Archive for the ‘Thriller & Crime’ Category


The Decoy

November 21, 2018

The Decoy (脱獄囚) (1957)

Small scale, widescreen Toho thriller about a detective (Ryo Ikebe) whose wife is being targeted by an escaped prisoner (Makoto Sato). The detective decides to go with it and use his wife as a decoy. Although slightly hampered by the usual hostage clichés (the ladies in peril bungle up every escape attempt), it’s a solid film and the second half is quite good with Sato invading the neighbor’s house, taking them as hostage and stalking his target from distance. Ikebe makes a good old school lead, a bit too handsome for the role but the unshaven beard compensates.


Car 33 Doesn’t Answer

September 3, 2015

Car 33 Doesn’t Answer (33 gosha otonashi) (1955)

Terrific, gritty crime film follows two policemen (Ryo Ikebe & Takashi Shimura) on a very long Christmas night as they pick up drunks, hookers, junkies and killers. They finally run into professional criminals who highjack their patrol car and take them as hostage.

This is a realistic, atmospheric film that beautifully captures the post-war streets of Tokyo on film while also telling a good story with excellent characters. It’s also a surprisingly dark film for its era, for example featuring children shooting drugs and policemen discovering a drunken man has slaughtered his entire family, children included.

Akira Kurosawa’s crime film masterpiece High & Low (1963) makes for a good comparison; however, it’s remarkable how much time director Senkichi Taniguchi spends documenting the policemen’s everyday work and encounters with random people before turning on the plot gear. The film’s only weakness is some under cranking at the end, which seems a little dated from modern perspective. A rarely seen gem entirely worthy of a Criterion release. Unfortunately the film has never been released on DVD even in Japan.

Here’s some publicity materials displayed in Laputa Asagaya, where the film screened as a part of actor Ryo Ikebe retrospective in summer 2015.


The World of Kanako

July 14, 2014

Kawaki (2014)

Director Tetsuya Nakashima made himself name with hyperactive music video style comedies ala Kamikaze Girls and Memories of Matsuko. Then, in 2010, he had a change of pace with Confessions: a controversial hit about a high school teacher who avenges her child’s death to her students – with half of the film played in slow motion.

The World of Kanako features Nakashima back to his old habits, only this time the genre is violent thriller. Alcoholic ex-cop (Koji Yakusho) goes on a rampage to find his missing daughter, only to discover she wasn’t quite the pure angel he though she was. In fact, the entire school seems to be populated with 16 year old monsters, which raises amusing questions about director Nakashima possible vendetta for high school kids.

To keep it fair, the father is not much better; beating and raping people left and right on his quest to uncover the mystery. “Shock Therapy Entertainment”, as the film’s advertising slogan states.

The film is ridiculously over the top, but decidedly so, and extremely violent in places. It doesn’t quite pack the punch it wishes it would, and it gets a little tiresome after a while. Few cuts last longer than half second, the film goes from music video aesthetics to animated shots, and there’s constant shifting in time between present and past. Still, some scenes hit the nail with a sledge hammer and bring a maniac grin to the audience’s face.

Koji Yakusho is rather excellent in the lead role, despite the frenetic editor serving his performance in one second shots. Nana Komatsu does sufficient job driving everyone mad as the titular character. Fumi Nikaido appears briefly as a bad girl, nearly unrecognizable with blond hair.

The film caused a bit of stir in Japan when the distributor marketed it to young people by giving students an extra discount. The film is rated 15, but some of the content is 18-level by most countries’ standards and guaranteed to upset moralists. Perhaps Nakashima wanted to tell the kids to behave better or they’ll have a psychopath Koji Yakusho after them.



March 25, 2014

Abduction drama by an interesting debut director

Ra (2014)

”The world’s cutest movie director” Maki Mizui is quite an interesting person. In her youth she was kidnapped by a sex criminal. She managed to talk herself out of it unharmed, but the experience clearly left deep emotional scars. After it turned out the man’s other victims were not as lucky she wondered if she could have saved them had she convinced the police to look for the man. Mizui later drifted to adult videos – possibly while she was still underage – and gained reputation as Lolita princess. She also started cutting her wrists.

There’s a brighter side to her story as well. About 10 years ago Mizui was taken under the wings of splatter director / special effects artist Yoshihiro Nishimura. She worked as his assistant in both Nishimura’s own films and those of many other directors, such as Sion Sono. Mizui eventually caught the eye of many genre film fans before anyone even knew her by name: she was the sweet girl with glasses assisting Nishimura with gore effects at the sets of The Machine Girl ; she was a model in publicity photos for Tokyo Gore Police ; she was the narrator for Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl making of documentary, and so on. Wherever Nishimura went, you’d probably find Mizui there working as his assistant. Not a bad job for a pretty teenage girl, I though.

This year Mizui was once again at the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival, but not only in her usual role as Nishimura’s assistant, but also as a first time director. Her debut film Kept (Ra), which was based on her own experiences as a kidnapping victim, was nominated for the festival’s main prize. Nishimura served as producer, adviser, and co-editor. When the film didn’t win at Yubari, Mizui walked on the stage and asked the president of the jury Kichitaro Negishi why? There were tears in her eyes all evening.

Needless to say it’s a highly personal film. In her official statement in the festival catalogue Mizui wishes all sex offenders would go to hell.

Mizui has crafted an extremely dark abduction drama based on her own experiences. The film first focuses on Mayumi (ex-AKB 48 member Kayano) – a character clearly based on Mizui herself – who is kidnapped by a criminal (Ken Koba). After she manages to free herself the focus shifts to other victims who receive a far more brutal treatment.

The film hammers the audience quite effectively. It’s a powerful film with a magnificent score by Kou Nakagawa (Tokyo Gore Police), based on Alex Proyas’ film Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds (1989). Cheap emotionality is avoided, and at only 70 minutes it’s an intense ride without a dead spot along the way.

That being said, as a storyteller Mizui sometimes cuts corners. While the reality-base of the events is unquestioned, Mayumi’s character development from a terrified victim to a determined young woman trying to escape comes perhaps a bit too fast. Some of the symbolism with green forests and an owl-like creature, as well as some of the acting, also don’t quite hit the target. On the other hand, once Mayumi starts cutting her arms, the audience only knows too well how real it all is. The same cutting marks can be seen in Mizui’s own arms.

With its brutally dark vision and compact length Kept is a surprisingly strong film despite some shortcomings. It’s going to be interesting to see how Mizui’s career continues. Unlike the usual fairytale heroines, she’s neither embarrassed by nor denying by her past as Lolita idol or in some other raunchy movie roles. Rather the contrary, she continues provocative performances as an actress and entertainer, while at the same time showing a very different side of herself as a movie director. Audiences have something to digest.


A Night in Nude: Salvation (DC)

July 23, 2011

Nûdo no yoru: Ai wa oshiminaku ubau (Japan, 2010)

Takashi Ishii, mostly stuck with low budgets S&M films these days, was once Japan’s most interesting noir director. His early 90’s films such as A Night in Nude (1993) and Alone in the Night (1994) beautifully brought his trademark neon-lit visuals to 35 mm film. A Night in Nude was the most interesting of those neo noir films, not only visually, but also because of a fantastic starring performance by Japan’s ignored gem of an actor, Naoto Takenaka. A Night in Nude: Salvation brings the duo back to limelight, although with a digital flavor this time.

A Night in Nude: Salvation is a follow-up to the original, although not directly related in terms of storyline. But in terms of theme and context, it’s old school Ishii to a pleasing extent. Takenaka is back as Muraki, a private entrepreneur promising to tackle all assignments within legal limits. Mostly, his work consists of substituting gigs – attending memorials in place of others, or even taking dogs out for a piss. But the ill-lucked noir hero attracts trouble – last time he fell to a yakuza woman. This time he’s offered a seemingly harmless task: to regain a gold watch that was lost when a deceased man’s ashes were scattered in forest.

Hired by an innocent looking young woman, little does Muraki know the dead man didn’t turn into ashes the normal way: he was, in fact, killed by three women who accidentally lost the vital piece of evidence while getting rid of body parts (in a scene highly reminiscent of Sion Sono’s Cold Fish, 2010). Murakami soon finds himself in a situation reflecting the past events (from the original movie). He’s somewhere between the merciless yakuza and the women who might still have hope of being pulled off from this dark world. It’s his change for salvation; to correct the old mistakes and finally do something good.

A Night in Nude: Salvation looks and feels what Ishii fans have been hoping for even since he stopped making crime and yakuza-eiga. Ishii’s neo-Tokyo in Salvation is instantly recognizable with its neon lights, strip clubs, and mental case yakuza running the night life. Murakami’s quests for answers drive him ever deeper into the night. There, he walks across Nikkatsu legend Joe Shishido, probably assumed dead by most viewers by now. Ishii shows little respect to the screen legend: he is made portray the biggest sleazebag in the entire film.

One area where Salvation falls slightly short is the technical side. Ishii knows how to use digital to a decent effect, but it’s nevertheless a mismatch to his slightly romanticized neo-noir style. The original film looked more colorful and was visually more detailed, no doubt because Ishii was able to draw bigger budgets back then. Salvations does, nevertheless, look good – just not quite as good as it could in a better world.

As screenwriter Ishii has always excelled (for his grade bravura see Shinji Somai’s haunting Love Hotel, 1985). Salvation fares quite well in this respect for its first three quarters. Despite the violently and sexually graphic images Salvation is very much a story film – and a strong one at that. It’s only towards the end that Ishii steps into a psychological landmine. It’s also to be mentioned that some of Muraki’s motivations and naivety towards the end may not fully open to viewers unfamiliar with the character’s past misadventures.

Most negatives are compensated by strong casting. For the Takenaka fans Salvation is indeed a salvation: the man has been found in too many Noboru Iguchi film cameos in the recent years. His screen opponent, played by the 30 year younger Hiroko Sato, is quite a sight. Aside her looks, the stunning gravure idol actually manages her acting duties rather well, despite challenging role. Less can be said about the supporting female bunch, all of whom have been written as cinematic pains in the ass.

A Night in Nude: Salvation was released in two versions. The original theatrical version cut tons of graphic footage to secure an R-15 rating. The second theatrical print restored these shots and more, adding almost 20 minutes to the running time. While adding quite a decent bit to the characters, as well as showing full frontal Hiroko Sato nudity at every other turn, the extended version does probably over-explain and lengthen the already long-enough noir pic. Without having seen the original 126 minute version, one might assume the shorther version to be slightly superior of the two cuts. Nevertheless, Salvation is by far the most interesting Ishii film in at least 10 years, regardless of version viewed. Finally strong Japanese neo-noir is back on silver screen!

Note: the version screened at Nippon Connection was, against all announcements and catalogue information, the longer Director’s Cut running approximately 145 minutes.