Thursday, January 31, 2008

Nikkatsu Action in Wisconsin this weekend!

A reminder to all that two films from the No Borders, No Limits: Nikkatsu Action retrospective will be screening this Saturday, February 2nd at the University of Wisconsin Cinematheque at 821 University Avenue in Madison.

The first film up is The Warped Ones at 7:30 pm, starring Tamio Kawachi as an out-of-control, jazz-loving juvenile delinquent who impregnates a young, wealthy, modern artist during a rape, but inexplicably finds her drawn to him for his anti-social wildness. This film is one of director Koreyoshi Kurahara's first efforts, and it sizzles with heat, violence, sexuality and raw power. Kawachi is astonishing to watch in a performance that borders on dance, and the film's soundtrack is also incredible, laced with wild, bebop jazz. The stark, black & white cinematography is also a treasure, especially on the big screen.

Video Watchdog publisher Tim Lucas reviewed the film based on a screening on HD satellite channel VOOM a little while ago, calling it "the only film I've ever seen that makes jazz seem scarier than the darkest heavy metal, that makes jazz seem dangerous." And Reel Talk also covered the NYC screening last fall.

Following the Warped Ones screening will be the U.S. premiere screening of Buichi Saito's "Eastern Western," and the fifth film in Akira Kobayashi's popular Wataridori series, Plains Wanderer. Co-starring Jo Shishido as Kobayashi's less-than-respectable rival, then n'er-do-well partner, the film is about a lone, guitar-playing wanderer - Kobayashi in one of his signature roles - who wanders into a remote Hokkaido town with a young boy riding on the back of his horse. He's in search of the boy's mother, who it turns out is the kept woman of Kodo, a corrupt industry boss (familiar Nikkatsu and Toei face Nobuo Kaneko). Kodo's putting the squeeze on a local mine-owner whose land he wants to foreclose on, in order to build tourist hotels and attractions, despoiling the beautiful landscape and displacing the indigenous Ainu tribes who live nearby. Kobayashi, of course, teams up with the mine-owner, who's got a cute niece (Ruriko Asaoka) who's engaged to a slimy worm who works for Kodo, but who naturally turns her eyes to cutie-pie Kobayashi when he rides into town. She's also a convenient surrogate mom for the boy in tow. So it's up to Kobayashi (with Shishido's help) to beat the beat the bad guys, rescue the boy, romance Asaoka, and sing a few songs while he's doing it.

As you can probably tell by the formulaic plot synopsis, the film holds no surprises for anyone who's seen an American western from the 1950s, and while the film might not hold many surprises in the plot department, it's pure entertainment fluff that gives you a good idea of what Japanese audiences were watching in the 1960s, and the kind of film that made such a huge matinee idol out of Kobayashi and his studio-mates. Shishido is terrific in his standard "bad guy who's really a good guy" role, the Hokkaido locations are gorgeous, and Kobayashi sings three or four songs, including his signature "Guitar o motta wataridori". It's a lot of fun, and I hope it's a true eye-opener for American audiences who had no idea that Nikkatsu was busy making westerns up in the northlands of Japan, featuring cowboys in chaps, riding horses and carrying guitars.

Here's the Plains Wanderer trailer:

Hope some of you can make it, and don't forget that the Wisconsin screenings continue on February 23rd with Yujiro Ishihara's Red Handkerchief and the U.S. premiere of Joe Shishido's Glass Johnny: Looks Like a Beast.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Fixing the IMDB

As anyone who's more than a casual fan of Japanese cinema knows, the Internet Movie Database has always been a notoriously unreliable source for information on films never released on video in the US. This is particularly the case with older Japanese films, what with their hard-to-type-in-transliterated-English titles and lack of good archival resources in any language other than Japanese.

But after a chance meeting with an IMDB chieftain at a film festival recently, I'm happy to say that the eight films in the currently-running Nikkatsu Action series are currently being updated on the IMDB to include their English titles, original Japanese poster images, and more. The process is happening in the background at the IMDB site, but many of the titles already have the posters up and other fixes should be happening soon.

The biggest problem among the eight titles, though, was the reason I spoke to Mr. IMDB in the first place. For many years, there's been a major error on the film page for Yasuharu Hasebe's 1969 film ARAKURE (aka ROUGHNECK), starring Akira Kobayashi. For some reason, the film was confused at some point with Hasebe's film KOIKI BORYOKU: RYUKETSU NO SHIMA, also made in 1969 and also starring Kobayashi (it was released a month after ARAKURE, in fact). This latter film, released on DVD in the US by Home Vision under the title BLOODY TERRITORIES, is a good yakuza action pic, but very different from ARAKURE, which has never had any sort of release outside of Japan. Complicating the matter even further is the fact that there's a Naruse film from 1957 also called ARAKURE!

One of the difficulties in booking the Nikkatsu Action series stemmed from the fact that many cinematheque programmers thought that ARAKURE had already been released on DVD in the US, confusing it with BLOODY TERRITORIES. I'd tried to make the fix on the IMDB via their regular "contact us" procedure, but nothing was ever done. So imagine my relief when I was introduced to Mr. IMDB recently, and I could finally correct this error.

So now we can proudly say - and have the IMDB bear it out - that none of the titles in this series have ever been released on DVD in the US.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Nikkatsu series rolls along

I'm pleased to be able to announce the first new Nikkatsu Action series screenings of 2008 here. Four of the films in the series will be screened at the University of Wisconsin Cinematheque, in Madison.

February 2nd:
The Warped Ones
Plains Wanderer

February 23rd:
Red Handkerchief
Glass Johnny: Looks Like a Beast

More information about the series can be found on the Cinematheque's website.

We also just had a sold-out screening of Toshio Masuda's Red Handkerchief here in New York at the Japan Society tonight, almost 300 people in attendance. I guess Yujiro Ishihara is still popular!

Masuda's amazing Tetsuya Watari yakuza film Gangster VIP comes next at JS, on February 22nd.

And keep your eye on this page for a lot more screening announcements over the next few weeks. Nikkatsu Action may be coming to a theater near you!