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 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 →