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What Asian Films Have You Been Watching Recently?

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  • Been watching Nikkatsu movies on TV...

    Tokyo Drifter 2: The Sea is Bright Red as the Color of Love (続東京流れ者 海は真っ赤な恋の色) (Japan, 1966) [TV] – 3.5/5
    A surprisingly good sequel to the Seijun Suzuki classic. Nikkatsu’s youth film director Kenjiro Morinaga (of the excellent Youth a Go Go, 1966) takes helm and executes it as a more traditional Nikkatsu Mood Action. Watari plays the same character as in the original film. The opening sees him arriving in a harbour town, with a hitman on his tail. He’s come to meet an old buddy, and while waiting for him also crosses paths with local beauty Kazuko Tachibana, who likewise is waiting for someone. Watari is also offered shelter by old man Zenpei Saga, whose son is in trouble with bad guy Nobuo Kaneko and in love with cutie Chieko Matsubara. Watari of course chooses to get involved. This is a surprisingly entertaining film with 1st rate cinematography and art direction. The locale is particularly well captured. It is however missing Suzuki’s wilder pop art experimentation, and may not be what foreign audiences would expect from a Tokyo Drifter sequel. That is of course because Suzuki was something of an outlier in the genre, while this movie is a more traditional entry in the Nikkatsu Action line. It’s a shame none of the recent Blu-Ray releases of the Suzuki classic have bundled this with it.

    A Record of Love and Death (愛と死の記録) (Japan, 1966) [TV] - 4/5
    Printing shop worker Tetsuya Watari and record shop clerk Sayuri Yoshinaga fall in love in once nuclear devastated Hiroshima. But the romance comes with a heavy baggage when it turns out he, exposed to nuclear radiation as a little boy, has no guarantees of growing old. Objectively speaking, this isn't so different from the box office smashing tear jerker garbage that has infested Japanese cinema for decades. But somehow this is so much better. Perhaps it's because of Watari and Yoshinaga's charming performances. Maybe it's because of new wave director Koreyoshi Kurahara, whose energetic helming is equally romantic and gritty. Perhaps it’s because there’s a real, living city in the background captured with an almost documentary like touch. Or maybe the story just seems more poignant than some purely fictional setting with a schoolgirl / boyfriend / uncle / dog dying from cancer. Probably it's all of that. The film has also been distributed under the title The Heart of Hiroshima.

    Three Wives: Wild Nights (妻三人 狂乱の夜) (Japan, 1972) [TV] - 1.5/5
    An early Masaru Konuma film that fares a little better than the title would suggest. This is actually a lightweight family satire / comedy about a rich man, his son, and their women / wives / housekeepers, all of whom have trouble keeping their pants on. Modestly entertaining for a while, and relatively restrained compared to the later Roman Porno sleaze fests, I nevertheless lost interest (and count of the wives) after the first 35 minutes. There appeared to be no reason to care, really.

    Rape Frenzy: Five Minutes before Graduation (卒業五分前 群姦) (Japan, 1977) [TV] – 3.5/5
    With a title like this, you think you know what you’re in for. Well, what do you know? This is one of action director gone rogue pink helmer Yukihiro Sawada’s best pictures, a youth drama following stressed-out, confused male and female students on their last day before high school graduation, facing an uncertain and bleak future. The film is far more reminiscent of Nikkatsu’s early 70s youth pictures and the following year’s Panic in High School (1978) than anything the title (which may or may not have been a commercial after-thought) would have you expect. There are several good scenes with the alienated protagonist finding himself detached from the people around him, his friend trying to escape the patronising society with a girlfriend and a shotgun, and live rock music performed in party scenes. And then some sexual assaults (half of them performed by girls or women against boys) springing from societal frustration and personal insecurity. The cinematography is excellent, with loads of those lovely ‘lonely people walking the city streets in solitude’ shots. The ending is a little underwhelming but perhaps fittingly low-key, and does not, by the way, deliver any kind of rape frenzy five minutes before the graduation. For other fine Sawada Roman Porno films see his beast cop thriller Retreat through the Wet Wasteland (1973) and the Peckinpah influenced Assault! (1976).

    Revolver (リボルバー) (Japan, 1988) [TV] - 3/5
    Toshiya Fujita's last film. A lazy-ass Kyushu cop (Kenji Sawada) loses his gun to a thieving salaryman head-butted by love life, triggering a chain reaction where the gun travels from one character to another and causes misery. But you'll have to wait 35 minutes for the gun even to go missing, and twice as long before most of the film's nearly dozen main characters (a troubled schoolboy and his non-girlfriend, a bar girl with a violent friend from the past, a duo of slacking gamblers etc.) meet in a Sapporo set climax. Also, having been made in the 80s, when action was frowned upon and non-eventful character drama celebrated in Japanese cinema, the missing gun ends up playing secondary role to all the human relationship sub-plots. The good news is that Fujita handles it better than most, keeping the viewer moderately interested in the drama, without forgetting to include dry humour, casual sex, nudity, and one brutal rape, all served in 80s mainstream film wrapping.


    • Red Shield fairley generic early 90s HK cop actioner with Danny Lee. But since I love the genre, I gave it a go. Craptacular German release which was basically ported over from some old HK release, complete with engrish subtitles. Still worth it though, even if this was nowhere near the top of the genre.
      "No presh from the Dresh!"


      • Sunrise, Sunset

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

        A Japanese movie with Rosemary Dexter? It sounds like the greatest film in the world!

        (Of course, many thanks to Takuma.)
        Senior Member
        Last edited by mjeon; 04-21-2022, 05:17 PM.


        • The Youth of the Night series

          The Procurer (ひも) (Japan, 1965) [VoD] - 3.5/5
          Naive, penniless teenager Mako Midori falls under the charms of big city playboy Tatsuo Umemiya, who treats her till she's in love, and then dumps her in a hostess bar he’s associated with. A week later he shows up begging for help, as he has supposedly burned all his money on her and can't pay back to the yakuza he borrowed money from… unless she'd be willing to lend her young body for earning some cash. This was the first film in the Youth of the Night series (1965-1968), sometimes indistinguishable from the later Song of the Night series (1967-1974). Both consisted of loosely linked entries. This specific film is grittier than most however, and better written (by Masashige Narusawa). It gets particularly interesting after Midori has had her falling out with Umemiya, which sends her drifting in the night and leaves Umemiya alone with his abusive yakuza buddies. She grows stronger, he gets progressively weaker. The film does quite a good job at capturing the neon lit, jazz tuned night that crushes dreams, feeds people with glimpses of hope, and then poisons them with opportunism.

          Night Hunter (いろ) (Japan, 1965) - [VoD] - 3/5
          Part 2 in the Youth of the Night series. Umemiya is a son of a bitch bartender who bangs anything that moves, and then proceeds to cheat them out of their money. Midori is a naïve girl who walks into his bar with her best friend and falls in love, not realizing Umemiya is taking turns sleeping with them both as well as Midori's little sister Reiko Ohara. Umemiya then figures he could make money by selling Midori to rich geezer Nobuo Kaneko, only not telling her about it... This is another stylishly filmed nocturnal noir in black & white, with excellent performances by Umemiya and Midori. There are quiet little moments that are surprisingly powerful, as well as other good bits like the one where Takakura's Abashiri Prison theme is playing in a bar. But the film is not as good as The Procurer. Masashige Narusawa's scrip is less complex, and gun for hire director Shinji Murayama fails to reach the same level of cinematic dynamics, even if he does otherwise fine.

          Fancy Man (ダニ) (Japan, 1965) [VoD] - 3/5
          Umemiya is a young yakuza who has to find a new way to support himself after his gang disbands. He sets up various scams where he blackmails adulterous husbands with the help of his girlfriend who serves as bait. When one wealthy businessman refuses to pay, Umemiya proceeds to seduce his wife… This was the 3rd film in the Youth of the Night series. It's again a small step down in terms of visual breeze (largely shot indoors in small apartments) and character development, although directed by Hideo Sekiguchi who also did The Procurer. But the film is saved by a terrific ending, a superb musical score, and small bits of riveting drama here and there. Once again Umemiya is in his element, perhaps more so than ever before, as a charismatic scum who delivers destruction and misery to everyone he encounters until his luck finally runs out.

          The Dupe (かも) (Japan, 1965) [VoD] - 2/5
          Another nocturnal melodrama, this time with asshole Umemiya as a hostess club manager bringing in new girls and taking advantage of them behind his wife's (who is a hooker in a Turkish bath) back. His latest recruits include naive Ohara and overly eager but inexperienced Midori. This was already the 4th Youth of the Night film made in 1965, and the third one for Sekigawa & Narusawa. This one brings very little new to the table and fails to reach the level of nihilism, style or atmosphere found in its predecessors. But it does feature a scene where Umemiya gets his arse kicked by a bunch of karate practitioners, so it's not entirely without merits.

          Bad Woman of the Night (夜の悪女) (Japan, 1965) [VoD] – 1.5/5
          The 5th and worst film in the Youth of the Night series. This is bad from the beginning with Umemiya, by now Toei's veteran pimp and nightlife scumbag, playing a schoolboy in the opening scene! It's impossible to take the film seriously after that. It turns out it wasn't even meant to be. The film jumps forward a few years with Umemiya now a full full-fledged entrepreneur running a paid date service he inherited from jailed boss Ryohei Uchida (he'll be back later). Midori is his eccentric, loud-mouth no. 1 girl who gets from one comical trouble to another. Umemiya's misadventures have the same humoristic undertone, with little signs of the emotional brutality seen in the earlier films. It was probably the logical next step for a series that was putting out its 5th instalment in the same year. Thankfully the series would return to form in the next film, Bitches of the Night, which even featured Sonny Chiba in a brief supporting role.

          Bitches of the Night (夜の牝犬) (Japan, 1966) [VoD] – 3/5
          Part six in the Youth of the Night series. This is a return to form after the comedic part 5, despite being made by the exact same people. Umemiya is a bartender who pretends to be gay in order the approach women. He is in cahoots with another opportunist, a young woman (Mako Midori) who trying to seduce a rich married man. Their attempts at making easy money can only end tragically. This is a rather aged morality tale about sinful life in urban metropolis, but it captures the era, the cityscapes and the atmosphere quite nicely. It's also becomes rather touching when Umemiya fools a naive country girl (heartbreakingly played by Reiko Ohara) into living with him. Oh, and it should be mentioned Sonny Chiba has a very brief supporting role as a policeman looking for his sister. He only appears in two scenes.

          P.S. Toei really dropped the ball not printing character posters for this film. Just imagine the taglines… “Sonny Chiba is a Bitch of the Night!”. “Tatsuo Umemiya is…”

          P.S. 2 This is my old review from 2016. I slightly re-wrote it now that I’ve been watching the other films in the series for the first time. I was too lazy / busy to actually rewatch this, but thought I should post something about it rather than skip one film with my reviews.

          Glowing Red Vermin (赤い夜光虫) (Japan, 1966) [VoD] – 2.5/5
          The 7th film in the Youth of the Night series, and tonally different from the rest. It begins as a straight existential adult drama, largely void of the more scandalous approach found in many if the earlier films, before finally reaching its operatic climax where everyone is left unhappy, or dead. Playboy Umemiya and cohort Tani are mere supporting characters with curious youngster Ohara getting the most screen time. She ventures into an Osaka lesbian bar and is initially attracted to short-haired man-hater Midori, but scared off when Midori has more than just harmless girls' chat in her mind. Director Murayama unfolds the story in his usual solid but somewhat unspectacular fashion, with some dead moments before the fast, bloody and even funny last 30 minutes. But the ending aside, the film looks and sounds more low-key than the other entries in the series, and also feels different for setting half of its action in a lesbian bar. That aspect could’ve been developed further since the film is stuck somewhere between exploring and exploiting its topic matter, but not really doing either one in much depth. Still, it’s an alright film overall.

          Night Guy (夜の手配師) (Japan, 1968) [VoD] - 2.5/5
          The last film in the Youth of the Night series. Hustler of the night Umemiya seduces beauties, deals girls to hostess clubs and does a bit of gigolo work himself. But he's still a small timer, a 60s Japanese pimp version of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. This isn't a particularly good film, but it does radiate the vibes of the night in a way some of the lesser (and particularly later) Umemiya films don't. The melodramatic, never-ending web of deceptions, seductions and dreams by everyone in the film almost requires a pen and paper from to keep track of. Oh and the film has a great opening scene with Umemiya taking a beating from gangsters after slipping into the boss' woman's bed. Such an Umemiya-like mistake to make!

          P.S. this also a re-write of of my 2020 review without having actually rewatched the film.


          • Thanks once again, Takuma, for these excellent reviews of often obscure Japanese film. Now dying to see the Sawada film. Shame his ASSAULT! isn't more widely available as it's superb.

            I managed to see THE PROCURER and liked it quite a bit.

            Always appreciate your fine work.


            • Originally posted by AngelGuts View Post
              Thanks once again, Takuma, for these excellent reviews of often obscure Japanese film. Now dying to see the Sawada film. Shame his ASSAULT! isn't more widely available as it's superb.

              I managed to see THE PROCURER and liked it quite a bit.

              Always appreciate your fine work.
              Thanks! You're probably aware but Rape Frenzy is coming out on DVD in July.

              Click image for larger version

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              • Wasn't aware it's coming out. But will pre-order lickety-split.


                • Yagyu Chronicles 1: Secret Scrolls (柳生武芸帳) (Japan, 1961) [TV] - 3.5/5
                  A charmingly old fashioned samurai / ninja programmer with Jushiro Konoe as Yagyu Jubei. The famed swordsman must protect the clan’s secret scrolls that could compromise their position as the Shogun's martial arts instructor. Two other parties, an enemy clan wishing to overthrow the Yagyu, and a princess of a wrongfully accused clan travelling with loyal servant (Shingo Yamashiro in a non-comedy role) are after the scrolls. This was the first film in Toei's 9 part "Yagyu Scolls" series, preceded by two Toshiro Mifune Yagyu Scrolls films at Toho in the late 50s. It's nothing profound, but with lots of action, fast pacing, and thoroughly enjoyable performances, it does exactly what it sets out to. Very entertaining.

                  Yagyu Chronicles 2: The Secret Sword (柳生武芸帳 夜ざくら秘剣) (Japan, 1961) [TV] - 3.5/5
                  A direct follow-up to the previous film. They were most likely shot back to back since both films were released in March 1961. This is an even more entertaining and action packed adventure than the first film, with an enemy ninja clan swearing to steal the Yagyu scrolls and teaming up with a high a ranking lord to plot the Yagyu's downfall. The cast is largely the same as before, but Shingo Yamashiro now plays Tokugawa lemitsu instead of a clansman. The final duel between Jubei and his ninja opponent is terrific!

                  Yagyu Chronicles 3: Valley of the Outlaws (柳生一番勝負 無頼の谷) (Japan, 1961) [TV] - 3/5
                  This is a departure from the first two films, which focused the Yagyu scrolls. This third movie is a less plot driven affair with a clan of vengeful ruffians harassing Jubei and targeting his brother who has taken an oath to refrain from the sword. While some narrative compactness is lost in the new approach, the film succeeds in creating fairly good characters, mainly Shingo Yamashiro as an easily manipulated ruffian, and Naoko Kubo as a woman unable to decide if Jubei means love or business to her.

                  Yagyu Chronicles 4: One Eyed Swordsman (柳生武芸帳 独眼一刀流) (Japan, 1962) [TV] - 3.5/5
                  It appears the previous film's departure from scrolls was premature as the Yagyu papers are back again. It was probably for the best since this is another very enjoyable entry with solid b-film plot and a beautiful cinematic form. What's new is Hiroki Matsukata as a young, inexperienced sword master with a vendetta for the Yagyu. Similarly to Toei’s later ninkyo yakuza films, film builds net of conflicting duty and humanity obligations around this new character, who becomes both Jubei's friend and enemy at the same time (and it must be said Matsukata is a brilliant piece of casting: he is the series star Jushiro Konoe’s real life son). Another new addition is the tad more political approach to the Tokugawa rule depicted in the series.

                  Yagyu Chronicles 5: Jubei's Redemption (柳生武芸帳 片目の十兵衛) (Japan, 1963) [TV] - 3.5/5
                  Uneven but highly entertaining entry resets (only) some of the earlier plot conclusions, making it both a follow-up and partial reboot. That used to be common in Japanese cinema before continuity ruined film franchises. It may also have been due to crew and cast changes (new director and writer, re-casting several major supporting characters, etc.). Anyhow, Matsukata is back as a challenger, and villains are again after the scrolls again. Frankly, repeating the same premise yet again feels a bit forced. But the film is beautifully shot and packed with superb, bloody action sequences where blades sink into faces and limbs are cut off amid expertly choreographed sword fights. The spaghetti western style climax (before spaghetti westerns really even existed) is a stand out.

                  Yagyu Chronicles 6: Yagyu List (柳生武芸帳 片目水月の剣) (Japan, 1963 [TV] – 2.5/5
                  The shogunate, fearful of conspirators, has abolished several small clans and ordered the remaining ones to have family members reside in Edo, essentially holding them hostage. Jubei must stop the ones rebelling against the rule. This entry has a bit darker political frame, in which the heroic Jubei is serving a not entirely decent shogunate, at its core. But the film soon reverts back to the usual scroll hunt. It's action packed, but somehow lacking the style, charm and brutality of the earlier films. It's still entirely watchable, though.

                  Yagyu Chronicles 7: The Buried Conspiracy (柳生武芸帳 剣豪乱れ雲) (Japan, 1963 [TV] – 3.5/5
                  Another moderately political entry with the nobles (proponents of the emperor) vs. the shogunate (officially below the emperor but in practice the real ruler of the country) at its core. The former discover a 33 year old conspiracy that if revealed could restore their power and send the shogunate into chaos. Jubei must stop that... and find some scrolls once again. This is a good entry with solid story, good action and some highly unorthodox cinematography, including a horse chase filmed just like a car chase and a POV assassination scene. We also get Junko Fuji in a delightfully strong early role, beautiful and armed if not quite a full-fledged fighter.

                  The Yagyu Chronicles 8: The One-Eyed Ninja (柳生武芸帳 片目の忍者) (Japan, 1963) [TV] - 3.5/5
                  Yaguy Jubei tries to curb a rebellion against the Tokugawa shogunate after a weapons shipment goes missing. He gathers together all the Yaguy ninjas, but among them comes in a young impostor (Hiroki Matsukata playing a different character again). This is one of the best entries in the series: a stylishly filmed ninja suspense tale full of action, including something you might describe as a ninja version of the Battle of Normandy in form of a massive 25 minute action climax. Another cool idea is the concept of there being various Yagyu ninjas who have been living in the hiding and need to be brought together for one mission, adding an almost mythical layer to the plot.

                  P.S. this is a rewrite of an older review, without having rewatched the film, for the sake of not skipping one review.

                  Yagyu Chronicles 9: Assassin’s Sword (十兵衛暗殺剣) (Japan, 1964 [TV] – 3/5
                  The last in the series. This continues in the same mass battle oriented path as part 8 but takes it even further, making this essentially a war film. Jubei and his selected 10 men are lured to an island where their adversary has employed dozens or perhaps hundreds of pirates to ambush them. The film's entire last third consists of team Yagyu fighting for their lives against an army of enemies. For better or worse, the film feels grittier and gloomier than any of the earlier entries, lacking their old fashioned innocence and fairy tale quality.


                  • Takuma, for the films you list as being seen on TV: do they show older Japanese films this regularly on TV or is there a specific channel dedicated to older films, like a Japanese TCM?


                    • Originally posted by Randy G View Post
                      Takuma, for the films you list as being seen on TV: do they show older Japanese films this regularly on TV or is there a specific channel dedicated to older films, like a Japanese TCM?
                      Specific channels, most importantly Toei Channel

                      To a lesser extent, Neco

                      Nihon eiga senmon channel

                      Jidai geki channel


                      • The Ghost Story of Oiwa's Spirit (怪談お岩の亡霊) (Japan, 1961) [TV] – 3.5/5
                        Japanese ghost stories are not my favourite genre, but if I were to watch one, it'd better be a samurai film starring Tomisaburo Wakayama and directed by Tai Kato. This one is. Wakayama is excellent as a violent brute samurai who comes up with a plot to kill his wife so that he could marry a younger girl. The classic tale (“Yotsuya kaidan”) has been filmed countless times before and after, but Kato treats it more as a gripping drama of real life horrors and less as a ghost story. The supernatural elements don't come until the last 25 minutes, which is when the film turns into a bloodbath. The film is also notably sparse on the usual spooky “is it real or imagination?” scenes that characterize a lot of other films of this type, and the one are found here usually end instantly with Wakayama's sword cutting someone’s head off. And that is a good thing!

                        In Search of Mother (瞼の母) (Japan, 1962) [TV] – 3.5/5
                        A teary melodrama about a man searching for his long lost mother is hardly my type of film, but if I were to watch one, it'd better be a matatabi yakuza film starring Kinnosuke Nakamura and directed by Tai Kato. This one is. The classic tale had been filmed many times since the 1930s, including once by Nobuo Nakagawa for Shintoho, but this was probably the first colour version. I’ve not seen the others, but Kato’s version is very economical (stylish without excess flashiness, consisting of a relatively small number of rather lengthy scenes) yet touching. It also really embodies the matatabi / wanderer feel, perhaps because of its main character missing roots, and is a classic of the genre for a reason.

                        13 Assassins (十三人の刺客) (Japan, 1963) [TV] – 4.5/5
                        The original tale, better known to modern audiences via Takashi Miike's dull, CGI-enhanced remake. The shogun's advisor (Tetsuro Tamba) creates a secret plan to assassinate the shogun's out-of-control brother, a daimyo who is executing men, women and children left and right for his personal pleasure. He brings together a dirty bunch of Toei tough guys (Chiezo Kataoka, Kanjuro Arashi, Ko Nishimura etc.) to send on a suicide plan. Their biggest adversary however is not the target himself, but his bodyguard (Ryohei Uchida), a strategic mastermind sworn to protect the boss whose guts he hates. This is a terrific film with a charismatic cast, incredible tension throughout the picture, and a well drawn strategic aspect with both parties trying to anticipate each other every move. The latter makes the action scenes particularly exciting since every move, attack and withdrawal aims to serve a bigger strategic plan, which the opponent in turn tries to sabotage with each move they make.

                        The Shogun Assassins (真田幸村の謀略) (Japan, 1979) [TV] – 3.5/5
                        Aka Renegade Ninjas. Sadao Nakajima's grand telling of Yukimura Sanada and his ninja troops taking a stance against shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu in the turbulent early years of the Tokugawa shogunate, climaxing in the famous battle of the Osaka castle. To be honest, among historical epics this is a bit on the goofy side (the film opens in outer space, and there's a giant SFX comet!) yet very entertaining (the film opens in outer space, and there's a giant SFX comet!). The film's base is only partly historical, since Sanada's ninjas (including Sasuke Sarutobi) for example have their basis more in legends than in confirmed history, something very much acknowledged by the film with its comic book character introduction screens. And let us not forget there’s also ninja magic, ninja nuns, and boobs (also ninja nun boobs). Hiroki Matsukata leads the cast, Hiroyuki Sanada plays one of the fighters, but it is Kinnosuke Nakamura who is having an obvious blast playing Ieyasu at his most evil. The film could be considered a middle entry is Toei's jidai geki comeback that started serious with Fukasaku's Yagyu Conspiracy and Ako Castle (both 1978) but later went ninja football (Shadow Warriors, 1980).

                        Lone Wolf and Cub: The Final Conflict (Japan, 1993) [TV] – 1.5/5
                        A watered down remake starring the annoying but popular television actor Masakazu Tamura. He was selected by Kazuo Koike himself, who stated he wanted to focus on drama instead of action this time. All controversy and provocative content has been cleaned out and replaced with sobbing and a few bloodless fights. Tamura plays a softer, cry-baby Igami Itto who must encounter a less evil, almost fatherly Retsudo (Tatsuya Nakadai). It is surprising this was a theatrical release, since it's clearly aimed at housewives watching afternoon dramas while cooking or cleaning. The only good thing about the film is some pretty scenery.


                        • Tales of Japan's Chivalrous Women: Chivalrous Geisha (日本女侠伝 侠客芸者) (Japan, 1969) [TV] - 3.5/5
                          Junko Fuji's second major yakuza film series alongside Red Peony Gambler (1968-1972). The series name is a derivative from Ken Takakura's Tales of Japanese Chivalry, but there is no connection other than this being another series focusing on "labourers" rather than gamblers. This opening film sees Fuji as a Kyushu geisha during a coal boom, which was bringing gangsters, businessmen and military figures into town. Takakura is a noble, modest man running a coal mine, rotten Kaneko is a merciless slave master after Takakura’s mountain, and then there are two runaway lovers whom Takakura and Fuji agree to shelter respectively. This is a good film with some solid drama and stylish costume play, even if Fuji has to leave the swordplay to Takakura. Her role is nevertheless good, and many of her quieter scenes with Ken are sublime. The same can't be said about the Kaneko's evil villain character, who is a mere plot tool void of any finesse. Note that the film is also known as Samurai Geisha, a nonsensical title considering she's obviously not a samurai.

                          Tales of Japan's Chivalrous Women: Brave Red Flower (日本女侠伝 真赤な度胸花) (Japan, 1970) [TV] - 4/5
                          Fuji is a common girl who travels to Hokkaido to inherit her father's horse market business, only to land in the middle of a “civilians vs. yakuza” conflict. The gangsters have been bribing and murdering their way towards market ownership, and the only person who could save the outvoted Fuji clan is missing man Takakura, who holds a grudge for Fuji's old man. This is an excellent, slightly atypical ninkyo film. Fuji does karate! Shoots people! Barely wears a kimono! And it’s all set in the beautiful Hokkaido wilderness, far from Toei's studio sets. But most importantly, the film fully utilized the kind of duty vs. humanity conflict between its main characters that had come to characterize the best ninkyo films in the Brutal Tales / Red Peony era. But not so much good without some bad: a needlessly conservative ending, a strangely underwhelming Masao Yagi score, and probably the worst bit of teary-eye acting (by a certain kid) in a Toei film until Yutaka Nakajima would set a new low in The Street Fighter (1974).

                          Tales of Japan's Chivalrous Women: Iron Geisha (日本女侠伝 鉄火芸者) (Japan, 1970) [TV] - 3/5
                          Pretty geisha Junko Fuji meets chivalrous Bunta Sugawara in a town also populated by evil boss Toru Abe. She’s also caught between amorous patrons and jealous colleagues. A beautifully shot tale with some lyrical scenes that rank among the most beautiful in director Kosaku Yamashita's filmography. But the problem is, this is a yakuza film but Fuji is strictly confined to geisha gear. The blood work is all left to Sugawara. That may have been the case in part 1 as well, but somehow it feels more regressive here, particularly after the previous film, even if the drama itself works pretty well.

                          Tales of Japan's Chivalrous Women: Duel of Swirling Flowers (日本女侠伝 血斗乱れ花) (Japan, 1971) [TV] – 4/5
                          Yamashita continues as a director in what is probably the best film in the series, and one of Fuji's best movies. Fuji inherits a petty mountain from dead husband Hiroyuki Nagato and tries to turn it into a profitable coal mine with the husband’s loyal colleague Rinichi Yamamoto. Private shipping company head Takakura aids with the logistics when greedy businessman Minoru Oki and his yakuza henchman Tatsuo Endo force boatman boss Bin Amatsu to block Fuji's dealings with other companies. This is a sweeping epic, comparable to the likes of Flower and Dragon, with a storyline spanning over a decade and showing Fuji's struggles that come with genuine emotional payback. It's a terrific role, despite leaving the swordfights to the actual yakuza characters. Yamamoto likewise has one of the best roles of his career as a genuinely caring aid to Fuji, as does Amatsu as indebted-to-Oki but not inherently evil man, a nice departure from his usual ruthless villain characters. Takakura is good as always, and gets to do the blood work in a slightly disappointing action climax (suffering from an overuse of freeze frame) followed by a great closing scene. Visually the film is pure poetry.

                          Tales of Japan's Chivalrous Women: Battle at Cape Himeyuri (日本女侠伝 激斗ひめゆり岬) (Japan, 1971) [TV] – 3/5
                          A slightly underwhelming last chapter that doesn't live up to its great premise. Fuji heads an Okinawa trucking company and is their most reckless driver. She's mostly seen in army green, often complete with cap and sunglasses. Quite a departure from her usual kimono form! Abe is a mainland yakuza who has debt-trapped a small village and has their men, women and children dig up valuable, volatile WWII ammunition. War vet gone short-fuse yakuza Sugawara balances between the two parties, with sympathies and professional ties on opposite sides. This film has bits of originality and political relevance here and there, from Fuji's army boots to present and past Okinawa invasion. It also has Machida as Amatsu's Okinawa-native karate goon who comes to realize he's playing in the wrong team. But none of these themes or characters are explored in much depth, and the moral conflicts tied to Sugawara and Machida's characters (who oddly both serve a similar narrative purpose) are only briefly touched. Perhaps strangest of all is the decision to introduce a comic relief character a mere 25 min before the film ends (usually these clowns make their appearances in the fitrst 25 min). Now, this is still a pretty good ninkyo film with bits of originality and a fair amount of entertainment. It doesn't really have any bad scenes. But one feels there was potential for much more.


                          • Police Department Story 12 (警視庁物語 深夜便一三〇列車) (Japan, 1960) [35mm] - 2.5/5
                            An average entry in the long running series. An unknown woman's body is discovered in a cargo train travelling between Tokyo to Osaka. Where was she killed, and did someone try to mislead the police by transporting the body? This entry’s main strength is expanding the scenery decent location work in both Tokyo and Osaka.

                            Police Department Story 13 (警視庁物語 血液型の秘密) (Japan, 1960) [TV] – 2/5
                            An exceptionally talkative entry with a rather nasty premise: a mother and a baby are found lying dead on a sidewalk. Relative newcomer director Masuichi Iizuka (he also helmed part 12, which was one of his first film on a career that did not last long) fails to pump much energy into the film, though it’s decently written and the bittersweet climax is quite good.

                            Police Department Story 14 (警視庁物語 聞き込み) (Japan, 1960) [TV] – 2.5/5
                            This entry has one of the more powerful openings in the series. An elderly woman walks into the police station to inquire about her missing little brother, of whom she is dependent on. The detectives find him in no time... in the file of dead bodies. The rest of the film follows their attempts to trace his movements and contacts prior to his death, uncovering a murder plot behind it. This is another not-bad entry with a tight 52 minute running time.

                            Police Department Story 15: Alibi (警視庁物語 不在証明) (Japan, 1961) [VoD] – 2.5/5
                            This is one of the more notable entries in the series for featuring Sonny Chiba in his first movie role. The film kicks off with the murder of a security guard in a major company. What follows is a relatively well made and stylishly filmed tale bogged down by a large amount of talking heads scenes in indoor locations. Chiba makes his silver screen debut by joining the detective team. He’s not bad, but his lack of experience and confidence shows when he’s surrounded by the series’ regular cast. He sometimes looks like he's waiting for his turn to speak. Chiba had priorly starred in the television series New Seven Color Mask (1960) where he actually fared better, perhaps due being surrounded by monsters and masked villains rather than a veteran cast of 14 earlier Police Department Story films.

                            Police Department Story 16: 15 Year Old Woman (警視庁物語 十五才の女) (Japan, 1961) [VoD] – 4/5
                            One of the best films in the series, and a notable improvement over the previous instalment even though they were almost certainly shot back-to-back by the same crew. Sonny Chiba returns to his co-starring role as one of the detectives inspecting the case of a 15 year old girl, whose dead body was discovered floating in a river. As usual, the film runs only one hour and doesn’t depart too far from the usual formula; however, it greatly benefits from frequent outdoor locations that were sometimes missing from the previous film. Throughout the film the detectives are engaged in more active investigation work on location rather than just questioning people indoors. The film also touches far more serious topics, such as child abuse and mental insanity, and even utilises Rashomon-like storytelling techniques to some extent. The last scene is especially haunting and echoes more talented filmmakers like Kurosawa. Oddly enough, Chiba has also greatly improved his acting with a far more confident performance, including a lot of small gestures he does even in shots were his character is only seen in the background.

                            Police Department Story 17: 12 Detectives (警視庁物語 十二人の刑事) (Japan, 1961) [VoD] – 2/5
                            An unusually long episode in the Police Department Story series, made by a different crew than the previous two films. At 88 minutes this runs a third longer than most of the other films. Unfortunately the extended running time has not translated into increased ambition. Instead, it feels like a direct adaptation of the written story, with few cinematic tricks thrown in. The storyline is bigger and thicker than before, but also lacking the melancholy and sensitive themes that made the previous film so interesting. It’s still a passable movie with nothing totally wrong about it, but hardly a memorable one. Sonny Chiba is again solid in his supporting role, but his character is given little to do and gets less screen time than before. This was the third and last time he appeared in the series which would still run for another 7 films without him.

                            Note: reviews for parts 12, 15-17 are slightly re-written versions of my old reviews. I didn’t re-watch the films. I just didn’t want to skip over them now that I’m reviewing all the others.


                            • Watched the R1 DVD of Rape! 13th Hour and it was a bit underwhelming. The infamous gay rape scene is certainly memorable but the rest of the film feels rote and uninspired compared to Rape! Jack the Ripper or Beautiful Girl Hunting. The print quality is also not great.

                              Surprised to find the recent release of Zoom Up: Murder Sites more to my taste. Nice modernist touches, surprisingly erotic in spots and a robust Sadian perversity.
                              Randy G
                              Senior Member
                              Last edited by Randy G; 07-12-2022, 08:59 PM.


                              • Shogoro Nishimura x 3

                                Seishun no kaze (青春の風) (Japan, 1968) [VoD] – 3/5
                                One man Roman Porno factory Shogoro Nishimura made many movies about girls, but here he made one for the girls. This is one of his roughly dozen pre-porno mainstream films from the 60s (nearly all of which are better than almost any of his roman features), this isn't quite among his best, but still has certain cheerfulness personified by lead Sayuri Yoshinaga that makes it fun to watch. Yoshinaga is young woman who becomes a maid for an American family (of three gaijin actors who all speak surprisingly decent Japanese) while also (sort of) chasing sweetheart Mitsuo Hamada who is getting little too intimate with friend Yoko Yamamoto. Yes, this at least partially a romantic comedy, but above all it’s a girl film. There’s very little in terms of men (besides Hamada) in the film. Some of Yoshinaga's interactions with the gaijin family (timid mother, silly womanizing husband and a lonely kid) are pretty funny and, Yoshinaga (with a very common look here, as opposed to the screen beauty appearance you’d expect) is highly likeable.

                                The Blazing Continent (燃える大陸) (Japan, 1968) [VoD] – 3/5
                                Another breezy Shogoro Nishimura film from the years before he went pervert. Tetsuya Watari plays a painter who is dispatched to Australia for a work gig, then fall in love with Chieko Matsubara. She is however (about to be) engaged to Aussie man Masumi Okada. At one point Watari becomes hostage / getaway driver to short fuse kid Ken Sanders who had used a little too much force in defending his sister's honour. There's plenty going on in this stylish and entertaining film, to the extent it can't quite decide what it wants to be. It can also get a bit too travelogue in places, but not as bad as many other Japanese films shot in foreign locations. The biggest stumbling block here is the English dialogue. Watari does ok with short lines only, and Sanders doesn't have any command of the language (despite his name, he is of course Japanese). Conversely, the French born, internationally educated Okada speaks English effortlessly. Meiko Kaji appears for a few seconds as well. She had much bigger roles in two other, superior Nishimura films: Goodbye Mr. Tears (1966) and Burning Nature (1967).

                                Women's Cruel Double Suicide (残酷おんな情死) (Japan, 1970) [VoD] - 3/5
                                Shogoro Nishimura’s grimy, docudrama esque film about lesbian lovers in yakuza infested Shinjuku. A suicidal call girl (Annu Mari) and a temperamental gold-digger (Sanae Ohori) meet by chance and eventually decide they are better off without men. But the former’s yakuza guardian / boyfriend (Jiro Okazaki) and his gang disagree. This was the last film Nishimura did before Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno switchover in the following year. It coincidentally became a bit of a transitional work, a much gloomier and fleshier picture void of the breeze and colourful art direction of his 60s pictures. It's also worse acted and edited with some jarring cuts, making it feel more like an independent picture than a Nikkatsu film. But it has its own charm, from authentic Tokyo locations to smutty atmosphere and even a brief cult lesbian orgy scene where Ohori is made love by white-hooded Ku Klux Clan types. It’s an interesting picture, though ultimately less bizarre and more low-key than some of the above-mentioned plot points might suggest. Also known as “Midnight Virgin”.

                                Others x 4

                                Manji (卍) (Japan, 1983) [TV] - 1/5
                                Holy pretentiousness, Batman!

                                Memories of You (ラブ・ストーリーを君に) (Japan, 1988) [TV] – 2/5
                                A sappy idol film with a terminally ill 14 year old (cute Kumiko Goto) spending one last summer with her ex-tutor (heart-throb Toru Nakamura) she has a crush on. "A Love Story for You" reads the Japanese title, which pretty much summarizes it. Love, nostalgia and tears has been the formula for box office success in Japan for decades. But cinematically, one would expect more from director Shinichiro Sawai, whose earlier works include the excellent Tragedy of W with Hiroko Yakushimaru at Kadokawa. This film was made at Toei. But it's not just the studio that is different here: Tragedy of W was written by nihilist/misogynist/screenwriter extraordinaire Haruhiko Arai, while this obviously wasn't (Shoichi Maruyama is the guilty party). While it doesn’t quite descend to the deepest melodrama gutters, there really isn’t much going for it other than pretty landscapes and decent leading performances.

                                Knife (KNIFE-ナイフ-) (Japan, 1996) [TV] – 2.5/5
                                A female assassin loses her memory after a botched job in this rather passable DTV film. She escapes from captivity and is rescued by a dad & daughter combo who provide her a safe environment to ask "who am I?" (even from a ridiculously dated computer system where assassin profiles written in broken English are stored). This isn’t too bad a film. There's some action, some nudity, and a decent amount of 90s existentialism (think of poor man’s Mamoru Oshii) aided by an occasionally pretty musical score. The pacing is ok and the thematics just about keep you interested, even if nothing really stands out. Director Hidehiro Ito is probably best known for a handful of sleazy 80s Roman Porno films, such as Secretary Rope Discipline (1981) and Debauchery (1983).

                                Ghost Master (ゴーストマスター) (Japan, 2019) [TV] - 1.5/5
                                What is it with these modern kids who can't make a genre film without burying it under five layers of apologetic, self-ironic meta? Ghost Master is a potentially fun tale of a film crew in the middle of a shoot when the assistant director's horror script comes alive and starts slaughtering the crew. There are some great practical splatter effects. Less CGI than expected. Some fun jokes too (the Tarantino jab especially). Lots of references, particularly to Evil Dead and Tobe Hooper. And then we have characters commenting how dumb and unreal it all is, on behalf of viewers and filmmakers who sort of like it, but are embarrassed to admit it, hence trying to strike a balance between laughing at films and laughing with films. It gets progressively worse with more and more idiotic post-modern scenes to assure viewers it's really just a self-aware joke, and can be enjoyed without losing credibility in one’s social circles. And then there’s a typically (for modern Japanese cinema) drawn-out drama anti-climax. Unlike the similarly themed but sincere One Cut of the Dead, this is fundamentally spoiled goods by apologetic filmmakers too afraid to commit to their craft.