aka 赤い波止場 aka Akai Hatoba aka Crimson Seaport aka Red Quay aka The Left Hand of Jiro 1958 Written by Ichirô Ikeda and Toshio Masuda
Directed by Toshio Masuda
It’s Nikkatsu Action time again! The film genre is so consistently entertaining that it will be a constant reoccurring theme here (or at least the films that have gotten releases on digital media are the entertaining ones, as there are piles of films that still don’t seem to have any sort of legitimate release even with 20 years of cinephiles screaming about it. But we work with what we got, and what we got is Akai Hatoba, aka Red Pier, but also known as Crimson Harvest as well as a few other titles. It’s supposedly a reworking of a French film called Pepe le Moko, but everyone who claims this also mentions they haven’t seen that film, and I’m afraid I have to add myself to that total, so who knows? What I do know is director Toshio Masuda revisited this story a few years later with Velvet Hustler in glorious color. But this is the OG yakuza on a pier outwitting his enemies while also being in love with a lady whose brother he helped kill film.
Lefty Jiro (Masuda regular Yujiro Ishihara, I Am Waiting, Rusty Knife) hangs at Kobe Harbor running the joint for his gang. He was formerly from Tokyo, but due to some trouble he’s been hiding out here “keeping a low profile”, in that he’s still involved in people being killed but never with enough evidence for the cops to do anything about it. A cool local policeman, Detective Noro (Shiro Osaka), spends most of his spare time hanging out at the harbor determined to catch Jiro doing something bad, but also sort of likes him as a friend. Noro is always snacking on something, and is around so much the other criminal elements tolerate his presence even if they know they have to do extra work to snark around behind his back. 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 俺は待ってるぜ aka Ore wa matteru ze 1957 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. Continue reading →