Tuesday, October 16, 2007


In less than one month, Synapse Films will release the next three entries in the "Pinky Violence Collection" originally begun by Panik House Entertainment. The three films are part of an unrelated trilogy, starring the same lead actress as similar, but distinctive characters, and feature many familiar Toei stock company faces among the supporting cast. They're collectively known as the Yoen dokufu-den, or Legends of the Poisonous Seductress series, and have never had any video release in the US, nor a DVD release yet in Japan.

The first film, Female Demon Ohyaku, was directed by Yoshihiro Ishikawa, a man better known as an assistant director on many of Nobuo Nakagawa's Shintoho films from the 1950s, including his great version of Tokaido Yotsuya kaidan, still unreleased on DVD in the US but owned by Janus Films and Criterion (write them and ask for a release date!). Ishikawa also directed a few films of his own, the most notable being 1960's Ghost Cat of Otama Pond, a color kaidan eiga that's fun and features some great imagery.

In Female Demon, Junko Miyazono stars as an actress and con artist named Ohyaku who becomes an unfortunate object of attraction to Sengoku, a salacious and cruel magistrate. Sengoku is also behind a scheme to defraud the Shogunate of a shipment of gold, pinning the blame on a group of bandits whose number includes Ohyaku's lover, Shinsuke. After Shinsuke is executed and Ohyaku sent to a prison island, she swears revenge and begins killing anyone who stands between her and Sengoku. What results is a truly astonishing film for its time (1968), a torture-filled, bloody saga of revenge that had my jaw on the floor when I first watched it. Given Ishikawa's history of working on traditional costume stories and ghost films, I little expected the level of carnage and sexuality on display in the film. Of course, there's no overt nudity but viewers will be surprised by how close things get sometimes. Still, there's no hiding the violence - beheadings, eye-gougings, throat-slashings, and more - and Ishikawa revels in its, steeping the story in cruelty and torture. It's really surprising, and not something I would have expected from Toei at this point in its history. Fans of the swordplay and Pinky Violence genres are in for a pleasant surprise once they see this film.

The second and third films in the series were directed by Nobuo Nakagawa, who made Snake Woman's Curse for Toei just before these films, and the great Jigoku nine years previous. The second film, Quick-Draw Okatsu, features the best swordplay of the trilogy, and no surprise, as Miyazono stars this time as the daughter of a swordmaster and dojo owner who is at odds with Shiozaki, an ambitious official who is terrorizing the local populace. When Okatsu's brother offends a gambling den owner who's in cahoots with Shiozaki, she and her father take the blame and are severely tortured in Shiozaki's dungeon (all the bad guys in these films seem to have medieval torture facilities close at hand). Once again, bad things happen and Okatsu swears vengeance against the evil man, cutting her way through rival dojos and a brothel straight out of a Norifumi Suzuki exploitation film before she reaches him. Along for the ride are Reiko Oshida as Rui, a miniskirt-clad young swordswoman, and Lone Wolf & Cub star Tomisaburo Wakayama as a bounty hunter on "Okatsu the Killer's" trail. (Wakayama also appears in Female Demon, in a smaller role as a kindly gang boss.)

The third film, Okatsu the Fugitive, follows closely in the pattern set by its predecessor, with a similar story of a samurai woman losing her family and going on a crusade of vengeance against the corrupt officials responsible for it. This time around, Okatsu is the daughter of a local official who has exposed a bribery scheme involving tobacco crops. When her parents are tortured (yes, again) and killed, she comes after Judayu, the powerful magistrate who was responsible for it. Mixing it up this time around are a group of orphans (including Reiko Oshida), watched over by a ronin and former swordmaster played by yakuza movie stalwart Tatsuo Umemiya. Another twist is the presence of Okatsu's fiancé, who begins the film on her side but swiftly slides in the direction of the corrupt Judayu, in order to further his own career.

All three films have been remastered in HD by Synapse, and look terrific. Each disc features trailers for the entire series, and Female Demon Ohyaku and Quick-Draw Okatsu both feature audio commentaries by writer and Japanese film expert Chris D. Extras may be a little light on these titles, compared with Horrors of Malformed Men and Snake Woman's Curse, but I hope that the availability of these hard-to-see films will make up for that.

Look for the discs in stores in less than a month and remember, your order or purchase will help support the release of more Japanese genre cinema classics. Only by supporting the companies that are willing to go to the effort and expense of licensing these films can you expect to see more of them come out in remastered, legal editions. And if you like them, send Synapse an email and let them know what you thought!

And for those who've read this far, here's a treat: the original trailers for all three films, with English subtitles. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

More Nikkatsu series coverage

You'll be free of Nikkatsu Action series news, at least for a while, as we go into a brief hiatus for the rest of the year. Any new screenings won't happen until January 2008 at the earliest, although there are some behind-the-scenes things happening now that could become very exciting. You'll hear it here first, of course.

In the meantime, here are some photos from the Austin and New York events, plus some additional coverage of the Japan Society screening.

Nikkatsu's Hideo Iwamoto and Kenneth Kurokawa strike a gangster-like pose at the Alamo.

The Drafthouse's Lars Nilsen and Mark Schilling do the Q&A thing on the Alamo stage.

Harvey Fenton from FAB Press, Mark & Lars hawk the brand-new No Borders, No Limits.

Last Friday's NY launch of the series went better than anyone had dared to hope, with nearly 200 people in the audience despite rain, closed streets and increased police presence due to the nearby UN being in session, the New York Film Festival opening night screening and party, and an almost complete absence of proper press listings for the event, due to an incompetent press person at JS (more concerned JS staffers are doing their best to remedy the situation).

We were prepared for the worst, and were overjoyed to see the happy faces exiting the theatre after the screening of
A Colt is My Passport, which was treated to cheers and loud applause at the end. Mark Schilling's book even sold out during the after-film signing, and many people pledged to come to future screenings. (The next one is November 9th's The Warped Ones.)

Press coverage for the event has been sparse, but the few articles I've come across are all extremely positive and heavy-hitting. My previous post told you about Grady Hendrix's
shrieks of joy in the NY Sun. Let me also point you to a nice write-up in the "Week Ahead" section of the 9/23 NY Times. In case it's gone or requires registration or payment, here's the text:

Mike Hale

The history of Nikkatsu, Japan's oldest film studio, has its highs (Mizoguchi, Imamura) and its lows (a period in the 1970s and '80s when it specialized in soft-core pornography; bankruptcy in the '90s). One of its more entertaining chapters will be on view at Japan Society beginning on Friday in "NO BORDERS, NO LIMITS: 1960s NIKKATSU ACTION CINEMA."

The eight films in the series (which will screen one per month, through next spring) were released from 1960 to 1969, during the studio's postwar heyday as a producer of popular genre movies: yakuza thrillers, urban youth dramas, Japanese "westerns." Some of this output, particularly the more experimental gangster dramas of Seijun Suzuki (Branded to Kill, Tokyo Drifter), has seeped into the American consciousness. But despite these films' likability — their closest reference points include film noir, spaghetti westerns and James Bond — this major subdivision of Japanese cinema is still overshadowed by the old masters on the one hand and the new practitioners of stylish horror on the other. None of the selections at Japan Society, selected by the film critic Mark Schilling, has been seen in the United States before.

Judging from Friday's opening feature, Takashi Nomura's "Koruto wa Ore no Pasupoto" ("A Colt Is My Passport"), it's our loss. Both hard-boiled and jazzy, this tale of a pair of hit men fleeing the mob (two mobs actually) stars the stoic Japanese action hero Jo Shishido, with his surgically enhanced cheeks, and features the Morricone-like music of the frequent Nikkatsu composer Harumi Ibe. It takes us to the freeways of Tokyo, the docks of Yokohama and a seedy truckers' motel straight out of an American noir, and sends us home with a fantastic gun-and-dynamite battle. The Tarantino remake should be announced any day now.

The nearly sold-out Japan Society audience for A Colt is My Passport.

Mark Schilling chatted with fans and signed books for nearly an hour after the screening.

FAB Press founder Harvey Fenton enjoys a drink with Mrs. Outcast Cinema.

Another exciting piece was published in the 9/30 edition of NY University's Washington Square News, where writer Simon Abrams calls Colt "a great way to get genre fans hooked." Those were my thoughts exactly when I put together this series, Simon, and thanks for the support.