Saturday, April 26, 2008

Finally in April, it's Los Angeles

I can only blame accumulated fatigue for my failure to post about this month's Nikkatsu Action series screenings at the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian in Los Angeles, where I am now. The three-night series debuted Friday the 25th with a double feature of Gangster VIP and The Velvet Hustler. The audience was sizable, and their reaction was great - much applause, and praise afterward for the films, the big question being "how can I get these on DVD?" Answer: write Criterion about Velvet Hustler, and tell them you'd buy it if they release the disc, and that you want more Nikkatsu Action!

Here's the rest of the LA schedule:
Saturday, 4/26:
7:30 pm A Colt is My Passport
9:30 pm Glass Johnny: Looks Like a Beast

Sunday, 4/27:
7:30 pm The Warped Ones
9:30 pm Roughneck

If you haven't seen it yet, check out the coverage we got from The Boston Globe's Wesley Morris for The Warped Ones. "But with all due respect to Jean-Luc Godard, this is breathless - and more interesting, too." Strong praise, indeed! If you want to see this one on DVD, too, you know where to go.

Monday, April 14, 2008

On to Boston

Back tonight from San Francisco, where the Nikkatsu Action screenings at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts went extremely well. We met some terrific local fans of the genre, of all ages, and got the impression that they appreciated the opportunity to see these films presented on the big screen. There were many expected questions about future DVD releases, and we hope to be bringing you good news about that some time in the future.

But for now, the series moves on to Boston this coming weekend, where five films will be presented at the Brattle Theatre.

Friday, 4/18
7:30 pm A Colt is My Passport

Saturday, 4/19
7:30 pm Plains Wanderer
9:30 pm The Warped Ones

Sunday, 4/20
5:30 pm Red Handkerchief
7:30 pm The Velvet Hustler

In addition to the Nikkatsu titles, the Brattle has expanded the series to include some other 1960s Japanese genre classics, making for a terrific week of awesome cinema. Titles include Mothra, Kinji Fukasaku's Black Rose Mansion, and Hideo Gosha's essential chanbara Three Outlaw Samurai.

At the same time, the Gene Siskel Center in Chicago is continuing its once-a-week screenings, with Glass Johnny: Looks Like a Beast coming up this Sunday.

Hope to see a good crowd there, as well. Please say 'hi' if you are able to attend.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Karaoke terrors!

In three weeks, Synapse Films will release a pair of fairly recent Japanese films as part of their "Asian Cult Cinema Collection": Tetsuo Shinohara's 2003 black satire Karaoke Terror: The Complete Japanese Showa Songbook (Showa kayo daizenshu), and Katsuhito Ishii's madcap multi-character comedy Party 7, from 2000.

The supplements on these discs were taken from the Japanese releases, so we didn't do much work on them other than to generally oversee their production, but I wanted to point out their forthcoming availability on the blog. Showa Songbook in particular is a terrific film, a pitch-perfect adaptation of a novel by infamous Japanese writer Ryu Murakami, who also penned the original book behind Audition. It's highly recommended to anyone who loves black comedies, as well as karaoke!

And for your viewing pleasure now, here are some treasures from You Tube, video performances of many of the songs that appear in the film, but this time done by their original artists. Crazy stuff here from Planet Japan. Enjoy.

Kiyohiko Ozaki performing "Mata au hi made" ("Until We Meet Again").

Former glam rocker Kenji Sawada performs "Hone made ai shite" ("Love You to the Bone") after some talk show banter.

An obasan duet of "Hoshi no nagare ni" ("Shooting Star, Roaming Star") - you hear this one all the time in instrumental versions in elevators in Japan.

The opening credits from Umetsugu Inoue's 1969 Shochiku film Koi no kisetsu (The Season for Love), featuring the great group Pinky and Killers performing the title song - ever wonder where the costumes used in Karaoke Terror's sequence came from? They even duplicate the dance steps in their re-creation in the film!

Finally, pop idol Yoko Minamino performing the same "Season for Love" song.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Nikkatsu Action month begins!

Back from a 10-day work trip to Tokyo, which went well. More details to come, but the work encompassed an audio commentary with director Sabu for one of his earlier works, another commentary with George Iida for his debut feature, an interview with an f/x artist for that film who now designs some pretty awesome toys, and a video interview with the widow of Kihachi Okamoto about his second-to-last film. More interviews and commentaries to come, later this year.

But in more immediate news...Nikkatsu Action month has begun. This Friday sees the screening of Glass Johnny: Looks Like a Beast at Japan Society in New York, and Saturday holds two screenings: The Velvet Hustler at the Philadelphia Film Festival (the Bridge Theater at 7:30 pm, for those of you who live there), and A Colt is My Passport at the Gene Siskel Center in Chicago. And next weekend, a six-film series begins in San Francisco. I'm actually amazed at how many 1960s Nikkatsu Action screenings will be held across the US this month - 23 altogether, with some happening three per day! May sees another 13 or so screenings, and more to come later in the year. Hopefully the series will be coming to a city near you and that we'll see you at one of the shows.

Speaking of Nikkatsu, I have some terrific news from Tokyo, as well. Nikkatsu has recently partnered with an outfit called Rock Chipper Records to begin releasing compliations of some of their most obscure Nikkatsu Action soundtrack selections in CDs built around common themes. Out now are three in a "Star Series," with individual discs devoted to popular actors Akira Kobayashi, Keiichiro Akagi, and Jo Shishido.

But instead of being comprised mostly of the pop songs that were integral to the genre, these CDs concentrate more on instrumental themes and title songs from the films. Included on the Shishido disc, for instance, are two tracks from
Glass Johnny and - most exciting for me - the amazing, Italian western-inspired theme tune from A Colt is My Passport. (For the fans, also included are some of Jo's rare trips to the microphone, including the oft-compiled "Rokudenashi" from Rokudenashi kagyo and the much harder-to-find Mexico mushuku title theme song. Jo's understandably humble about his singing ability, but I think he does just fine.)

The disc is worth its 3000 yen price for these rare track alone, in my estimation, but Rock Chipper ups the ante by packaging each disc in a sturdy cardboard folding case, with cool poster artwork on the gatefold. Full liner notes (in Japanese, of course) are included, with lyrics listed for the vocal tracks. Also included are three small postcards, one featuring a film poster and the other featuring film stills or glamor shots.

Future discs are also listed on an outside flap, with April bringing a "Director's Series" comprised of collections of tracks from the films of Ko Nakahira, Toshiya Fujita and (hooray) Seijun Suzuki. In May, the label will release a "Genre Series" of tracks from Youth (seishun) films, comedies, and...drumroll, Action films. Can't wait to see what's on that last one.