The Black Gambler
aka 黒い賭博師 aka Kuroi tobakushi
Original Story by Toshio Nomura
Directed by Ko Nakahira (as Yasushi Nakahira)
Among the lesser known Japanese 1960s film series in the West is the “Gambler Series”, thanks to it never getting any sort of proper Western release. But thanks to the magic of fan subs, the sixth entry in the franchise, Black Gambler, can now be enjoyed by those of us who track down world cinema. The films are obscure enough it is hard to find much about them in English, but basically heartthrob Akira Kobayashi is a master gambler who gets involved in various intrigues thanks to the world of gambling. Most of them are unconnected besides the title and gambling theme, and there were eight in total. I’m not sure if every entry involves international spies and revenge by gambling, but I can guarantee this is the only 1960s Japanese gambling movie where the master villain is a Jewish gambler who used his gambling money to fund the Nazis in World War 2. I’m not even sure where to begin with that revelation, except to laugh out loud like I did when it was announced. As usual, the international gang of goons go up against the cool and suave Japanese hero, and let’s just say you should always bet on Akira Kobayashi (sorry, Wesley Snipes, pay your taxes and maybe we’ll bet on you again!)
At this point, Akira Kobayashi was more of a lone wolf bad boy, but here he is also a suave playboy gambler, which means he got to stretch his acting muscles a bit. Director Ko Nakahira/Yasushi Nakahira is probably best known in the west for Crazed Fruit, Summer Heat (basically a remake of Crazed Fruit he directed for Shaw Brothers), and the first two Rica films. He was yet another director who had trouble with Nikkatsu’s restrictions on creativity, thus leading to his split from the studio and directing film in Hong Kong under the name Yang Su Hsi.
3 Seconds Before Explosion
aka 爆破３秒前 aka Bakuha 3-Byo Mae
Screenplay by Hideichi Nagahara
Based on the novel by Haruhiko Oyabu
Directed by Motomu Ida (as Tan Ida)
3 Seconds Before Explosion uses the basic war treasure plot we’ve seen from flicks such as Black Tight Killers, but dials back the ridiculousness to try to become more James Bond than anything else. Yabuki (Akira Kobayashi) is the secret agent hero who fights to solve the case, which contains a bunch of kidnappings and treasure hunting in between the random action scenes.
At this point Akira Kobayashi was at the height of his popularity, having helmed multiple series for Nikkatsu, even becoming a pop star along the way. When you work through Nikkatsu’s Borderless Action films, you’ll see him just as often as Joe Shishido pops up, sometimes alongside Joe Shishido. While Shishido may have the fake cheeks that somehow made ladies swoon, with his natural good looks and bad boy charm, Kobayashi is much better suited to play a suave secret agent type that would have a numerical code name. When each actor walks into a nightclub scene and stands around smoking, Shishido looks like he’s sizing up the room to beat everyone up while Kobayashi just looks so cool he make everyone else look like rabble.
The comparison to Black Tight Killers bears repeating, because not only is there a war treasure, but people related to those involved in hiding the treasure are kidnapped. This time the villains are part of an international gang lead by a rapist German named Galen (Galen the German??), and the treasure belongs to the made up new nation of Rabaley. This switch from the treasure being ostensibly owned by Japan lowers the stakes, because nobody cares if a fake nation gets a random treasure. In fact, you might cheer for them to not get the treasure, because I hear Rabaleans are a bunch of jerks. Allegedly. Please don’t invade me, mighty Rabaley!
Black Tight Killers
aka 俺にさわると危ないぜ aka Ore ni Sawaru to Abunaize aka If You Touch Me Danger
Screenplay by Ryuzo Nakanishi and Michio Tsuzuki
Based on the novel by Michio Tsuzuki
Directed by Yasuharu Hasebe
Black Tight Killers is an essential film. In a just universe, it would be a well-known classic instead of a fairly known cult movie. It assaults the senses with a full force blast of 1960s gogo excess from the opening credits, and just puts the pedal to the metal. The awesomeness is of such force that even viewers who shy away from the 1950s and 60s Japanese action cinema will be pulled along. The film is a visual feast, with nearly every scene so full of glorified excess of ocular excitement that your eyes will be in danger of going all ADHD on you.
Black Tight Killers starts with Akira Kobayashi as dashing war photographer Daisuke Honda doing daring deeds during a pitched battle that wouldn’t look out of place in any cheap 1960s Italian war movie that was also shot on a small set. But soon he’s flying back to Japan and we’re blasted by dancing gogo girls in black tights stomping through the opening credits. The film features a gang of fighting femmes (the titular Black Tight Killers) who use their ninja skills on a quest to recover stolen treasure before the villains can. They cross paths with Daisuke Honda, whose recent girlfriend Yuriko Sawanouchi (Chieko Matsubara) is kidnapped due to her family connections to the looted treasure. While the ninja ladies are at first adversarial with Honda and were attempting to kill Yuriko, eventually they become a team to go after the real villains. Honda’s lady killer charms combined with the actual ladies who are killers using ninja seduction skills (the Octopus Pot move traps you know which part of Honda’s body inside you know where of the ninja lass!) means we have plenty of sex to go with violence and music.
Of particular note is a technicolor jazz dream sequence of Daisuke Honda’s, as we follow dream Yuriko as she’s chased through long hallways by stalking menaces while a different-hued black tight killer lady prances in every direction. She frantically bursts through the paper walls of different colored rooms, the ladies chasing her all the while. It’s a literal technicolor fever dream! In the awake world, whenever characters are driving around in vehicles, the projected background is rendered in primary colors, recalling the dream sequence but also forcing focus on the characters in the car just through blasting out any distractions.
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.