Continuing a dive into Nikkatsu’s vault we have Toshio Masuda’s Red Pier (1958). It stars Yujiro Ishihara as “Lefty” Jiro, a ‘50s gangster laying low in Kobe after killing a civilian over a drug smuggling racket. When he falls for the victim’s sister and starts to let slip his involvement, his low-key criminal underworld starts to come unravelled.
From Kiyoshi Kurosawa, director of Sweet Home and with a long career dipping in and out of the horror genre, comes Creepy (2016). Ex-cop Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) leaves his job hunting serial killers to become an academic specialising in criminal psychology, but when his new job is unfulfilling he re-opens the cold case of a missing family on the side. In a parallel story, his wife becomes perturbed by their unusual new neighbour Nishimoto (Teruyuki Kagawa). But as Takakura tells his wife – serial killers are usually nice to their neighbours, so she has nothing to fear from the socially graceless Nishimoto. Right?
Opening 2018 with another Akira Kurosawa classic seems like a good way to get started, so here’s Rashomon (1950). An inventive story that retells the same event from the point of view of multiple unreliable narrators, Akutagawa’s storytelling and Kurosawa’s interpretation echo through pop culture – with my personal favourite being the King of the Hill Episode, “A Fire Fighting We Will Go”. The film presents multiple layers of narratives within narratives as a wandering traveller happens upon two other men seeking shelter from the rain in the huge, cyclopean ruin of the titular Rashomon gate.
Welcome to 2018 and welcome back to Kino 893. Last year, I set out to explore Japanese cinema in a way I never had before, pushing myself to hunt down everything from classics by Akira Kurosawa to B-movie action and horror unearthed by niche publishers like Arrow, Eureka, and Criterion. I’d always had a soft spot for Japanese films given my time spent living in or studying Japan over the last decade, but 2017 marked the first time I sat down to check out a lot of films I really should have seen before.
I started Kino 893 to chronicle the different movies I was watching and hopefully over time build up an eclectic collection of reviews. For many of the more obscure films, I was also encouraged by the fact very little information on them exists in English, and I wanted to try and include as much as I could for other film fans looking to track this stuff down. I was aiming to release a new review every week for the whole of 2017, but ‘real life’ occasionally got in the way – but still, 45 out of 52 isn’t bad! In 2018, I hope to hit my target, as well as releasing the occasional ‘bonus’ review still relevant to the site – Hollywood movies set in Japan, the Western films of Japanese directors, or Japanese dorama, anime, or videogames.
With the holiday season now behind us, if you missed my reviews of Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence or Tokyo Godfathers, be sure to check them out now. New reviews will start arriving this Friday, January 4th, with Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon leading the pack. As ever, follow and subscribe to get updates on new reviews and articles, and I welcome comments on reviews whether you agree or disagree with my takes.
Satoshi Kon’s third feature, Tokyo Godfathers (2003), sees three unlikely, homeless protagonists happen upon an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve in Tokyo. Gin, a middle-aged alcoholic, Hana, a former drag queen, and Miyuki, a young runaway girl are forced to look after the baby, which they name Kiyoko, and in the process are taken on a whirlwind tour of the city in the lull between Christmas and New Year’s as they try to keep her safe – and find her real parents.
Trying to find seasonally-appropriate Japanese films can be difficult when the holiday in question isn’t celebrated in Japan, but I’m giving it a shot with Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983). Starring David Bowie, Tom Conti, and Takeshi Kitano, this British-Japanese production is an unforgiving, oddly-paced, but fascinating take on a WW2 Japanese internment camp in Java.
Two felons break out of an Alaskan maximum security prison in the middle of winter. When they find come across a train leaving a depot it seems like their ticket to freedom and escape from the snow and the cold – but a freak accident traps them aboard as the unmanned train picks up speed, out of control and unable to be stopped. This is Runaway Train (1985). Starring Jon Voight (Midnight Cowboy, Heat) and Eric Roberts (The Pope of Greenwich Village, The Dark Knight) as the escapees and directed by Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky, Runaway Train is an unexpectedly brilliant thriller – but why is it on Kino 893?
Because it was based on an undeveloped screenplay than none other than Akira Kurosawa.
My experiences with the first two Lone Wolf and Cub movies didn’t fill me with excitement for the remaining four films in Criterion’s box set. I don’t regret watching them, but I was starting to regret owning the collection – all the more reason to be sad Amazon was shuttering its LoveFilm rental service. And yet! Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades (1972) performs the nigh impossible task of course-correcting from the previous films, with drastically improved cinematography and fight scenes, as well as more interesting character interactions. While still by no means a perfect film, it took me by surprise, and reinvigorated my interest in the series.
In this second instalment of the cult Lone Wolf and Cub, Itto Ogami (Tomisaburo Wakayama) and infant son Daigoro take on a Shogunate plot to steal a region’s indigo dye techniques, do battle with a legion of ninjas and plenty of sword maidens, and spray buckets of luminously-red blood. It’s Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx (1972)! When I reviewed the first film in the series, I wrote how deeply disappointed I was; it was not the vital action classic I was imagining. Does the sequel manage to right those wrongs?
By the time I got around to seeing Your Name. (2016), it was already a phenomenon. It held the top spot at the Japanese box office – before returning for another three. It was the second largest box office for a domestic Japanese film behind Spirited Away, and the first non-Miyazaki anime to pass $100 million dollars. Critical praise was high, and the fandom was intense. People were going on pilgrimages to locations featured in the film. As time slipped by and I still hadn’t seen it, I grew worried that it couldn’t possibly live up to expectations – or worse, that all that hype would undermine even an above average film. In the end, I needn’t have worried: Your Name is visually stunning and has a story to match.