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.


Blogger Nicholas Rucka said...

Ah yeah! Kobayashi's PLAINS WANDERER is bad ass!

I bought it several years ago at Book Off in Manhattan having been totally blown away by the cover-- an "Eastern Western"? WTF?? Little did I know that I'd stumbled upon a Nikkatsu classic.

So, tell me: when, oh when, do us Angelinos get to partake in Nikkatsu Action?!

3:29 PM  

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