toyamaru ferry disaster with 1100+ casualties). A senior detective (Junzaburo Ban) however discovers bodies whose injuries suggest a crime rather than a natural disaster, and begins tracing down the criminals. His best lead is a prostitute that sheltered Inugai, but won't talk to the cops. The film then does something nothing short of revolutionary as it turns its focus to her struggle out of the post-war slums and completely ignores the crime plot! It takes more than 45 minutes before any of the prior main characters surface again. The film is ambitious to a fault, with a brilliant novel-based screenplay, terrific performances by Mikuni, Ban and Ken Takakura (who doesn't appear until 2 hours into the 183 min film) and striking B&W cinematography with extreme close-ups and plentiful use of negative image, not to mention the Rashomon-esque storytelling where truth always depends on the teller's perspective. This was voted as the 3rd best Japanese film ever made in 1999 by Japan biggest film journal Kinema Junpo.

        In the Realm of the Senses (愛のコリーダ) (France, 1976) [DCP] - 3/5
        Nagisa Oshima's famed arthouse porno about mad love, with enough sex to make the audience wish the characters would take a break and go for a walk instead. And once in a while they do, generating some of the film's best scenes. Poignant and poetic (the musical score is particularly beautiful), it's also repetitive and frankly immature with its endless hard-core close ups - certainly a product of its time with Oshima and Wakamatsu making the most of the film being a French production. This remains heavily censored in Japan to this day (*), with fogging applied to cover genitals - pubic hair has been freed, however (**). This was the 3rd of the four best known Abe Sada true account adaptations, following Teruo Ishii Love & Crime (1969) and Noboru Tanaka's A Woman Called Abe Sada (1975), and pre-dating Nobuhiko Obayashi's Sada (1998).

        * Reviewed here: 2021 Japanese nationwide theatrical re-release DCP.
        ** I had already caught this uncut on Finnish national TV over 20 years ago, when I was a kid.

        Circuit Nurse (サーキット・ナース) (Japan, 1988) [TV] - 2/5
        An extremely dated sci-fi / computer thriller scripted by young Yuji Sakamoto (he would later become a successful TV drama writer). The setting is post apocalyptic future where a “computer nurse” (idol Keiko Hirata) stationed in an industrial complex is trying to keep a computer system free of viruses. She will have to engage in battle against viruses like Amiga 6000, a vicious online attacker hacking into her soul, and faceless cyborgs! She also strips down to black bra and panties for no apparent reason. Shot on video, made for TV, running less than an hour, and full of extremely primitive CGI graphics used throughout the film, it's a film that sounds more fun than it is. It may offer a few nostalgic laughs for computer nerds, but little else. The musical score sounds like it was composed by 80s AI, too. For better similar films, see Noboru Tanaka's computer thriller Monster Woman '88 (1988), Masato Harada's industrial mecha sci-fi Gunhed (1989) and of course Ghost in the Shell (1994), which cover most of what's on display here.

        Hardcore (ハード・コア) (Japan, 2018) [VoD] - 2/5
        Nobuhiro Yamashita went from a master of minimalist slacker comedies to a brilliant mainstream filmmaker in the early 2000s. And now it's time to forget about him. This is a manga based drama about two men head-butted by life, who find a robot who becomes the third member of the group. The robot, of course, is mute, huge, and rarely does anything but stand still, producing some dry Yamashitan humour. But these laughs are few and far between in a drama that feels like it could have been directed by anyone, with little cinematic touch in evidence, and worse yet, following a protagonist who isn't as much a lovable slacker but a violent, unpredictable man drawn to extreme right wing politics. Skip this, and watch Ramblers (2003) for the 11th time instead.

        Romance Doll (ロマンスドール) (Japan, 2020) [TV] - 2/5
        Yuki Tanada's breezy Round Trip to Heart (2015) was a pleasant surprise. She doesn't reach the same level with her latest film. Shy sex doll designer Issei Takahashi models his latest product's bosom after Yu Aoi, who mistakenly thinks she's contributing breast cancer patients. An offbeat love story follows. Unfortunately the film can't avoid the usual pitfalls of modern Japanese cinema: too many “ordinary dull life” scenes (a misguided idea of realism or character depth) only interrupted by sudden sappy melodrama (I can't even remember the last time I saw a Japanese love story where [SPOILER] somebody wasn't terminally ill[/END OF SPOILER]). Aoi, whose quirky on-screen persona and acting talent made her a star 20 years ago, is the best thing about the film. She shows some of that old magic (not her breasts) here.

        Maniac Driver (マニアック・ドライバー) (Japan, 2021) [Yubari Fanta 2021] - 3/5
        Kurando Mitsutake's madcap giallo pastiche, jam-packed with sleaze. It opens with a leather-gloved, motorbike helmet wearing killer stalking a naked woman who is touching herself in the shower. He proceeds to ram a knife through her breast, after slicing her nipple in two. Mitsutake isn't challenging Deep Red here, but rather Strip Nude for Your Killer. The film originated as a pink film production, from which Mitsutake walked out, but shot the script as it was with all sex intact. The storyline follows a taxi driver looking for people to kill. Maniac and its remake, New York Ripper and other gialli, Evil Dead Trap and even Naomi Tani films are present here, though it's debatable how pure a giallo tribute is a film that reveals the killer's identity immediately and lacks mystery. The film feats in low-budget aesthetics (the colour use is pure 70s Argento, but comes out more like Hobo with a Shotgun due to low production values) and ridiculously overdone exploitation (the samurai fight is rather dumb), but also features hugely atmospheric quiet moments and a kick-ass score. It's such sincere exploitation you can't help but to enjoy it. Only if Mitsutake had refrained from having the killer appear butt naked behind a victim's door and and then chase her while rock music plays and his balls are hanging out, the suspense might have been on a whole different level.

        Senior Member
        Last edited by Takuma; 09-27-2021, 10:49 AM.


        • Once again, massive gratitude for your ongoing reviews. Nobody but nobody is continually posting reviews of these gems and sub-gems. Not taking what you're doing for granted at all, Takuma.

          I'm now dying to see A FUGITIVE FROM THE PAST.


          • Many thanks Takuma. I've even been going back and referencing some of your old stuff, like some Sonny Chiba reviews. I plan on making effort to revisit some of his films soon. I watched THE BODYGUARD last week and enjoyed it quite a bit. Hoping to get to JAIL BREAKERS soon.


            • Thanks Jason and AngelGuts!

              Brutal Tales of Chivalry: Lion's Honor and Humanity (昭和残侠伝 唐獅子仁義) (Japan, 1969) [TV] - 3/5
              Part 5 in the Brutal Tales of Chivalry aka Tales of the Last Showa Yakuza series. This has a great start with Takakura and Ikebe having a swordfight in the moonlight. Takakura has just avenged his dead boss, and Ikebe is under an obligation to avenge the man Takakura just killed. The two men agree to hold no grudge over the result of the fight; after all, it's nothing personal. Five years later Takakura is out of prison. He's sheltered by kind geisha Fuji, who is also connected to a certain yakuza-turned-alcoholic-gambler who lost an arm in a fight 5 years ago! This is a solid ninkyo film. The main plot (noble boss Shimura harassed by villains without honor or humanity) and side plot (a young guy in love with Fuji's sister, who is being sold to the evil oyabun) are standard stuff, but the execution is slick, the brief comedy relief (Kyosuke Machida as a 3rd rate assassin for hire) more clever than usual, sobbing often found in director Makino's films non-existent, and the Takakura vs. Ikebe honour/humanity dilemma more satisfyingly handled than in some other films. Perhaps the rating should be even higher.

              Brutal Tales of Chivalry: Killer Lion (昭和残侠伝 人斬り唐獅子) (Japan, 1969) [TV] - 3/5
              Part 6. A pretty good instalment that some might argue is great. There's an interesting variation to the usual ninkyo formula when it is hero Takakura, rather than guest star Ikebe, who is obliged to fight an honourable man (Oki) and carry the burden of the carnage. This leads to a particularly good scene where Takakura has to confront Oki's wife in a quiet, melancholic fall setting. This was the only film in the series by Kosaku Yamashita, to whom 1969 seemed to be a turning point. He delivered his best film, Biographies of a Gambling Room, but also begun to tone down the cinematic and emotional delivery in many of his other films, bringing his style closer to that of Tai Kato. That approach is evident here, making the film either more or less effective depending on how you see it. The rather worn genre formula, even with the fore-mentioned twist and otherwise solid execution, makes me lean on the latter.

              Brutal Tales of Chivalry: I Sincerely Want to Kill You (昭和残侠伝 死んで貰います) (Japan, 1970) [TV] - 2.5/5
              Part 7. Geisha girl Fuji consoles Takakura under a big tree after losing his money to crooked card dealer Rin'ichi Yamamoto. Opening credits pass in the rain. Then Takakura walks back into the gambling den and shovels his sword through Yamamoto's hand. Years pass in prison. When finally released, Takakura tries honest living with brother Ikebe and of course goes to meet Fuji again. A beautiful opening in this one, one that carries the entire first half. Unfortunately much potential is left unutilized. Yamamoto returns, but only does one scene as disgraced, tragic villain before resorting to one-dimensional evil antics. Geisha Fuji is so naive one wonders if the character has brain damage. And Makino helms in his usual slow-paced fashion - even the compulsory "final walk" is so slow one starts wondering if the film is playing in slow-motion. The violent climax is good and Takakura delivers the titular phrase “Shinde moraimasu!” Not a bad film, but the opening promised more.

              Brutal Tales of Chivalry: Torn Parasol (昭和残侠伝 破れ傘) (USA, 1972) [TV] - 3/5
              Part 9, the last film in the series and an end of an era. This arrived in theatres on Dec. 30, 1972, after all other Toei ninkyo series had already come to their end earlier in 1972 (Red Peony Gambler, Gambling Den, Abashiri Prison) or 1971 (Tales of Japanese Yakuza, Tales of Japan's Chivalrous Women). Only a few standalone films would be produced after this (Battles without Honor and Humanity would premiere 2 weeks later on Jan. 13. 1973, starting a new era). Not surprisingly, Toei crammed most of their major stars into this one, with Takakura, Ikebe, Tsuruta and Ando leading the pack. Only if they had invested as much into the plot. There are several good scenes (e.g. Takakura buying a girl's freedom by letting boss Tsurura strike a knife through his palm) somewhat loosely tied to each other. A point of interest is veteran composter (over 400 film credits since the 1940s) Chuji Kinoshita's cool score, with its riffs and rock music influences that weren't typically heard in ninkyo films. Perhaps it was a fitting end to the series, and in line with the times (the same day this film premiered Toho released Hanzo the Razor with its groovy blaxploitation esque score).


              Kaibyo Saga sodo (怪猫佐賀騒動) (Japan, 1981) [TV] - 2.5/5
              Reiko Ike faces feline vengeance in a minor late career highlight, a jidai geki horror movie made for TV. It may have been her last starring role, following career decay after the mid-70s (her drug and gambling arrests didn't help) and a minor comeback in the late 70s, mainly on TV. This film was loosely based on Nabeshima sodo, one of the many kaibyou (monster cat or cursed cat) tales, which are a subgenre of their own in Japanese horror. Ike is the jealous lover of Saga lord Sawashima (Kimiyuki Araya) who's laid his eye on a new girl (Sanae Takada), the recently engaged sister of a local daimyo. The lord's power-hungry retainer (Akira Nakao) sees his opportynity to plot the lord's downfall, and together with partner-in-crime Sawanoi (Moeko Ezawa) feeds Ike with lies about the girl until jealousy takes the murderous better of her. But then a black cat licks the victim's blood and absorbs the vengeful spirit. This is a little tamer than some the wilder Japanese TV entertainments of the time (e.g. Nihon meisaku kaidan gekijo, 1979), drawing the line to butt, side boob and a few severed limbs in brief action sequences. It's nice to see Ike in a lead role, even if she's now assigned to the jealous, murderous lover part, and overacts the hell out of it. Japanese ghosts aren't a genre of my experience or enthusiasm, for which reason I cannot give a fair assessment, but the film should not be too bad among its kind.

              Gunhed (ガンヘッド) (Japan, 1989) [VoD] - 2.5/5
              Masato Harada's notoriously incoherent cyberpunk piece. In the year 2038, post robot war apocalypse, a bunch of space pirates land an island once controlled by an A.I. computer system that wiped out the island's human population and then just stood idle for decades (probably). Their attempt to steal valuable tech gets a nasty turn when the A.I. wakes up and starts defending its island. Their only hope is to rebuild a battle tank called Gunhed, whose remains remain on the island. The storyline is difficult to follow, there is absolutely zero chemistry between the main characters, and even action is incoherently put together. Mickey Curtis, the only worthwhile cast member, is killed off in the very beginning. But there's no denying the film is absolutely packed with cool cyberpunk imagery, much of it derived from anime and the films of James Cameron (both Terminator and Aliens), but much of it also becoming representative of the genre by itself. The spoken language is 50/50 English and Japanese, each cast member speaking their lines in their native language save for the fully bilingual Curtis.

              Boryoku muso: Subliminal War (暴力無双 -サブリミナル・ウォー-) (Japan, 2021) [TV] - 1/5
              A new Versus follow-up by director Hideo Sakaki, who played the villain in the original. Few people know this exists, and it would probably be best if it remained that way. Good news first: Sakaki has brought back the original cast, himself and Sakaguchi included. They're playing former assassins suddenly summoned by a mysterious melody, to fight! And fight they do, with plenty of martial arts skill on display. Sakaki has also done the entire film with practical effects, explosions included. Then the bad: everything else. This is one of those many postmodern “lol lol, we're being self-conscious silly, lol lol" movies that make you want to pull your own head off and throw it out of the window. Two of the most annoying examples are a guy in green riddler costume and a dude doing Hamlet (badly) throughout the film. It's the cinematic definition of self-ironic schmuck, and constantly gets on the way of the action. A far cry from the honest wackiness, energy and style of the original, especially disappointing considering Sakaki actually has talent as a director (see his 2017 indie drama / neo-noir Alley Cat). Oh and btw, this runs only 47 minutes.

              Senior Member
              Last edited by Takuma; 10-20-2021, 12:10 PM.


              • Attack (斬り込み) (Japan, 1970) [VoD] - 3/5
                Yukihiro Sawada's directorial debut. This is as much a youth film as a yakuza picture. Tatsuya Fuji leads a pack of frustrated youngsters of the Kawasaki Goda gang, whose turf is being invaded by a union of rotten old yakuza bastards, the Kanto Federation. The boys can't stand still while their gang is being humiliated, and it soon escalates into bloodshed. Chris D. praised this film as one of the finest yakuza pictures. I don't think it's quite that good, with plenty of roughness around the edges and poignant scenes followed by routine bits. But it's certainly good, and perfectly evidences the difference to Toei's old fashioned ninkyo films. There are scenes like the one where the boys abuse an innocent girl in turns due to peer pressure that wouldn't appear in ninkyo films, and in fact their entire quarrel with the enemy seems to spring more from frustration in their own lives and doomed futures than preserving any old fashioned codes of honour. Note that the first billed Tetsuya Watari is actually a supporting character who only becomes a major character near the end.

                Kanto Society of Leading Mobsters (関東幹部会) (Japan, 1971) [VoD] - 3.5/5
                Just out of prison mobster Tetsuya Watari is sent to Fuji City, one of the last areas where his gang has not yet been crushed by bigger syndicates. Childhood friend and gangster Isamu Nagato awaits there, but the men's interests conflict. This another film Chris D. praised in his book. He's mostly right, it's a good ninkyo / jitsuroku hybrid directed with the kind of youthful energy and compassion towards its young outlaws that set Nikkatsu apart from the more old fashioned Toei. It's also got Watari dressed in leather jacket and sunglasses day and night, and a beautiful ending. But it's a little rough and shallow on character development until the last third. A re-watch might reveal more layers behind Watari's sunglasses. This was part 2 in Nikkatsu's Kanto series (unrelated to Toei's 60s Kanto series with Koji Tsuruta) and the only one directed by Yukihiro Sawada; the other two were by Ken'ichi Ozawa.

                Sunset, Sunrise (陽は沈み陽は昇る) (Japan, 1973) [35mm] - 3.5/5
                Koreyoshi Kurahara's road movie / hippie epic, with a (good, not amazing) score by Nino Rota! A stripper (Rosemary Dexter), a race driver (Takeshi Kobayashi) and an American (Glenn H. Neighbour) meet by chance as each of them try to escape the suffocating modern society, heading from Paris towards Nepal in search of a better world, through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and India on car and two bikes. An evident follow-up project to Kurahara's earlier, grand Safari 5000 (though by different studio, Nikkatsu this time), this one isn't quite as good a film, with plentiful dated ideological hippie silliness and not always stellar acting. It is nevertheless a fascinating documentation of time and place, full of incredible footage shot in authentic locations. Spoken in English, Italian, French, Japanese and a few other languages, roughly 75% of the dialogue is in English, however. Sadly the film has never been released on home video or streaming.

                Statute in Fire (炎の肖像) (Japan, 1974) [TV] - 2/5
                Toshiya Fujita and Akira Kato co-directed this odd tale of a rock star wandering aimlessly in life, played by rock star Kenji Sawada. The approach is interesting, with fictional segments intercut with real interview and concert footage, blurring the line between the real and fictional Sawada. But the film comes out largely meaningless, with little cinematic punch. It might be Fujita's dullest film in the 70s. Kumiko Akiyoshi appears in a supporting role, strangely keeps her clothes on.

                Office Ladies: Lesbians in Uniforms 3 (OL百合族19歳) (Japan, 1984) [TV] - 2/5
                Part 3 in the Lesbians in Uniforms series, only without uniforms this time. Young woman Kaoru Oda and five star lolita Natsuko Yamamoto have graduated from their school uniforms into OL's. The former is planning to lead straight life but the latter can't let go of lesbian love. Drama ensues. This was directed by Shusuke Kaneno (Death Note, Gamera) as opposed to Hiroyuki Nasu of the first two films. Kaneko frames some visually good looking images of the girls in the lively, neon-lit night city streets. But the storyline has no pull, and despite the evident psychological push the character drama only works occasionally.

                The Monster Bus (ころがし涼太 激突!モンスターバ㠂¹) (Japan, 1988) [TV] - 2.5/5
                A pretty obscure comic book action comedy partly elevated to minor cult status because almost no one has seen it. Young Riki Takeuchi stars (in his first leading role) as a live action anime buffoon bus driver who will crash through any and every obstacle while chasing his new crush (Naomi Akimoto). The girl, however, is also chased by a mysterious shadow man (Shun Sugata) wheeling a black, armoured monster bus straight out of a post apocalypse adventure. The hero has also made countless other enemies, being an ex-boso zoku and also because he battered / ran over / otherwise hurt them with his bus, usually without realizing it. There's some fun to be had here, from a visual overdrive to constant gags, some family friendly sex and nudity, over-the-top yankii characters, and probably the only bus vs. bus action finale in any film, served in a 97 minute pack that lacks a proper storyline to hold it together. The film then feels longer than it is. Naosuke Kurosawa, who debuted in 1980 with the supremely stylish pink giallo Zoom In: Rape Apartments, helms it in his usual 'style first, everything else third' method. The film comes out much like a live action anime, or a Nobuhiko Obayashi film minus the substance.


                • Quite like many Sawada films, but ATTACK is one I'm lukewarm on as it's a bit all over the place. Still, decent, and worth seeing, but wouldn't call it one of the best yakuza flicks, either. His RETREAT THROUGH THE WET WASTELAND also a decent Yakuza/Roman Porno hybrid.

                  His ASSAULT!, the Straw Dogs-like flick, is a big favorite of mine. Unfortunately, the version doing the rounds seems struck from a pretty shitty source. Any HD transfer playing anywhere?

                  Appreciate the SUNSET, SUNSET review. Sounds like a must-see.

                  In agreement with your take on KANTO SOCIETY... , another worthwhile Sawada effort.

                  Once again, big thanks for the reviews, Takuma.


                  • Originally posted by AngelGuts View Post
                    Quite like many Sawada films, but ATTACK is one I'm lukewarm on as it's a bit all over the place. Still, decent, and worth seeing, but wouldn't call it one of the best yakuza flicks, either. His RETREAT THROUGH THE WET WASTELAND also a decent Yakuza/Roman Porno hybrid.

                    His ASSAULT!, the Straw Dogs-like flick, is a big favorite of mine. Unfortunately, the version doing the rounds seems struck from a pretty shitty source. Any HD transfer playing anywhere?

                    Appreciate the SUNSET, SUNSET review. Sounds like a must-see.

                    In agreement with your take on KANTO SOCIETY... , another worthwhile Sawada effort.

                    Once again, big thanks for the reviews, Takuma.
                    Retreat and Assault are my favourite Sawada films. I'm lazy so I'll just screencap by Sawada ratings from IMDb:

                    He has a couple of more Roman Porno titles I'd be interested in seeing, but they are not available in any format.

                    I'm not aware of any better version of Assault than the old VHS masters, sadly.


                    • Appreciate the rating card here.

                      Big shame that ASSAULT! is only available as an average VHS rip and a couple titles are MIA completely.

                      An enterprising distributor could do well bumping it to HD as it's a perfect action/Roman Porno hybrid -- a gateway flick. A RETREAT and ASSAULT! double Blu wouldn't go astray.
                      Senior Member
                      Last edited by AngelGuts; 12-14-2021, 02:42 PM.


                      • Path of the King (日本やくざ伝 総長への道) (Japan, 1971) [TV] - 2.5/5
                        A mostly meagre ninkyo film that is, however, an interesting reflection of the times. There's little to spark curiosity about the standard storyline (though it manages without excess comedy and sobbing). The cast however is top notch. This film finally dares to pit Toei's top two stars, Takakura and Tsuruta, openly against each other. Their climatic duel alone warrants a viewing, may it have been a desperate commercial move on Toei's part. But much more could have been done with this confrontation (it only becomes meaningful near the end) and supporting players Wakayama (only present in a handful of scenes) and Matsukata (might as well not be in the film). Note the full Japanese title "Tales of Japanese Yakuza: Path of the King". This was indeed intended as a new series to follow “Tales of Japanese Chivalry”. But the genre was already past its prime, and no sequels followed.

                        Third Generation Yamaguchi Gang (山口組三代目) (Japan, 1973) [TV] - 3.5/5
                        Toei's biggest yakuza film of 1973 - this beat Battles without Honor and Humanity at the box office - and shameless promotion for the country's biggest criminal organization. The film chronicles Yamaguchi Gang boss Kazuo Taoka's rise to ranks in pre WWII Japan, based on his serialized biography in Weekly Asahi Geino magazine. Curiously enough it was brought to the screen by Ken Takakura and Kosaku Yamashita as their first jitsuroku film. What the film amounts to is an oddly entertaining fusion of cinematic styles, a true account that plays out like a ninkyo film. There are moments of ultra-violence (Taoka's trademark move is sticking his fingers in the opponent's eyes like a pre-war Sonny Chiba!) and documentary style jitsuroku touches sprinkled throughout of what is ultimately a romanticized gangster tale of male bonding and honour. The word is Toei producer Okada went full-on bromance with Taoka and even hired Taoka's non-yakuza son to serve as producer, in addition to the cast partying and hanging out with the still-active gangster boss, something that should instantly cast a doubt on exactly how truthful the film is. And yet, in its own flawed way, this is one of the most interesting films of the jitsuroku movement.

                        Path of Japanese Chivalry: Story of All-Out Attack (日本任侠道 激突篇) (Japan, 1975) [TV] - 3/5
                        1972 was essentially the end of chivalrous yakuza films. Queen Fuji retired, Wakayama fled Toei, Brutal Tales ended, and the audience no longer bough the old fashioned ninkyo ideology. Then came Battles without Honor and Humanity which initiated a new era of grit and realism. And yet, here we have a Kosaku Yamashita / Ken Takakura ninkyo film made years after the genre's practical demise. This one tries to be a little more realistic by refraining from overt melodrama and romantics in its depiction of gang life under noble boss Takakura. Unfortunately the low-key approach more often than not translates as non-eventfulness. The film doesn't really come to life until the last 35 min, which surprisingly dials up the action and drama to very enjoyable heights. Loose cannon Joe Shishido and lusty hothead Takuzo Kawatani are to thank for triggering the mayhem. Also, it's curious to see Ken Takakura in an oyabun role, another sign the change of times. Trivia: this was originally intended as the 3rd Yamaguchi gumi film (following Third Generation Yamaguchi Gang, 1973, and Third Generation Boss, 1974) before Toei gave in to political pressure to stop promoting the Yamaguchi clan, and the project was re-written into a fictional ninkyo tale. The realism and Takakura's oyabun role may be leftovers from the original project.

                        Winter's Flower (冬の華) (Japan, 1978) [TV] - 3.5/5
                        Takakura returned to Toei for this film after breaking off with them three years earlier. It's easy to see why he came back. Takakura is a middle aged yakuza released from prison after serving 15 years for murder. He has spent the time financially supporting a little girl he orphaned, pretending to be an uncle living abroad. He intends to go straight and face the girl, but that turns out easier said than done. This is a fine film with an excellent performance by Takakura. There's quite a bit more character depth than most yakuza films, a beautiful (if overused) theme tune by Claude Ciari, and no excess sex or violence. It strikes a pretty satisfactory balance between the already disappearing 70s yakuza grit and the soon to come 80s human relationship drama (that would eventually kill yakuza films) with an eccentric artistic touch. But it falls just short of being great. The script does a lot right, and Yasuo Furuhara (replacing Kosaku Yamashita, who left the project after being denied script changes) directs reasonably well, but the little nuance, the final touch to push it to excellence and shake the audience, is a lacking. There are bits of great mixed with bits of standard. Still, this is essential genre viewing for the terrific Takakura performance, and for capturing an in-between era in yakuza cinema.

                        Demon (夜叉) (Japan, 1985) [TV] - 3.5/5
                        Takakura and Furuhata are back in another mature yakuza drama, this time at Toho. Takakura is a former gangster living in a small, snow-covered fishing village with wife and son, trying hard to leave his past behind. None of the villagers, including close friend Kunie Tanaka, know about his past. Then young beauty Yuko Tanaka from Osaka's red light districts arrives the town to run a bar, soon followed by her dope-pushing boyfriend Takeshi Kitano. As a yakuza film of the 80s, this has its fair share of small town human drama and clumsy flashbacks, having been made in an era when yakuza films were stripped of their sex and violence and transformed into something that housewives and television audiences could enjoy. But this is also much better than the many lesser films of the era. It is really quite effective at depicting the main character's anguish as he has to face what he really is deep inside, feeling more relaxed around an ex-hostess from Osaka's yakuza circles than at home with people who come from a different world than him. Takakura is in his element here.


                        • Appreciate this latest round-up. Saw DEMON quite a while ago and liked it a lot.

                          WINTER'S FLOWER sounds like a winner.

                          Nice backstory on the YAMAGUCHI GANG. Wow.


                          • White Powder Terror (白い粉の恐怖) (Japan, 1960) [TV] – 3.5/5
                            Near excellent noir about undercover narcotics cop Rentaro Mikuni bustling in the Tokyo night. He's using a young drug addict (Hitomi Nakahara) to establish a connection with the bigger fish while taking extreme precautions to cover his own back. This film has more depth than most similar films from the era, perhaps for being based on a novel. Particularly impressive is the level of detail in which the undercover job is depicted, and the protagonist's attempt to lead casual family life while not on the streets. But the film is equally rich in nocturnal street atmosphere and gradually increasing tension, enhanced by low key approach and minimal use of music. The early scenes with the undercover cops being driven around the city at the back of a truck are especially good. The only weakness is the rather silly, overly preachy closing scene, perhaps the influence of Three Evils fighter Tsusai Sugawara, who briefly pops up in the film. Still, this is one of workman director Shinji Murayama's best pictures!

                            Yakuza Mounted Bandits (馬賊やくざ) (Japan, 1968) [TV] – 2.5/5
                            Travelling yakuza Koji Tsuruta runs afoul with corrupt Japanese army imperialists in Manchuria, joins local resistance after he becomes a fugitive. Not a bad action film with a more original premise than most. But one feels more could have been done with the theme, keeping Tsuruta a mere companion rather than making him a member of the rebel bandits being a major missed opportunity. Also, do not expect to see Tsuruta to hop on a horse in full-on bandit mode, despite that being depicted in one of the promotion stills.

                            Troops of Darkness (悪の親衛隊) (Japan, 1971) [VoD] – 2.5/5
                            A little seen Kazuhiko Yamaguchi film released between the last Delinquent Girl Boss and the first Wandering Ginza Butterfly. Tokyo boss Tetsuro Tamba brings a trio reckless hoods lead by Tsunehiko Watase to Shinjuku to fight a turf war for him. This is a programmer inside out, with plenty of semi-comical mayhem eventually leading to something resembling a plot thread (two in fact). It's obvious no one had much of a winning idea for a film here, but one had to be produced anyway. That didn't stop Toei from throwing in everything and the kitchen sink in terms of star power: beside Tamba, Watase and Jerry Fujio, there are supporting turns by Fumio Watanabe and Bunjaku Han, cameos by Tatsuo Umemiya and Shingo Yamashiro, and a whole bunch of musical /club performances by The Mops. There was a (Toei) audience for this kind of lightweight yakuza / action / comedy mayhem, and it is at the very least intermittently entertaining, but certainly not among Yamaguchi's best films.

                            Hitozuma kyofu: Jigoku doro (人妻恐怖・地獄道路) (Japan, 1973) [TV] – 2/5
                            “Housewife’s Horror: Hell Road”. This is another 45 minute TV film in Toei and MBS TV's Suspense Series. Sonny Chiba and Etsuko Shihomi's karate packed Kazuo Koike manga adaptation Modern Witch Tale: Murderous Love premiered in the same series 2 weeks later. This one, helmed by Yasuo Furuhata, is a lot less exciting. Housewife Yoko Nogiwa and her annoying kid are taken as hostage by criminals Rinichi Yamamoto and Nobuo Yana while her husband Tadao Nakamaru is banging another woman. Routine and clichéd all the way to the ultra-conservative ending that tells us women should be grateful to their husbands, even if they are having harmless little affairs while their family gets kidnapped.

                            Student Yakuza (学生やくざ) (Japan, 1974) [VoD] – 3/5
                            A hugely interesting yakuza / karate / school gang mash-up that doesn't live up to its full potential. Tsunehiko Watase is a schoolboy gangster armed with fast fists and karate kicks who, after beating a fieldful of local rivals, gets sent to Osaka by his family (incl. gray-haired Bunta Sugawara). Immediately upon arrival he runs into a schoolgirl gang (lead by Rika Aoki of Toho's Rica series) lynching a fellow sailor suit on the street. He later lands work at a construction site whose workers are being harassed by Kenji Imai's Osaka yakuza, but also defended by a violent student radical group (echoing the real the early 70s student unrest in Japan). What a premise! This was helmed by Toei's assistant director since 1962 Akira Shimizu (his only other directorial effort was Rugby Yaro in 1976) but perhaps more importantly written by Takayuki Minagawa, the AD on The Street Fighter (released 2 weeks prior to this) and the writer / AD on the Girl Boss series. They deserve criticism for the lack of strong plot and above average execution, but there's lot of fun to be had here: a fair bit yakuza stuff, a little bit of sukeban thrills, and way more karate than you'd expect, in the usual mix of violence, nudity and anti-social mayhem. University karate club alumni Watase does well-enough in the action scenes (fresh off Bodyguard Kiba 2, and to soon star in Wicked Kempo later) and looks like a Watase-version of Tomisaburo Wakayama's Gokudo-series protagonist.

                            Senior Member
                            Last edited by Takuma; 01-25-2022, 10:15 AM.


                            • Rashamen (らしゃめん) (Japan, 1977) [VoD] -1.5/5
                              Yuji Makiguchi's (Shogun's Sadism) final theatrical film is a tame melodrama based on a novel. The heroine (Haruko Wanibuchi) is a woman married against her will to an American diplomat during the early years of Meiji Restoration. She is to serve as his temporary wife in Japan. She spends the film's first third crying and panicking. Thankfully we also have ATG director and Return of the Street Fighter villain Claude Gagnon as raging sex crazy gaijin in the house. But the fun is over before the film has run 35 min, with the American sent back home and the lady trying to go on in life with a tarnished reputation. Geisha house melodrama ensues till the film calls it quits at 77 minutes. This isn't as much a terrible film (it has its moments, a decent musical score, and an uncredited Takuzo Kawatani role as a waiter abused by Hideo Murota!) but the further it gets, the duller it becomes. Makiguchi would earn his bread on TV from here on, directing shows like Sonny Chiba's Shadow Warriors.

                              Harry and His Geisha Girls (生贄の女たち) (Japan, 1978) [TV] - 3/5
                              The film that brought Harry Reems to Japan! The titular character arrives in Japan to have his peanut sized willy replaced with a more respectable member, as persuaded by his lovelorn Japanese wife. The medical operation is successful, but there are side effects, namely, a personality change (now there's an interesting research topic for some curious academic). This is a bizarre, but surprisingly funny addition to Toei's line up of erotic films with imported leads. They first brought in Sandra Julien, Christina Lindberg and Sharon Kelly in 1971-1974 for 1-2 films each, and now, Harry with his big... moustache. It probably had something to do with Toei having distributed Deep Throat theatrically in 1973, and produced its Japanese follow-up Deep Throat in Tokyo in 1975. Anyway, here we have Harry in Japanese yukata and headband serving customers in a restaurant, running for his life from mad women, and running afoul with yakuza who want to cut off his new sausage because they believe it was formerly used for smuggling diamonds from Hong Kong. And let’s not even talk about a couple of hilarious (dick) twists the plot comes with. It’s all quite amusing, and frankly more entertaining than most Japanese erotic comedies, even by Toei. Oh, and isn’t that Osman Yusuf doing the (highly amusing) English/Japanese dubbing for Harry? No one is credited for it, but it sure sounds like him.

                              Devil's Flute (悪魔が来りて笛を吹く) (Japan, 1979) [TV] - 1.5/5
                              Toei’s time machine to the future: an annoying, pretentious 80s murder mystery made in 1979s. This is actually an adaptation of a 1950s mystery novel of the same name, featuring the famous fictional detective Kosuke Kindaichi. He is trying to solve a murder case in a large, remarkably off-putting European-style mansion inhabited by a family of rich cunts. 135 minutes of hysteric characters, confusing plotting and pretentious artistic references to demons follow. This was a Toei film with Haruki Kadokawa serving as the executive producer. His own company would have been a more fitting home for this, having already made The Inugami Family, another Kindaichi tale, two years prior for Kadokawa.

                              Four Seasons: Natsuko (四季 奈津子) (Japan, 1980) [TV] – 3/5
                              Lively, if slightly pretentious slice of life drama with blue collar Kyushu girl Setsuko Karasuma taking a Tokyo photographer's offer to appear in nude photos because, why not? She heads to the capital to start a new, more exciting life. There are some excellent scenes, such as the breezy relationship play between her and her boyfriend, as well as some relatively bland episodes, and an admiration of female nudity that very much smells of a man’s idea of art. Newcomer Karasuma was set to star in a Kinji Fukasaku / Yusaku Matsuda yakuza film after this, but she announced she'll have nothing to do with Toei from here on, feeling the studio had exploited her (boobs) in the film's marketing. It shouldn't have happened, but seeing her shred her clothes in the film, one can certainly understand why it did!

                              Flakes of Snow (ひとひらの雪) (Japan, 1985) [TV] – 3/5
                              Another Kichitaro Negishi x Haruhiko Arai collaboration. This is a high brow Toei literature film, an adult audience production, and a women’s film all in one, originally meant to be brought to the screen by Kinji Fukasaku and Keiko Matsuzaka before they abandoned the project. What it really amounts to is a more tolerable than usual piece of 80s greyness. A divorcing, middle aged architect (Masahiko Tsugawa) takes turns banging his semi-lolita secretary (Naomi Oki) and a noble lady ex (Kumiko Akiyoshi) while none of them seem to be having a clear idea where their lives are heading. It’s all meant to say something profound about… lives that have little profound or cinematic about them. The very essence of 80s Japanese cinema that is! This remains moderately interesting nevertheless, thanks to the Arai x Negishi pairing. But one feels they were limited by the topic matter and source material (a Junichi Watanabe novel). Negishi in particular was at his best depicting the dysfunctional youth; his films about the corporate type adults lacked the same spark. The Japanese audience and critics disagreed: the film was a financial and critical success, particularly among women.


                              • Police Department Story 6 (警視庁物語 夜の野獣) (Japan, 1957) [TV] - 2.5/5
                                Toei Scope! The first entry in widescreen, following the introduction of the new aspect ratio at Toei some 8 months earlier (The Lord Takes a Bride, April 1957). It's also the longest entry yet, with a 83 min running time. The detectives are tracking a professional pickpocket gang who has left a dead body behind. There is some extra attention to the police work, abetted by the extended running time, and a voice over further enhancing the documentary touch. But it's only a good film, hardly exceptional, like most films in the series, by today's standards.

                                Police Department Story 7 (警視庁物語 七人の追跡者) (Japan, 1958) [TV] - 3/5
                                Shinji Murayama is back in the director's chair (after the disappointing part 5) in what is best entry in the series so far! There's an instantly evident change of pace in the energetic camerawork, with pans and crane shots replacing the largely static images in the earlier films, and an almost operatic score. The prolonged ending is particularly thrilling, almost like Sergio Leone directing a police stakeout. The film's middle part is slower-paced, as usual. However, there is quite an interesting bit of police work involved when an autopsy is performed to discover what the victim ate during in her last days alive. That will serve as a clue to trace the victim's movements and find possible witnesses.

                                Police Department Story 8 (警視庁物語 魔の伝言板) (Japan, 1958) [TV] – 2/5
                                The most talkative of the early films. Most of the police work here is done at the station, with little in terms of outdoor scenes. This is quite a turnabout after the previous film, the most stylish and energetic one so far, curiously made by the exact same people from director (Murayama) to writer (Hasegawa) and producer, cinematographer, production designer etc. Considering there was only two weeks between their release dates, and they were the only instalments in 1958, it's highly likely they were shot back to back.

                                Police Department Story 9 (警視庁物語 顔のない女) (Japan, 1959) [TV] – 2.5/5
                                Another big scale production with an 83 min running time, inspired by the Black Dahlia case. This has an oddly playful opening, interrupted by school kids finding a woman's torso floating in a river. The head and all limbs have been cut off. It's disturbing even for modern viewers, let alone 1959 audiences. The film then stagnates as the detectives engage in talking heads investigation, until around halfway it picks up the pace again with a car chase and strippers. There's some solid camerawork as well, though nothing comparable to part 7. Note: the film is only available on streaming and TV; the new DVD box set omits this film and part 18 for unspecified reasons. It could be due to print damage; the presentation here is full of scratches, though seemingly complete and entirely watchable.

                                Police Department Story 10 (警視庁物語 一〇八号車) (Japan, 1959) [TV] –3/5
                                A police officer of 'patrol car no. 108' (the film's Japanese title) is gunned down during a routine check of a seemingly abandoned vehicle. The case is transferred to the detectives who attempt to track down the vehicle and the killer inside. Although not a particularly eventful entry, this is still a captivating film that doesn't overstay its welcome at just 54 minutes. What this entry brings to the table is the endless long hours put in the office as part of the detective work, as they try to identify a potential suspect by going through thousands of pages of traffic violations records. The film was co-directed by Shinji Murayama and newcomer Eijiro Wakabayashi, who had debuted in 1958 with the two Planet Prince tokusatsu pictures, later re-edited into one film as Prince of Space. Wakabayashi would go on to helm a total of 20 theatrical movies in a career that lasted less than 5 years until 1963 (it is possible that TV work followed, but finding confirmation is difficult).

                                Police Department Story 11 (警視庁物語 遺留品なし) (Japan, 1959) [TV] – 2.5/5
                                Another good, but unexceptional entry. This a rather talkative film, but not without some valuable location work on real streets. The most interesting and still timely aspect of the film, however, is the plot premise featuring a murderous lady-killer who is taking advantage of women desperate to get married. Even today there's a saying in Japan that "the world is cruel at unmarried around-30 women", suggesting women are expected to marry before they turn 30. Should they fail to do that, they risk being seen as misfits or there being "something wrong with them", being unable to land a husband by that age.