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Himalayan Wanderer

April 2, 2017

Himalayan Wanderer (Himalaya no mushuku: Shinzo yaburi no yaro domo) (1961)

A very loose sequel to the wonderfully nutty The Big Gamblers of The Amazon. Unfortunately this one is not half as much fun. It has the same lead cast, including Chiezo Kataoka, but that’s where the similarities end. In this film Kataoka (not a gambler this time) finds a yeti in the Himalaya and brings him to Japan. Not much interesting happens since bringing a yeti out to the public is no easy task and we end up spending too much time with a fake-yeti (Eitaro Shindo). Reporters and gangster businessmen alike are after the real yeti, who spends most of his time sleeping in Kataoka’s bathtub. A poor man’s King Kong with a lot of filler material between the relatively good opening and closing parts.

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Africa’s Light

April 2, 2017

Africa’s Light (Africa no hikari) (1975)

This a bit of a slow burner for nothing much happens in the film. However, you’ll be surprised by how it grows on you. The film is about two semi-slackers (Kenichi Hasegawa and Kunie Tanaka) with an ultra-intimate friendship (wait for the scene where sick Tanaka pees in his pants, and Hasegawa then dries him with a towel) working, slacking and drinking in a freezing Hokkaido town. For a modern comparison point, imagine an early 2000s Nobuhiro Yamashita film with less humour and more 70s grit. Cinematography by Shinsaku Himeda is solid, and the film’s minimal score is quite lovely. The film was a Toho production, one of the many mainstream films by Roman Porno master Tatsumi Kumashiro. His other mainstream film, Failed Youth (1974), is often considered one of the best Japanese films of all time.

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Minato no Yoko, Yokohama, Yokosuka

April 2, 2017

Minato no Yoko, Yokohama, Yokosuka (1975)

This crazy disco dance youth film plays out like a Japanese Saturday Night Fever with a murder suspect plot. A young girl (16 year old Ai Saotome) is looking for her runaway sister (Yumi Takigawa) and ends up finding new life at a night club. Expect psychedelic discos, dance-till-you-drop (literally) all night dance marathon competitions and Downtown Boogie Woogie Band, whose awesome song gave the film its title and plot, and who appear in the ultra-funky intro scene. What a discovery! It’s a shame this has never been released on video or dvd.

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The Blossom and the Sword

April 2, 2017

The Blossom and the Sword (Nihon kyoka den) (1973)

Tai Kato’s early 20th century set yakuza epic about an ordinary merchant girl (Yoko Maki) who crosses paths with an assassin (Tetsuya Watari). The encounter sends her to jail as a suspected accomplice. Years later she marries a yakuza boss, whose gang is affiliated with working class people. The boss is wounded by the same assassin, who however has a change of heart when his own boss (Bin Amatsu) turns out a rotten bastard, and he falls in love with the woman.

There are some slow patches and unnecessary humour during the first half – the film was released in two halves with an intermission – but the second half is tremendous. Although Kato is more interested in characters and revealing the oppression of common people than filming stylised yakuza mayhem, he ends the film with a fight scene featuring one of the most striking image compositions in recent memory, with fatally wounded Watari and Amatsu fighting for their lives in the background while another dying man is crawling right towards the camera and spitting blood.

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Kanto Woman Yakuza

April 2, 2017

Kanto Woman Yakuza (Kanto onna yakuza) (1968)

Nikkatsu Noir meets Girl Gang Films at Daiei. Michio Yasuda, one of the studio’s few female action stars,  leads a group of three girls who make their living playing on the clubs. They soon run into trouble with the yakuza. The film has a phenomenally energetic opening with great music, fantastic cinematography and Yasuda kicking ass. It’s just a shame the storyline gradually takes a more conservative turn with emphasis shifted towards the male characters, who do the dirty work in the climax. It’s still a very stylish film with superb cinematography and amazing moments where director Akira Inoue sets scenes to a blazing rock score. The film also does great job capturing the streets and clubs populated by the lower class. This is a small discovery, although more noirish and down to earth than the likes of Stray Cat Rock that would make a passable comparison point.

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Black Panther Bitch M

April 2, 2017

Black Panther Bitch M (Kuroi mehyo M) (1974)

Reiko Ike stars in this Nikkatsu produced action film, which came out just the right time. Toei’s Pinky Violence genre was starting to wane out while karate films were the new thing. Black Panther Bitch M was a bit of both. The film hit the screens two weeks before Toei’s Sister Street Fighter opened.

Ike is a ninja trained assassin ordered by an invisible shadow organization to take out businessman Mikio Narita, who is protected by yakuza goons. Limited production values and some slow patches set this apart from Toei’s best action films, but there also are some atmospheric parts and nice bits of ultra violence as Ike takes out her opponents using knives and sadistic martial arts moves. Ike was no karate pro, but stunt doubles and fun ideas like POV action compensated enough. Ike also looks absolutely gorgeous in her frequently malfunctioning blouse that clearly wasn’t intended to be used while engaging in hand-to-hand battle.

Supporting cast is mostly Toei actors, including karate master Masashi Ishibashi, who has one fight scene in the film, and who also brought his acquaintance Gogen Yamaguchin in as martial arts advisor. Director Koretsugu Kurahara was one of Nikkatsu’s rising action film talents from before the studio shifted to Roman Porno. Even during the Roman Porno period his films were often influenced by action movies (e.g. Sex Rider: Wet Highway, 1972). Bad Girl Mako (1971) and Black Panther Bitch M are his only mainstream action films.

There is a fun story in the dvd booklet about Ike’s involvement in the production. One reason why she accepted Nikkatsu’s offer  was that she was getting a little bit tired for her “sex queen” image at Toei, and was promised that this would be a mainstream film with no sex scenes in it. Ike later found out the filmmakers had added a hotel room sex scene into the screenplay, and she got majorly upset. She had them rewrite the scene (into a non-sex nude scene) and relocate it to a “safer location” on a rooftop

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Oh Wonderful Utamaro

April 2, 2017

Oh Wonderful Utamaro (Shikijo Toruko Nikki) (1974).

Director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi was best known for martial arts (Karate Bull Fighter) and Pinky Violence (Delinquent Girl Boss) films but he also directed a couple of erotic films in the mid 70s. This one is a mildly amusing sex comedy mainly remembered for starring American actress Sharon Kelly aka Colleen Brennan.

Kelly plays an American nymphomaniac who literally falls off the sky (with a parachute). She’s supposed to be picked up by a local yakuza gang, but “Porno Broker” Tatsuo Umemiya and his pal Gajiro Sato gets to her first. Umemiya then makes her work in his Turkish bath, which she doesn’t mind at all. In fact, she does eight men on her first night and comes asking for more. Poor Umemiya has trouble “getting it up” (or to be more precise, it usually gets up on the wrong moment, e.g. when bad guys are trying to kill him) and can’t help.

Kelly is obviously the main attraction here, whether you mean it literally or as a cinematic curiosity. It was not entirely rare to see foreign stars in Japanese sexploitation films in the 70’s though. Toei also imported Sandra Julien (Modern Porno Tale, 1971; Tokugawa Sex Ban, 1972) from France, Christina Lindberg (Sex and Fury, 1973; Journey to Japan, 1973) from Sweden, and even Harry Reems (Harry and the Geisha Girl, 1978) from USA. Nikkatsu even commissioned some Roman Porno films to be shot in Sweden by Japanese filmmakers utilizing fully Swedish casts.

Oh Wonderful Utamaro was Kelly’s only Japanese film. She was already a familiar face for Japanese audiences thanks to Teenage Bride (1970), A Scream in the Streets (1973) and The Dirty Mind of Young Sally (1973), which had been released in Japan in 1973-1974. She had also been covered in TV variety show called 11 PM quite a few times.

The film itself is a pretty ridiculous affair with hippies, yakuzas, lots of (boring) sex, silly comedy, Kelly, and a bit of extremely mediocre action at the end. It’s somewhat less fun than it sounds like. The best supporting character is an English speaking hippie dad taking care of a baby and having sex (at the same time) with Pinky Violence co-star Harumi Tajima who was probably more famous for her large breasts than her acting skills. Speaking of English, Kelly reads her lines in her native tongue with few sentences of (understandable) Japanese here and there. The rest of the cast speaks Japanese with a few sentences of (understandable) English here and there. Nice.

A fun curiosity, but don’t kill yourself if you never get to see it.

I saw the film at a Kazuhiko Yamaguchi retrospective in Tokyo in 2015. The screening was preceded by a video greeting from Kelly. She recalled the ridiculous costumes, the language barrier thanks to which she had no idea who she was supposed to be shooting at when they put a machine gun in her hands, and the fact that she found director Yamaguchi more attractive than her co-star Umemiya. Umemiya famously disagreed and claimed in an old interview that he and Kelly got along so well they were having real sex in the film. The claim most likely has no base in reality.