Cruel Gun Story
aka 拳銃残酷物語 aka Kenju Zankoku Monogatari
Written by Haruhiko Oyabu
Screenplay by Hisataka Kai
Directed by Takumi Furukawa
Cruel Gun Story is a standout entry from the Nikkatsu Noir boxed set, possibly my favorite (with A Colt Is My Passport a close second) of the set, and maybe even one of the better Japanese noir flicks out there. A criminal is hired to lead a heist, but before you can say “setup”, there is an onion farm’s worth of layers of betrayals that spiral out of control into the inevitable conclusion. Part of the drama is not if certain characters will betray everyone, but just when and how they will do so. The mix of everyone looking out for themselves while things keep hitting the worst of all possible universes for outcomes suggests the cruel object isn’t the gun, but life itself for those who choose to live by it and anyone caught in the crossfire.
Joji Togawa is fresh out of the joint, but before he even has a chance to breathe, he’s being scoped out by a yakuza boss to run and armored car heist. Togawa is what he is, and ends up agreeing, though he’s big on saying how this is his one last job. So we know things aren’t going to end well. Togawa meets his team with his old friend, Shirai (Yuji Odaka), it includes Okada (Shobun Inoue) – a former boxer, and Teramoto, a big mouth junkie (and whose girl, Keiko (Minako Kazuki), tags along). Another member is rejected immediately when it’s revealed he easily spills his guts when threatened.
The target is an armored car full of 127 million yen in racetrack money, and guarded by motorcycle cops. The plan to snag the car goes off with only a few minor hitches, but that’s when things hit the fan and fall apart at the same time. The team is betrayed from without and within, leading to the survivors behind holed up while a swarm of yakuza blast their guns at them. The scope of the crime is enough that the entire country is looking for them, and there is nowhere for Togawa to hide. Even attempts to fight against the yakuza hunting them ends worse than things were before. Yakuza Boss Matsumoto’s (Hiroshi Nihonyanagi) son is kidnapped, but the other yakuza care more about the money than the boss’s son’s life.
The only way out is to flee the country, Togawa calling in a favor of Takizawa (Tamio Kawaji), who loved Togawa’s sister before she was crippled in an accident (and still loves her). Togawa’s sister sits in a home for the disabled, and despite her pleas for her brother to be good, she knows he’s gone and done something bad again.
A Colt Is My Passport
aka 拳銃は俺のパスポート aka Koruto wa Ore no Pasupoto
Based on the novel by Shinji Fujiwara
Screenplay by Hideichi Nagahara and Nobuo Yamada
Directed by Takashi Nomura
Shuji Kamimura (Joe Shishido) and his protege/sidekick Shun Shiozaki (Jerry Fujio) are contract killers who are brought in to eliminate a yakuza boss by a rival family. Things go downhill after they complete the mission, getting captured, escaping, and becoming holed up in a hotel while their employer is incentivized to betray them. While in hiding, hotel worker Mina (Chitose Kobayashi) falls for Shuji and dreams of escaping her trapped existence with him, but can they make it out as the jaws of their pursuers closes in?
Director Takashi Nomura is relatively unknown in the west, A Colt is My Passport seems to be his only film that has had a subtitled release. Sort of a shame, because Colt shows a lot of creative flare that manages to use visuals to show important bits of the story without spoonfeeding it to us. Nomura seems to be a fan of Westerns, incorporating elements such as a whistling/harmonica-filled soundtrack (which also has the normal hip jazz sounds of other Nikkatsu noir flicks) and a final showdown in a dusty landfill that is the spitting image of a desolate Western desert landscape.
There is a neat sequence detailing yakuza boss Shimazu’s (Kanjuro Arashi) daily routine and how everything is on a schedule and everything is bulletproof, shown to Shuji and Shun by the man who hired them to kill Shimazu. Later we go through the daily routine again, with camera pans showing no one is tailing Shimazu that day. We see Shuji has already picked when and where he will strike and it setting it up.
Kamimura and Shiozaki end up hiding out at a hotel picked for them by the boss who hired them, Tsugawa (Asao Uchida). It becomes clear from the dialogue that this is not the first time the hotel has been used to hide people, and some of those people have met gruesome fates. Hotel employee Mina was in love with one such man, who was shot by a killer named Senzaki, someone she also used to date and is one of the many goons looking for Kamimura and Shiozaki. Mina’s ability to pick bad boyfriends strikes again with her love for Shuji Kamimura, she seems more in love with the idea of escaping with someone that she sees as noble than actually being in love. And Shuji does play fair, even as he’s being betrayed. He drugs Shun so when they are attacked he won’t suffer. But Kamimura is just too good to be easily taken out, and Mina has an escape plan by ship thanks to crew members that frequent the hotel restaurant.
Categories: Bad, Movie Reviews Tags: Akio Miyabe, Asao Uchida, Chitose Kobayashi, Hideaki Esumi, Hideichi Nagahara, Japan, Jerry Fujio, Joe Shishido, Jun Hongo, Kanjuro Arashi, Nobuo Yamada, Ryotaro Sugi, Shinji Fujiwara, Shoki Fukae, Takamaru Sasaki, Takashi Nomura, Toyoko Takechi, Zeko Nakamura, Zenji Yamada
Take Aim at the Police Van
aka その護送車を狙 aka Sono gososha o nerae: ‘Jusango taihisen’ yori
Screenplay by Shinichi Sekizawa
Based on a story by Kazou Shimada
Directed by Seijun Suzuki
The Nikkatsu borderless action train continues, this time with a police guard looking to uncover the conspiracy to kill prisoners that he took the fall for. Take Aim at the Police Van gets attention as an early piece from Seijun Suzuki, before he got bored enough to try the widespread experimentalization of his flicks.
Michitaro Mizushima (Underworld Beauty) stars as Daijiro Tamon, the guard on a police prisoner transport van that is hit with gun fire and two prisoners are killed. Because someone must take the blame, Tamon is suspended for six months, which gives him plenty of time off to find out who shot at the van and why. Thus begins an investigation that will see Tamon sucked into the world of sex trafficking, hidden behind fronts of modeling agencies. This gives an excuse to have lots of attractive women running around, which gets even more glaring as most of the male characters range from seedy to extra seedy to so full of seeds they’re being sold at garden supply stores.
Tamon distinguishes himself as a guard because he treats the prisoners fairly, this gives him enough of a reputation that he gets more doors opened to him when he starts hunting for clues. It also seems to say something about the Japanese prison system if just treating someone like a human being is commendable behavior. Not that we have problems like that in modern day America…
The prisoners that were killed don’t seem to be connected at all, but the more Tamon digs, the more he finds connections to something bigger. A missing sister to one of the prisoners who was working as a dancer is connected to another dancer that was watching the police van just before it was fired upon. The dancer, Tsunako Ando (Mari Shiraki), is dating another prisoner from the van, Goro Kashima (Shoichi Ozawa), who has a mysterious new job that he promises will earn a lot of money. And everyone seems connected to the Hamaju Talent Agency run by Yuko Hamashima (Misako Watanabe), who took over when her father Jube (Shinsuke Ashida) fell ill. But a rival firm has popped up and they are poaching each others’ talent.
Categories: Bad, Movie Reviews Tags: Akira Hisamatsu, Hiroshi Osa, Japan, Kazou Shimada, Kotoe Hatsui, Mari Shiraki, Michitaro Mizushima, Misako Watanabe, Reiko Arai, Ryohei Uchida, Saburo Hiromatsu, Seijun Suzuki, Shinichi Sekizawa, Shinsuke Ashida, Shoichi Ozawa, Tatsuo Matsushita, Toru Abe, Toyo Fukuda
aka 錆びたナイフ aka Sabita Naifu
Written by Shintaro Ishihara
Directed by Toshio Masuda
Yukihiko Tachibana (Yujiro Ishihara) is released from prison and trying to go straight, after spending time for killing the man who raped and murdered his girlfriend. But the crime of what happened to her still haunts him. Meanwhile, the cops look for witnesses to murders committed by the local yakuza boss, something Tachibana unwittingly became during his time as a thug. But when he and fellow witness Makoto Terada (Akira Kobayashi) get approached by the cops, they get pulled back into the underworld, and soon there will be a whole lot more murders as the yakuza moves to silence everyone and Tachibana discovers his girl was attacked by more people when she was killed.
The debut picture of future hitmaker Toshio Masuda, Rusty Knife weaves a believable web of police seeking justice through the courts, yakuza bribing and murdering their way clear, and the people caught in the middle. It’s only really handicapped by the too obvious reveal of who the real villain is, his character existing entirely to be a big reveal and contributing little else. The Nikkatsu action format still had a few kinks to work out, but the overall style is coming along nicely.
Mie Kitahara clocks in another appearance alongside frequent costar and future husband Yujiro Ishihara as Keiko Nishida, a daughter of a politician who killed himself, until information comes to light that it was staged and he was murdered. Tachibana and Terada are two of the witnesses to the staging, but despite knowing Nishida, he doesn’t realize it was her father he saw being killed until much later. Unfortunately, she seems largely an extraneous character, only sharing a few scenes with Ishihara. While it is nice from a world building stand point, it becomes a negative ding in the film on the emotional front.
I Am Waiting
aka 俺は待ってるぜ aka Ore wa matteru ze
Written by Shintaro Ishihara
Directed by Koreyoshi Kurahara
Japan’s cinematic output in the 50s and 60s was astounding, and the quality of films from that period form a reputation that is hard to match. It is no wonder that huge swaths of them got festival coverage over the years, and many get released in the US under premium labels. Nikkatsu Studios produced a whole series of “borderless action” films (as a response to US and French film box office success) and is where Seijun Suzuki made his fantastic flicks, at least until he got fired after constant clashes with the studio head and Nikkatsu later turned into a roman porno factory. But those hundreds of films still exist, and are still awesome. And while many haven’t been seen outside of Japan in forever, the growing appreciation means more and more get releases over time. Hence, I Am Waiting popping up in 2009.
I Am Waiting is a tale in two acts. Joji Shimaki (Yujiro Ishihara) meets a mysterious woman at the pier who calls herself Saeko (Mie Kitahara) – we find out later her name is Reiko. It’s clear she’s on the run from something traumatic, and we slowly learn that she is a cabaret singer at a yakuza club and one of the gang members got too frisky, so she bashed his head and ran, thinking him dead. Her dreams of being a singer soured after he vocal chords were ruined by an illness, and now she’s trapped in a contract at the yakuza nightclub. Her time with Joji helps her to briefly escape that life, working as his waitress and hanging out in town with Joji. But she’s recognized, and the yakuza come to reclaim her, until she finishes her contract. She spends the last half of the film again working in the nightclub, which Joji returns to occasionally as part of his story.
While the yakuza are confronting Joji, Joji gets a clue into his big mystery, the whereabouts of his brother. His brother was supposed to go to Brazil a year ago to buy land for a farm, but hasn’t contacted him since the boat left port, and Joji’s letters were returned. But one of the yakuza had a medallion that Joji’s bother carried, and the focus switches to Joji’s mystery as he works to unravel just what happened to his brother, and the culprits work to try to cover up their deeds.
aka 乾いた花 aka Kawaita Hana
Written by Masaru Baba and Masahiro Shinoda
Based on the book by Shintaro Ishihara
Directed by Masahiro Shinoda
Pale Flower starts out slow and continues the leisurely pace, building up the complex web of characters and simmering gang drama. Muraki (Ryo Ikebe) is newly released from prison, after serving a few years for killing a rival gang member. By now the gangs are in a loose confederation as a third power has become a threat to both. The two former rival leaders spend part of their time arguing like old bickering lovers. Muraki is brought back into the swing of things, but kept out of any heavy action because of his recent release status. The reacquaintance with underworld activities results in one exciting point, a striking young woman (Mariko Kaga) who shows up at one of the local gambling houses, bets big, seems bored, and speaks to no one. Muraki manages to attract a scrap of attention from her when he matches one of her large bets.
After a few weeks of gambling together in silence, Muraki scores a conversation with her. She goes by Saeko, and the small time bets no longer excite her. Muraki says he can get her bigger action, he just needs to ask around for where the games are played now. They agree to meet up later in the week, and a partnership is born. Saeko is a thrill-seeker, zipping around in her sports car, betting big. She senses the danger in Muraki and it attracts her, but not in a sexual lust way. Simply being around him is enough. One look at Saeko answers all questions of why any guy would hang with her.
The increasing bets and Saeko’s danger chasing mirror the increasing threats from the real world. A cryptic guard at one of the games Muraki pegs for a maniac, and soon Muraki is being talked down dark alleys by a hidden killer. The upstart gang kills an important gang figure, and there must be a response of killing their leader. Muraki volunteers, his stretch of freedom growing sour at the same time his relationship with Saeko seems to be going south. But she reunites with him as he prepares to go off to do his job, seeing someone be murdered is a thrill she hasn’t experienced yet.
Muraki is a low-key gangster who seems bored with life in general and justifies his killing by talking down on mankind as a whole. His relationship with Saeko isn’t overtly sexual, but is two people at a similar point in life that come together because they click, and tension boils beneath the surface. Muraki has a woman who waited for him while he was away, she sleeps in the clock shop her family owns, the scenes there punctuated by the ticking of hundreds of clocks, a reminder of the limited length of life. She can’t stay away from Muraki even though he’s no good, and follows him, observing his relationship with Saeko.