Archive for the ‘Japanese Cinema’ Category

Blue Sky Markets: Part Six

June 9, 2013

If there is ever a bower-bird of Japanese cinema, it has to be Quentin Tarantino. The Kill Bill franchise contains a dozen references, and probably a ton more which are easily missed, not having the benefit of his vast film library. He pillaged Yasuharu Hasebe’s Lady Snowblood which is sort of okay – or at least made okay by the appearance of the catholic nun assassin team and some strategically naked swordplay scenes. Hasebe also turned out gems like Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter with teenage girl knife fights. Other pearls include Female Prisoner Scorpion #701: Grudge Song.

Female badass Meiko Kaji

Female badass Meiko Kaji

I’m certainly glad I wasn’t introduced to Pinky Violence flics when I was a young impressionable who regularly went to the drive-in. Gauzy soft porn, much envisceration with knives, swords and other sharp objects. They would have been responsible for destroying a whole generation of school boys.

Hasebe also made the pretty slick yakuza flic Bloody Territories in 1969. You can read a flawed synopsis HERE. Flawed, simply because the movie reflects the yakuza’s image of themselves:

Yakuza have always prided themselves upon the code of bushido, or way of the samurai. Violent death was traditionally seen as a poetic, tragic, and honorable fate, and the concepts of giri and ninjo are central to the relationships among members. Giri, or obligation, refers to the strong sense of duty that is felt between members, and in a sense is the “social cloth” that binds much of Japan together. Ninjo is roughly translatable to emotion, or human compassion, and denotes “generosity or sympathy to toward the weak and disadvantaged, and sympathy towards others (Kaplan and Dubro 28).” This tie to chivalry and patriotism gave the Yakuza a sort of Robin Hood type of romantic image when viewed in the public eye.
Reference HERE and some additional reading provided by Jake Adelstein, who has recently monetised his life of crime reporting in Japan into a Hollywood production. (Don’t expect much though.)

Brothers with full body tats. Men of honour in a tightly organised, rule-governed hierarchical order.

Yakuza inner-gang life was/is Hobbesian to put it mildly. Greed, betrayal, extreme violence, side deals at odds with the corporate charter, bosses who don’t think twice about sacrificing underlings, all in all behaviour which displays a distinct lack of brotherhood. If Bloody Territories reflects the conventional yakuza myths, Kinji Fukasaku’s Battles without Honour or Humanity is the ultimate revisionist take on the modern yakuza reality which rose out of the ruins of WW11.

Just dig this for an opening musical sequence.

Highly complicated plot which begins in a black market with a GI intent on rape, a murder and other general mayhem. Ominous RKO voice overs hold the narrative sequences together. Lurid burlesque jazz soundtrack. Reviews HERE and HERE.

battles without honor or humanity
Oh yes, the final scene – Shinto mob funeral – where protagonist Hironi rejects the code with some well placed bullets.

This is the big daddy of all yakuza movies. No competition.

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Blue Sky Markets: Five

June 8, 2013

Whether Seijun Suzuki took LSD or not, he certainly had a monopoly on cinematic hallucinatory effects judging by Pistol Opera (2001), a remake of his earlier Branded To Kill. Wild explosions of colour rippling in perfect symmetry across the screen. Compositions which would have made Antonioni (think Zabriskie Point) green with envy. Also a massive dose of 60’s pop culture sartorial elegance if you’ve seen Tokyo Drifter. And I highly recommend the tribute site 45.Caliber Samurai, even if your interests don’t go beyond lurid film posters.

Tokyo Drifter

Tokyo Drifter

Pistol Opera

Pistol Opera


Wicki does a good job overviewing his life and films, and here’s the bit I like. Seijun Suzuki was born in 1923 and so got to serve in the Imperial forces during WW11. After surviving two shipwrecks, he wrote of his military career:

While I stayed in the army out of fear of being executed as a deserter as soon as I threw down my rifle and ran, it wasn’t long before I was promoted to trainee officer with a salary of twelve-and-a-half yen, comparable at the time to that of a departmental manager in business life. I went to the Philippines, where the war took a wrong turn for us. Then I was transferred to Taiwan, where I was stationed at an isolated airport at the foot of a mountain, with twelve others. Our wages were divided into thirteen equal parts; as in a perfect communist system. To avoid the outbreak of a revolt because of sexual deprivation, we didn’t just get food, clothing and shelter, but the army staff had also considered it strategically necessary to supply us with three army prostitutes. This isn’t a very edifying story, but I can’t help it: I spent most of my money on booze and women, and when I arrived at Tanabe harbor the year after liberation, I was completely destitute.

It was little wonder that he adopted a fuck you view of work in the rigidly controlled Japanese studio system of the-then five major companies. Lets not get too exercised by tight plot lines: narratives best unfold around over-the-top imagery, lots of violence and the occasional sexual peccadillo never hurts. And if you worry about your paraphilia’s, watch Youth of the Beast for the golf club scene (if I recall correctly), and you’ll feel ….um….normal. Tremendous set of stills from the film HERE.

In 1964 Suzuki returned to the extremely mean streets of bombed out buildings and black markets in post 1945 Tokyo with Gates of Flesh, a tale of a foulmouthed sisterhood of working girls (a futen and not futon, okay) “…maintaining tenuous friendships and a semblance of order in a world of chaos, …. when a renegade ex-soldier/black marketeer stumbles into their midst, lusts and loyalties clash, with tragic results. With Gate of Flesh, he ….. delivers a whirlwind of social critique and pulp drama, shot through with brilliant colors and raw emotions”.

An erudite essay HERE, and a youtube clip from the film – retribution for the new girl who broke the cardinal rule of the working sisterhood – no free sex.

Another really good overview of Suzuki’s life and the film HERE.

Finally, John Woo is undertaking a remake of Youth of the Beast. I don’t think I will be searching it out – probably all gloss and digital effects – having just been totally disappointed by Takeshi Kitano’s latest offering Outrage which as this review indicates is a pile of pointless crap. Need an introduction to Office Kitano, try Boiling Point instead.

If you can deal with youtube’s lo-fi colour values, here’s the original Youth of the Beast in its entirety

Just can’t seem to finish this series: McHale’s take on this blogging albatross series.

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