Tokyo Mighty Guy • Danger Pays • Murder Unincorporated
Earlier on the site, I reviewed three films from Nikkatsu’s golden years in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Presented in Arrow Films’ Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Collection vol. 1, I found Voice Without a Shadow to be a decent early taste of Seijun Suzuki, but Red Pier and The Rambling Guitarist were both pretty forgettable, aside from the latter’s unusual Hakodate setting. So when I sat down to watch the films from vol. 2, I wondered whether it was worth digging into each film with a meaty review. I could just binge all three, I figured, and recreate the feeling of watching what I expected to be pretty ephemeral, throwaway pieces of entertainment in the 1960s.
The irony is that vol. 2’s films are much more entertaining and stand out from a crowded field of mid-’60s yakuza films by being much more comedic in tone. It actually feels unusual that rote action films like Youth of the Beast or Massacre Gun get their own standalone release, but Arrow has chosen to practically hide away these gems on the second volume of it’s Diamond Guys series. Perhaps it’s that the directors or the films themselves lack name recognition (Buichi Saito is perhaps best known for his work on Lone Wolf and Cub, while Ko Nakahira’s 1956 film Crazed Fruit is critically acclaimed but he’s otherwise unknown in the West, and Noguchi is billed as a ‘new discovery’).
Nevertheless, I’m going to treat these films more as a ‘collection’ than I normally would. Below are the reviews I wrote up while working through the disc, first posted over on my Letterboxd feed. Here’s hoping that Arrow digs deeper into Nikkatsu’s expansive back catalogue and releases another volume of Diamond Guys in the future.
Tokyo Mighty Guy (1960) Buichi Saito
I love old Japanese films. I don’t always rate them very highly, but I love watching them. They’re a window into the past, into another culture, so even when they’re a bit rubbish, they can be interesting. Hopefully, though, they’ll be like Tokyo Mighty Guy, and entertaining in their own right.
Hidden away in Volume 2 of Arrow Video’s Nikkatsu Diamond Guys collections, each of which collects several old Nikkatsu studio films starring their marquee actors of the late ’50s and early ’60s, Tokyo Mighty Guy is a breezy, nimbly paced bit of fun. Akira Kobayashi stars as Jiro, an “Edokko” or true son of Tokyo, who just got back from studying in France and is ready to help his family run their Western cuisine restaurant in the heart of the Ginza, Tokyo’s wealthy shopping district.
He gets swept from one situation to another as a former Prime Minister crashes his car into the restaurant, love quadrangles threaten to entangle him, and gangsters from the ‘Typhoon Club’ try to extort him. It’s no Tampopo, but it has a similar feel as all the different vignettes circle around the restaurant, with the fast-talking Jiro solving problems with a bit of patter or a few punches. It’s all very ephemeral and probably more than a little forgettable, but there’s just something indefinably fun about the upbeat tone – and it doesn’t hurt that a lot of the humour actually lands.
Plus, the opening musical routine is worth the price of admission alone.
Danger Pays (1962) Ko Nakahira
A brilliant ‘60s crime comedy that I can’t believe isn’t more famous (or at least, more cult). Hidden away on Volume 2 of Arrow’s Nikkatsu Diamond Guys series, Danger Pays follows a quartet of slightly bumbling criminals as they attempt to steal millions in blank banknotes – and the eccentric elderly counterfeiter who can turn them into an illicit fortune.
Nikkatsu star Jo Shishido leads the cast, turning in the best performance I’ve yet seen from him. Too often, he woodenly portrays a generic tough guy, his face mostly a mask from the bizarre cheek implants he chose to wear for much of his life. Here he’s a little younger and allowed to cut loose in an almost purely comedic role. Also notable is Ruriko Asaoka (better known, in Japan at least, for her role in the Tora-san films), firstly because she puts in a good part, but secondly because it feels so unusual to have a woman in a Japanese film of this period who is neither a love interest nor a damsel in distress.
Delightfully colourful and eccentric, the film is filled with oddball details, from the nicknames of Shishido’s fellow criminals (Slide Rule, Dump Truck Ken, and “Glass-Hearted” Joe himself) to the plethora of classic cars (especially the bright red Messerschmitt KR200 bubble-canopied three wheeler that Shishido’s character drives). Pacey and with a pitch perfect conclusion, I could hardly recommending digging out this film enough.
Murder Unincorporated (1965) Haruyasu Noguchi
Extremely silly but enjoyable Japanese screwball comedy. Found on Volume 2 of Arrow’s Nikkatsu Diamond Guys collections, showcasing the venerable Nikkatsu Studio’s stars of the ‘50s and ‘60s, this is undoubtedly the weakest of the three films on offer but still worth a look.
Jo Shishido is the star, surrounded by one of the most eccentric casts of a film I’ve seen from any era. When an assassin starts leaving playing card calling cards at the side of his victims, a group of criminals hire their own assassins to eliminate him, and then more assassins are hired to eliminate them – and, well, you get the idea. It’s not exactly high brow. The assassins all have ridiculous gimmicks and personality traits that range from the amusing to the annoying, but overall, it works.
Another comedy for Shishido, and it shows that he’s better when he can let loose and have a little fun over the films where he’s a generic tough guy. A slightly anti-climactic end to Diamond Guys vol. 2, but I’d definitely watch more from the era if they’re as oddball as this.