Monday, August 18, 2008

BCI / Eclipse supplemental work

And here's the promised part 2 of the "Upcoming and recent DVD work" update post!

Our biggest job so far, and one that's likely to keep us occupied for at least a year, is the work we've been doing since early 2008 on ten (soon to be 15 or more) titles for the BCI / Eclipse DVD label. Anybody who knows this company's work knows about their dedication to off-the-beaten-path Japanese cinema. Whether it's the original Sonny Chiba ninja TV series Shadow Warriors or long-lost Akira Kurosawa films, BCI has always shown a real dedication not only to technical quality, but also to digging out some of the most interesting films to release as part of their catalog.

The full list of titles has already been posted on the web, but I don't think I've ever addressed them here. These ten were licensed by BCI from Japanese film studio Shochiku. So here we go...

Battle Heater (1990)
The debut feature from
Another Heaven and Spiral director George Iida, a fun, low-budget comedy/horror film that feels like a lost brother to Sam Raimi and the Coen Brothers' little-seen Crimewave. We did an audio commentary with Iida earlier this year, joined on the track by model maker and f/x artist Ken Hamashima. Ken, who works as a professional toy designer now, also contributed a video interview to the disc about his work on the film, and tons of still photos covering the behind-the-scenes f/x work.

Unlucky Monkey (1998)
The third film from director / former actor Sabu (aka Hiroyuki Tanaka), starring Shinichi Tsutsumi as a bank robber whose situation goes from bad to worse when he accidentally stabs a young girl during a getaway. We did an audio commentary with Sabu and Tokyo-based writer and translator Jason Gray, and Sabu loaned us his collection of stills, articles, promotional materials, and original storyboards for a gallery on the disc.

Go for Broke (1985)
aka V Madonna: Daisenso. I had never heard of this insane, 80s action riff on
Seven Samurai before getting the BCI gig, and now I'll never forget it. A group of high school kids hire a tough group of girl warriors to protect their school from a biker gang that's constantly harassing it. Mayhem ensues, along with lots of bad, bad 80s fashion, hairstyles and music. One of the few non-pink efforts by legendary pink filmmaker Genji Nakamura, this one has fallen through the cracks of most Japan cinema fans, but no longer, as it's going to blow people's minds once they see it. Nakamura has agreed to do an interview or commentary with us, but it has yet to be scheduled. Get a preview of the insanity here, in a collection of vintage Japanese TV commercials. The movie one will be obvious (I think it's #3).

East Meets West (1995)
The late, great Kihachi Okamoto has long been one of our favorite filmmakers, and it's been a thrill to peek inside his world while working on this, his second-to-last film. Shot in New Mexico, the movie is about a samurai (Hiroyuki Sanada) who comes to America in the late 1800s to protect a gold shipment, but winds up teaming up with an American schoolteacher, an Indian maiden and a young boy when the gold is stolen by outlaws who murder the boy's father. Co-starring Naoto Takenaka, with cameos by Ittoku Kishibe and Tatsuya Nakadai, the movie is a loving tribute to samurai films and westerns, and a beautiful swan song for one of Japan's greatest filmmakers. Earlier this year, we did a long video interview with Okamoto's widow, Mineko, who also served as producer on many of his films, including this one. She also gave us access to a huge collection of stills and memorabilia from the film, which will be assembled into a gallery for the disc. More extras are being worked on, as well, but still subject to confirmation.

Judo Duel (1965)
Karate Wars (1978)
This pair of martial arts films will most likely come out as a two-movie set of some sort. I wasn't aware of either film prior to the BCI job, and even Japanese friends had a difficult time identifying the first one! It turns out that
Judo Duel is aka The Birth of Judo aka Meiji no fusetsu: yawara senpu, directed by Kunio Watanabe, a forgotten filmmaker whose career goes back to the silent days of Japanese cinema. His most well-known film (at last to me) seems to have been the Shintoho blockbuster Emperor Meiji and the Great Russo-Japanese War, a historical epic produced by legendary exploitationeer Mitsugu Okura, who also produced well-known Japanese horror and ghost movies like Nobuo Nakagawa's Jigoku. According to the web, Watanabe did films in all kinds of genres for most of the Japanese studios, before winding up at Shochiku late in his career (well into his 60s), where he did this film and another famous martial arts story, yet another version of Sanshiro Sugata. Judo Duel features some great actors (Ko Nishimura, Tetsuro Tanba) and the trailer looks good, but I haven't been able to see the film yet and supplement prospects look pretty slim. Watanabe passed away in the early 80s, many of the actors are also dead, and even hardcore film nerd friends of mine in Japan know nothing about the movie. So file this one under "real discovery", and let's hope it's a good one.

Karate Wars, aka Karate daisenso, on the other hand, is a bit more of a known quantity. Directed by Hideo Nanbu, it's an entertaining martial arts vehicle for the multi-hyphenate and semi-notorious celebrity Hisao Maki (above). Maki-sensei was a disciple of the famous kyokushin karate master Masutatsu Oyama, also a teacher of Sonny Chiba and the subject of films like Karate Bullfighter and Karate for Life (which Maki had a hand in producing, I believe). His older brother Ikki Kajiwara (who died in 1987) was an incredibly prolific manga writer, and creator of many well-known sports manga series, like Ashita no Joe, Tiger Mask, and others. Maki himself is also a screenwriter and a frequent collaborator with director Takashi Miike, having produced or written films like the Bodyguard Kiba series, the Family series, Big Bang Love, Waru, and others. And, they say, he's got affiliations with a certain underworld society famous in Japan for missing fingers.

Well, back in the late 70s,
Karate Wars was produced at Shochiku by Kajiwara, apparently on a very low budget, as a vehicle for his younger brother to show off his martial arts skills. It's an entertaining film, basically following the stoic Maki as he travels from Japan to Hong Kong and Thailand in order to show the superiority of Japanese karate to those countries' native martial arts. There are lots of real martial arts fights, a bit of filler romance and intrigue, and popular Toei villain Nobuo Kaneko even appears as a slimy corporate type. I've only seen the (poorly) dubbed version, but rest assured that the eventual BCI disc will feature the original Japanese soundtrack (and hopefully the English dub track as an alternate soundrack).

The even-better supplement news is that Maki-sensei has agreed to do a video interview with us and we hope to shoot it on our next trip to Tokyo, in his Roppongi dojo. I'm hoping to ask him about Mas Oyama, as well, and archive that footage for any future reissues by BCI of their Chiba / Oyama titles. Needless to say, it should be an entertaining and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to talk to the man himself. It's going to be a challenge finding someone to help with translation, though, as all of my Japanese friends are scared to meet him!

Rikyu (1989)
Basara - The Princess Goh (1992)
This pair of titles represents the arthouse quotient of the BCI / Eclipse deal, I suppose, and are the final two films from legendary filmmaker Hiroshi Teshigahara, director of Woman in the Dunes and Face of Another. Rikyu was a major return to filmmaking for the director, produced by Shochiku studio scion Kazuyoshi Okuyama and featuring an all-star cast and big budget. It was Teshigahara's first narrative feature film since 1972's Summer Soldiers, after the completion of which he took a more than ten-year break to devote himself to his late father's
ikebana school, the Sogetsu-do.

Rikyu stars Rentaro Mikuni as the real life Sen no Rikyu, a sixteenth century scholar and creator of the Japanese tea ceremony who was executed by his friend, the Shogun Hideyoshi Toyotomi, after he expressed reservations about his Lord's military ambitions over China and Korea. It's a gorgeous, epic film, and was followed by a semi-sequel, Goh-hime, produced by much of the same crew and taking place during the same historical period. Rikyu has seen some crappy public-domain releases in the US before, but BCI's edition will render those all obsolete with a new transfer and, we hope, the most extensive supplements of any of the titles on this list. Details for it and its companion are still being worked out, but we should be getting started on these in the next few months.

Violent Cop (1989)
Boiling Point (1990)
And finally, the titles that have most online fans abuzz. This pair of titles, the first two films from director Takeshi Kitano, have already been released on DVD in the US, but their transfers leave much to be desired and they featured zero supplements. There are some PAL discs out there of the films that feature better film transfers, but again, little in the way of supplemental material. But no more! If all goes well, you can look forward to some exclusive interviews and other supplements for these films, and maybe even a commentary or two. Like the Teshigahara films, details are still being determined, but we had a good meeting with Office Kitano this past spring and we hope to start work within the next month or two on the films.

The possibility of some meaty extras was significantly increased when
BCI recently announced the acquisition of five additional Kitano films from another licensor:
A Scene at the Sea, Getting Any?, Kids Return, Hana-bi (Fireworks), and Takeshis'. Three of these have had prior (poor) US discs, but the comedies Getting Any? and Takeshis' will be making their US debut with the BCI editions. Once we get our foot in the door at Office Kitano (and a contract for the work on these additional five from BCI), we'll be covering all seven films with cast and crew interviews (depending on peoples' availability), and trying to locate as many supplements as we can for the films, making the BCI discs the definitive editions to date of the titles.

You can see why our calendar is sagging under its own weight these days...

That's plenty for now, but I'll leave you with one more tantalizing bit of information. It's far from confirmed yet, but there's one more exciting title that BCI's working on acquiring that I'm
really looking forward to doing some work on. I can't name the film yet, but it's very well-known in the US and put a certain bad-boy director on the map with international audiences. Keep your fingers (and feet) crossed!


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