FRANKENTSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD
Archive for the Japanese Films Category
I have only actually seen the diminutive but powerful Meiko Kaji in a couple films but am in the process of correcting that. I saw her in three of the four Female Scorpion films she starred in and the second of the Lady Snowblood movies that served as a (not “the”) inspiration for the Quentin Taratino Kill Bill films. She is my favorite of the Pinky Violence Big Four (Meiko Kaji, Ike Reiko, Oshida Reiko and Sugimoto Riki) but maybe only because I have seen her in more films than the others. I am trying to get as many of these films as I can and see if that opinion changes later. I selected her to begin this new series/category called Psychotronic Personas since I had just seen Lady Snowblood II and got a collection of 60’s/70’s Japanese film music that featured her among the various artists. I also have a collection featuring Ike Reiko and I seem to prefer the recordings I have of Meiko Kaji because all the tracks on the Ike Reiko album have some orgasmic moaning sounds in the background ground on every track. While cool for one track it wore thin after five or six. And that is one of the reasons I would prefer Kaji over someone like Ike Reiko whose delinquent films roles blurred over into her private life resulting in runs with the law eventually. Kaji showed some restraint and prudence in her judgments and performances that I admire.
Like many Japanese actors and actresses her acting career paralleled a successful singing career. I have uploaded three sample songs of her singing style. (NOTE: Those songs are temporarily unavailable and I will try to get them up soon.) Two of the songs are from the Kill Bill soundtracks and the third is from a collection I have here of Japanese film songs. After the 80’s Kaji’s career shifted to television roles and she has experienced a bit of a resurgence in popularity thanks to the Tarantino films and the availability of her old Nikattsu and Toei films on DVD. She created some dark and strong female characters who seemed more concerned with revenge and justice than pleasures of the flesh. She was beautiful and alluring but somehow one does not see her as a sex object. She is sexy but aloof and seemingly uninterested in romance. Like a true lone wolf.
BLOSSOMING NIGHT DREAMS TITLE SONG
The story takes place in the small Japanese city of Kurouzu which has come under the curse of evil spirals (or vortexs as they are called in the translation). It is not clear why the town is cursed but soon schoolgirl Kirie and her childhood boyfriend Shuichi are at the center of the escalating nightmare. Kirie finds Shuichi’s father absorbed in filming the spiral aptterns on a snails back one day on the way home from school. Soon there is a suicide at the school when a boy leaps from the top of a very high spiral staircase, landing at the bottom with blood and brains splattered everywhere. Things get more and more out of control as Shuichi’s father loses his mind under the influence of the vortex curse, one night almost losing control when there are no more spiral patterned naturo fish rolls in his miso soup. He convinces Kirie’s father, a pottery maker, that the vortex is the highest form of art and asks him to design a vortex patterned plate. Soon Kirie’s father is pulled into the curse. The situation at home is not the only concerns since at school students are turning into snails and having their hair grow out into elaborate spiral like designs the size of trees. The spiral (vortexs… it really bothers me how these films are translated at times. The term spiral is never once used though sometimes it is the better word to use. We do not say a “votex staircase”) motif appears all over the film, though not as frequently as in the comic book story. Eventually even the dark clouds in the sky assume a menacing spiral pattern.
READ MORE BELOW. SHARE IT IF YOU LIKE IT.
Shuichi’s father eventually decides he wants to become a vortex himself. What better way to achieve this than to crawl into the washing machine and click it on. His mother winds up in the hospital in despair and she soon clips off all her hair as to eliminate any spiral designs. Soon she realizes her finger prints are spirals and…well… you can guess the rest right? She kills herself after a centipede tries to slither down her ear and soon her dead husband is calling to her from the other side, where there are perfect vortexes. Shichi himself gets all tied in knots, literally, and in the last scenes we see the towns people all under the effects of the vortex curse, except for Kirie. One memorable scene as her stalker admirer throw himself under a moving car so she will always remember him and he gets all twisted around the wheel and rim. The film ends with unanswered questions but most movies like this do. The comic book seemed to go off into other directions, such as many of the town’s folk turning into dangerous zombie like creatures. While some people in the film appear “zombiefied” they never collect together and terrorize Kirie as they do in the manga story. The film is shot using a greenish hue and it looks eerie. The music score is good and the acting above average. There are no gratuitous school girl panty shots and no sex, which is actually a relief and gives this Japanese shocker a boost in the credibility department. So many newer Japanese horror films are of the Pinku Eiga style, which is simply softcore porn with a few mutilations thrown in to balance things out. Nothing like seeing a young naked Japanese school girl in one scene and then a disemboweled, blood drenched one in the next to push all the borderline personalities watching right over the edge. I thought the film was creepy and well made and the effects and photography are pretty good for this style of movie. If you can get the comic book, if that is your bag, as I think it is actually a better story.
READ MORE BELOW. SHARE IT IF YOU LIKE IT.
Well I must remind you that much of the story is a little hard to follow at times and one is strung along a times and if do not enjoy this sort of thing it may be tough to keep your attention focused. I had a hard time but often settled for the brilliant and haunting images and figured the film would maybe make sense at the end. Well, it made less sense by the end but the movies opens up with a man named Hitomi a patient in a strange asylum where women danced around drugged and naked and bald men stare at him from a distance and plot his murder. Hitomi has no idea why he in the institution and all he has are a couple jumbled memories in his head: a recurring scene on a beach with a wild haired man with strange fingers and a lullaby melody. Hitomi is forced into a situation where he kills the creepy bald guy in self defense and somehow manages to escape from the asylum and is soon seeking information on his own past and who he really is. He meets a young girl who performs at a circus where Hitomi seems to have picked up and odd job. She is able to identify the lullaby but before she can provide him with more information a knife is thrown in her back. You know, right as she about to utter the first syllable of the secret he needs to hear. And then to make matters worse Hitmoi decideds to pull the knife out and then everyone happens upon the scene and believes he murdered the girl. Man, I hate when that happens.
While traveling incognito (wearing an eye patch) Hitomi happens to notice a newspaper headline about the passing away of the head of the powerful Komoda family. He is startled to see the picture of the man who is his dead ringer. His curiosity is piqued and he heads to the coastal area where the family’s business empire is situated. Further coincidences fall into play when a birth mark on his foot, he discovers from an old masseuse, is identical to one on the now dead Genzaburou’s foot. The birthmark is in the shape of a swastikia but the image does not have the same evil connotations in the Orient as it does in post the post Nazi Germany west. The story is situated time wise before the war during the 1920’s I believe. Well, with all these events piling up and the fact that the family house is within walking distance of Hitomi now he does the most logical thing a person in his situation can do; he sneaks in the cemetery where Genzaboru is buried and takes his body from the grave and hurls it into the sea with a suicide note and then returns to the grave and assumes the identity of the head of the Komoda family. It is a little shaky a first but soon everyone accepts the fact that a mistake was made and Genzaboru was mistakenly buried for dead. There are various levels of intrigue in the Komoda household as Kitomi gets closer and closer to the secrets of his true identity. Poisonings and strange deformed men groping bathing servant girls top the list. Soon Kitomi begins to realize that the answer to his mysteries must lie on the island where Genzaboru’s father Jogoro lives in self-imposed exile conducting unknown experiments. The experiments are basically the delusions of a madman who is transforming normal people into malformed mutants. Seems he has long been bitter because of his own congenitally deformed hands and now wants to make a sort of master race of deformed men who will, I gather, rule the world someday. Not only will they rule the world but they will have sex with all the normal beautiful girls out there. A demented but inspiring dream I must admit.
It is not far fetched to guess that Hitmoi is actually Genzaboru’s twim brother who was sent away as a young lad by Jogoro to study medicine so that later in life he could return home and help his dad create mutants. Hitmoi is having none of it. He is man of strong moral fiber. Of course he does not mind having an incestuous relationship with his sister who was only recently a male/female Siamese twin experiment but we all have our shortcomings don’t we. All these years Jogoro’s wife has been chained up in a damp cave eating crabs. Seems she had some hanky panky with a man with normal hands and this really sent Jogoro further over the edge of sanity he had already slipped off. This is told in monochromatic flashback sequences. The films spirals out of control at the end when, as I mentioned earlier, a Charlie Chan type scene occurs where an uncover cop unravels all the truth as everyone stands around listening with mouths agape. I felt this was totally unnecessary. Further at the end we are treated to a type of theme I often see in Asian films. The evil Jorgoro suddenly breaks down in tears and confesses his love for his wife who he kept chained in a cave for a couple decades and forced into acts of cannibalism on her dead lover. She starts wailing and crying and then he is wailing and crying and the scene drags on way too long. I have seen this sort of ending too many times in Japanese films and Asian films in general. The bond of blood or love is deeper than the viscous and sadistic acts that severed the pair and it the end they cry and weep and say “I have always cared for you and loved you, forgive me for keeping you chained in dark isolation in a cave with live crabs as your only source of sustenance for twenty something years. I did it because I loved you”. With some response like “Sure, I understand. I always loved you too and forgive you”. Then there is some double suicide of Hitomi and his sister because society could never accept their deep, but forbidden, love. Hell, I think he only knew the girl for a week or so and half of that time she was co-joined mutant. Well, those little flaws only add to the film’s strangely grotesque appeal. The photography is wonderful and it is an early example of Japan extreme cinema by a director who would serve as an inspiration for the much more extreme and shocking Japanese cinema that was to unleashed over the coming decades. The themes are dark and moody and the movie ends on a down note but the over all ride is enjoyable. Well, for someone like me it was anyone.
1966/Director: Yasuharu Hasebe/Writers: Ryuzo Nakanishi, Michio Tsuzuki
Cast: Akira Kobayashi, Akemi Kita, Mieko Nishio, Bokuzen Hidari, Eiji Go, Toshizô Kudô, Chieko Matsubara, Hiroshi Nihon’yanagi, Kaku Takashina
AKA: Ore Ni Sawaru To Abunaize, Don’t Touch Me I’m Dangerous
Recently got in two films by Japanese director Yasuharu Hasebe. I watched black Tight Killers first and later skimmed over Assault! Jack the Ripper! To just check the quality and was fairly stunned at how different the two films were. Not only in style but content matter as well. Surely Black Tight Killers falls more into the category of films I prefer more and that is not to say the more graphic content matter of Assault! offended me in some way. It did not. But I am talking here of film style and presentation. A review of Assault! Jack the Ripper! will be made after I have watched all of the film but just from the few moments I watched I can tell it is more in the syle of the Pinky Violence films of the seventies while Black Tight Killers is a stylized Nikkatsu Yakuza type film which is paying homage in many scenes to the James Bond films of the time. Some of the scenes are similar to what Seijun Suzuki –for whom Hasebe worked as assistant director for eight years- was doing at the time though Suzuki seemed to luscious prefer b/w for his noir/gangster films. I do have some earlier Seijun Suzuki films that are in color but, to be honest, have not got around to watching them though what I have seen of them look marvelous.
Anyway for Black Tight Killer Yasharu Hasebe chose not only to work in color but in a bright and lurid style of color that is reminiscent of some of Mario Bava’s work during the 60’s. Black Tight Killers has been compared to Bava’s 1968 Danger Diabolik and not without good reason though Black Tight Killer’s predates Danger Diabolik by a couple years so it could hardly have been influenced by Bava’s film. Both films have a comic book feel to the look and feel. Both films are lit rather garishly to say the least and both seem to be inspired by the Sean Connery James Bond films. Of course Danger Diabolik was actually based a comic book character. I have actually read a couple reviews that said the lighting and photography of Black Tight Killers is horrible and I am at a complete lose as to what the hell these folks are talking about. And before moving on another element of the film that reminds me of Bava’s superb work of the 60’s is Hasebe’s use of how to stage and frame a shot. The technical word is mise-en-scène and there is some dispute over what the term actually refers to. I tend to keep things simple and define at as the total visual aspects of a scene. This includes the lighting and all props and placements of the objects in the scene. Bava –as an art director and cinematographer himself- understood this in his early films. I have only seen one complete Hasebe film –but have other lined up for downloading soon- and am not qualified to comment on those films at the moment but I can say I love the visual style of Black Tight Killers.
READ MORE BELOW. SHARE IT IF YOU LIKE IT.
Before going into the film and bombarding my readers with spoilers out the wazhoo I want to mention it stars leading man Akira Kobayashi whose charisma, acting ability and dashing good looks holds the film’s story together during some pretty weak moments. As I mentioned a couple posts back when I posted a video of the groovy title sequence Kobayashi sang the theme song as well. I want to find some of the Wandering Guitarist and Rambler series of films where he plays, I guess, a wandering/rambling guy with a guitar and gets into all sorts of adventures. In fact the title song for Black Tight Killers translates as Don’t Cry Drifter and must be some reference to these earlier films since his gainfully employed photo-journalist character Daisuke Hondo in Black tight Killers hardly seems like a rambling drifter to me. But Kobayashi adds a James Bond type of flair to the character that he plays straight and serious to good effect for the most part. Now the film does have a few problems in the story department but much of it is done tongue in cheek –I hope- and so it never really falls apart.
The story follows photographer Hondo on his return to Tokyo from Vietnam where he worked as a war photographer. On the plane he falls for stewardess Yoriko (Chieko Matsubara) and pursues her in the why men always pursued women in films from the 60’s which amounts to nothing short of felony stalking these days. He refuses to take no for an answer as far as dinner goes –and women in these older flicks love it when a guy makes all their decisions for them and never hear the word no- and later they are in a ritzy night club. Hondo is soon dancing with Yoriko and compliments on her on how well she holds her liquor. Men in these old movies like women who have drinking problems it seems. The evening takes a turn for the sinister when Yoriko runs from the restaurant in fear that she is being followed. Hiondo chases her outside and soon finds himself in the midst of a violent confrontation between black leather clad females and what appears to gangsters. They appear to be gangsters because they dress well but look ugly and make scowling facial expressions all the time. The girls kill the man by stabbing him in the back and then setting up Hondo for the crime after they have thrown some hi-tech spy weaponry his way. And that would be bubble gum in his eyes. The plot suddenly gets rather convoluted and best to just go along for the ride rather than try to figure it all out. His American friend Lopez –who is totally white and not Hispanic- helps to bail him out of the frame-up using his perfect Japanese. In fact there are lots of big Americans in the film and they all seem to be in league with the Yakuza or up to no good. I have read that Hasebe seems to take an unkind look at the American occupiers of Japan in many of his films and the negative effects they had on Japanese culture. Hey but they should have thought of that before they began WWII right! The Black Tight Killers are in the middle of it all. They are a group of go-go dancers from Okinawa who have come looking for the same thing the Yakuza are looking for; information leading to a fortune in gold that Yoriko’s uncles knows the location of. But he was killed in the war and left a clue somewhere to be found and figured out. It becomes a race between the Black Tight Killers and the Yakuza to get their hands on Yorika and find the location of the gold that she has no clue about. In the middle of all this Hondo is trying to pursue a relationship with Yoriko who constantly being kidnapped and re-kidnapped. While, he is serious about Yoriko –telling a friend that she is special and that she may be the one- this does not stop him from doing the dirty with one of the Black Tight Killers… and hell, who can blame him. Although the seduction is actually a trap set by one of the girls so she wrap her thighs around him and lock him into place while pinching s pressure point on his neck to get information out of him. But it still looks fun.
And now a few words about the Black tight Killers themselves. Some reference is made by someone where in the film that they must be ninja trained. And that may well be though we never find out for sure. Not only can they adroitly use the traditional ninja weapon of bubble gum to blind an adversary but they are equally skilled in slinging vinyl records as shurikens but ordinary tape measures become lethal tool in their capable hands. But one big problem with the lovely gals is that after they ruthlessly stab one guy in the back with a switchblade they suddenly start dying off with relative ease at the hands of the yakuza. One by one they die off and for the most part in the arms of Hondo where they exchange some sweet words before the heroine succumbs. After a couple die Hondo mutters how she was a “nice girl”. What? They stabbed a Yakuza in the back earlier over gold. The death scenes are a trifle corny to say the least in particular one scene where a girl is shot in the back and falls over a stair railing several floors high. She lands with a splat but manages enough life to not only say some sweet words to Hondo but to appropriately cover her nipples with cupped hands before she dies. Now that is Japanese modesty at it best. In fact I even got confused as to which girl was which most of the time. In fact this might sound racist but I bet I am not the only one out there who has had this problem. In most Asian pictures I have a hard time telling one character from another. Okay I may go to white man hell for that but it is true. Unless the character stands out like Akiro Kobayashi does I start getting bewildered as to who is now talking to who and especially with female character who all dress the same and have the same hairstyle. And I want to tell you something, I live in China and I know for a fact that Chinese people have the same problems! They often cannot tell one female character from the other themselves especially when it comes to the newer, mainstream films where all the females have the same sort of look anymore. And the subs for this film do not make these problems any easier. While readable in many areas they are white and, as I understand it, burned into the original print. Meaning they cannot be edited. So when the background is white you simply cannot read the subs. But I tend to not worry too much about these trifles in a film like this and some consternation is part of the package.
The film, as I said, seems to be paying homage to the James Bond films of the time and one scene in particular seems lifted right out of 1964’s Goldfinger. In the memorable scene from the opening of Goldfinger Jill Masterson (played by Shirley Eaton) is spray painted gold and dies from suffocation as her skin pores are all closed up. Does seem like this is a bit of a scientific error and people would die of suffocation so long as they could still breathe through their nose and mouth but they could die of excessive heat exhaustion from not being able to sweat any longer, though it would take a couple days perhaps for this to happen. In any case it is a neat idea for a spy film and it is recreated in Black Tight Killers when the Yakuza begin to spray paint Yoriko unless she gives them the information they seek. The deal is she still has on her bikini top and bottom so she would hardly be covered head to toe in spray paint. But the scene and the following conflict with what’s left of the Black Tight girls and the Yakuza mobsters is another vehicle for Hasebe to go a little crazy with the lights, colors and camera work. In one part a ganster is in front of cans of paint that spew forth bright primary colors of blue and red when bullets hit them. Yoriko’s body is covered in paint but she is placed in front of a wall of multi-colored hues that was used for testing spray paint. The fight sequence is exceptional, as are most in the film, and the image of Hondo walking around with a spray gun as flame thrower is as powerful as any image of a gunfighter in a Sergio Leone film.
The film ends up with all the Black Tight Killers dead as far as I can tell and the white guys being the real bad guys. If we can learn any lesson from the film –as Hondo certainly did- it is do not close your eyes for a girl when she asks to, especially when you just confessed to having slept with a slinky ninja femme fatale. Of course be sure to tell it was only one time. That way she only knocks out a few of your teeth. The film has me more than a little interested in seeing more of Nikkatsu’s Yakuza Eiga (gangster films) from this time period, but I doubrt most will be as light hearted and fun as this one. It is a delight to watch scene to scene and it is not crucial to try and follow all the action and plot twists. I guess next I will be checking out Assualt! Jack the Ripper! but somehow I feel I will comparing it to this one, the way I compared Bava’s 70’s films like Shock to his 60’s masterpieces like Planet of the Vampires and Black Sabbath. I always get the feeling when I see these latter type films that it is a sign of a visionary losing creative control and power to the studio that needs to turn a profit. Hey, you gotta make a buck to survive, right? But I haven’t seen the film yet and will get back, eventually, after I do. For now I will savor the good taste left in my mouth by Black Tight Killers.