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What Asian Films Have You Been Watching Recently?

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  • Brotherhood's Honor and Humanity (兄弟仁義) (Japan, 1966) [TV] – 3.5/5
    A ninkyo yakuza vehicle for young enka singer Saburo Kitajima, whose 1965 hit song served as the basis. Somewhat unexpectedly, this grew into a seminal yakuza film series with nine instalments until 1971. The start was more modest, however, the first film being produced as black & white supporting feature to the fifth Abashiri Prison picture, and Kitajima only given the 2nd billing after box office insurance Hiroki Matsukata (Koji Tsuruta gets the prestigious guest star billing). This film sets the series’ theme immediately with an opening sakazuki scene (cup exchange / yakuza brotherhood ceremony) that would be followed by many more in the sequels. Kitajima is a gambler rascal who gets caught cheating in the gambling table, but pleads honourable boss Hideo Murata to free him for three days so he could complete his quest to reunite with long lost mother. Murata, upright successor Matsukata and wanderer Tsuruta stake their honour and business to grant him his wish, while rotten rival boss Toru Abe sees an opportunity to hijack their hot springs operations. Future genre master Kosaku Yamashita helms the film – the series provided him with an opportunity to hone his skills (*) – with his trademark eye for giri / ninjo (duty vs. compassion) conflict mixed with big emotions. The finesse of his later masterworks may not quite be here, and the script cuts some corners, but there’s not much to complain besides that. Kitajima isn’t the most charismatic lead, but he has slightly punkish out-of-the-left-field appeal. A solid genre entry.

    * Yamashita had been directing since 1961, including some high profile pictures for Kinnosuke Nakamura, but he had not quite become the in-demand top tier director he’d later be known as. Prior to this film he had only directed 9 films in 5 years, whereas a few years later he’d be turning out near similar numbers of films annually.

    Brotherhood's Honor and Humanity 2 (続兄弟仁義) (Japan, 1966) [TV] – 3/5
    Switch to colour. A higher budgeted sequel to the black & white original, though still paired with yet another Abashiri Prison film. Kitajima redeems his well earned first billing this time as the film's lone lead, with Tsuruta and Murata providing the usual support. They play different characters than in the previous film, as they would in the subsequent films. Kitajima is a yakuza who comes to aid Minoru Oki and his clan to make an honest living in the construction business, but rotten gambling boss Hosei Komatsu starts making trouble until the boss of bosses Murata interferes. Yamashita continues as the director, but he and screenwriter Akira Murao seem to be on autopilot. They handle the film with professionalism and deliver an entirely passable ninkyo film, but there's no particular passion or inspiration evident on screen. Added comedy relief and a filler kid character don't really help. Two thirds into the film it however comes alive big time with a great sakazuki scene and the usual bloody end rampage. Not a bad movie despite its shortcomings, but probably the least accomplished entry in the series.

    Brotherhood's Honor and Humanity: Three Brothers from the Kanto District (兄弟仁義 関東三兄弟) (Japan, 1966) [TV] – 3.5/5
    Part 3. Kitajima is a slightly reckless, but good hearted punk who allies with a decent yakuza clan who are looking after the local fishermen. He and clansman Kotaro Satomi eventually become sworn brothers in one of the most touching and visually stylish sakazuki scenes in any ninkyo film. Bad guys Tatsuo Endo and Tomisaburo Wakayama (who is terrific as egocentric boss looking down at everyone) resort to deadly violence, resulting in an even more memorable posthumous sakazuki ceremony involving one of our now-dead heroes. Third brother Koji Tsuruta comes to aid in his usual, but this time rather poorly justified guest role. Honourable but affiliated with the villains Hideo Murata fares much better and gets one of the film's best scenes when he has to choose sides. The ending delivers a typically good massacre, preceded by probably the only instance of ninkyo heroes wearing full rainwear (hat included) that I can recall ever seeing! Admittedly this little detail may not be fully appreciated by anyone but the most ardent genre fans. All in all, this is quite a good film, with director Yamashita's beautifully romantic and old fashioned ninkyo aesthetics and a number of great scenes compensating for what is otherwise a relatively standard tale.

    Brotherhood's Honor and Humanity: Return of the Three Brothers from the Kanto District (兄弟仁義 続・関東三兄弟) (Japan, 1967) [TV] – 3/5
    Part 4. This is probably the most uneven film in the series, with several good set pieces that don’t quite come together. The tale opens in spring with cherry trees in full bloom. Kitajima is a member of a decent gang who gets in fights with less honourable rivals. As the situation escalates out of control, Kitajima alone takes responsibility, departs with his finger, and takes a hike. A great matatabi montage follows, only to be over in two minutes (a missed opportunity for sure, as this could have lead the series to fresh paths). We then jump forward in time by exactly two years, so it’s the cherry blossom season once again! Kitajima is back with his gang, and the film is back to ground zero. This time he has to watch out for a civilian-turned avenger whose yakuza father got killed in an earlier nagurikomi scene. Unfortunately this character is soon forgotten and only brought back for the climax (another missed opportunity here). The series’ trademark sakazuki scenes however come in plenty, and are as good as one would expect. There’s probably no need to mention about the cherry trees adding to the film’s visual appeal. But the title does require some clarification. Despite being called “Return of the Three Brothers…”, none of the three brothers from the previous film return. It’s just the same actors in different roles. It didn’t matter; it was just 1960s Japanese marketing business as usual.

    Brotherhood's Honor and Humanity: The Truth About Kanto Life (兄弟仁義 関東命知らず) (Japan, 1967) [TV] – 4/5
    Part 5. This is the best film in the series! Kitajima is a small time punk who arrives in Yokohama in hopes of making easy money. He and his thugs go against Kyosuke Machida's honourable dock worker clan on rotten rival Toru Abe's behalf. Kitajima is of course being used by Abe, and eventually comes to realize that, but it is nevertheless a novelty to see a ninkyo protagonist play for the evil team for a relatively long time. It's a terrific role for Kitajima, who gets to be both reckless and noble in the course of the film. That mix seemed ideal for him, considering his slight lack of charisma which had to be compensated with a bit of punkiness. Guest star Tsuruta is even better as lighting fast knife fighter Killer Choji, who does a seriously cool entry halfway into the film. If the film and other characters weren’t as well written and directed as they are, Tsuruta would steal the entire show. Much thanks goes to the script which is exceptional: heartfelt, rich in characterization, and full of small unexpected story developments while still delivering all the expected ninkyo goods, including a superb, ceremonial sakazuki scene. The climatic nagurikomi is also excellent, with the small and spirited Kitajima moving through the enemy masses like a tornado. Director Kosaku Yamashita, Toei's perhaps best ninkyo director and particularly skilled at handling complex webs of conflicting obligations among characters, is in his element here. This was his fifth and last contribution to the series; the remaining four movies would be handled by other directors.

    Brotherhood's Honor and Humanity: Kanto Big Brother (兄弟仁義 関東兄貴分) (Japan, 1967) [TV] – 3.5/5
    Part 6. This is considered the best in the series by some fans, Chris. D included. It is certainly good, though perhaps not as enjoyable as the previous entry. Kitajima is a rather cold, somewhat tempered clansman sent to chase down a young brothel runaway couple. They seek shelter from a yakuza-gone-straight inn owner Hideo Murata, who is being targeted by local bastard Bin Amatsu who wants to set up a gambling den in his premises. Guest star Tsuruta wanders into the picture as Murata’s wife’s ex-lover who was thought to be dead. This was the first film in the series after Yamashita departed, with Sadao Nakajima taking over. It comes out as sombre, humourless tragedy set against the political turmoil of the mid Taisho era with historical events frequently referred to in passing. But the film’s script is also its weak point, with too much reliance on coincidences that allow writers Akira Murao and Norifumi Suzuki to cut some corners. Curiously, themes of yakuza brotherhood are downplayed and there are no series trademark sakazuki scenes. Chris D. compared this film to the works of Tai Kato, and that’s not a bad comparison as far as the tone goes. Visually the film is quite accomplished, moving between indoor sets and brutally beautiful winter outdoors. But the film doesn’t quite reach the energy, the intensity (of giri vs. ninjo), or the old fashioned charm of Yamashita’s best entries.

    Brotherhood's Honor and Humanity: Loyalty Offering on Brink of Adversary (兄弟仁義 逆縁の盃) (Japan, 1968) [TV] – 3.5/5
    Part 7. This entry was helmed by none other than Norifumi Suzuki during his ninkyo era (he was involved in several mid-tier projects as director, and in many top-tier films as screenwriter). It’s a very enjoyable film with perhaps lower artistic ambitions than the previous film. What it loses in art and politics, it makes back in pure entertainment. Unusually for a ninkyo film, the tale explodes into action from the first frame, with Kitajima slicing and dicing his way through an enemy gang. He then takes a hike rather than giving himself in, taking the opportunity to go looking for his long lost mother in a plot thread that is essentially a remake/adaptation of “In Search of Mother”. The road takes him to a small town that has become a battle front between industrial evil Nobuo Kaneko and noble Minoru Oki, whose clan sides with the townspeople. Tatsuo Endo is cast hilariously against type as nerdy lab rat examining water pollution levels and trying not get killed on the job. This is very much a Suzuki film, from his trademark authority jabs to silly but surprisingly funny comedic relief, and of course plenty of melodrama. It's also a pretty good ninkyo film dealing with friendship and conflicting duties between men. Tomisaburo Wakayama emerges as the film's highlight as a conflicted, lightning fast swordsman affiliated with evil Kaneko, but slowly figuring out he might be playing for the wrong team.

    New Brotherhood's Honor and Humanity (新兄弟仁義) (Japan, 1970) [TV] – 3/5
    A partial reboot with Bunta Sugawara taking over the lead role. Kitajima is still on board as a supporting player. Righteous Sugawara is one of boss Ichiro Sugai’s lieutenants, who goes to prison for taking out a rival boss. His hopes of washing his feet (or going straight, as normal people would put it) go up in smoke when upon returning he is awarded the successor’s role by the elderly oyabun, much to the dismay of the boss’ corrupt son and other lieutenants Toru Abe and Nenji Kobayashi. Unsurprisingly, the three bad eggs start plotting Sugawara’s downfall. This is a pretty good ninkyo film, but it feels a little out of place in this series without Kitajima in the lead or the excessive male bonding of the early films. There may be a very logical explanation to this: unlike the previous films which were original scripts, this is actually an adaptation of a Shinji Fujiwara novel. The resulting film is pretty solid, and lacks bigger mishaps like dumb comedy, but it’s also void of true highlights. For a genre fanatic there is some fun to be had from seeing Sugawara as a very mind mannered ninkyo protagonist. Although it wasn’t by any means his only appearance or even only lead role in a ninkyo film, he was nevertheless being aggressively branded as “modern yakuza” by Toei’s marketing department ever since his first Toei lead role in 1969, and this role is quite the opposite of that.

    Brotherhood's Honor and Humanity: Chivalry (関東兄弟仁義 仁俠) (Japan, 1971) [TV] – 3/5
    Part 9. This movie basically pretends the previous entry never happened by dropping the “Shin / New” from its title and reinstating Saburo Kitajima in the lead role. However, the film still feels a little different from the older entries. Kitajima is a quieter, more cynical and almost blood-thirsty hero who takes a long time to come to realize that his foe Kyosuke Machida isn’t actually a bad man. Machida, who gets the film’s meatiest role, plays a dishonest gambler whose conman tactics are actually a way to feed a child and a mother whose father/husband he killed in front of their eyes several years earlier. The film benefits from a solid script by Koji Takada (his only for the series) and plenty of gambling (oddly enough, this not a given in many gambler films), even if director Buichi Saito doesn’t have the style and characterization skills of Kosaku Yamashita. It makes for a pretty satisfying ending for what is, perhaps surprisingly, one of Toei’s most consistently good yakuza film series. Oh and as a side note, here we finally have it, a Toei ninkyo film that put the word “ninkyo” into its title (Kanto kyodai jingi: Ninkyo).


    • i watched Ran for the umpteenth time. The Beast and the Magic Sword, Paul Naschy.
      Out here on the perimeter we is stoned...immaculate


      • Chivalrous Third Generation (遊侠三代) (Japan, 1966) [TV] - 2.5/5
        Tatsuo Umemiya in talkative ninkyo film that loses its focus to a multitude of characters. It smells of a novel adaptation, though to the best of my knowledge isn't. The setting is immediately post war in 1945. Umemiya belongs to a trucking company / gang whose enemy has teamed up with prominent military figures. Tsuruta runs a restaurant and offers help, while Ryotaro Tatsumi is the evil gang's tool with a secret connection to Umemiya. Lots of talk ensues, with little action. The ending, which unusually shows the aftermath of the carnage and comes with heavy religious (Christian) thematics, however, is so unusual and rewarding that it alone makes the film somewhat worthwhile. Side note: Umemiya also sings the theme song, as was common for ninkyo leads in the 60s.

        Three Ex-Con Brothers (懲役三兄弟) (Japan, 1969) [TV] – 4/5
        A very entertaining post-war ninkyo tale set in an onsen town. Bunta Sugawara and Kyosuke Machida star as mischievous but ultimately honourable punks (Ryoji Hayama is the less featured 3rd brother) who go against Tatsuo Endo and Bin Amatsu's awesomely dressed Chinese gangsters. It all feels very “early 70s” with a breezy, humoristic touch, despite having come out during the peak of the old school 60s ninkyo wave. For a film somewhat stuck between two eras, and is frankly nothing profound storywise, this is however spectacularly enjoyable. There's a nice laidback touch to the entire film, and a sense of hanging out with characters. Sugawara, starring in his only second lead role at Toei (the first one was in Modern Yakuza, released three months earlier) is clearly eager to establish himself as a new leading man. He and Machida both play it fresh and reckless, setting themselves apart from the more stoic Ken Takakura. Speaking of Takakura, he and Tomisaburo Wakayama both appear as quest star, and are as good as ever. Great film and one of the best of its kind: laidback but heartfelt, with plenty of humour but none of the routine filler that similar lightweight Toei pictures from the early 70s often come with. P.S., this also know as “Brothers Serving Time”, a misleading title considering the film’s prison segment comes right in the beginning and lasts less than five minutes.

        Rogue's Self-Sacrifice (捨て身のならず者) (Japan, 1970) [TV] – 2.5/5
        Takakura is a newspaper reporter who gets framed and jailed after snooping too close to the yakuza. Years later he's out for revenge. Good start, with Takakura for once not playing a yakuza despite this being a contemporary yakuza film! But the film soon runs out of steam. Unable to pursue his vengeance for a certain reason, Takakura goes alcoholic and meets Mie Hama, a woman whose father may have been to blame for Takakura's misery. Takakura then does some more snooping and has some more run-ins with gangsters, but ultimately nothing very exciting happens. It's still an alright film, but the opening promised more. P.S. this is not related to the 1968 Takakura film “Rogue” in any way.

        Chivalrous Woman: I Request Shelter (女渡世人 おたの申します) (Japan, 1971) [35mm] – 4.5/5
        Kosaku Yamashita's late ninkyo masterpiece strips the genre of its trademark romanticism and leaves its characters emotionally drained. Junko Fuji plays a female gambler who travels to another town to deliver a fellow gambler's ashes to his parents - and to collect the dead man's debt from them. The father is a noble man looking after townspeople and his blind wife. They are quick to catch who Fuji really is, and that how she's directly related to their son's death (he was killed after losing to Fuji and drawing his sword in desperation), but they treat her with utmost politeness as per etiquette. Fuji sympathises with them and attempts to help the best she can against the local yakuza, however, her every attempt at doing something good results in the opposite. There's a great scene where she helps the local women by kicking some yakuza ass, but to her surprise the mindless violence she just displayed isn't met with admiration but disgust and distrust. "The yakuza are like flowers that bloom in the shadows. Try it in daylight and you will only bring misery to yourself" says honourable companion Bunta Sugawara to crying Fuji. Fuji probably delivers her best acting performance here, especially evident in the many quieter scenes where she goes through emotional despair unseen in any other ninkyo film. Kyosuke Machida is another standout as a gray area companion who might be friend or foe, as is nearly unrecognizable sex starlet Yoko Mihara as prejudiced villager. The film's only weaknesses are some unnecessary comic relief in the beginning, and a rather abrupt jump cut near the end where Yamashita probably tried to break away from genre conventions but didn’t quite nail it.

        Angry Cobra: Kill the Witness (怒れ毒蛇 目撃者を消せ) (Japan, 1974) [35mm] – 3/5
        Frequent Shaw Bros. collaborator Umetsugu Inoue was in the right place at the right time with this cop / karate actioner, which reached the theatres just two weeks after The Street Fighter had initiated the domestic karate film boom. It’s not anywhere near as great, but it is an entertaining b-class affair on its own. Former Daiei star and university karate alumni Jiro Tamiya stars as karate-skilled Dirty Harry assigned to protect a witness. What follows is a sloppily written detective tale with karate, car chases, bare breasts, and some wonderfully hammy dialogue ("You're not human. You're... you're a cobra!). Tamiya's martial arts form seems a bit off, but his kicks and punches actually look powerful, which makes it a lot of fun to watch. There's also occasional creativity to the action, such as a major martial arts sequence set on top of a snowy mountain, a villain with a blade arm, and a climax set in a hospital. Now, as mentioned Inoue spent much of his late 60s and early 70s helming films at the Shaw Brothers. However, he wasn't making action pictures but mainly musicals. And here he is back in Japan at the venerable Shochiku studios who excelled at many things, but not necessarily at modern action (Teruo Ishii has been quite vocal about this). So the time and place might have been right, but the studio and genre knowledge perhaps a bit off, explaining some of the evident but amusing sloppiness. For a more serious and karate-free take on similar topic, see Toho’s Wild Cop films (1973) with Tetsuya Watari.

        P.S. There’s an English dubbed VHS print on YouTube. On a quick glance, it seems to be missing all the nude scenes from the Japanese version. It also runs 5 minutes shorter, though that might be mainly due to PAL conversion.


        • Thanks once again, Takuma, for zooming back with a bunch of amazing reviews.

          I'm really fixated (have been for a while) on seeing Brotherhood's Honor and Humanity: The Truth About Kanto Life.

          Chivalrous Woman: I Request Shelter
          sounds fascinating, too.


          • Peach Coloured Cinema

            I've been catching up with Nihon Eiga Senmon Channel's Momoiro Cinema on TV (an airing slot for theatrical pink films from 80s through early 2000s, many of them award winners or otherwise notable works from acclaimed directors).

            E-Cup Real Action Take Two: Rich & Ripe (鍵のある風景 Eカップ豊熟) (Japan, 1989) [TV] – 2/5
            Late 80s existential pink cinema with a bit of auteur touch by Toshiki Sato, one of the Four Heavenly Kings of Pink. He’s here working on his only second film, but already dealing with the same human relationship themes and societal focus that would be found in many of his later films. Unfortunately the film doesn’t have quite enough storyline to carry over the excessive sex scenes, despite interesting thematic and some inspired moments like the opening and closing shots. The E-cup breasts promised in the title admittedly deliver. “Landscape with a Key” was Sato’s original title for the film, but that obviously got changed for something more commercial by the studio. Reviewed here is the R-15 version Kagi no aru fukei: E-kappu hojuku, which doesn’t seem to have an English title and which may, but is unlikely to, differ substantially from the original theatrical R-18 version. It appears to have some shots in sex scenes re-framed at least.

            Lascivious Nurse Uniform Diary: Two or Three Times, While I'm Wet (白衣の告白 新人看護師日記) (Japan, 1997) [TV] – 4/5
            Mitsuru Meike's absolutely delightful theatrical debut film is 90s Japanese micro-philosophical indie drama at its near-best, hidden under a completely ridiculous pink film title. The film follows lone, limping nurse Mariko Yoshioka who has little interest in men until he meets a geeky movie sound recorder (sort of like John Travolta in Blow Out, except less cool and instead of capturing an accident on tape he stumbles over a bridge railing and breaks his own leg). What ensues is a cute semi-romance that constantly steers away from pink clichés. There's a scene, for instance, where the guy shows up in front of her house at night and sees her dancing (fully clothed) in her room. But instead of barging in ripping her clothes off, he just starts dancing alone outside (very badly). When she finally notices him and invites him in, he misunderstands and leaves like a gentleman. There are several more charming little scenes showing characters doing their everyday things, of course accompanied by her narrator voice. The music choices are at times wonderfully off-beat, the cast is surprisingly good, there is no sex in hospital, the movie look beautifully filmic, and finally, the ending is a total feel-good send-off. Also, the film is damn well edited! On the negative side the film cannot escape some excess sex, but even those scenes are very tolerable and un-sleazy. Reviewed here is the R-15 version Hakui no kokuhaku: Shinjin kangoshi nikki, which doesn’t seem to have an English title and which may, but is unlikely to, differ substantially from the original theatrical R-18 version Hakui inran nikki: Nureta mama nido, sando. There is no mosaic or noticeable cuts.

            Just Like Starting Over (美容師の恋) (Japan, 1998) [TV] – 3/5
            Mitsuru Meike’s 2nd theatrical pink film isn’t quite as charming as his 1st, but it’s still a quirky relationship drama with solid acting and several uplifting scenes. The unusual premise sees a socially inept fireman (Yoji Tanaka) save two drunken one-night lovers (Yumeka Sasaki and Yota Kawase) from a burning love hotel. The fireman falls in love with the girl, who has no memory whatsoever of the night or her hotel partner. The guy on the other hand tries to track her down and contacts the fireman, leading to an unexpected friendship, only the fireman can’t tell him he knows the girl since he doesn’t want to break up with her. Compared to Meike’s previous film, this movie has more sex and a less cute female cast, but it’s still a somewhat heartfelt film where you genuinely care for the characters. It’s worth noting leading actors Tanaka and Kawase would both go on to extremely prolific mainstream careers, while Sasaki would remain an in-demand pink actress for directors who needed someone who could actually act. Reviewed here is the R15 version Biyoshi no koi, which doesn’t seem to have an English title and which may, but is unlikely to, differ substantially from the original theatrical R-18 version Gushonure biyoshi: Sukebena kahanshin. There are no noticeable cuts, though I did spot two subtle instances of blurring which may or may not already have been in the R18-version.

            Uzuku bijin tsuma: Shujin no inu ma ni (疼く美人妻 主人の居ぬ間に…) (Japan, 2001) [TV] – 2.5/5
            A suicidal homeless man assumes a dead doppelganger’s identity, and to his own surprise is greeted with open arms by the latter’s wife. He eventually begins to suspect his own existence. Shinji Imaoka’s pink film about disconnected people. Interesting premise, but like many pink films of its kind it doesn’t quite feel fully realized. It does have its merits however, from interesting thematics to unusual opening (how many pink films start with the main character trying to kill himself?) and leading lady Mayumi Sawaki’s figure. Reviewed here is the R-15 version of the film, which may but is unlikely to differ substantially from the theatrical R-18 release which went under the title Nureru bijin tsuma: Hamerareta onna. Neither version seems to have an English title.

            Hitozuma boutique: Joji o tanoshimu onnatachi (人妻ブティック 情事を楽しむ女たち) (Japan, 2002) [TV] – 3.5/5
            Director Osamu Sato's debut film. This could've been another pink film to be dismissed and ticked off the list after the first 15 minutes, but instead it ended up being an almost thoroughly engaging affair. The film follows a young working wife (lovely Mayumi Sawaki) who married a monster suit actor (think of small size Godzilla) who lost his working ability soon after marriage and she now has to support the two of them by herself. She's also got a younger bed partner, though she hasn't stopped loving the slacker husband either. There are some terrific scenes in this one, particularly those detailing the pre-marriage romance between her and the man in the monster suit, as well as a solid enough present day narrative that you’ll want to stay till the end to see what happens to these two people. The best scene comes near the end, an absolutely wonderful rainy day encounter that echoes of 1990s Takeshi Kitano magic, and also features Sawaki delivering the most heartfelt bit of acting that you’d never expect from an AV performer gone soft core actress. Of course the film also has some supporting character sex thrown in to meet the shagging quota, but it's handled with a light and humoristic touch that makes it less intrusive than usual. Reviewed here is the R15 version Hitozuma boutique: Joji on tanoshimu onnatachi, which doesn’t seem to have an English title and which may, but is unlikely to, differ substantially from the original theatrical R-18 version Hitozuma boutique: Furinna mashitagi. There is no mosaic or noticeable cuts that I could spot.


            • The title "E-Cup Real Action Take Two: Rich & Ripe" got my attention :). Happy to read that it delivers on the title. Here's hoping it pops up somewhere where I can check it out.


              • Nikkatsu x 6

                Sea of Youth (aka The Black Sheep) (青春の海) (Japan, 1967) [Streaming] – 3.5/5
                Young female teacher Sayuri Yoshinaga relocates to a small seaside town with her runaway little sister, but their new life is complicated by hoodlum-like Tetsuya Watari (the black sheep of the title) who is related to the family hosting them and whom they keep running into, but can't help but to feel sympathy for. Of course, rumours start fast in a small town, but delightfully she doesn't really care at all. This is another very solid Shogoro Nishimura film, although it doesn't reach the heights of his best youth films like Return of the Wolf and Goodbye Mr. Tears. What this one does really well is capturing the idyllic small town scenery and atmosphere, as well as the usual good girl Yoshinaga x misunderstood tough guy Watari (who really excelled in these type of roles) romance formula. There's also some pretty fun interaction with the locals, particularly a middle school kid who comes to school with a noisy bike and even offers to give shocked/annoyed Yoshinaga a ride home... and she accepts, as she can't think of any other way to try and tame him. It's cute and unexpected little bits like that that give the film a welcome breath of fresh air and youthfulness.

                Whirlwind of Love (恋のつむじ風) (Japan, 1969) [Streaming] – 3.5/5
                A very entertaining Nikkatsu youth / romance / comedy with Chieko Matsubara as a young woman getting cold feet in her own wedding in Hokkaido. She flees to Tokyo with best friend Meiko Kaji, leaving dumbfounded groom Ryotaro Sugi alone on the altar trying figure out what the hell just happened, and who was that woman brought in by Kaji who claimed to be expecting his child? The film gets even more fun in Tokyo where Kaji (nicknamed “the hip”) and second friend Teruko Hasegawa (“the bust”) introduce good girl Matsubara (“the waist”) to psychedelic clubbing, handsome boys and foul-mouthed high school girls who are constantly talking about sex. I’m not terribly familiar with director Noboru Kaji, who was a long time assistant director at Nikkatsu prior to a brief directorial run in 1966-1969, after which he moved on to television. But this film has fantastic pacing, tons of catchy music, and solid performances everyone, including the always lovely Matsubara but especially the super energetic and mischievous Kaji. She’s only the 4th billed actress in the opening credits, but her role is probably the 2nd biggest in the film, and she’s an absolute delight on screen. Also kudos to whoever was responsible for her fashion in the film, which ranges from crazy wigs to street clothing similar to what she’d be wearing in the Stray Cat Rock films a year or two later.

                Women’s Police 2 (続女の警察) (Japan, 1969) [TV] – 1.5/5
                “There are 15 000 hostesses in Ginza” says Akira Kobayashi in the opening scene of this film, and assumes responsibility of looking after them. Of course, he isn’t that much of a white knight himself but a hostess recruiter with better morals than some of the shadier figures in the night. This is a good looking film, as you’d expect from a 60s Nikkatsu picture, but not much of interest happens in it. Kobayashi recalls tragic past, helps a few hostesses harassed by chinpira, and does tons of talking. The setting is similar to Toei’s Youth of the Night and Song of the Night series, but without the sleazy / desperate / opportunist protagonists usually played by Tatsuo Umemiya in those two series. Kobayashi in turn makes a too mild mannered main character for this type of film. Only the ending packs some punch (or rather, electricity). This is of course also a sequel to the original Women’s Police, which I saw a long time ago from a fuzzy 16mm print. My recollections of that film are as fuzzy as the print was, but I don’t think there was much to remember besides Meiko Kaji’s brief topless scene. Here we get no topless Kaji, or Kaji at all in fact.

                Women’s Police: Appointment with Danger (女の警察 国際線待合室) (Japan, 1970) [TV] – 2/5
                A marginally better sequel with Yuji Tanno replacing Mio Ezaki as the director. This is not much different from the dull part 2, except for the entertaining last reel which features Kobayashi and Eiji Go kicking some gangster ass. What precedes it is the usual uninspired fare, with Kobayshi investigating the case of a kidnapped hostess in the surprisingly dull (and cinematically unexploitative) if good looking nightlife world.

                Women’s Police: Swirling Butterflies (女の警察 乱れ蝶) (Japan, 1970) [TV] – 3/5
                Gangster film veteran Keiichi Ozawa takes over directorial duties in the 4th and best film in the series. The premise is largely the same as before, with lone wolf Akira Kobayashi both a hostess / night life operator and a sort of guardian angel for the women, but with more emphasis on yakuza and other shady figures leaving dead women floating in the port waters. Kobayashi once again has to catch guilty party. Kobayashi's performance here is his best in the series, aided by solid direction and a decent scrip script, finally radiating those "lone wolf in the night" vibes that didn't come through so well in the previous films. He's a man who fights gangsters and looks after hostesses without taking advantage of them, a superior man operating above basic sexual desires despite being a questionable figure of the night himself. Perhaps that's what audiences resonated enough with to come see these films one after another, even though they are almost void of sex, nudity and action (*). Here in addition we also get Ozawa's noirish direction paired with absolutely breathtaking production design, which certainly makes for an easy viewing. This was the last film in the series consisting of four movies, unless one counts Market of Women (1969), which is sometimes considered to be part of the series.

                * This series was of course far from being the only one of its kind. There were so many similar films, not only by Nikkatsu but also Toei who did the Song of the Night series for example, that they could be considered a genre of their own. They were typically set in night life / fuzoku districts full of bars, hostess clubs and shady figures, telling bittersweet tales of young adults longing for a better future, and characterized by neon-lit visuals and pop ballads that often inspired the storylines.

                Violent Gang Overcome (暴力団・乗り込み) (Japan, 1971) [TV] – 2/5
                It’s always good for a yakuza film to have at least one original scene that hasn't been done to death in the hundreds of other similar films. This one has two. The first comes when Akira Kobayashi is holding one of Toru Abe's hoodlums as human shield and then very casually decides to set his hair on fire! Wow! The other one comes at the very end, but it is better left unspoiled. Unfortunately those two scenes are pretty much all this contemporary Nikkatsu gangster film has going for it. Made during the brief Dainichi era (a distribution joint venture between Nikkatsu and Daiei, both of whom alone struggled to deliver the industry standard of two new feature films every two weeks for a double bill) before Daiei's bankruptcy and Nikkatsu's Roman Porno switch, it still sports stylish production design and a big name cast (hero Kobayashi, reckless pal Eiji Go, lone wolf Rinichi Yamamoto, and no real reason to be in the film Meiko Kaji). But it lacks energy and emotion, and resorts to the kind of dry, talkative and corporate-like depiction of the underworld that doesn't give the viewer much reason to care. The ending is good at least.


                • The Great Chase (Japan, 1975) 6/10

                  This is close to being amazing. Etsuko Shihomi is adorable as always. It’s hilarious the way she plays master of disguise in this film, while being a secret agent/racecar driver. Why not, right? Its also fun seeing many of the familiar Toei faces, especially Eiji Go. And while this film is Shihomi being adorable, there is plenty of reprehensible sleaze taking place around here. Like a few of her other films it provides a weird shift in tone that I really dig. You have politician raping girls while wearing a bear costume (or maybe a rodent). A young woman is tortured by being placed in a knight’s suit-of-armor and, in a really cool scene, Etsuko knocks it off with a sword. Nuns are transporting heroin in a coffin so we get a nude girl’s corpse getting cut open. This is classic 70’s Toei sleaze. All this while Shihomi is runnoig around playing Scooby Doo. Where it falls down is the fight choreography. Etsuko does have some cool jumps and moments but hits rarely come close to connecting. It’s very distracting and heart breaking. That said, the finale where Etsujko has bombs going off around her in a mine is amazing. It’s one of her coolest stunts and I feared for her safety. And during that scene I belly laughed when one of the main villains blew up. Its bonkers. This is a fun film that will be well worth revisiting.


                  • I really like 'The Great Chase'!

                    In fact I think it might possibly make my top 3 of films in which Etsuko plays the lead (alongside '13 Steps of Mako' and the first 'Sister Streetfighter').

                    My recollection is that it starts off pretty much like a family friendly action-adventure movie, then suddenly this maniac in a bear suit is clawing up naked girls with a huge nazi flag in the background, and... "oh yeah - Norifumi Suzuki directing - figures".

                    I agree the fights are a bit lacklustre and poorly edited (a problem I increasingly have with a lot of Toei's mid-'70s action films TBH; maybe I've just been spoiled by watching all that great HK stuff recently?), but the crazy stunts and general zany charm more than make up for it in this case (the cable car scene is pretty awesome).


                    • I've always considered The Great Chase my least favourite Shihomi film. Too goofy and the action choreography is the weakest of any Shihomi film IMO. I've seen the film on DVD as well as in 35mm, and it always feels underwhelming. Strange considering I love Suzuki, including all of his other martial arts films.

                      Dragon Princess, 13 Steps of Maki and Sister Street Fighter are my favourite Shihomi films, probably in that order.


                      • The Japan Derby Race (日本ダービー 勝負) (Japan, 1970) [Streaming] - 1/5
                        Junya Sato's epic dud covering 40 years of Japanese horse racing history, based on real life jockey and trainer Tokichi Ogata. I was willing to give this film some slack because it’s obviously not one aimed at me (I couldn’t care less about the topic). But when the film climaxes with a dozen back to back horse races (shown as live TV footage), taking almost all of the film’s last third, you can't help but to wonder had Sato gone insane? Even pink films don’t have sex scenes as plenty and prolonged as this film’s horse racing parts. Tatsuya Mihashi stars, with Ken Takakura, Tomisaburo Wakayama, Bunta Sugawara, Tatsuo Umemiya and Junko Fuji in supporting bits, none of them getting nearly as much screen time as the damn horses.

                        Thugs of Shinjuku (新宿の与太者) (Japan, 1970) [Streaming] – 3/5
                        This lightweight gangster movie is probably most notable for possibly being part of the Modern Yakuza series. Most sources nowadays consider it the 3rd movie in the series, and Toei producers and directors have given comments along these lines. However, the series title is nowhere to be found in the film or any of its Japanese promotional materials (any titles found in English language databases with the Gendai Yakuza / Modern Yakuza header are made-up). There is even a self-referential joke in the film when the main characters come out of a movie theater and spot a poster for this film, Thugs of Shinjuku. The poster actually states “Screening next: Thugs of Shinjuku - The 1st film in a new Bunta Sugawara film series”. It’s one of the many humoristic scenes in the film that set this apart from the more seriously minded entries that preceded and followed. Title debates aside, this is a harmless and perhaps forgettable film that however quite nicely captures its era and locations on film. The violent climax for instance is set on a bustling city street in broad daylight with Sugawara navigating between thousands of ordinary people as he chases a rotten yakuza boss. And when the last drop of blood has been shed, Bunta’s charming amateur ballad “Juku no yotamono” plays to bid us a farewell. Most of the film may not fare that well, with Bunta leading his comical gang of good-for-nothings through a routine plot, but one doesn’t feel like being too critical on the film when it has such charming bits in it.

                        Note 1: The Japanese title Juku no yotamono is actually more consistent with the first two films, Gendai yakuza: Yotamono no okite and Gendai yakuza: Yotamono no jingi than with the next two, Gendai yakuza: Sakazuki kaeshimasu and Gendai yakuza: Chizakura san kyodai.

                        Note 2: The last film in the series was Fukasaku’s Gendai yakuza: Hitokiri yota (Street Mobster). It was followed by Hitokiri yota: Kyoken san kyodai (Three Mad Dog Brothers), which despite being a sequel is not considered part of the Modern Yakuza series.

                        Note 3: Thugs of Shinjuku is the only one of these films that Toei has not released on DVD. It’s also the only one that isn’t airing on Toei Channel whereas the rest are frequently aired back to back.

                        Note 4: Though Shinjuku no yotamono would be the orthodox reading of the kanji title, it’s actually Juku no yotamono as per the accompanying furigana.

                        Father of the Kamikaze (あゝ決戦航空隊) (Japan, 1974) [DVD] – 4/5
                        Long, detailed, and engaging World War II docudrama focusing on Takijiro Onishi, the father of kamikaze warfare. Toei and Toho had already produced loads of kamikaze melodramas in the 60s through early 70s, but few (if any) had the massive scope of this. A product of the jitsuroku yakuza film era, this is essentially Battles without Honor and Humanity the war film edition, detailing the entire war from start to finish, from each strategic decision to the devastating end. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was also written by the same man as Battles without Honor and Humanity, Kazuo Kasahara. It’s also a controversial film for it taking the point of view of the men who believed in kamikaze warfare, which makes it both interesting and potentially objectionable depending on how you see it. Regardless, Koji Tsuruta is terrific as Onishi, a man who is burdened by his decision to sacrifice thousands of lives yet stubbornly believes it’s the only way to go. Akira Kobayashi is solid as his close ally, and Bunta Sugawara excels as extreme nationalist who is even more devoted to continuing the war than his superiors. The rest of the cast features just about every big name from Noboru Ando to Hiroki Matsukata, Kinya Kitaoji, Tsunehiko Watase, Ryo Ikebe, and many more.

                        Old Military Arts of Japan (武道ドキュメント 剣豪の祭典) (Japan, 1974) [Streaming] – 3/5
                        "We are witnessing a martial arts boom. Where did it come from?" asks the narrator at the beginning of this theatrical Toei martial arts documentary, which was released in the middle of Toei's karate film boom and frequently re-uses music from those films. The documentary covers notable Japanese martial arts from Okinawa Karate to Ninjutsu, Kendo, Shorinji Kenpo, sword fighting techniques popularized by the Lone Wolf and Cub series, and even firearms. None of it comes with very much depth, and the film was obviously an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of martial arts films and further promote them, but it is not without value. Various martial arts masters, from Shorinji Kenpo founder Doshin So to Japan Karate Association’s Masafumi Suzuki (who also frequently appeared in Toei’s karate films) and a supposedly 102 year old Okinawa Karate practitioner are brought in front of camera for interviews and martial arts demonstrations. We also get street interviews with random high school girls to find out if they’ve seen Bruce Lee films (some have, yes). All in all this, this is quite a passable and certainly more down-to-earth exploration of the topic than Toei's later, outrageous The Karate Professionals (1976). The film is not ruined with excessive length either, running only 45 minutes. It was released theatrically as a double feature with the 3.5 hour war film Father of the Kamikaze.

                        Festival Champ (お祭り野郎 魚河岸の兄弟分) (Japan, 1976) [Streaming] – 3/5
                        Norifumi Suzuki made this largely forgotten film between the 2nd and 3rd Truck Yaro films. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it feels a lot like them, only without trucks. Hiroki Matsukata is a fish market worker and a fanatical Japanese festival rascal. He also falls in love with a stripper while delivering his colleague's love letter to her but forgetting to mention it's from another man. As stated, this shares a lot with the Truck Yaro series, from festivals to the mix of drama and comedy (like many Suzuki films, it can accelerate from silly comedy to teary melodrama and then bounce back to laughs in a matter of minutes or even seconds). But the lack of action, save for a number of fist fights, and memorable characters make this a lesser affair. Dead fish are a poor replacement for Dekotora, and there’s nothing to rival the Sugawara & Aikawa pairing of the trucker films. The supporting cast does come with a couple of big names in minor parts, most notably Koichi Iwaki and Etsuko Shihomi, whose Fifth Level Fist was the supporting feature for this film in theatres. Speaking of Shihomi, it’s a real shame she never got cast in any of the Truck Yaro films: she'd have made a great rival driver for Bunta.

                        A Cheerful Yakuza (愉快な極道) (Japan, 1976) [Streaming] – 2/5
                        A loose follow-up to Tomisaburo Wakayama's popular but not particularly good action comedy series “Scoundrel”. This was a theatrical release, but feels more like a television film which may have been a symptom of the era: by 1976 the days of no holds barred genre films were starting to be over. Perhaps most baffling is that this isn't really a yakuza film at all, but instead a humoristic human relationship drama about taxi driver Wakayama whose daughter is about to get married. It is said Toei president Shigeru Okada was trying to go after the success of Shochiku’s Tora-san series, and this film was the result. It’s not until halfway into the film that Renji Ishibashi walks into the picture as blackmailing yakuza scum and introduces a bit of conflict leading up to an action scene near the end. And there lies another key point: “near the end”! The film does not end after that action set piece, like any 60s Scoundrel film would, but instead goes on for another 10 full minutes with family drama. Now, the most insane thing about the film was its release: it seems to have premiered as part of a triple bill with Female Ninjas: In Bed With the Enemy and Virgin Breaker Yuki II: Western Licensed District making a completely mad mix one coffee table drama and two adult films into a triple bill that no one under the age of 18 could see.

                        The Karate Professionals (世界最強の格闘技 殺人空手) (Japan, 1976) [TV] – 3/5
                        A ridiculous karate documentary helmed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi as one of Toei's last domestic martial arts productions of the 70s. There had been a slightly more down to earth martial arts doc called Old Military Arts of Japan two years prior, but now in the waning days of the karate film boom it was time to drop all pretensions and facts. The film follows the walking definition of violent machismo, the All Japan Professional Karate Association founder and part time Toei performer Go Otsuka as he faces challengers and trains his skills. Right at the beginning we are treated a nasty bit of (partially staged?) animal cruelty as Otsuka kills a wild boar with his bare hands. Not to be outdone, another fighter finds a viper in the grass and bites it to death. Looking after the fighters is the association's own certified doctor ("You've got three broken bones. No worries, they’ll heal in no time."). Much of the film is built around ring fights which cut to flashbacks showing the fighters honing their skills (e.g. why settle for running up and down stairs when you can run up mountains and have a fight at the top with whoever happens to be there). At the end of the film Otsuka travels to Hong Kong (where he's almost instantly attacked by half dozen kung fu fighters), Malaysia and Nepal, proving no one in Asia can neither match not assassinate him. This "documentary" is obviously to be approached with some reservations, but for fans of 70s karate films and true account cinema that blurs the line between truth and blatant lies there's 74 minutes of bone-headed, mostly staged fun to be had. Content wise it's not far from Yamaguchi's fully fictional films as far as the fights, performers, over the top narration and partially (or fully?) recycled Shunsuke Kikuchi score go. As documentary, it’s probably an accurate depiction of the mindset many of these fighters had.


                        • Yes Madam (Hong Kong, 1985) [BD] - 3.5/5
                          Largely comedic “second” (but filmed and released first) In the Line of Duty film is redeemed by an insanely good action finale. The climax is master class in stunts and film editing. What comes before is not that bad either, with Tsui Hark and the boys providing some amusing comedy and Michelle looking very cute, but it is the climax that makes the film.

                          Royal Warriors (Hong Kong, 1986) [BD] - 3/5
                          Popular “first” (but filmed and released second) In the Line of Duty film comes with solid action and a cool synth score, but lacks unforgettable scenes. Worse yet, the drama is the dullest in the series and Michael Wong is at his most annoying. Kudos to having Japanese characters speak Japanese, but the dialogue, as performed by Hong Kong voice actors, comes out heavily accented and there are even bits of complete gibberish.

                          In the Line of Duty III (Hong Kong, 1988) [BD] - 3/5
                          The most violent and even sexiest entry in the series (thanks to Michiko Nishiwaki spending a few seconds topless during a sex scene); unfortunately a bit lesser than its predecessors in terms of film making craft. Action is explosive enough, but captured without the kind of stylish lensing and great editing that Yes Madam had. Cynthia Khan is quite alright as the new lead: she's cuter than Michelle Yeoh but a lesser action performer. The Japanese characters are all dubbed in Cantonese this time, which was probably for the best.

                          In the Line of Duty IV (Hong Kong, 1988) [BD] - 3.5/5
                          Ridiculously action packed fourth film won't win any awards for screenwriting or acting, but it does deliver fights and stunts in spades. Yuen Woo Ping may even have raised the action bar a bit too high as there’s an unusually high number of shots where Cynthia Khan is only filmed from behind (stunt double?). Donnie Yen’s scenes are not affected by this, and he delivers one of the series' highlights with the famous rooftop fight with Michael Woods.

                          Erotic Nightmare (Hong Kong, 1999) [BD] – 2.5/5
                          Anthony Wong dreams of schoolgirls until the dreams bite him in the ass. Late 90s CAT III film delivers what the title promises, but something seems to be missing. Perhaps it’s heart, as odd it may sound. The film comes out somehow cold and mechanical compared to the more spirited early 90s Hong Kong madness. That being said, it’s still a passable film.

                          The Demon’s Baby (Hong Kong, 1998) [BD] – 2.5/5
                          Uneven period piece horror with an army general’s concubines bearing demon babies. It doesn’t really take off until the last half an hour when it turns into a mad sfx showcase whose makers must have been inspired by Rob Bottin’s work in The Thing. Until that, however, the focus is on a romantic plot involving two poor servants. Anthony Wong appears in a Mr. Vampire / Lam Ching-ying type priest role. Also worth nothing is that despite starring Elvis Tsui as sex maniac army man, the film is free of any on-screen sex or nudity, and carries a CAT II rating.

                          Deadly Camp (Hong Kong, 1999) [BD] – 1/5
                          A bunch of annoying teens camp on an island inhabited by a chainsaw wielding maniac and his annoying son. This frustratingly amateurish slasher, often referred to as Hong Kong’s Friday the 13th, does absolutely nothing right. The film is ineptly shot, the characters are nerve-wrecking, the violence takes place outside of the frame, and there’s not even nudity beyond one very brief scene. This was, in fact, a CAT II film. Anthony Wong appears briefly in an extended cameo.


                          • Takuma, have you moved? Are these Japanese blu-rays? Do they have English subtitles?


                            • Originally posted by mjeon View Post
                              Takuma, have you moved? Are these Japanese blu-rays? Do they have English subtitles?
                              No, I have not moved. Those are the 88 Films and Vinegar Syndrome BDs.



                              • I am glad that you are broadening your scope. I look forward to more HK reviews from you.