Monday, July 21, 2008

Back to work update

Been a while, but it's time to post an update about various projects, plus the end (at least for now) of the Nikkatsu Action screening series.

This year's NY Asian Film Festival ended two weeks ago with a bunch of sold-out shows at Japan Society. A big highlight for the final weekend there was the opportunity to do a live on-stage Q&A with United Red Army director Koji Wakamatsu, who was piped in from Keio University via a highspeed internet connection due to the fact that, because of prior political affiliations, he's forbidden from entering the U.S.

Post-NYAFF always means the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal, an event that's been part of our summer schedule for ten years. It was only a five-day trip this time, but packed with, well, work. Fantasia is usually a time to relax, see movies and hang out with friends, but this year the festival was screening three of the films in the Nikkatsu Action series, plus there was other work to be done.

Montrealers can always be counted on to turn out in droves for Fantasia's screenings, although retro shows are sometimes unpredictable in terms of audience size. Happily, all of the shows of the Nikkatsu series were packed full in the DeSeve theatre, and audience response was terrific. We screened A Colt is My Passport, The Velvet Hustler, and Gangster VIP, and all three were met with an enthusiastic response, particularly the last one.

Speaking of Colt, some news I broke in Montreal that's made it elsewhere on the web can finally be posted here: some new Nikkatsu Action is coming to America on DVD, courtesy of The Criterion Collection! Only about a dozen Nikkatsu Action titles have ever made it to U.S. home video release, mostly films by director Seijun Suzuki. A few exceptions are out there - Image's old disc of Yasuharu Hasebe's Black Tight Killers, Home Vision discs of Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter and Bloody Territories - but for the most part, it's just Suzuki. That will change significantly in 2009, as Criterion plans at least two Eclipse box sets of Nikkatsu titles (one of them to include A Colt is My Passport), and most likely two individual, full-on Criterion Collection releases of two additional films from the genre. Four of the films came from the screening series, and I'm happy to say that I had a significant part in brokering the deal and choosing the titles. And with all luck, Criterion will be coming back to the well for more titles, if these initial ones do well enough. Rest assured that you'll have the first news here of any future title announcements or plans from them regarding these films.

But it's not just Criterion who's going Nikkatsu Action-crazy. Two smaller labels have jumped on the bandwagon and, although we didn't specifically broker these deals, I have no doubt that the screening series played a part in these sales. First up was NY-based indie label Kino, who picked up Seijun Suzuki's 1963 film Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell, Bastards! with Jo Shishido, as well as the 1967 Akira Kobayashi vehicle Bakuhatsu sanbyomae, which doesn't have an official title, but translates to "Three Seconds Before the Explosion". Then at Cannes, LA label Cinema Epoch announced that they'd bought the terrific, late Nikkatsu New Action film Bad Girl Mako, directed by Koreyoshi Kurahara, as well as three films from Shochiku Studios (more on those below). No idea what these two labels' individual plans are for these releases, but if we find out, we'll post the info here.

Another big Nikkatsu genre besides their Action films was Roman Porno, and if you're reading this blog, I'm betting that you don't need a definition of it. Since last spring, Nikkatsu has been really keen on selling some of their films from this popular 70s (and 80s) genre of well-made, softcore sex films to U.S. labels, outside of the usual bondage titles available for sale from companies like Kimstim. I'm happy to report that one of my favorite indie DVD labels, the essential Mondo Macabro, recently signed a deal with the studio to release six of their best Roman Porno titles, in an arrangement brokered by Outcast Cinema. The first two have been announced on the web - Noboru Tanaka's outstanding Edogawa Rampo adaptation The Watcher (sometimes called Walker) in the Attic, and Yasuharu Hasebe's roughie Assault! Jack the Ripper, both for release this fall. Four more remain for 2009, including director Akio Jissoji's hard-to-see, but astonishing The Prosperity of Vice, a very late period Nikkatsu sex film that wasn't properly a "Roman Porno," but came out (in 1988) under an alternative banner called Ropponica. Mondo has already completed their extras for the first two titles, which unfortunately didn't involve any Japanese interviews, but we're discussing possibilities for the four follow-up discs right now.

One more deal for a batch of Roman Porno titles - a big one, trust me - is still in the works and while we can't be specific about the U.S. company who's involved, we can say that the deal would be for dozens of titles that should keep Japanese sex film fans satisfied for several years, at the least. More on that here as the deal develops.

We're getting away from ourselves a bit here, so let's jump back to the Nikkatsu Action Screening series for a brief moment, to plug the final two venues to host the series here in North America, at least in the foreseeable future. We're heading to Seattle later this week for a four-film retro (July 25-28) at the NW Film Forum which will include The Warped Ones, Glass Johnny, A Colt is My Passport and The Velvet Hustler. Then on the 31st, a six-film retro runs through August 4th at Vancouver's Pacific Cinematheque that will show these four films, plus Roughneck and Gangster VIP. We'll be there for all the shows, so say 'hi' if you manage to see one of them.

And that's all, folks - nearly a year later, and the Nikkatsu Action Screening series is done. Back in the spring of 2007, author Mark Schilling and I had a conversation in Germany, during the recording of the audio commentary for Synapse Films' DVD release of Horrors of Malformed Men, where I asked him innocently, "What's going on with the Nikkatsu Action series you put together for Udine? Have you approached any U.S. venues about it?" Mark said they'd all turned him down due to technical difficulties with the prints being non-subtitled, so I volunteered, "Let me see if I can help out." Seventeen months later, we've managed to take eight previously-unseen films to fourteen North American venues (visiting ten of them ourselves), and expose a little-known genre to over a thousand new fans. At least four licensing deals for Nikkatsu films are in the works as a result of the series, and it brought the work of Outcast Cinema to the attention of several other companies in the field who've contacted us about Japanese cinema-related projects. I can't say it was easy, or that there weren't times when I was ready to drop the whole thing due to various frustrations - and it certainly didn't make anybody rich, not the venues showing the films, not Nikkatsu, and definitely not me - but in the end, I'm very happy and proud to have been able to put it together and give it as much exposure as it's had.

People have asked me if I'm going to tackle another Nikkatsu retro series after this, and the short answer is "no" - I think the exposure granted to these particular films has satisfied the general public's interest in the genre (what little there was!) and another series would be just doing the same thing over again, to smaller audiences. There are dozens, even hundreds, of great Nikkatsu Action titles out there waiting for discovery, but it'll be up to video labels to dig these out, hopefully with our help in the licensing and title selection process. And while we're currently in the midst of putting together a "history of pink" series for this September's Fantastic Fest (more on that in a future post), I don't foresee that retro touring the U.S. like the Nikkatsu series, due partially to its content and partially to cost and burnout. Cinematheques make so little money doing what they do that pennies are always squeezed to the bursting point, and the costs involved in putting on a series like this are frequently too much for them to handle. I won't swear that there isn't another Japanese film retrospective in Outcast's future - my dream being a classic yakuza series! - but for the time being, there's a lot of work waiting for us that's been on the back burner too long, and it should keep us busy well into 2009.

And rather than take up more space telling you about it here, we'll save it for the next post, including those Shochiku / Cinema Epoch titles referred to above. Thanks for reading, and come back soon (we promise!) for an update on video production-related activities.


Blogger Iacus said...

I wanted to say thank you for all the hard work everyone has done in putting together the retrospective series.
I managed to catch the Nikkatsu retrospective as it screened at the fantastic film fest in austin. All three films were among the best I saw during the entire festival. I won't be able to catch this years fest which means I'll be missing the "history of pink" screenings which is going to be a big blow to me.
All the news of DVD releases (many more than I expected) is wonderful.

8:46 PM  
Blogger Nicholas Rucka said...


9:32 PM  
Blogger logboy said...

...after a very dry six months, a period of 18 months that looked desperately dry for interesting new japanese stuff making it to america, this has me a bit overwhelmed. there's an awful lot here of interest. superb.

11:30 PM  
Blogger Peter Martin said...

Terrific news. I loved the Nikkatsu films that played at Fantastic Fest last year, and very much appreciate all the work you've done to expose them to grateful fans.

9:22 AM  
Blogger SPM said...

Great work! Kudos on brokering the nik action/DVD deals. I look forward to all these new titles. Hope to see your work back in NYC sometime soon with some more interesting films. How about a....TOEI RETROSPECTIVE (i know, a shocking and original comment from me/sarcasm). Even though I prefer jitsurou > ninkyo, i'd flip for a ninkyo fest. no time for rest, work on that pitch!

9:51 AM  
Blogger Marc B said...

I'll second nicholas - otsukare sama deshita, Marc, you earned it! Hope you'll be in Boston sometime soon.

2:13 PM  

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