SHIN GODZILLA – new theatrical teaser from Funimation Films

The limited North American theatrical engagement for ANNO Hideaki and HIGUCHI Shinji’s well-received reboot of Toho’s iconic Godzilla franchise is fast-approaching, and distributor Funimation Films have devised a slick new 15-second teaser to herald the King of the Monsters’ return.

Shin Godzilla has chewed up the Japanese box office for the last two months, turning more admissions than the series has seen since its heyday in the early 1960s, and in little more than two weeks the film will be stomping its way into more than four hundred North American cinemas. Shin Godzilla will be in theaters from October 11th, with three engagements at the Twin Cities’ own Lagoon Cinema. More details and a handy locator for the film’s scheduled showings are available at Funimation Films’ Shin Godzilla page.

Four new television spots for Hitoshi Ohne’s SCOOP!

The latest film from writer and director Hitoshi OHNE (Bakuman), a remake of Masato HARADA’s 1985 feature Out of Focus, is set for theatrical release in Japan on October 1st, and producer/distributor Toho have shared four new television spots for the production.

Scoop! stars Masaharu FUKUYAMA (Like Father, Like Son) as a news photographer turned paparazzi who, along with rookie reporter Fumi NIKAIDŌ (Why Don’t You Play in Hell?), finds himself involved in a major incident. Lily Franky co-stars.

Live action ATTACK ON TITAN part 2 to Blu-ray/DVD from Funimation in December

The conclusion to director HIGUCHI Shinji’s live action Attack on Titan duology make its North American home video debut from Funimation on December 6th, roughly two months after that of Attack on Titan The Movie: Part 1. As with Part 1, Funimation will issue Attack on Titan The Movie: Part 2 in both a DVD edition and a BD/DVD/UV-Digital combo pack, with audio available in the original Japanese with English subtitles as well as in a new English dub. The announcement trailer for the release follows below.

Kurosawa Kiyoshi’s existential creep-out masterpiece PULSE to Blu-ray from Arrow in December

pulse

The film, first released in 2001, will make its Blu-ray debut from Arrow Video in a dual-format Blu-ray / DVD edition on December 5th. Pulse (Kairo) will be a multi-territory release, available in both the UK and North America. Details are quoted from the Arrow Video website:

Award-winning filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa delivered one of the finest entries in the “J-Horror” cycle of films with this moody and spiritually terrifying film that delivers existential dread along with its frights. Setting his story in the burgeoning internet and social media scene in Japan, Kurosawa’s dark and apocalyptic film foretells how technology will only serve to isolate us as it grows more important to our lives.

A group of young people in Tokyo begin to experience strange phenomena involving missing co-workers and friends, technological breakdown, and a mysterious website which asks the compelling question, “Do you want to meet a ghost?” After the unexpected suicides of several friends, three strangers set out to explore a city which is growing more empty by the day, and to solve the mystery of what lies within a forbidden room in an abandoned construction site, mysteriously sealed shut with red packing tape.

Featuring haunting cinematography by Junichiro Hayashi (Ring, Dark Water), a dark and unsettling tone which lingers long after the movie is over, and an ahead-of-its-time story which anticipates 21st century disconnection and social media malaise, Pulse is one of the greatest and most terrifying achievements in modern Japanese horror, and a dark mirror for our contemporary digital world.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  • High Definition digital transfer
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Original 5.1 audio (DTS-HD on the Blu-ray)
  • New optional English subtitle translation
  • New interview with writer/director Kiyoshi Kurosawa
  • New interview with cinematographer Junichiro Hayashi
  • The Horror of Isolation: a new video appreciation featuring Adam Wingard & Simon Barrett (Blair Witch, You’re Next)
  • Archive ‘Making of’ documentary, plus four archive behind-the-scenes featurettes
  • Premiere footage from the Cannes Film Festival
  • Cast and crew introductions from opening day screenings in Tokyo
  • Trailers and TV Spots
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tommy Pocket

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Chuck Stephens

Pulse will retail for £19.99, and is already up for pre-sale at the Arrow Video store as well as through Amazon UK. Availability through Amazon’s US branch should follow shortly.

SHIN GODZILLA set to stomp through the Twin Cities in October

Today Funimation Films published both a new trailer for their upcoming release of Shin Godzilla and a theater locator to help viewers find screenings in their home territories. Denizens of the downtown Minneapolis area will be thrilled to see Landmark’s Lagoon Cinema (a great venue, and a frequent Uptown haunt) among the three currently booked for the Twin Cities. The film will play three dates there – October 11th at 7pm, the 16th at 12pm, and the 17th at 7pm. Tickets should be available shortly through the Lagoon website.

UpdateThe Lagoon Cinema showings are now up for presale via the Lagoon Cinema website. Tickets are $15 each.

Further Twin Cities screenings are slated for the Oakdale 20 and the Marcus Oakdale 17, and I imagine tickets for both will be available through Fandango in short order.

You’ll find the screening locator at Funimation Films’ official Shin Godzilla page, along with a variety of media. The film opens in cinemas nationwide on October 11th for a limited 1-week run.

Toho shares two new TV spots for Lee Sang-il’s RAGE

Toho Company have shared two new television spots for the upcoming mystery drama Rage (Ikari), an adaptation of YAMADA Shuichi’s eponymous two-part novel from 2014 and the latest feature from writer – director Lee Sang-il (Hula Girls). The award-winning WATANABE Ken (Unforgiven) stars, with MORIYAMA Mirai (Penance), MATSUYAMA Kenichi (Usagi Drop), AYANO Gō (Helter Skelter) and HIROSE Suzu (Your Lie in April).

Rage is set for release in Japan on September 17th.

The return of ‘The Return of Godzilla’

After decades in licensing limbo, Toho’s 1984 series reboot The Return of Godzilla (Gojira) will this month be making its belated premiere on Stateside DVD and Blu-ray courtesy of Kraken Releasing.

Directed by HASHIMOTO Kōji (a long-time assistant director of Tōhō tokusatsu productions) and featuring an ambitious effects production from NAKANO Teruyoshi (Submersion of Japan), The Return of Godzilla follows the efforts of public officials and a small group of civilians to avert disaster when the King of the Monsters reappears off the coast of Japan. The film starred TANAKA Ken (The Gate of Youth), SAWAGUCHI Yasuko (Princess From the Moon) and NATSUKI Yōsuke (Space Monster Dogora), and marked veteran suit actor SATSUMA Kenpachirō’s first turn in the title role (one he would reprise through 1995’s Godzilla vs. Destroyer).

The Return of Godzilla‘s dubbed US release version Godzilla 1985, which was produced by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures and featured a new framing narrative starring Raymond Burr, was a staple of the home video marketplace in the heyday of VHS, but has been largely unseen since. Due to ongoing licensing complications the Kraken edition will do little to change this. Working with the same transfer Toho used for their own Blu-ray release in Japan, Kraken will present the original 110′ version of The Return of Godzilla in both Japanese with English subtitles and in English dub (in this case the one produced by Toho for the film’s international distribution). Supplements are limited to trailers only, for both The Return of Godzilla as well as Kraken’s other Godzilla offerings, but the retail price is low – either $10 or $15, depending on the format.

Kraken Releasing’s The Return of Godzilla debuts September 13th on Blu-ray and DVD, and is available for pre-order now through Amazon.com (DVD and Blu-ray) and other retailers.

「影の車」 The Shadow Within

Yoshitarō NOMURA captained this perverse little drama, from Shochiku in 1970. The Shadow Within begins as a more-or-less traditional romantic melodrama, centered around an affair between a widowed single mother and a man in a listless marriage, but as is ever the case in Nomura films, all is not quite as it seems.

Anchored in the anonymous apartment blocks of Cold War-era Tokyo, The Shadow Within finds a believable romance blossoming between old friends Gō KATŌ (Castle of Sand) and Shima IWASHITA (The Demon). Domestic tension rises as Katō’s wife (Mayumi OGAWA, Vengeance is Mine) attempts – and fails – to reinvigorate her marriage, and then to suspect, but then suspense creeps in from a source less expected: Iwashita’s six year old son (Hisao OKAMOTO, Love Stopped the Runaway Train).

Though at first only concerned that the boy is not warming to him, after a series of strange events Katō soon suspects the child has more sinister intent. Flashbacks of Katō’s own childhood, and of his mother’s own affair with a doting ‘uncle’, soon begin to color his assumptions. A decidedly ambiguous performance from Okamoto keeps the plot simmering, and the truth of matters obscure.

Ever the eclectic dramatist, Nomura punctuates the romantic highs and anxious lows of the tale with moments of nigh-operatic ostentation and diversions into the dully quotidian. The Shadow Within hangs well in the balance, an inter-generic oddity that’s all the stronger for its implacability. Yūsuke TAKITA (Submersion of Japan) co-stars, with lush ‘scope photography by Takashi KAWAMATA (Black Rain).

The Shadow Within has no North American home video edition, but is available in Japanese with English subtitles through the Criterion Collection’s channel on Hulu.

Note (11/25/2016): With the Criterion Collection exiting its partnership with Hulu in favor of a new streaming venture (Filmstruck, in collaboration with Turner Classic Movies), the above is no longer accurate. The small yet commendable selection of Nomura films the company once had available for streaming, most carried over from the catalog of the long-defunct Home Vision Entertainment, is no longer available in the United States in so far as I can tell. The Shadow Within was reissued on Region 2 DVD by Shochiku in 2013, but this edition lacks any sort of English language support – unfortunately it is also currently the best, and to my knowledge only, in-print means of viewing The Shadow Within. The film remains highly recommended, and it’s a shame to see it become so inaccessible for so many once again.

Need something to watch? We’re here to help. Eiga On-demand is Eiga·Bouei’s continuing mini-guide to Japanese cinema available through digital platforms in the United States.

Live-action ATTACK ON TITAN part 1 – new film clip from Funimation

There are plenty of criticisms to be leveled at HIGUCHI Shinji’s widely lambasted live-action Attack on Titan films, but a new clip posted by Stateside distributor Funimation wisely sticks to their most favorable aspect – their phantasmagoric and fantastical special effects production. The clip shows the early stages of the titan advance, after the breaching of the gargantuan wall which preserves humanity from them, and the futile efforts of an unprepared defense force to stop them.

Funimation is set to release the first of the duology to video on October 4th, in both a DVD and combo DVD/Blu-ray/UV-digital combo editions. The film will be presented in its original Japanese with English subtitles, as well as with a new English-language dub. Pre-orders are available now through Amazon (DVD and Blu-ray combo) and other retailers, or through Funimation’s own storefront (DVD and Blu-ray combo). Part two, Attack on Titan: End of the World, will follow at a later date.

Tatsuya Nakadai talks ‘The Face of Another’ at the Japan Society this October

New York’s Japan Society will present a 50th anniversary screening of TESHIGAHARA Hiroshi’s existential classic The Face of Another (Tanin no Kao) this Halloween, and legendary actor NAKADAI Tatsuya (Sword of Doom, The Age of Assassins) will be in attendance for a special post-screening talk.

The film, first released in 1966, explores themes of identity and urban alienation with overtones of science fiction, horror and eroticism. Nakadai stars as an irreparably scarred man who is granted a new prosthetic face by his psychiatrist, and begins to live a clandestine life as another man. The film co-stars KYŌ Machiko (Gate of Hell), OKADA Eiji (Hiroshima mon Amour) and KISHIDA Kyōko (Woman in the Dunes). ABE Kōbō provided the screenplay, here adapting from his novel of the same name.

The Face of Another screens on October 31st at 7pm at the Japan Society, and tickets are $15 ($12 for society members). From 35mm, in Japanese with English subtitles. Once available on DVD as part of the Criterion Collection’s The Films of Hiroshi Teshigahara, but now out-of-print, The Face of Another remains available for viewing via the Criterion Collection on Hulu. Abe’s novel received an English-language reprint in 2003, and is still available through Amazon and other outlets.

First Dispatch for Toho’s KOISAIKA MIYAMOTO

The first dispatch for Toho’s upcoming romantic family drama Koisaika Miyamoto has been made available to the public, both on the official film site and the company’s Youtube channel.

The all-star production is an adaptation of acclaimed author SHIGEMATSU Kiyoshi’s 2013 novel Fuamuresu (Family Restaurant), and marks the feature film directorial debut of long-time television drama specialist YUKAWA Kazuhiko (Great Teacher Onizuka). The film stars ABE Hiroshi (After the Storm) and AMAMI Yūki (The Queen’s Classroom) as the newly child-independent middle-aged couple Yohei and Miyoko Miyamoto, and the drama which ensues after Yohei discovers that his wife has been contemplating divorce.

Koisaka Miyamoto is in theaters January 28, 2017.

‘ANTI-PORNO’, ‘Terra Formars’, and ‘Wet Woman in the Wind’ in International Competition at 22nd annual L’Étrange Festival

Two features from Nikkatsu’s 45th anniversary Roman Porno Reboot are in International Competition at this year’s L’Étrange Festival of genre cinema – SONO Sion’s ANTI-PORNO and SHIOTA Akihiko’s Wet Woman in the Wind (Kaze ni Nurute Onna), which will respectively be making their European and French premieres at the festival.

ANTI-PORNO follows a fashion icon who, while awaiting an interview in her apartment, takes to dominating her personal assistant, while Wet Woman in the Wind concerns a reclusive stage actor and the young woman who just won’t let him be. Each film was produced under certain restrictive conditions, a combination of limited shooting schedules and concise run-time demands, in accordance with the shooting practices for Nikkatsu’s original Roman Porno series, which began in 1971.

Also up for competition is MIIKE Takashi’s Terra Formars, the live-action adaptation of the manga series of the same name, which follows a band of genetically altered super-humans with animal-sourced fighting abilities doing battle with monstrous cockroach people on the red planet. Distributed by Warner Brothers in Japan, Terra Formars will be making its French premiere at the festival.

L’Étrange Festival’s International Competition is a joint venture between the festival and the Canal+ Cinéma channel, and the winning film will be licensed for future airing on the channel. Details of the 22nd L’Étrange Festival are available at the official website.

Wet Woman in the Wind © 2016 Nikkatsu
Wet Woman in the Wind © 2016 Nikkatsu

Nikkatsu celebrates 45 years of Roman Porno with Nakata Hideo’s WHITE LILY

Director NAKATA Hideo (RinguL: Change the World) is set to return to his film-making roots this Winter with the release of White Lily, one of several new feature films produced as a part of Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno Reboot series.

Nikkatsu formally ceased production of its lauded Roman Porno series in 1988, but produced revival versions of some of its classic features as part of 2010’s Roman Porno Returns series. Roman Porno Reboot is a co-venture between Nikkatsu and BS Sky Perfect! marking the 45th anniversary of the original Roman Porno series, and featuring all-new productions from such acclaimed directors as YUKISADA Isao, SONO Sion, SHIRAISHI Kazuya and SHIOTA Akihiko.

Nakata, who joined Nikkatsu in 1985 as an assistant director, cut his film-making teeth on the final productions in the original Roman Porno series, and was excited to revisit it as a director in his own right. “In my student days I admired the freedom and anti-establishment atmosphere of Roman Porno, and joined Nikkatsu to become a director, but the series ended before that could happen. So I was overjoyed to accept this offer, and accomplish my desire of the last thirty years.” (comments courtesy of natalie.mu)

White Lily explores a relationship between two women, and stars ASUKA Rin (Kamen Rider W) and YAMAGUCHI Kaori (Gokuaku Gambo).

Walk the path of the yakuza vampire

It’s difficult to know where to begin when it comes to MIIKE Takashi’s absurd action saga Yakuza Apocalypse (Gokudō Daisensō), an unremittingly strange and ultimately inconclusive genre smash-up about vampire gangsters who help the poor and downtrodden, farm blood from an underground knitting-circle, and do battle with a mythical terrorist frog-man for… reasons?

YAMAGUCHI Yoshitaka’s screenplay rambles with propulsive glee towards nowhere in particularly, seemingly given free reign to indulge whatever preoccupation strikes it. As pure senseless entertainment it certainly gets the job done, touching upon elements of horror and action and satire with plenty of rolled r’s and profanity to spare. It’s FUKASAKU Kinji by way of ISHII Teruo, stripped of all but the tiniest strands of plot and pumped through Toei’s tokusatsu hero shop for good measure. A game and talented cast (including The Raid‘s Yayan Ruhian as a foul-mouthed otaku assassin) and Miike’s quirkily capable directorial sensibilities ensure that it all comes off with style to spare, even if the film never quite adds up to the sum of its delirious parts.

Yakuza Apocalypse has been available on DVD and on-demand in North America for some time now, but I caught up to it in HD via Amazon Video, where it is currently available at no additional charge to Prime members.

Need something to watch? We’re here to help. Eiga On-demand is Eiga·Bouei’s continuing mini-guide to Japanese cinema available through digital platforms in the United States.

Shin Godzilla gets its US premiere from Funimation Films in October

More details of Shin Godzilla‘s impending Stateside debut are emerging courtesy of a Funimation press release (via Daily Dead). The 29th entry in the 60-plus year old franchise has been cleaning up at the Japanese box office for the last five weeks, and by most accounts marks a triumphant return for the King of the Monsters, whose career had been on indefinite hiatus following 2004’s 50th anniversary disappointment Godzilla Final Wars.

Shin Godzilla will receive a dual West Coast / East Coast premiere, in Los Angeles and New York respectively, early in October. A week-long theatrical engagement in more than four-hundred cinemas across the United States and Canada will follow, beginning on October 11th.

Ticket pre-sales will begin a week from now on September 9th, and will be available through Funimation Films’ own Shin Godzilla website (beware the roar – I and my headphones were woefully unprepared). With so many cinemas in the running, here’s hoping a screen or two in the Twin Cities have been booked.

Beware of the creep next door . . .

Eureka! Entertainment has released its trailer for director KUROSAWA Kiyoshi’s latest, the mystery-thriller Creepy. The film was released by Shochiku in Japan earlier this Summer, and will have its premiere in the UK at the BFI London Film Festival in early October. From there, the film is set for limited theatrical engagements and wide digital release throughout the UK and Ireland on November 25th 2016.

Creepy follows a detective investigating an unsolved disappearance while domestic tensions rise courtesy of the new guy next door (KAGAWA Teruyuki, Tokyo Sonata, appearing true-to-title here). My expectations are always high where new Kurosawa is concerned, and there looks to be plenty of sinister potential in this outing. Creepy was co-written (with IKEDA Chihiro) and directed by Kurosawa from the 2012 novel of the same name by MAEKAWA Yutaka, and stars NISHIJIMA Hidetoshi (Loft) and TAKEUCHI Yūko (Dog in a Sidecar).

Ōbayashi Nobuhiko’s HOUSE at the Trylon this October

The oddball cult-classic lives on this Halloween as the final attraction in the microcinema’s Houses Atop the Gates of Hell series. ŌBAYASHI Nobuhiko’s infectiously pop-inflected and confoundingly allegorical teenage horror show was a bona fide box office hit in its day, and voted the fourth-best film of the year by Kinema Junpo readers besides. It’s in good company in the Trylon program, prefaced by the likes of the original The Evil Dead, Friedkin’s The Exorcist, and even a presentation of the recently restored Murnau classic Destiny.

HOUSE will receive nine screenings (!) across three days, beginning on the evening of October 28th and ending the evening of October 30th. The film is set to screen in 35mm, which is a rarity in itself these days, and those within range of the Twin Cities are encouraged to indulge.

Full details are available hereHOUSE is available on home video domestically through the Criterion Collection. A trailer follows below.

Ici, c’est Pepsi

An animated moment from Daiei Company’s 1970 children’s drama The Little Hero (Boku wa Go-saiI am Five), a feel-good yarn about a young boy who embarks on a four-hundred kilometer pilgrimage to find his widowed working-class father in Ōsaka. The Pepsi signage is one of the clues the boy has to help him along the way, its crayon-scribbled likeness one of the dozens he carries along with him, and the revelation of the real thing is a mesmerizing bit of cinema.

It’s worth noting, for historical context, that Pepsi sponsored the experimental Pepsi Pavilion during Expo ’70, which occurred in Ōsaka and serves as a backdrop to the film’s events.

The Little Hero was directed by Noriaki YUASA from a screenplay by Niisan TAKAHASHI, and photographed by Fujio MORITA.  The film was recently made available on DVD by Kadokawa.

「成熟」 The Awakening

Yūko KANŌ (Keiko SEKINE) is the daughter of a comfortably middle class farming family, an ace student, and a prominent member of her agricultural high school’s photo club to boot, but finds herself at odds with her small community’s rigid traditionalism after a minor transgression at a local festival. The rumor mill begins to churn when Yūko is photographed (by the photo club of a rival fishing high school, naturally!) fraternizing with strapping young Ryūji SASAO (Saburo SHINODA) after a seaside mikoshi-dunking celebration. Yūko is already betrothed, by way of a family arrangement during her childhood, to Masao (Naoyuki SUGANO), the son of a similarly well-off farming family and a classmate besides. When photos begin circulating of her brief, innocent encounter with Ryūji, Yūko is suddenly made suspect in the eyes of her fellow female students. One-time friend Miki (Eiko YANAMI) is particularly interested, and with good reason – Miki is secretly in love with Masao after all, and itching for an opportunity to separate him from Yūko and claim him for herself.

The uneasy atmosphere that arrives with murmurings of Yūko’s supposed involvement with Ryūji is bad enough, but things take a turn for the worse when a misunderstanding during costumed setsubun festivities leaves Masao bragging about having slept with her. Along with rumors of Yūko’s purported polyamory, insinuations of an illegitimate pregnancy arise, with Miki’s clique of friends the predictable source. Word of the would-be scandal spreads like wildfire, first at school and then among the surrounding townsfolk, and Yūko becomes increasingly alienated.

Awakening004

But not all is so unwell. Through chance encounters and a touch of scheming from the brash and frequently sloshed grandpa Sasao (Junzaburō BAN) a genuine relationship begins to develop between Yūko and Ryūji, who soon decide that enough is enough insofar as their community’s attitudes are concerned. The couple confess love for one another and make plans to elope to Tokyo, but it is not to be. While on her way to meet Ryūji, Yūko makes a dreadful discovery – the local rice crop is teeming with destructive pests, and unless they are dealt with quickly the year’s harvest could be devastated. The elopement is called off, at least for a time, as still more trouble brews for the couple, this time courtesy of an ad firm’s student photo contest.

It seems a photo by Ryūji has been selected as a finalist for the competition, a fact with which neither he nor Yūko (the photo’s swim-suited subject) are thrilled. The couple move to have the entry withdrawn, which incenses the rival photo clubs to which they each belong. Soon the streets are full of angry teenagers on motorbikes, and with tempers running hot a bloody confrontation seems all but inevitable. Ryūji and Yūko find themselves caught in the middle, two lovers from opposing sides of an unreasonable conflict, but as punches fly the burden of the remorseful Miki’s guilt becomes too much to bear. The truth behind the rumors that left Yūko in ill repute is finally revealed, paving the way for reconciliation not just between the shunned teen and her community, but between the two schools as well.

Awakening003

The Awakening is a modest dramatic production from a declining Daiei Co., which was just months from declaring bankruptcy at the time of the film’s release. Dwindling attendance figures, poor management, and the untimely death of kabuki talent and box office icon Raizō ICHIKAWA left the once prolific studio in very poor shape to enter the cinematic slump of the 1970s, and by 1971 the writing was on the wall. The failure of cooperative distribution corporation Dainichi (a joint venture between Daiei and the similarly troubled Nikkastsu) had all but assured  the studio’s demise by the time The Awakening made it to cinemas in mid-October 1971 – by the end of November all operations at the studio had ceased. On December 28th the corporation was delisted from the Tokyo Stock Exchange, an unceremonious end for the historic production house.

It’s no small wonder that The Awakening manages to be as capable a film as it is given the bleak circumstances surrounding it. Though obviously produced on the cheap, with travelogue of the real-life charms of Yamagata Prefecture standing in for an utter lack of traditional production value, on the whole the film suffers precious little for the trouble. Working from a screenplay by longtime collaborator Niisan TAKAHASHI and with familiar color-‘Scope photographer Akira KITAZAKI, director Noriaki YUASA makes a perfectly charming entertainment of this bittersweet and heavily localized riff on Shakespeare’s famously star-crossed lovers. The drama is a bit silly, admittedly, focused as it is on dueling motorcycle-bound high school photo clubs, but Yuasa plays it with a melodramatic flair that’s well suited to it. While the synopsis above can sound quite bleak (and in certain respects the film can be) the tone of it all is only rarely so serious, and despite their challenges there’s never any real concern that Yūko and Ryūji might follow their ill-fated inspirations to similar ends. Yuasa’s usual optimism is in evidence throughout, and it’s not surprising that his film favors problem-solving and reconciliation over the Bard’s more depressing eventualities.

Awakening005

The Awakening was the last of a series of films from Daiei that had been built around the various appeals of the young Keiko SEKINE, whose risqué debut in 1970’s High School Affair propelled her to stardom at the age of fifteen. Sekine’s topless scenes in that film had caused something of a sensation, and Daiei’s promotional department promised more of the same with regards to Yuasa’s film. Key art for The Awakening shows the actress nude in a field of rice, while the trailer begins with a sea-side disrobing that seems to have been filmed exclusively for it – never mind that exploitative elements within the film itself are minimal, and wholly nudity-free. With regards to performance the now 16 year old Sekine more than holds her own against a cast dominated by other promising and similarly inexperienced young talent (most already years removed from their high school days), and the film’s melodramatic tendencies offer ample opportunity for showing her range. Sekine would weather the doldrums of the 1970s far better than the studio at which she began her career, finding increasingly high profile work both in cinema and on television, and remains a popular and prodigious talent, albeit under her married name, Keiko TAKAHASHI 高橋惠子.

Co-star Saburō SHINODA was a rising star in his own right by the time of The Awakening’s production, and appears opposite Sekine for the fourth time here. With two prior Daiei romances already under their collective belt (including an earlier turn under director Yuasa) it’s no big surprise that The Awakening reveals them to be a convincing screen couple. Shinoda’s good-natured good looks are a perfect match for Yuasa’s similarly good-natured storytelling sensibilities, and the professional chemistry between the two stars is enough to keep the obvious age gap from straining too much of the relationship’s on-screen credibility (Shinoda was 22 at the time, 6 years Sekine’s senior). Like Sekine, Shinoda also found considerable success during the volatile ’70s, primarily in the field of television, and is perhaps best remembered for his starring turn in the 1973 Ultra-sequel Ultraman Taro.

cropped-TheAwakeningSunset.jpg

Daiei was practically hemorrhaging actors and staff in the final year leading up to its bankruptcy, and the talent available for non-lead roles was a far cry from the high standard that had been enjoyed in the decades prior. Still, The Awakening scratches together some notable supporting players, chief among them the great Junzaburō BAN, a prolific actor and comedian who had begun his film career with Nikkatsu in the late 1920s. Junzaburō provides the best performance of the picture as Ryūji’s occasionally sneaky, often drunk, charming-despite-being-rough-around-the-edges grandfather Gosuke, who’s just doing his best to raise the boy right in the absence of his parents. Gosuke is of a generation that puts great stock in community traditions, but sees opportunity for his son as opposed to intrigue when Yūko haphazardly interjects herself into his grandson’s life, and works in endearing fashion to bring the two together for both tradition’s sake and their own. Junzaburō balances Gosuke’s coarser aspects with surprising emotional nuance, assuring viewers that despite his frequent chastising of the youth, there’s little he won’t do to ensure Ryūji’s lasting happiness.

Yuasa may always be best remembered for his longtime association with special effects programming, but The Awakening proves him a more than capable hand at less fantastical material as well. Unfortunately it was to be one of the last feature films the director would supervise, in addition to his last for Daiei (prior to its reformation under Tokuma Shoten at least). In the wake of the studio’s bankruptcy Yuasa would follow in the footsteps of many of his industry compatriots, and find considerable work in television. As for his film, it remains a colorful and capable teen romance, and makes for a quaint counterpoint to industry survivors Nikkatsu and Toei’s more exploitative brand of youth cinema.

「成熟」 THE AWAKENING · 1971/10/16 · Daiei 大映 · Color · ‘Scope
directed by
 YUASA Noriaki 湯浅憲明 · starring SEKINE Keiko 関根恵子 · SHINODA Saburō 篠田三郎 · SUGANO Naoyuki 菅野直行 · YANAMI Eiko 八並映子 · BAN Junzaburō 伴淳三郎 · written by TAKAHASHI Niisan 高橋二三 · music by KIKUCHI Shunsuke 菊池俊輔 · photography by  KITAZAKI Akira 喜多崎晃 · available on Region 2 DVD from Kadokawa Shoten 角川書店

Awakening001

「丑三つの村」Village of Doom

Young Tsugio INUMARU (Masato FURUOYA) is a perennial invalid, and something of a pariah in his rural village. It’s the late 1930s, and at a time when the rest of the village’s young men have been enlisted into the Imperial Army the sickly Tsugio is safe at home with his only family – a doting grandmother. Tsugio’s self-education and perceived arrogance only complicates his relationship with his fellow villagers further, isolating him from all but Yasuyo (Misako TANAKA), a young woman his own age whom Tsugio adores. But Tsugio’s relationship with Yasuyo is emotionally fumbling and physically unconsummated, a point of frustration for a young man in the throws of sexual development. Complicating things further is Tsugio’s stringent nationalism, which defines his social interactions and finds him constantly and inevitably falling short of his own expectations.

An unexpected outlet for the young man’s frustrations arises within the village’s female population, particularly those whose young husbands are at war. Several of the wives contrive clandestine relationships with the weak (and presumed harmless) Tsugio, whom they find a convenient tool for alleviating their own loneliness. Tsugio wastes little time in adapting to his new lot in life, but the charm of it all is short-lived. Determined to serve his country along with the rest of his generation, Tsugio subjects himself to a physical examination so that he might enlist in the army as well. The results are disastrous. The cause of the young man’s ongoing illness is tuberculosis, an incurable disease in Tsugio’s time and one which had claimed both of his parents years before.

VillageofDoom006

Word of the diagnosis travels quickly, and Tsugio finds himself ever more at odds with his fellow villagers. Upon witnessing the brutal murder of a transient misfit by a gang of his elders Tsugio tries to do the right thing, but after reporting the crime to a local authority he is derided and ostracized instead. The women of the village close their doors to him as well, disgusted and fearful of what his disease might mean for them. Only Yasuyo remains in support, but this too is fleeting – when she is ushered off to an arranged marriage by her family Tsugio finds himself alone once more, and his fervency and frustration begins to transform into something far more disturbing. As his rage against his fellow villagers grows Tsugio quietly plots, secretly arming himself for a vengeful assault on all those he believes have wronged him.

Late one evening his plan is put to action. He cuts the electrical lines into the village and returns home, where he ritually transforms himself into something less than human – a do-it-yourself demon with a pump shotgun at his side and a pair of flashlights strapped to his head. As the village sleeps Tsugio descends, systematically eliminating the families he deems to have transgressed against him and finding empowerment and purpose in the bloody destruction of those who had so long denied him.

VillageofDoom003

As shocking a film now as it was upon its release in early 1983, lauded pink film director Noboru TANAKA’s Village of Doom is an unconventional and unsettling exploration of one of present society’s most persistent bogeymen – the mass shooter. If Tsugio’s influences and actions feel disturbingly true to life (especially in a era where the crimes and character of his all-too-common modern analogues are dissected ad nauseam by a voracious 24-hour media cycle) it’s with good reason. Despite altering names and taking a degree of dramatic liberty with the subject matter (as had Nozomi NISHIMURA’s eponymous 1981 source novel) Village of Doom is a broadly accurate retelling of the infamous Tsuyama Incident, which occurred in a rural village in Okayama in May of 1938. Indeed, Village of Doom‘s protracted and controversial reenactment of the event earned it the ire of Japan’s censorship board – the Eirin deemed the film to be unjust and cruel on the whole and restricted it in theatrical release with a rating of R-18, the equivalent of an X from the MPAA.

One can forgive them for finding the film a tactless affair – it is, and deliberately so. Director Tanaka was best known then as now as the talent behind some of the very best of Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno series, and he brought the same transgressive sensibilities to his first (and unless I’m mistaken, only) production for Shochiku. In retrospect Village of Doom seems a logical progression for the studio, which had been going against its own trademark style (and with excellent box office results) since the middle 1970s. Their highly publicized and very successful 1977 adaptation of Seishi YOKOMIZO’s much-loved mystery novel Village of 8 Gravestones thrilled audiences not just with its lofty production value, but with fountainous bloodshed as well – coincidentally or otherwise, one of that film’s most famous scenes plays as a deliciously grim invocation of the Tsuyama Incident (from which Yokomizo’s novel, which began serialization in 1949, drew contemporary inspiration). Shōhei IMAMURA’s violent biographical drama Vengeance is Mine continued the trend, casting top talent Ken OGATA as an ex-con fraudster who murdered his way across Japan nary a decade prior. That film won praise from critics and audiences alike, topping Kinema Junpo’s top-ten list for the year and sweeping most of its annual awards categories.

VillageofDoom002

There’s a lot of similarity to be had between the Imamura film and Tanaka’s, which premiered four years later, most having to do with the historically-grounded subject matter (whether through intent or by happenstance, Shochiku itself alluded to the similarities with their ad art for the film). Village of Doom separates itself largely along exploitative lines (More sex! More violence!), with Tanaka playing the gruesome eventualities of his story to the outrageous, subversive hilt. Indeed, the enduring shock-factor of the film lies less in its violent content (considerable in a film built around the slaughter of nearly three-dozen people) than in the unexpected manner in which Tanaka portrays it. Despite the true crime overtones Village of Doom plays a lot like some of the other action sagas of the decade, replete with hissable baddies who go against the moral righteousness of a just hero and are summarily suppressed in bloody fashion, with one-liners to spare and a triumphant power ballad to tie everything neatly together.

Of course the hero in this case isn’t an ex super-soldier blackmailed into action or a Vietnam vet pushed too far by prejudiced yokels or Rowdy Roddy Piper laying a smackdown on an alien invasion, he’s a real-life mass murderer responsible for one of the most infamous crimes in Japanese history. To that end Village of Doom seems almost calculated to incense those who rail against violent media as murder fuel for the world’s disgruntled loners, indulging as it does in an almost mythic glorification of an actual atrocity. It’s a coup for director Tanaka, who deftly hijacks established heroic conventions for his own nefarious purposes and leaves audiences in the uncomfortable position of rooting for a man they know will be responsible for terrible things. That so many of Tsugio’s attacks amount to little more than gruesome misogynist wish fulfillment only heightens the internal unease, the viewer’s innate thirst for cinematic justice conflicting with the abject horror of the action unfolding on screen. We can be frightfully permissive just so long as we’re provided a satisfying dénouement, a fact Village of Doom lays bare. Rarely has a film left me feeling so uncomfortable in my own skin.

VillageofDoom001

Credit director Tanaka for that, but also star Masato FURUOYA, whose gaunt, tall physique (he measured a lofty 188 cm, or roughly 6 ft 2 in) was a perfect physical match for the alternately meek and menacing Tsugio. A sometimes collaborator of Tanaka’s and a fellow veteran of Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno revival, Furuoya capably carries the film, which unfolds explicitly from the perspective of his character – without his ability to render Tsugio so sympathetically much of Village of Doom‘s unsettling potential might well have been lost. Though Furuoya necessarily commands the bulk of audience attention Shochiku provide a typically strong stable of familiar talent in his support. Prolific stage, film, and television actor Izumi HARA was already well into the fifth decade of her career by the time of Village of Doom‘s production, and appears here in a hefty role as Tsugio’s grandmother, while Isao NATSUYAGI (Village of 8 Gravestones) is suitably unpleasant as a seedy lead villager. Yasuhiro ARAI (Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters) is best known for his extensive and ongoing career in television, and appears as Tsugio’s disaffected loafer buddy Tetsuo – a youth aimlessly biding what time he has left before the army drafts him off to an untimely demise. Misako TANAKA (Roar of the Crowd), Shino IKENAMI (Devil’s Flute), Kumiko OHBA (House), and Midori SATSUKI (Blade of Oedipus) take turns as Tsugio’s varying love interests (his beloved Yasuyo and a trio of ill-fated housewives respectively), and gravure photo shoots of the four in (and to varying degrees out of) costume were a significant component of Shochiku’s promotional push for the film.

While attendance figures are hard to come by it’s safe to say that Shochiku were pleased with Village of Doom‘s performance, and continue to profit from its reputation. The film has been a staple of the company’s Best of… series of video releases since the days of VHS, and was recently reissued in a restored Blu-ray edition. Nothing sells quite like sex, violence, or controversy, and Village of Doom wraps all three into a package that’s far more alluring than most of us would care to admit.

「丑三つの村」 VILLAGE OF DOOM · 1983/01/15 · Shōchiku 松竹 · Color · Vista · directed by TANAKA Noboru 田中登 · starring FURUOYA Masato 古尾谷雅人 · TANAKA Misako 田中美佐子 · IKENAMI Shino 池波志乃 · NATSUYAGI Isao 夏八木勲 · HARA Izumi 原泉 · written by NISHIOKA Takuya 西岡琢也 from the novel by NISHIMURA Nozomi 西村望 · music by SASAJI Masanori 笹路正徳  · photography by MARUYAMA Keiji 丸山恵司 · available on Region 2 NTSC DVD and All Region Blu-ray from Shochiku 松竹, or on Region 2 PAL DVD (with English subtitles) from Warrior in the United Kingdom

VillageofDoom004

「暴風圏」 A Storm Zone

After the unexpected death of her father in an automobile accident care-free Misako (Junko KANŌ) is appointed the unlikely president of the family’s prominent shipping company. Despite her inexperience Misako puts forth great effort to learn the business and gradually gains the trust of both her direct subordinate Takeshi (Kenji SUGAWARA) and the many blue-collar workers the company employs (she eats ramen with the drivers and entertains the dispatchers at her home), but trouble is brewing. Misako has been appointed to fail by a hostile board of directors, who scheme to use the new president’s lack of business savvy against her and take over the company.

Independent of the board, suave outsider and nightclub-operating entrepreneur Fujikawa (Hideo TAKAMATSU) is also plotting to take the company by buying up shares and finding ways to increasingly put the firm in his debt. With Misako’s back to the proverbial wall Fujikawa makes an ultimatum – pay up what you owe in five days or lose the company for good. Worse yet, he wants Misako for himself as well!

Just as a desperate act is needed to rescue the company, and Misako’s family legacy, from an almost certain demise an unusual opportunity arises. A construction firm is in need of hazardous help – a dynamite shipment to their current site, a dam project nestled within a treacherous mountain pass. A powerful typhoon is threatening to wreck the project with landslides, and only a shipment through the worst storm in modern Japanese history can save it! Misako’s firm takes the contract and puts its best drivers to work, but Fujikawa won’t let the company slip through his fingers so easily. He heads out along the storm-swept mountain roads, intent on sabotaging the shipper’s efforts by any means necessary.

FeaturedAStormZone3

One of several typhoon-centric features to be produced and released by Daiei at the turn of the decade, 1959’s A Storm Zone is a handsomely mounted suspense drama whose only failing is a lack of distinguishing characteristics – in practice it reminds of any number of studio productions of the time that, through no real fault of their own, have since fallen by the wayside. The convoluted screenplay, the combined work of the prolific Takeo MATSŪRA and director Kunio WATANABE, features as many dramatic ups and downs as one could hope for from such a tale. It also packs some unexpected prescience – just two months after the film’s release Japan would be struck by the Ise-wan Typhoon, a major peace-time disaster that left thousands dead and prompted a complete overhaul of the country’s disaster response apparatus.

The disaster element may prove A Storm Zone‘s greatest draw for modern viewers, but anyone jonesing for obscure special effects thrills is encouraged to look elsewhere. Daiei’s accomplished (and uncredited in this case) effects artisans constructed a large scale mountainside and a handful of scale shipping trucks for the storm-whipped finale, but setups are few, and serve entirely as incidental support for the human action. The last-ditch demolition – an event that will make or break Misako’s company – is indicative in that it plays out entirely off-screen. A Storm Zone instead opts to show a series of close-ups of the battered cast with the sound of explosions ringing in the distance, a final (and effective) suspense-ratcheting device to keep audiences guessing.

Typical of Daiei productions of the time, the cast is a hefty mix of star power and contract supporting talent who perform precisely as well as would have been expected of them. Second-billed star Junko Kanō carries the picture as Misako, the care-free socialite who finds herself thrust into a situation well beyond her experience. Kanō was a prodigious talent at Daiei for her brief career, appearing in more than fifty productions (!) between 1957 and 1963, and it’s easy to see why. She stands up well against the considerable demands of her role here, which puts her through the usual dramatic ringer (romance! intrigue! suspense!) and a little song and dance as well – they certainly don’t make them like this anymore. Kanō retired young, with her star power at its peak, out of concerns for her own health. Studio lighting had begun to take a toll on her eyesight, and the increased wattage required for color photography (which was becoming increasingly common at Daiei) was only exacerbating the situation. The actress made her exit after 1963’s 「風速七十五米」 Wind Velocity 75 Meters (another Daiei storm drama, appropriately enough), but remains popular more than half a century on. Her films still enjoy theatrical revivals from time to time, and are the recipients of frequent home video reissues as well.

FeaturedAStormZone2

Other notable appearances include rising talent Jirō TAMIYA, who secured a lofty billing (third) for his charismatic supporting turn as one of the company truckers. Tamiya is also the recipient of what minimal special effects flash A Storm Zone has to offer – his truck rolls into a gully during the climactic final act, and summarily explodes. Career heavy Hideo TAKAMATSU lends a tasty mix of suave and sinister to the scheming Fujikawa and provides a nice counterpoint to top-billed good-guy Kenji SUGAWARA, who emerges as the film’s requisite hero during the typhoon finale – the rainy roadside fistfight between the two may well be the highlight of the picture. Standout among the supporting players is Jun TAZAKI, a frequent heavy best known to Western audiences for his many appearances in Tōhō special effects films, and who takes a substantial turn here as the brusque, boisterous and often inebriated driver Kawakami. Tazaki takes to the blue-collar role with a delightful enthusiasm, gleefully needling his boss and sticking up for his younger colleagues when things get tough. His Kawakami is the most colorful and viscerally engaging character A Storm Zone has to offer.

Veteran director Kunio Watanabe was in the third decade of his long career by the time of A Storm Zone‘s production, having entered the industry as an assistant director in the latter 1920s, and he takes to the material with confidence, if little flourish. The style is relatively dry throughout, but punctuated with tasty dollops of melodrama along the way (an obvious, ostentatious score from popular composer and pianist Eiichi YAMADA accents the latter perfectly). A Storm Zone‘s corporate intrigue thrills will never make for the most compelling viewing, but in Watanabe’s hands they make for a more than capable entertainment.

「暴風圏」 A STORM ZONE · 1959/07/26 · Daiei 大映 · B&W · ‘Scope
directed by 
WATANABE Kunio 渡辺邦男 · starring SUGAWARA Kenji 菅原謙二 · KANŌ Junko 叶順子 · TAMIYA Jirō 田宮二郎 · KINDAICHI Atsuko 金田一敦子 · TAKAMATSU Hideo 高松英郎 · written by WATANABE Kunio 渡辺邦男 and MATSŪRA Takeo 松浦健郎 · music by YAMADA Eiichi 山田栄一 · photography by WATANABE Takashi 渡辺孝 · available on Region 2 DVD from Kadokawa Shoten 角川書店

FeaturedAStormZone4