Friday, September 28, 2007

Nikkatsu rolls along

Time for an update on the Nikkatsu screening series, I think.

We just returned from Austin, Texas, where the utterly amazing Fantastic Fest presented three of our films, which had a great response from the audience. More details and hopefully some photos later, but here is some coverage from the festival blog:

A Colt is My Passport
The Warped Ones
Like a Shooting Star

Tonight is the opening night of the series at New York's Japan Society, and Kaiju Shakedown writer Grady Hendrix has published a terrific overview of the series in today's New York Sun, which I encourage you to read. My only quibble is that he neglects to mention the imminent publication of Mark Schilling's companion book by FAB Press. Harvey Fenton of FAB was in Austin and premiered the new publication there, with Mark Schilling providing a finishing signature. It's a nice little book, kind of a chapbook rather than a larger-sized shelf monster. It's thankfully filled with photos and posters from the films, and is honestly the only English-language reference guide on the genre right now. Most Japanese film histories don't even admit the existence of these films, so Mark's guide should be a particular treasure for Japanese film fans, and I encourage everybody to pick it up at Amazon or elsewhere, where it's available for under $11.

Todd Brown's Twitch Film has also been providing Fantastic Fest coverage, and there's some Nikkatsu talk in there amongst all the other films. They called Velvet Hustler (aka Like a Shooting Star) an "undiscovered masterpiece," proclaim that The Warped Ones is "anarchic, fresh, and original," and said that A Colt is My Passport was "so good that about halfway through I was thinking how much I wanted to see it again." If that doesn't sell the series, I don't know what will!

We're still plugging away at programming the films into other venues, and things are looking good for about a half-dozen events in other cities around March of next year. Keep your fingers crossed and guns loaded.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Nikkatsu series poster

Designed by Outcast friend & series co-sponsor Harvey Fenton of FAB Press. Hopefully coming soon to a theatre near you!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Even if you don't read Japanese, those two kanji characters in this blog post's title should be familiar to you, if you're a fan of '60s and '70s Japanese cinema. They appeared on the opening logo for films produced by Nikkatsu Studios, the oldest of the major studios, and the one that arguably produced the greatest number of the country's most popular cinema stars.

A project we've been working on for most of 2007 is finally coming to fruition: an eight-film retrospective of Nikkatsu Action films produced in the studio's fruitful period between the late 1950s and 1971, when the entire output of the company was shifted to Roman Porno, in a response to declining box office.

This series, entitled No Borders, No Limits: 1960s Nikkatsu Action Films, launches later this month with a pair of events. The first, chronologically, will occur at Fantastic Fest, a neat genre film festival now in its third year, and held at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in downtown Austin, Texas. Their mini-series, entitled "Violent Nikkatsu," will present three films from the series.

The first, on September 24th, is the chilly, noir-inspired, widescreen black-and-white hitman saga A Colt is My Passport (1967), starring Jo Shishido and featuring many similarities to Seijun Suzuki's Branded to Kill, produced the same year. This movie is one of my personal favorites of the series (the other being Toshio Masuda's spectacular Gangster VIP, but you'll have to wait until 2008 to see that one), and I think it gives the better-known Suzuki film a run for its money. It's not nearly as stylish or crazy, but that's not its intention - it's simply a lean, mean, sparse story of survival boiled down to its essence: tough killer, sympathetic partner, cruel bad guys, and a difficult situation. There's the same kind of weapons fetishism presented in Branded, plus a good dose of the kind of Platonic homoerotic relationship we'd later see in gangster movies from John Woo, plus a mind-bending finale featuring an armored sedan, an open plain, and a time bomb.

The second film at Fantastic Fest (on September 26th) will be another one from 1967, director Toshio Masuda's freewheeling crime movie Like a Shooting Star, better-known in the U.S. under its alternate title, The Velvet Hustler. (Even though it's about guys in the mob, it's too light-hearted for me to call it a "gangster movie.") The film stars Tokyo Drifter Tetsuya Watari as Goro, a Tokyo gangster who flees to western Kobe to hide out after a hit. A year goes by, and he's bored and dying to return to the cosmopolitan, big city, but complications ensue in the form of a cop on his tail, a hitman out to get him, and a beautiful heiress who comes into his life but might be bad news. The plot devices are rote and cliched, but what sells this film is its hip style and likable characters - even the hitman (Shishido again!) gets a few good scenes and has a personality of his own. Masuda was the top director at Nikkatsu during the 1960s, and was chosen to helm many of the studio's biggest projects, including most of the films starring top studio draw Yujiro Ishihara. (He was also one of the two directors of the Japanese portions of the Pearl Harbor re-creation war film Tora! Tora! Tora!, the other director being Kinji Fukasaku!) Masuda certainly is at the top of his game here, but he's aided immeasurably by one of Suzuki's frequent collaborators: genius art director Takeo Kimura, who creates a jazzy world of colorful nightclubs, dark hideouts and lonesome streets. Again, it may not be as over-the-top as his work on Suzuki's Tokyo Drifter and other films, but such restraint allows the filmmakers (and the viewer) to concentrate more on the terrific performances of its charismatic cast.

The final film in Austin's mini-series screens on September 25th, and it's a doozy. Koreyoshi Kurahara's The Warped Ones is known by several alternate titles: its Japanese title literally translates to Season of Heat, and it was given a theatrical release in the U.S. in the 1960s (in English-dubbed form) by Radley Metzger's Audubon Films as The Weird Lovemakers (a title that would also grace a Something Weird Video VHS release of the film). When the movie came out in 1960 in Japan, it was part of a short-lived "movement" of films about rich youth living idly and acting out amongst a background of surf, sun and sand. Called "Sun Tribe" movies, these films created enough of an outrage among mainstream moviegoers and politicians that there was a call for them to be stopped. Yujiro Ishihara's star vehicle Crazed Fruit (directed by Ko Nakahira) is one of the more notable Sun Tribe movies, and was even graced with a Criterion Collection DVD release, at the behest of film critic Donald Richie. (Oshima's Cruel Story of Youth could be seen as inspired by the popularity of the Sun Tribe movies, too.) Anyway, The Warped Ones trumps them all, and in our opinion is a much better film than the more "important" Oshima movie. Tamio Kawachi stars as one of the most antisocial characters ever presented in a youth film, especially considering the time the film was made. While the youngsters in Crazed Fruit and Cruel Story pick a pocket or two and swap girlfriends, Kawachi and his gang rape and terrorize their way across a beach community in a manner that wouldn't be seen again until the 1970s with the rise of punk cinema. Fueled by a relentless jazz soundtrack and some amazing hand-held camerawork (widescreen, to boot), Warped Ones should be a real discovery for filmgoers who think that late 50s foreign cinema has to be slow and boring.

In conjunction with the launch of the film series, all the Austin screenings will be introduced by Tokyo-based film critic Mark Schilling, who originally programmed a larger version of the series for the Udine Far East Film Festival back in 2005, and who has written a book on the genre that will be published by FAB Press in early October. Early copies of the book will be available for sale at the Austin screenings, as well.

After our Texas adventure, the series moves to my current hometown of New York City, where we'll be screening Colt on Friday night, September 28th, at Japan Society on East 47th Street. As in Austin, Mark Schilling will be introducing the film, and the screening will be followed by a reception and book signing. The night also kicks off a new series at JS called "Monthly Classics," which will present ongoing screenings of films selected by film world personalities. Mark's picks are, of course, the eight Nikkatsu films, which will continue to screen from early November to May of 2008. The full Japan Society schedule is currently online.

So what's next for the series? Well, we are currently in talks with a number of other cinematheques around the country and in Canada, and we hope to place the series (or a selection of its films) in several of these venues for screenings in the first half of 2008. Keep your fingers crossed, film fans, and if you're living in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, or Seattle, you might just have some Japanese Action coming your way!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Malformed hype

One of my favorite supplements on the Horrors of Malformed Men disc is the original trailer Toei created for the film back in 1969. Not only does it feature Tatsumi Hijikata doing his seaside butoh dance in a different outfit (a rehearsal, perhaps?), it's also a revealing example of just how deeply the studio execs at the time were confounded by Teruo Ishii's bizarre film.

They literally throw everything at the viewer over the course of the trailer, emphasizing the mystery, sex, violence, strangeness, Rampo, dance, art, and virtually everything short of offering a free toaster to anyone who buys a ticket.

The studio's desperation is particularly apparent in the continuous onscreen text, something I wanted to make sure was conveyed in the English subtitles. Such slogans and ballyhoo are common in Japanese trailers of the '60s and '70s, but the ones in the Malformed trailer are completely over-the-top. Unfortunately, the subtitling firm we had contracted with to translate the film only subtitled one or two of the onscreen text lines in their first pass, and it was a struggle to get them to subtitle everything. (I could write many pages on everything that we went through to get them to do their jobs correctly!) But with the assistance of Don May and Jerry Chandler of Synapse Films (who, of course, pay the bill for the subtitling company!), I stuck to my guns and I think it turned out great. I hope you do, too.

An illuminating sexual world!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Shakedown praise

Inbetween volunteering at local soup kitchens and shopping online for female hormones (long story), friend and NYAFF partner Grady Hendrix has posted a nice piece on his essential blog, Kaiju Shakedown, about the moderate success that the Horrors of Malformed Men disc has managed to achieve in the midst of the really depressing general state of classic Asian cinema on DVD in the U.S.

Here's hoping that its success and brief notoriety will convince some additional distributors to pick up some classic Japanese genre films. And if they're reading this blog, they should email me, since I have plenty of suggestions for them!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Synapse Films' new DVDs of
Horrors of Malformed Men and Snake Woman's Curse have been out for a week now, and the good reviews keep coming in, yet I haven't read anywhere online about an inquisitive viewer stumbling upon a bunch of Easter Eggs I hid on the discs. Maybe those things are too 1998 for people these days?

Well, I'll give you a hint: look in the galleries. There are eight "Eggs" on Horrors, but just one on Snake.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Malformed Men will Rule!

Reviews have been popping up for Synapse Films' DVDs of Horrors of Malformed Men and Snake Woman's Curse faster than naked women in a Teruo Ishii film.

The biggest so far has been Dave Kehr's rave review of Malformed Men in the New York Times, which also includes some good words about Snake Woman. More review links are below, for hours of entertainment.

The photo above was snapped by friend and Malformed liner notes writer Patrick Macias, at the legendary Video Market in Shinjuku, undoubtedly the best import video store in Tokyo.

10,000 Bullets (Malformed)
10,000 Bullets (Snake)
Bloodtype Online (Malformed)
Bloodtype Online (Snake)
Bloody-Disgusting (Malformed)
Bloody-Disgusting (Snake)
Commercial Appeal
Dreamlogic (Malformed)
Dreamlogic (Snake)
DVD Active
DVD Drive-In (Malformed)
DVD Drive-In (Snake)
DVD in My Pants
DVD Maniacs (Malformed)DVD Maniacs (Snake)
DVD Savant
DVD Times (Malformed)
DVD Times (Snake)
DVD Verdict
Fangoria (Malformed)
Fangoria (Snake)
Mondo Digital
Sex Gore Mutants (Malformed)
Sex Gore Mutants (Snake)

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