Sunday, September 06, 2009

Ace no Joe

One of the highlights of my recent Tokyo trip was being able to bring a copy of Criterion / Eclipse's brand-new Nikkatsu Noir DVD box set (now available for purchase) to legendary Japanese actor Joe Shishido, who stars in two of the films and has a smaller appearance in at least one other, making him among the cast of more of the films than anyone else. His face is also prominently on the cover, or at least his piercing eyes and chipmunk, silicone-enhanced cheeks. Joe's 75 years old now, and still very, very lively. He's had problems with alcohol over the years and remains a heavy drinker, but seems to confine himself to beer most of the time, or at least he did when we went out. And oh, there was a lot of it consumed.

This wasn't the first time we'd crossed paths. I met him first at the Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy, back in 2005, when he appeared there as part of the Nikkatsu Action retrospective that we later brought to North America. Then I saw him again in late 2007, in Tokyo, when we had a short meeting about possibly bringing him to the U.S. to participate in those retro shows. The plans never came together - mainly due to financing problems - but I retain hope that we'll be able to introduce him to American audiences some day. His last trip to the U.S., or at least New York City, was in the mid-80s when he shot a TV show here. He told us lots of stories about visiting The Bronx, because "I'm a tough guy!"

Joe was thrilled to receive the box, and at our second stop of the night, a tiny little izakaya / nomiya called DenDen in the western Tokyo suburb of Sengawa, he showed the elderly proprietors and other customers "his" box set, justifiably proud of it.

This is the first time either of the films he starred in - A COLT IS MY PASSPORT and CRUEL GUN STORY - have come to DVD anywhere in the world. They aren't even available on video any longer in Japan, sadly. The shop, his regular hangout, has memorabilia from his movies on the walls and photos taken from the glory days. Joe likes to draw a pic of his face - complete with cheek scars - whenever he does an autograph, and you can see one hanging on the wall in the pic below.

Stay healthy, Joe, and hopefully we'll see you again on our next trip. For anybody who's in Tokyo soon, all the information you need to find him is located above - Sengawa, DenDen - and he seems to be there every night.
Buy him a round and he'll tell you - in English! - stories about which women he loved, which films he enjoyed making most, and how he managed to smuggle two pistols from Mexico to Tokyo in the early '60s, one of my favorite stories of the bunch. He'll probably introduce himself to you, as he's done to me every time, by saying "Hello, I'm Akira Kobayashi." That's just the kind of guy he is.


Blogger Chris Casey said...

Excellent blog post! I love Joe and am very happy to know he is doing so well, these days.

10:04 AM  
Blogger SPM said...

Very cool. Nice post. I only drink with my wife and a bunch of mooks. Not very interesting. He must be one entertaining cat. How many Asahi's do we need to bribe him to coming to NYC?

12:25 PM  
Blogger Videothèque said...

I'm compelled to buy a ticket and head out straight to Japan just to harass him and talk about what a great actor he is!

With his new following in the US (and his knowledge of English) he's never filmed anything here.

Oh, and bring him to LA. I'm sure Chuck D. and the Cinematheque would lose their minds over it!

12:10 AM  
Blogger Dr. Stan Glick said...

Love Joe. After watching him - in drag! - in Flower and Snake 2, I've been working my way through the Criterion Eclipse Nikkatsu Action box set. I know about his cheek injections, but didn't he also have his eyes done to look more 'Western'? In 'A Colt Is My Passport' in particular there are noticeable upward slanting lines at the outer corners of his eyes.

11:02 AM  

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