As I look to explore the cult and classic movies of Japanese cinema from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, I’m limited by what’s actually available in the West and guided by recommendations from other film fans and critics. Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (1972) was an early suggestion for this blog and one that I’m glad I sought out. The directorial debut of Shunya Itō, starring Meiko Kaji, Scorpion is a brutal exploitation film and a subversive example of the women in prison subgenre.
Between 1968 and 1969, Nikkatsu put out six films in the Outlaw Gangster series: VIP, VIP 2, Heartless, Goro the Assassin, Black Dagger, and in the opening months of 1969, Kill! A great deal of credit must go to Arrow for resurrecting this more-or-less forgotten series after a showing at an Italian film festival in the mid-2000s. I’ve lamented before that there’s very little English language information on the series, from sketchy IMDB entries to a barren Wikipedia page, even when investigated in Japanese. To be launched from almost complete obscurity to a premium Blu-ray collection loaded with extras from Japanese film scholars is impressive.
I was drawn to Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai trilogy, starting with Musashi Miyamoto (1954), for the simple fact that it’s shot in colour. Kurosawa’s masterful Seven Samurai came out in the same year but is, of course, in black and white – it wasn’t until 1970 that he would begin shooting in colour with the commercially disastrous Dodes’ka-den. Surprisingly, the first Japanese colour film only came out in 1951, with the first Japanese colour film to be released in the West, Gate of Hell, not made until 1953. I’m fascinated by that early use of colour. Carmen Comes Home used Fujicolor, but Gate of Hell and Musashi Miyamoto were made with Eastmancolor, a US technique. It’s extraordinary seeing the way colour changes the way the films are shot, and so much of what makes Musashi Miyamoto worth watching is the vivid colourscape – lush green scenery, vibrant clothes, colourful blossoms.
Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie (2015) is the feature-length follow-up to Ghost in the Shell ARISE, the third animated iteration of the Ghost in the Shell franchise (after the original films and the Stand Alone Complex era of the early 2000s). In Japanese, it’s called ‘Shin Gekijōban’, which is akin to ‘the new movie based on an anime or television series’. This explains both the clumsy English language title and the reliance on characters and plot elements from ARISE that, enjoyable or not, prevents it from excelling as a standalone experience.
When I first started blogging about Japanese movies a couple of months ago, I began back in the 1950s with some of Akira Kurosawa’s best known work. Then I jumped ahead to the ‘60s and ‘70s for some cult classics. Now with Sion Sono’s Cold Fish (2010) we move into the modern era. I’m a big fan of other contemporary Japanese directors but Sono had completely passed me by, and this film was recommended to me as an accessible jumping on point for the work of someone called “the most subversive filmmaker working in Japanese cinema today.”
Each time I fire up another movie from the Outlaw series, I’m struck by the question of how I’m going to find something meaningful to comment on in a review that I haven’t already said about one of the previous films. Then Outlaw: Black Dagger (1968) did something unexpected: it commented on its recycling of the same actors over and over again.
Continuing a dive into Meiko Kaji’s past performances I decided to check out Delinquent Girl Boss (1970), the first movie in the Stray Cat Rock series. Initially intended as a star vehicle for the popular singer Akiko Wada, from the second film onwards it would be Kaji who scored top billing, and Wada soon disappeared from the cast. Going into the film, I expected it to be a case of Meiko Kaji outshining the intended star – after all, by this point I had already been impressed with her performance in Lady Snowblood and was starting to see why she’s held in such high regard by genre movie fans. I figured that maybe Wada wasn’t able to carry the movie the way Nikkatsu wanted, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I’ve been reviewing Nikkatsu’s late-60s Outlaw VIP series here on Kino 893, and like every other film I look at, I like to include the director. Unfortunately, I’ve just realised that I’ve been crediting the wrong man for every instalment after the first! Toshio Masuda directed Outlaw Gangster VIP, but the first sequel was actually the directorial debut of Keiichi Ozawa. The third film, Heartless, was from Mio Ezaki, and then Ozawa returned for the last three. I must confess, I only realised my mistake while reading the booklet included in the Arrow Video release.
It’s surprisingly difficult to dig up information on some of these films, so all credit to Arrow and the supplementary material with their releases. I’ll have to keep a closer eye on the credits!
I’m aiming to post a new review every Friday, and coming up, I’ve got the last Outlaw VIP movies, Sion Sono’s Cold Fish, and the first Stray Cat Rock movie, Delinquent Girl Boss. If anyone has suggestions not already mentioned on the Archive page, let me know in the comments!
Four films in and the Outlaw VIP series is beginning to creak. As I noted in reviews of previous instalments, Nikkatsu put out no less than six Outlaw movies starring Tetsuya Watari in 1968 and 1969. The fourth, Outlaw: Goro the Assassin (1968), sees the titular anti-hero Goro Fujikawa as a drifter without a yakuza family who gets involved in yet another feud involving local criminals and innocent civilians.
If I had to pick a movie as a guilty pleasure, I might choose The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) – except I don’t feel guilty at all, because I love this movie. The third instalment in the now massive, globe-trotting franchise, back in the mid-2000s the future of the series seemed in jeopardy: Vin Diesel had left after one film, Paul Walker after the second. Tokyo Drift was essentially a Hail Mary soft reboot with an all-new cast that transplanted the action to Tokyo, and swapped street races for suitably Japan-inspired drifting.
While the focus of this blog is, and will remain, on Japanese cinema, my tastes are eclectic. I love all kinds of movies, and sometimes, I’ll feature them here if they have some suitable hook – maybe they’re set in Japan, or from a Japanese director working on a foreign production, or it’s a remake of a Japanese movie. In the case of Tokyo Drift, I’m using the location and a scenery-chewing appearance by Sonny Chiba as an excuse.