Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Stars and Sukeban

All the cats are officially out of the bag, so I can finally talk about my next few projects.

During the past week in Tokyo, we did a series of interviews with famed Toei sexploitation director Norifumi Suzuki. This is the man responsible for the Sukeban girl-gang series of films (he started the series and directed the first four entries), the astonishing School of the Holy Beast, and the mind-bending Hiroyuki Sanada - Sonny Chiba - Abdullah the Butcher mash-up Roaring Fire. The man is a virtual genre unto himself, and his resume reads like a "best of" from the world of Japanese genre cinema. Take a peek:

— writer of numerous ninkyo yakuza films and chanbara from the golden age at Toei, including works by Tai Kato, Kosaku Yamashita and Eiichi Kudo

— directed and/or wrote most of the entries in the Sukeban / Girl Boss and Terrifying Girls' High School series

— directed the second Red Peony Gambler film

brought the French sex film actress Sandra Julien to Japan for two films, Tokugawa Sex Ban: Lustful Lord, and Modern Porno Tale

also brought Swedish sex film actress Christina Lindberg to Japan for the amazing Sex and Fury

— directed all of the entries in the long-running, Bunta Sugawara, low comedy series Truck Yaro

— made Sonny Chiba's The Killing Machine and Shog
un's Ninja

— creative force behind many, many other great films still awaiting discovery in the West

Suzuki-kantoku was kind enough to join us on successive Sundays at the amazing Laputa Cinema in Asagaya, on the west side of Tokyo, and spent several hours with our camera crew discussing his career and films. The interviews will appear on two DVDs due out next year, the initial one being the fourth Sukeban film, to be released by Media Blasters in February under the title Girl Boss: Revenge. Later in the spring, Discotek Media will release Suzuki's jaw-dropping, solitary entry into the Roman Porno genre, Star of David: Beauty Hunting. If you're unfamiliar with that particular film, here's a taste:

Additionally, French documentary filmmaker Yves Montmayeur assisted at the shoot and conducted his own interview with Suzuki about his early career working with some of the great yakuza filmmakers at Toei. This will appear in a future project Yves is working on for French television.

Finally, Suzuki sat with Japanese film critic and cult film writer Kiichiro Yanashita for a full-length audio commentary for Star of David, to be included on the Discotek disc. Not only is this the first time Suzuki has done a commentary, we believe it's the first time a Roman Porno director has done a commentary for one of his films! Of course, the commentary was conducted in Japanese and will be presented on the disc with English subtitles. Fans of Suzuki and of the Roman Porno genre in general should be very pleased.

Alas, I came to Japan with my digital camera but without the connecting cable needed to upload photos from it onto my laptop, so those will have to wait until early December, when I return to the States. But in the meantime, Kiichiro has posted a photo of Suzuki in front of our Sukeban backdrop on his blog, which talks about the event. And I can't end this blog entry without also expressing the deepest thanks to friend and bizarre cinema expert Yoshiki Hayashi, who set it all up and put us in contact with Suzuki in the first place. He's also one of the best people I know of to conduct movie poster-hunting expeditions in Tokyo and beyond.

Finally, there's one more project potentially happening later this week, for yet another Japanese exploitation DVD due out in 2008. But that one's not going to get written about until after it happens. Check back soon for more information.


Anonymous logboy said...

nice, a suzuki commentary... but, i've never really applied much interest to such things. hard enough just getting through finding the films and watching them, let alone giving them a second spin, before work must resume on researching and watching - all the other things in life too. i'd rather see an interview in video form, a mini documentary of sorts, in text form in a booklet or as an MP3 via the companies site... particularly as i don't much rate 'star of david' out of all those relatively few suzuki things to appear on DVD in subbed form. i'm interested to see 'girl boss : revenge' (art is now up at amazon.com, by the way) and to see what else discotek, MB and all these companies heading towards pinky violence / romanpornos of some repute (even giving the relative lack of information and experience we're able to have of them) can come up with in terms of less obvious, more inspired choices, and in terms of actually publicising that they're out there and available to buy.

9:30 AM  
Blogger 追放マーク said...

The STAR OF DAVID disc will also feature a video interview with Suzuki about the film and other significant entries in his career. Unfortunately, a complete career overview interview would be impossible given time and budget limitations, though it'd be something I'd like to explore later on. The man was just responsible for too many things - many of them not even noted in English-language resources - to cover in even a feature-length documentary.

Out of curiosity, what would be some of your suggestions of "less obvious, more inspired choices" titles for companies to release. Keep in mind that there's also a commercial necessity to release titles that stand some chance of appealing to a relatively mass audience.

6:46 PM  
Anonymous logboy said...

specific recommendations?

personally, not a clue, 'cos i'm in a situation where i know there's literally hundreds that could be chosen from, but we always seem to get companies treading on one another toes; 1100 nikkatsu romanpornos aren't there?.

'star of david' exists in my collection as a japan shock disc, so i know (as do many) there's a subbed disc to be had. given the relatively limited market for such things, maximising the chances of success isn't (for me) about picking out a film that's familiar in the west because of a widespread knowledge of a previous edition, but about knowing the qualities in a film that the audience are looking for then selecting it out; then doing a good job in making sure they connect with the potential buyers... i don't know how many bought kino's recent konuma discs (i did - all four) but these are films that may not get obvious discussion online because there's nowhere beyond the commonplace "great film" kind of cursory talk that can be had because we've not seen then, have had little of the genre or the director. if kino had issued trailers and done some groundwork to attract attention, we'd perhaps have discussion around these that would suggest that people bought them and that they would like more, but we're instead likely to see an eternal loop of taking a pointer from people and trying to run a companies licensing from it, rather than the ability to take us beyond all this kind of practice...

suzuki has made a hell of a lot of films, lots of suzuki's films are now appearing unsubbed in japan, lots (200+) of romanporno are available in japan unsubbed on DVD... there are writers for sites like midnighteye who've recommended unsubbed editions to me, directors of note from nikkatsu's past, so there's the english-speaking knowledge out there to be had for (probably) free - but, all said and done, going via the knowledge you can get that's so similar to the less experienced viewers who've gained a taste via a subbed edition and simply trying to ply a double-dip from the grassroots isn't saying the company do so has confidence, knowledge, understanding to pick something out and the ability to publicise it either...

i just want to be shown that it shouldn't be those with an appetite for seeing these things that are being relied upon to point the way, those like me who are mostly just a taster of the buyers who've decided there's issues to be spoke-up about with regards how things are all a little too backwards and inside out in terms of picking things out to license and making sure we all know there's a reason (or hopefully several) to pick them up, make the next step in our knowledge, broaden the market, make the tastes of those around us more sophisticated and individual - discotek (and they're not alone - but we're talking 'star of david' specifically i suppose) should be showing us the way, not being led by what we've already made kind of obvious by our experience of it.

so many directors in japan. so many genres. so many choices. so little evidence of it in america!

10:42 AM  
Anonymous cinebeats said...

This is great news! I'm really looking forward to Girl Boss: Revenge.

Is there any chance that someone might release the rest of Nikkatsu's Stray Cat Rock movies with English subs anytime soon? I would really love to see them come out in a box set with English subs similar to the Japanese set that was released last year.

I was also wondering if there are any plans for Outcast Cinema to bring the Nikkatsu Action series to San Francisco? Or release the films shown in the Nikkatsu series on DVD? I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the answer is yes!

1:46 PM  
Blogger 追放マーク said...

To logboy -

I appreciate the comments, but keep in mind that the Tokyo Shock disc was released in Germany (or was it Austria?) and is a PAL disc of a pretty poor transfer. The fact that it comes from another, foreign market has little impact on the US availability, and for purposes of US retailers and vast majority of potential US buyers, it's as if it doesn't exist. You and I might be frequent buyers of overseas discs, but most Americans aren't, and to US companies, it doesn't matter at all if a disc has come out overseas with English subtitles. If they want to release it to the US market, it's a brand-new deal.

4:32 AM  
Blogger 追放マーク said...

To cinebeats:

Big fan of your site! I also have that same first SUKEBAN poster, and brought it to Japan with me, but sadly Suzuki-san doesn't do autographs.

To answer your questions...basically, yes on all counts! Or at least, we're trying. As part of the screening series we're doing with Nikkatsu, we're actively seeking some distribution partners in the US for their action films from the 60s and early 70s. Obviously, the STRAY CAT ROCK titles are a big treasure in their catalog, and we're in discussions with some US video companies right now. Keep your fingers crossed. Of course, episode #3 (SEX HUNTER) is already owned in the US by Home Vision / Image, though I'm not sure how much longer that license period lasts.

Similarly, the other films in the screening series - and many others, including some Roman Porn titles - are all being offered for acquisition, and we're having the same talks about these titles. Of course, three of the titles in the series (RED HANDKERCHIEF, THE WARPED ONES and THE VELVET HUSTLER) are owned already in the US by Janus Films / Criterion. Contact them via their website and tell them you want to see DVDs of them...now!

And finally, with all luck, the series should be coming to a venue in San Francisco next year. We're in discussions right now with a cinema there to host the series, but of course there are all the usual problems involved such as cost, logistics, etc. Wish us luck, and thanks again!

4:48 AM  
Anonymous logboy said...

yep... i know a non-USA release might as well not exist in some respects.

it clearly does though to a greater or lesser extent (easy to describe as a non-issue, but...), at least to those that are reacting to the news discotek are bringing it to america, because they wouldn't have anything of substance to regularly react to if they hadn't had the opportunity once before and taken it; other suzuki licenses and a general sense of the likely sleaze factor in a romanporno film help.

i appreciate the work that goes into these releases and i think it's a shame to apply such additional efforts to a repeat appearance of a film, and repeated appearances do expand the market in some respects towards other climes but they also keep it from finding new ground or giving different opportunities that might be even more worthwhile, but i'll personally take a new film experience over one we've had even an obscure slight chance of in recent years because a DVD with subs is a rarity compared to the amount of stuff we don't get subbed discs of - especially within a market which suffers from not managing to be particularly representative of the amount of stuff available to license, particularly from within a market that may or may not actually be making any kind of impact due to the general lack of business knowledge and standardised or well-worn practices of a film industry that has set many precedents as to how to make the most of what you might initially see as automatic success; because they rarely turn out to be, because of the reliance upon factors beyond any companies control, but more obviously because of the lack of control over factors that simply aren't harnessed.

1:57 AM  
Blogger Cinebeats said...

I'm glad you enjoy my site and many thanks for the updates!

I will be looking forward to the Outcast Cinema series when/if it arrives in San Francisco. I'm sure it would find a welcome audience in the bay area.

I've written to Criterion often and I always beg them to release more Japanese films, but they may be ignoring me at this point. I'll keep trying though!

1:03 PM  
Anonymous Chris Dreamlogic said...

Weren't Panik and Synapse supposed to release Gincho Wataridori? What ever happened to that?

I'm definitely interested in the Suzuki commentary and Girl Boss: Revenge.

I know I'm in the minority, but my favorite film in the Pinky Violence collection was Delinquent Girl Boss: Worthless to Confess. Are you guys going to tackle other films in that series?

10:37 AM  
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11:45 PM  

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