aka 完全な遊戯 aka Kanzenna Yugi 1958 Based on the short story by Shintarô Ishihara
Screenplay by Yoshio Shirasaka
Directed by Toshio Masuda
This time we are beep-beep backing the truck up to 1958, where the Nikkatsu flicks were more disaffected youth culture than the thrillers and borderless action the genre will evolve into soon enough. Perfect Game still has plenty of strong characters, bad choices, and dangerous situations even with the slow leisurely pace the film begins it’s scheme setup with. The protagonists are introduced, their want of fast and easy money and willingness to bend the rules (past the breaking point!) to get said money. Like many youth they also think themselves invincible, the next score just being another quick job that will never have any bad repercussions. But if that were the case, then we wouldn’t have a movie, now would we? The fact that the protagonists all come from affluent families but still succumb to the temptations of their excesses makes this a solid Sun Tribe feature.
I love Nikkatsu’s films but I have to do them in spurts as you can only take so much bleak ruination of tragic endings before you want to watch Godzilla punch some monsters or Captain America punch some monsters (or Nazis, same thing!) Director Toshio Masuda (Rusty Knife, Red Pier) turns what could have easily been an ordinary film into a memorable tragic tale thanks to strong characters and skillfully constructed scenes that highlight the buildups to tragedy as the characters compromise their values more and more.
We got ourselves a quartet of young college students who want a bit of excitement in their lives, and gambling away the meager allowance their parents give them just ain’t cutting it. Mastermind Toda (Yasukiyo Umeno) is a straight-faced liar and owes his girlfriend Meiko (Mari Shiraki – Underworld Beauty) – the Mama of a hostess club – a large sum of money. There is also Soji Oki (Akira Kobayashi – in so many films he has a tag), who is usually called So-chan, he is the pretty one that makes the girls swoon. Jiro Akitani (Shirô Yanase) lies to both of his parents about his money issues but can manipulate his successful father into coughing up dough as needed. And finally Toshio, who I’m struggling to remember anything significant about beyond just being part of the gang. Sorry, buddy, get a personality! Continue reading →
aka その護送車を狙 aka Sono gososha o nerae: ‘Jusango taihisen’ yori 1960 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. Continue reading →
aka 錆びたナイフ aka Sabita Naifu 1958 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. Continue reading →
aka ある脅迫 aka Aru Kyohaku 1960 Story by Kyo Takigawa
Screenplay by Osamu Kawase
Directed by Koreyoshi Kurahara
An arrogant bank manager named Kyosuke Takita (Nobuo Kaneko – The Magic Serpent) is about to move on to the executive board, but gets enveloped in a blackmail scheme and must try to rob his own bank in a desperate attempt to come up with the funds. His sad sack childhood friend Matakichi Nakaike (Ko Nishimura), who Takita has used and degraded, becomes a scapegoat, and soon things devolve into a murderous mess. Intimidation serves up a slow-burning lesson of treating people well, but aside from the tense robbery sequence in the middle, there are few high points to recommend hunting Intimidation down immediately.
You can’t examine Intimidation without seeing the obvious class consciousness of the film. Takita is in the upper echelon of society, who married into money and is set for easy street. His friend Nakaike is stuck on the lower rung, his few opportunities were snatched away by Takita, or twisted around to make it seem Takita was solely responsible for them. Nakaike’s lack of confidence doesn’t help him, and much of his time is spent making excuses for his friend and doing things in the background like warming sake. The bank manager sees Nakaike as an unmotivated chump who they keep around only for Takita’s benefit, sort of ironic due to the manager’s later confession that he doesn’t understand all the loan paperwork that Takita has been handling for him.
Despite the class struggles, Takita’s downfall is he is an arrogant bastard. He’s so used to getting his way and shooting up the ladder of success that he doesn’t care at all whoever he steps on during his climb. Even people who are loyal friends that would have made great companions he treats with disdain, only using them for his own ends. His childhood friend Nakaike seems a complete tool, Takita talking down to him in front of the bank manager. Takita talks like Nakaike owes him everything, and he’s such a screw-up that he’d be on the streets if it wasn’t for Takita. Nakaike’s lack of confidence doomed him to forever be in Takita’s shadow. When Takita’s around, Nakaike fades away and Takita gets all the focus. Continue reading →
aka 暗黒街の美女 aka Ankokugai no Bijo 1958 Written by Susumu Saji
Directed by Seijun Suzuki
One of Seijun Suzuki’s first films (and the first credited as his pseudonym Seijun Suzuki!), Underworld Beauty shows hints of the creative sparks that would soon gain Suzuki a cult following in Japan and the ire of his studio bosses. But it’s mostly a straightforward and entertaining noir, elevated by the cast, so don’t be too disappointed when it goes by the numbers. It seems you can’t talk about Suzuki without using the term “fever dream”, so I’ll just use it in this sentence complaining about the term in this film that has among the lowest amounts of fever dreamness.
A noir flick that gets enhanced by the black and white photography, Underworld Beauty features a jewel thief gang member named Miyamoto (Michitaro Mizushima) who has just gotten out of the joint. He retrieves a gun and stolen diamonds from a hiding spot in the sewer, and sets out finish the job. But prison has given him a change of perspective, and he wants to give the diamonds to the member of the gang who was injured during the job (and saved Miyamoto in the process), Mihara (Toru Abe). The third gang member, who is now a powerful boss named Chairman Oyane (Shinsuke Ashida), is not too happy with this sudden display of honor, but is smart enough to hide his disapproval.
Mihara is now working in a noodle stall and ostensibly taking care of his younger sister Akiko (Mari Shiraki), who is on a wild streak down a dark path. She earns money posing nude for the mannequin sculptures (done by her quasi-boyfriend Arita (Hiroshi Kondo)), and going out drinking is her hobby. The attempt to sell the diamonds to a fence ends when armed masked men burst in on the proceedings, and Mihara swallows the diamonds and leaps off the roof of a building, attracting attention. He stays alive long enough to explain to the police that he slipped, but then passes on. The criminals are concerned the diamonds will burn when he is cremated, and soon the various factions go all The Treasure of the Sierra Madre with diamond fever. Continue reading →