Retro Cinemas and Cult Films in Japan

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Retro Cinemas and Cult Films in Japan

Unread postby HungFist » 04 May 2014, 17:35

Forgive me for some double posting... I've adressed parts of this topic before in the Japan thread, others in the JP cult cinema thread, and some even in the 35mm thread... so it's all over the place now. Let me try this one more time to get the old and future posts in just one thread.

I’ll try to introduce some of the most interesting cinemas in Tokyo, especially those places where you might be able to catch a Sonny Chiba film or a pinky violence movie on 35mm, post pictures, and give recommendations what cinemas to visit if you’re ever planning a trip to Tokyo.

Classics and Genre Films
Laputa Asagaya (JP movie retros only, late show often with genre flicks. All 35 mm or 16 mm. The best cinema in Tokyo!!!!)
Shin bungeiza (Mostly Japanese film retrospectives, lots of genre stuff, also some new films. Fantastic program and large screen. Usually 35mm. All program double features. All nighters often feature BD screenings, beware!!!)
Cinema Vera (various retros from pinky violence to silent films. 35mm. All program double features)
National Film Center (retrospectives on classics, 35mm)
Jinbocho (retros from Ozu to Godzilla and Seijun Suzuki. 35mm)
Art Center (classics, 35mm or digital).
Porepore (indie, arthouse, sometimes old films on 35mm)
Kineka Omori (otherwise mainstream, but interesting weekly double features, e.g Tsukamoto flicks on 35mm)
Meguro Cinema (plays 35mm prints of older films from time to time)
Cine Roman (pink theater, sometimes roman porno included)

Indie, Arthouse, New Genre Films, Occasional Classics
Eurospace (arthouse, occasionally genre films. Roman Porno retros played here in 2012! JP + foreign)
K's Cinema (new arthouse films)
Uplink Factory (indie, arthouse, docs)
Image forum
Human Trust Shibuya (new films, inc. genre films)

Mainstream Cinemas That Sometimes Have Genre, Indie or Classic Films
Cinema Rosa
Kamata (usually latest hits, occasionally old films on 35mm, like Red Peony Gambler)
Cinema Avenue
Waseda Shochiku
Humax
Shinjuku musashino
Ginrei Hall
Shinjuku Cinemart
Roppongi Cinemart
Qualite

R.I.P
Theater N
Ginza Cine Pathos
Shinjuku Milano
Auditorium Shibuya (indie)
Baus Theater
Cinema Rise
Shinbashi bunka (mainstream + pink cinema. See Roman Gekijo section. Roman Porno's frequently. All 35 mm)

For an excellent resource on cinemas in Tokyo area that show non-mainstream films and old movies, see this great Japanese website.

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Re: Retro Cinemas and Cult Films in Tokyo

Unread postby HungFist » 04 May 2014, 17:36

Theater Introduction

Laputa Asagaya

I must start with Laputa Asagaya which is absolutely my favourite place on earth (after a good love hotel, that is). If you want to see 1960’s Nikkatsu action films or 1970’s Japanese karate flicks or yakuza mayhem on 35 mm, this wonderful small retro theatre is your choice!

Laputa is located in Asagaya in a small district filled with tiny old roads (no heavy traffic) full of neon lights, small restaurants and bars. Just walking these streets is like time leap back to the good old Japan!

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The theatre itself is a cosy two storey building. The first floor facilitates the ticket desk, a waiting area, and a small theatre café. Lots of movie related books, such as books on Koji Wakamatsu or Toei yakuza films, are offered for reading while waiting. The CD player in the back is always playing movie soundtracks from films that are currently screening, so depending on the time you’ll be welcomed by the voice of Meiko Kaji, Yujiro Ishihara, Yoko Minamino and so on. The walls are decorated with newspaper articles from the currently screening films, and movie posters.

The screening room is in the second floor, which you access via outdoor wooden stairs. Only 48 seats in there. All films screen from 35mm (or in rare cases 16mm) film. Program consists entirely of retrospectives on Japanese films, with 75% of the program being 1960’s and 1970’s film, and the remaining 25% covering the 1980’s and pre-1960’s cinema. The program is divided into three different retrospectives:

Morning Show (at 10 am)
Mostly golden age comedies and dramas, usually starring a popular 1950’s or 1960’s actress like Ruriko Asaoka. Examples of retrospectives include:
- The Drama Films of Ishiro Honda
- Junko Fuji Retrospective (Red Peony Gambler etc.)
- Ruriko Asaoka retrospective (Nikkatsu's biggest femake star of the 1960s)

Day and Evening Screenings
Massive retrospectives with 3 or 4 screenings per day. The focus is usually a studio, a genre, a producer, or a prolific screenwriter. Examples of retrospectives include:
- Ninja Movie Retrospective (1960's and 1970's ninja movies)
- Rare Nikkatsu Films (action, yakuza, comedy and drama films never released on video or DVD)
- Art Theater Guild (rare films such as Sadao Nakajima’s yakuza film Aesthetics of a Bullet)
- Screenwriter Koji Takada (anything from The Defensive Power of Aikido to Bounty Hunter 2)
- The World of Old School Special Effects (Sci-fi, horror, and other special effects movies from late 1940s to 1970's)
- Toei Ninkyo Yakuza Film Master Kosaku Yamashita (Red Peony Gambler etc.)
- The Wonderful World of Nikkatsu Action (A Colt is My Passport, Youth of the Beast, Stray Cat Rock 5, Crazed Fruit etc.)

Late Screening (at 9 pm)
For genre film fans this is a dream come true. Karate, yakuza, pinkuy violence and other genre movie retrospectives featuring films by Toei, Nikkatsu, Daiei, and other studios. Examples of retrospectives include:
- Etsuko Shihomi retro (all her 1970’s karate films, including 13 Steps of Maki)
- Terrifying Girls’ High School (the entire film series)
- Female Prisoner Movies (from Toei pinky violence to Nikkatsu pink and Daiei exploitation)
- Prison Escape Movies (including Sonny Chiba’s Dasso yugi)
- Yuji Makiguchi Films (the film's of Toei's notorious exploitation director, including the cannibal nun-film Torn Priestess)
- Meika Seri films (Nikkatsu pink starlet’s best films)
- Bad Girl Retrospective (Nikkatsu, Daiei, Toei girl gang films like Nad Girl Mako, Bankaku Rock and Delinquent Girl Boss)
- Toei Jitsuroku Anarchy & Violence (1970's Toei yakuza films like Graveyard of Honor)
- Professional Killer Retrospective (60's and 70's films about assassins)
- Sukeban Retrospective (all 7 of Toei's Sukeban Girl Boss films)
- 1970's Biker Retro (Toei biker gang movies like Explosion: Violent Riders, an Wild Sex Gang)
- Toei's Female Yakuza Stars Reiko Ike & Miki Sugimoto (Criminal Woman, Zero Woman, Sukeban etc.)
- Kazuhiko Yamaguchi Nights (Wolfguy, A Haunted Turkish Bathouse, Oh - Wonderful Utamaro, Karate Warriors, Delinquent Girl Boss etc.)
- Tsunehiko Watase Nights (Violent Panic: The Big Crash, Jeans Blues, Wicked Kempo, True Account of Ginza Tortures etc.)
- Toei New Porno retrospective (Makiguchi films like Virgin Breaker Yuki, and a films you've never heard of and certainly have no English title)
- Toei's Female Bees (School of the Holy Beast, Sex & Fury, Red Silk Gambler, Modern Porno Tale etc.)
- Screenwriter Chiho Katsuura retro (Zoom In: Rape Apartments, Secret Honeymoon: Rape Train, Rape! 13th Hour, Assault! Jack the Ripper etc.)

Theater Access:
Take JR Chuo Local (not rapid!) line from Shinjuku Station to Takao/Hachioji/Nakano direction and get off at Asagaya Station. It only takes about 10 minutes. Use the north exit. Laputa is about 150m from the station. Map.

Note: On the way to Asagaya you can stop in Nakano for some DVD and movie poster shopping. Right next to the station there’s a big shopping mall called Nakano Broadway. There’s a very good used DVD shop called Recommints, which focuses in genre films, and a movie poster shop which sells original posters for Sonny Chiba films and other genre stuff.

Etsuko Shihomi Retrospective! Poster for 13 Steps of Maki (1975)
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Art Theater Guild Retro. Eros + Massacre poster
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Art Theater Guild Retro. Preparation for the Festival (1975) poster
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Aru koroshiya no kagi (1967) and Kenjū mushuku datsugoku no blues (1965)
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Female Prisoner retro. Material from Daiei's Woman's Prison series
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Sukeban Deka Special
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Theater website introductions for past programs
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Re: Retro Cinemas and Cult Films in Tokyo

Unread postby HungFist » 04 May 2014, 17:37

Holy motherfucker! Anyone who loves seeing movies from 35 mm film prints is in for an epic treat in Tokyo in May (2014). As a result of an unbelievable amount of coincidences, there’s an incredible set of Japanese classics and cult films screening in different theatres around the same time. Most of them play in large retrospectives, so you if you stay for longer time you could catch tons of movies.

However, even if you were like me and could only drop by for one extended weekend, you’ve still got more Japanese 40 classics to choose from in a dozen theaters. May 15th – May 18 (Friday-Sunday) especially is good time. I’ve listed below only what’s playing during that time. I've reserved my flight already...

Laputa (Day Show): Screenwriter Koji Tanada Retrospective
The Defensive Power of Aikido (Shigero Ozawa, 1975) (35mm)
Silk Hat Boss (Norifumi Suzuki, 1970) (35mm)
Ikasama bakuchi (Shigero Ozawa, 1968) (35mm)
Shimaizaka (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1985) (35mm)
Onimasa (Hideo Gosha, 1982) (35mm)
Otoko no shobu: niou no irezumi (Norifumi Suzuki, 1967) (35mm)

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Laputa (Morning Show): Ishiro Honda Drama Retrospective
People of Tokyo, Goodbye (Ishiro Honda, 1956) (35mm)
An Echo Calls You (Ishiro Honda, 1959) (35mm)

Laputa (Late Show): Meika Seri Retrospective
Wet Lust: 21 Strippers (Tatsumi Kumashiro, 1974) (35mm)
Man and Woman Behind the Fusuma Screen: Enduring Skin (Tatsumi Kumashiro, 1974) (35mm)

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Pole Pole: Special Screening
Woods are Wet: Woman Hell (Tatsumi Kumashiro, 1973) (35mm)
The Embryo Hunts in Secret (Koji Wakamatsu, 1966) (35mm) (Guest: Masao Adachi)

Kineka Omori (Normal Distribution)
No. 10 Blues – Goodbye Saigon (1975) (format unknown)

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Cinema Vera: Director Yoshitaro Nomura Retrospective
Tokyo Bay (Yoshitaro Nomura, 1962) (35mm)
Hakuchû dodo (Yoshitaro Nomura, 1968) (35mm)

Cinema Vera: Actor Shin Kishida Retrospective
Utamaro’s World (Akio Jissoji, 1977) (35mm)
Demon Spies (Takashi Tsuboshima, 1974) (35mm)

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Theater Shinjuku: Pia Film Festival Presents
Japanese 8mm 16mm Films from 1970′s & 1980′s (format unknown)

Cine Qualite: Karikore 2014
- Horrors of Malformed Men (Teruo Ishii, 1969) (35mm)

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National Film Center: The Birth and Development of Japanese Color Film
Yuhi to kenju (Kiyoshi Saeki, 1956) (35mm)
Hokkaido no hanran (Kunio Watanabe, 1956) (35mm)
Bridge of Japan (Kon Ichikawa, 1956) (35mm)
The Taira Clan (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1955) (35mm)
Hadashi no seishun (Senkichi Taniguchi, 1956) (35mm)
River of the Night (Kôzaburô Yoshimura, 1956) (35mm)

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Meguro Cinema: Shunji Iwai Series
Love Letter (Shunji Iwai, 1995) (35mm)
Swallowtail Butterfly (Shunji Iwai, 1996) (35mm)
All About Lily Chou Chou (Shunji Iwai, 2001) (35mm)
Hana and Alice (Shunji Iwai, 2004) (35mm)

Shin Bungeiza: Yuzo Kawashima retrospective
Ojosan shacho (Yuzo Kawashima, 1953) (35mm)
Burden of Love (Yuzo Kawashima, 1955) (35mm)
Suzaki Paradise Red Light (Yuzo Kawashima, 1956) (35mm)
Noren (Yuzo Kawashima, 1958) (35mm)
Onna wa nido umareru (Yuzo Kawashima, 1961) (35mm)
The Graceful Brute (Yuzo Kawashima, 1962) (35mm)

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Jinbocho: Screen Beauties Retrospective
Mukashi no uta (Tamizo Ishida, 1939) (35mm)
Sincerity (Mikio Naruse, 1939) (35mm)
Hideko, the Bus Conductor (Mikio Naruse, 1941) (35mm)
A Broken Drum (Keinosuke Kinoshita, 1949) (35mm)
Till We Meet Again(Tadashi Imai, 1950) (35mm)
Aijo (Kiyoshi Horiike, 1956) (35mm)
Garasu no naka no shôjo (Mitsuo Wakasugi, 1960) (35mm)
Tears on the Lion’s Mane (Masahiro Shinoda, 1962) (35mm)

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Of course, there’s dozens of more films playing in the same retrospectives before and after, like many Kinji Fukasaku yakuza films, more roman pornos, more Ishiro Honda films, Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House, many Sogo Ishii films, or this Keizo Kanie set that closes on May 15th.

Shimbashi Bunka: Keizo Kanie Memorial Screenings
- Tattoeed Flower Vase (Masaru Konuma, 1976) (35mm)
- Rape (Yasuraru Hasebe, 1976) (35mm)
- Angel Guts: Red Classroom (Chusei Sone, 1979) (35mm)

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Re: Retro Cinemas and Cult Films in Tokyo

Unread postby HungFist » 04 May 2014, 17:38

Oh man, Cinema Vera is going to have Sonny Chiba Festival in June. I think I'll need to book another flight :tongue:

No program announced yet, but it will include the super rare SFX / earthquake movie Tokyo Daijishin Magnitude 8.1 (1980)

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Re: Retro Cinemas and Cult Films in Tokyo

Unread postby Tenchu1998 » 04 May 2014, 17:44

OMG! Look at so many those xplosions! So fire!

The Japanese do love their movie culture. I am glad they are preserving it. If I lived in Japan, I'd probably spend a lot of time in cinemas, for sure! Right now, it's too far away from me.

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Re: Retro Cinemas and Cult Films in Tokyo

Unread postby Ivan Drago » 05 May 2014, 01:25

HungFist wrote:Oh man, Cinema Vera is going to have Sonny Chiba Festival in June. I think I'll need to book another flight :tongue:

No program announced yet, but it will include the super rare SFX / earthquake movie Tokyo Daijishin Magnitude 8.1 (1980)

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I could swear at least two of those explosions are from Godzilla movies!
bradavon wrote:
but I guess you're more intelligence than me.

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Re: Retro Cinemas and Cult Films in Tokyo

Unread postby HungFist » 05 May 2014, 03:56

Ivan Drago wrote:I could swear at least two of those explosions are from Godzilla movies!


Now that you mention it, I also could swear the bottom left one is from a Godzilla movie...

... which is actually quote possible because the film seems to be owned by Toho. It was produced by NTV, but there seems to be some kind of connection between NTV and Toho, so you may be right!

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Re: Retro Cinemas and Cult Films in Tokyo

Unread postby HungFist » 23 May 2014, 13:34

Well, that was awesome four days in Tokyo!

Tokyo Day 1: Friday

I swear I’ll never take such an early flight again! I was so tired I fell asleep about five times during Akio Jissoji’s Utamaro’s World (1977). At least I woke up quick as each time the same scene was still playing. The film is an enjoyable period drama with some action, plenty of sex, moody atmosphere and very stylish cinematography. The theatre warned about poor print condition, but that was typical Japanese over-cautious statement: it was a beautiful print with some dirt here and there.

The film played in Cinema Vera, which is a nice film archive –like theatre playing double features. Utamaro’s World played in actor Shin Kishida retrospective. The second film was the awesome smutty ninja exploitationer Demon Spies (1974), also available on R1 DVD by Animeigo. The film is probably a bit underrated because the DVD came out after the amazing Lone Wolf and Cub films, which set the comparison too high. Demon Spies is, however, quite a fantastic mix of ninja spies, ultra-violent bloodshed, sex, nudity, and excellent action choreography. It was real treat seeing this on pristine 35 mm print.

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After a bit of rest and some good ramen I headed to my favourite theatre Laputa Asagaya for the evening screening. They were playing Meika Seri retrospective, and this week’s film was Tatsumi Kumashiro’s roman porno Wet Lust: 21 Strippers (1974). The film features some terrific cinematography and typically excellent (for Kumashiro) soundtrack, including the theme song from Delinquent Girl Boss and a few characters singing and whistling Meiko Kaji’s Urami Bushi (from Female Prisoner Scorpion). Very realistic drama with lots of exotic striptease by real performers, but towards the end there are too many dull sex scenes and the audio-visual treat is sort of toned down. Still quite a good film.

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Tokyo Day 2: Saturday

The day begun in Meguro Cinema with a Shunji Iwai double feature. The theatre is playing Swallowtail Butterfly and All About Lily Chou Chou back to back all day, so I jump in from the second screening. Great atmosphere; the theatre is packed to the last seat (despite this double feature playing 3 times a day for seven days). Between films they’re playing Swallowtail Butterfly and All About Lily Chou Chou soundtracks. As a nice little touch, the staff rings bells when a screening is about to begin.

Swallowtail Butterfly has always been one of my favourite movies. Despite some clumsy acting and Chara not getting her accent right in any language, it’s just such an amazing, amazing film that you never get tired of. It’s a wonderful coming of age take with awesome characters (personal favourite: Mickey Curtis as slum doctor tattoo artist), spoken mostly in English (also Chinese and Japanese), and featuring drama, “live” music, yakuza, bazookas, even horror elements!

And even then, All About Lily Chou Chou is an even more impressive film. I’ve seen it at least 6 times and I was nearly crying in the theatre just because of how great a movie can be. Arguably the most breathtaking cinematography of the decade (by Noboru Shinoda), great soundtrack, and a well constructed storyline which remains challenging on repeated viewings due to broken chronology and “anonymous” chat conversations. Yu Aoi is just great, too, and Hayoto Ichihara isn’t as wooden an actor as he’d become in a few years. There’s no better film about Japanese youth.

No doubt, these two are both among the best movies ever made. On the negative side, worn-out yellowish 35mm print on Lily Chou Chou wasn’t quite what I was hoping for, but the film still blew my mind.

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After 5 hours of Iwai I figured out just one more movie would probably be enough for the night. The last film would be Teruo Ishii’s excellent cult classic Horrors of Malformed Men (1969), which had a special screening in Cine Qualite. This has remained a rarity in Japan since its 1969 self-imposed “ban” by Toei who drew it from distribution soon after its release. It has never been released on video or DVD in Japan due it its “political incorrectness”. However, the film does play in special screenings and retrospectives every now and then, so it’s not impossible to catch on screen in Japan. The talk event after the film went on a bit longer than I expected, so I had no time to watch more films that night, which was perhaps a good thing.

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Then the bad news: my fucking capsule hotel was full; I had to find another one, and that was a piece of shit with pillows made of stone and even the AV channel didn’t work. Ugh! Not the most comfortable night, though you can’t beat the price: $25 for a night in central Tokyo (Ueno) is quite good.

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Re: Retro Cinemas and Cult Films in Tokyo

Unread postby HungFist » 24 May 2014, 03:45

Tokyo Day 3: Sunday

Sunday started in Laputa with Ikasama bakuchi, which played in the massive screenwriter Koji Takada retrospective. Laputa only has about 48 seats, so I knew when I’d be among the last people to choose the seat when I got ticket number 31. In the end, the screening turned out so full they carried extra seats for people. I was by far the youngest person in the theatre, sitting between two 70 year old guys, one of them mumbling to himself throughout the film…

Ikasama bakuchi (1968) is the 6th instalment in Toei’s popular Gambler series, which fall into the ninkyo yakuza (or old school yakuza) film genre. These films are all about honour, duty and friendship between men. Ikasama bakuchi doesn’t reinvent its enjoyable genre conventions, but rather mixes them with small changes. This time Koji Tsuruta, one of Toei’s three great yakuza stars of the era, plays a gambler who indirectly causes the death of another man in the hands his enemy. Feeling responsibility he then tries to win back the money the dead man (and his family) owned. Confronting him on the gambling floor is Tomisaburo Wakayama as a master card dealer and swindler working for a rotten yakuza gang. Intense gambling matches and a classy formula played by charismatic actors – a very enjoyable genre film.

Poster for Ikasama bakuchi (on the left)
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Since I was not in a hurry, I stayed little while in the theatre to enjoy the atmosphere and take some more photos. The CD player in the downstairs was playing soundtracks from Battles without Honour and Humanity, Hokuriku Proxy War, and Graveyard of Honour, all of which were screening in the Koji Takada retrospective. There was also a new film in the Meika Seri retro stating from that day: Man and Woman Behind the Fusuma Screen: Enduring Skin (1974) by Tatsumi Kumashiro.

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Man and Woman Behind the Fusuma Screen: Enduring Skin
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Hokuriku Proxy War (photo from Friday night, actually)
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Bookshelf with something to read (photo from Friday night, actually)
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And outside the theater: a big billboard for the Koji Takada retrospective
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My next film is Koji Wakamatsu’s vicious torture classic The Embryo Hunts in Secret (1966) in a theatre called Pole Pole. Scripted by Masao Adachi and then filmed by Wakamatsu in just a few days it’s an odd movie consisting mostly of a troubled man (haunted by family problems) beating a woman he has kidnapped. It is very describing that the film still got rated 18 (16 after appeal) in France less than 10 years ago, when films like Rambo and Only God Forgives were passed with a 12 rating. In any case, the movie does have something to it.

The real highlight followed the film when none other than Masao Adachi walked on the stage. Adachi was Wakamatsu’s active collaborator in the 1960. In the early 70’s the duo filmed the propaganda film Red Army/PFLP: Declaration of World War (1971) in Palestine. While Wakamatsu returned to Japan, Adachi joined the battle in Palestine and stayed in the country for decades. He was considered somewhat a terrorist in both Palestine and Japan, and spent time in prison in both countries. He’s been a free man since 2003, though, and seemed very much energetic today. Adachi was joking how feminists hated The Embryo Hunts in Secret back in the 60’s because it shows an asshole man beating a woman, but then later feminists begun to like his work because it displayed the man beating a woman as an asshole (+ the ending had something to do with it). Go figure...

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Adachi’s talk went on longer than I expected (and the train was 5 min late, which is forever in Japan), so I was in a real hurry to the day’s most important screening, The Defensive Power of Aikido in Laputa. I could still make it on time, but the very convenient number 5 ticket I got earlier the same day was utterly useless because I was the last one to arrive there. Oddly enough, I ended up on the same seat where I was sitting 6 hours ago in Ikasama bakuchi, and again on my right side there’s some weir dude who’s having way too much fun watching a “silly old movie”. Something wrong with that seat, I’m not gonna go close to it again…

The guy next to me didn’t manage to distract me much, because Sonny Chiba kicked ass!!! The Defensive Power of Aikido (1975) has some of Chiba’s best fights, though he plays a (little bit villainous) supporting role. The real star is his bother Jiro Chiba, who portrays Aikido founder Moriehei Ueshiba in a VERY loose adaptation of his life. Great action, cool soundtrack by The Street Fighter composer Toshiaki Tsushima, and quite a good screenplay by Koji Takada. Oddly enough, there’s no sex or nudity whatsoever. A very enjoyable karate (uhm, aikido) film that is on par with Chiba’s similarly themed karate biopics The Killing Machine and Karate Bullfighter.

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Tokyo Day 4: Monday

One movie to catch in Kineka Omori before my flight back to the northern island. This is a nice mainstream theatre which often has interesting non-mainstream double features. Also, there’s a collection of posters for Studio Ghibli movies that played in the theatre since the 1980’s. The film I’m seeing is the excellent, recently discovered and completed 1975 Vietnam action Number 10 Blues: Goodbye Saigon, which I have already discussed in another thread:
- viewtopic.php?f=1&t=6690

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Re: Retro Cinemas and Cult Films in Tokyo

Unread postby HungFist » 26 May 2014, 18:19

Program has been announced for the Sonny Chiba retrospective. 24 films included.
- http://www.cinemavera.com/preview.php

Chiba himself will also attend during the first day. I'm already booking my flights!

Full Program
Funky Hat Detective (Kinji Fukasaku, 1961)
Niniroku Jiken Dasshutsu (Tsuneo Kobayashi, 1962)
Gambler Tales of Hasshu: A Man's Pledge (Masahiro Makino, 1963)
Abashiri Prison: Hokkai ken (Teruo Ishii, 1965)
Kamikaze Yaro (Kinji Fukasaku, 1966)
Samurai’s Lullaby (Masashige Narusawa, 1966)
Rikugun chôhô 33 (Tsuneo Kobayashi, 1968)
Memoir of Japanese Assassins (Sadao Nakajima, 1969)
Bodyguard Kiba (Tatsuichi Takamori, 1973)
The Street Fighter (Shigero Ozawa, 1974)
The Executioner 2: Karate Inferno (Teruo Ishii, 1974)
Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope (Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, 1975)
Bullet Train (Junya Sato, 1975)
Karate Bullfighter (Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, 1975)
Karate Warriors (Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, 1976)
Dasso Yugi (Kosaku Yamashita, 1976)
Okinawa Yakuza War (Sadao Nakajima, 1976)
Karate for Life (Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, 1977)
Message From Space (Kinji Fukasaku, 1976)
Okinawa 10 Year War (Akinori Matsuo, 1978)
Swords of Vengeance (Kinji Fukasaku, 1978)
G.I. Samurai (Kôsei Saitô, 1979)
Samurai Reincarnation (Kinji Fukasaku, 1981)
Tokyo Daijishin Magnitude 8.1 (Kiyoshi Nishimura, 1980)

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Re: Retro Cinemas and Cult Films in Tokyo

Unread postby HungFist » 20 Jul 2014, 07:05

Some parts of the following post recycle material that I've posted in a different thread before, apologies for that.

Theater Memorial: Shimbashi Bunka

You may have read this elsewhere already... the great Shimbashi Bunka is closing after 55 years in operation.
http://www.tokyoreporter.com/2014/07/07/jr-construction-forcing-shimbashi-pink-theater-to-shut-in-august/

This is really sad. Shimbashi Bunka was by far the best place in Tokyo to catch roman pornos on 35mm. Once or twice a month their weekly program consisted of a roman porno triple feature. I was always going to write an introduction to this theater, but now it turned into a memorial.

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I still remember when I first read about this theater last year and thought this must be to coolest place on earth. Let me quote someone:

"To gain admittance you first must visit a vending machine that sits unceremoniously in front of the theater. By purchasing your 1,100 yen ticket you can stay as long as you wish through a triple bill ... After you’ve purchased your ticket from the vending machine you ironically have to hand it over to the guy working at the ticket window. After he wishes you a merry wanking, the real adventure begins.

Walking into the 81-seat theater is like walking into the movie room your middle school might have had. It’s tiny, but extremely comfortable, aside from the fact that there are around ten to fifteen old men staring at a screen with a women being taken from behind on it. The 35mm film is being projected so close behind your head that you can almost feel the heat from the bright light bulb inside of it.

The sound system, which has not only the marching sounds of the 35mm projector to compete with, but also the frequent trains running over head, which literally rock your seat, is passable to say the least, with the right side speaker dominating the left, turning the room a weird aural experiment that will likely leave you a bit dizzy.

The bathroom is mockingly positioned to the immediate right of the large screen, meaning that if you want to get up to play with your bits and pieces everyone is going to see you making a run for it. Thankfully the old men are beyond such embarrassments, as they willing hobble towards the bathroom, cane in hand, with the utmost dignity, only to stumble out four minutes later looking a tad defeated."

- http://everything2.com/title/Shimbashi+Roman+Gekijo

I had my first visit to Shimbashi Bunka just before Christmas last year. That time they were playing a triple feature consisting of:
- Trap of Lust (Atsushi Amatoya, 1973)
- Love Doll Report: An Adult Toy (Chusei Sone, 1975)
- Assault! Jack the Ripper (Yasuharu Hasebe, 1976)

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As expected, Shimbashi Bunka was worth every yen. In addition to what was mentioned before, I got to witness:

- An old man whose hand started making suspicious movement during the first and second sex scene in Trap of Lust. I dared not take a closer look.

- The same man leaving the theatre and mumbling something, obviously irritated, after the film turned out to be a Seijun Suzuki style killer/spy metafilm instead of a real pink flick.

- Audience members falling asleep after the forementioned twist.

- An audience with average age around 55 - and not a single woman...

- Until one female entered the theatre for the second screening...

- The forementioned poor lady falling asleep with her hand in facepalm (true story) during Assault! Jack the Ripper.

- An elderly man leaving for bathroom during the film, and leaving his bag on the seat next to him. Another old man entered meanwhile, took his place and put his bag on the same seat where the other guys bag is. The bathroom guy came back, looking confused after someone had taken his place, and then sat elsewhere. 25 minutes later the men started arguing (during the film) about whose bag belongs to who – both had placed their bags on the same seat without realizing it, and I think the first guy thought the other man is trying to steal his bag.

All this with one 1300 yen film ticket (that gives you entrance to the theatre – you can stay as long as you want). And of course, seeing these films on 35mm was a joy in itself!

I later visited the theater again when they were screening a Yuya Uchida Triple Feature including
- Female Delinquent: A Docudrama (1977)
- Path of the Beast (1980)
- Oh Women! A Dirty Song (1981)

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And here's a look inside the theater. Notice the bathroom placed right next to the screen on the left side
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Complete with sleazy pink film posters
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Some guy drew an awesome tribute picture of the theater. Every detail is correct, including the ghost in the audience :biggrin:
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- https://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=https%3A%2F%2Ftwitter.com%2FPeronnyo%2Fstatus%2F490143900292509696%2Fphoto%2F1&h=5AQGYHLqp

As you can see, the theater was dedicated to quality. Their Roman Porno screenings featured great movies by directors such as Yasuharu Hasebe, Tatsumi Kumashiro, Chusei Sone, Noboru Tanaka and Kichitaro Negishi, rather than mediocre sex flix. But it wasn't only a pink theater. The theater had two sides: the mainstream side and pink side (called Roman Gekiji - The Roman Theater). The mainstream theater played older foreign films in double features, with anything from Italian Spaghetti Westerns to Charles Chaplin and, uhm, Dreamcatcher. The ticket booth was located in the middle (with windows to both sides), with one schizophrenic employee serving customers on both sides.

If you look carefully, you can see the ticket booth window in the middle behind the green plant
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That week their mainstream program was a revenge double feature: Sympathy for Lady Vengeance and Kill Bill Vol. 2
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Here's an earlier double feature
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The last screenings will be on August 31st. If you want to experience one of the last real pink theaters in Tokyo, I suggest you reserve your tickets now. The program for the final three days has been announced:

Friday 29th: Love Triple Feature
Love Hunter (1972)
Lovers are Wet (1973)
Wandering Lovers: Dizziness (1978)

Saturday 30th: Rape Triple Feature
Secret Honeymoon: Rape Train (1977)
Rape and Death of a Housewife (1978)
Rape Ceremony (1980)

Sunday 31st: Secret Triple Feature
Secret Chronicle: Prostitute Market (1972)
Secret Chronicle: Prostitute Hell (1973)
Secret Chronicle: She Beast Market (1974)

Mainstream program has not been announced yet.
Edit: Taxi Driver & Death Proof will be playing in the mainstream side.

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Re: Retro Cinemas and Cult Films in Tokyo

Unread postby HungFist » 01 Sep 2014, 10:06

Last Hurrah for Shimbashi Bunka (Part 1)

The last two days in Shimbashi Bunka (mainstream side) and Roman Gekigo (pink side) were just amazing! So many people showed up!

The 81 seat Roman Gekijo played at heavy over-capacity, with up to 30 people standing! There were 8 seats reserved for ladies, but I counted 17 women in some of the Sunday screenings, so most of them were sitting on the danger zone! Actually, these last few days the audience profile was relatively normal with only a few creepy old men in the theatre, so rather safe for ladies!

Mainstream side was just as popular. Again more than 20 people standing in Taxi Driver on Saturday and long lines of people queuing on the street! In Death Proof the audience was having a blast and even applauded twice at the end of the film (extremely rare among Japanese audiences!).

As usual, the theatre interiors were decorated with movie posters… First Blood, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Phenomenon, Game of Death, etc. on the mainstream side, and Secret Honeymoon: Rape Train etc on the pink side.

Tokyo is literally losing a part of its culture with this theatre taken down.

Outside the pink theater
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Secret Honeymoon: Rape Train (1977), Rape and Death of a Housewife (1978), Rape Ceremony (1980)
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Love Hunter (1972), Lovers are Wet (1973), Wandering Lovers: Dizziness (1978)
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Secret Chronicle: Prostitute Market (1972), Secret Chronicle: Prostitute Hell (1973), Secret Chronicle: She Beast Market (1974)
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Inside the pink theater. White seats are lady seats
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Re: Retro Cinemas and Cult Films in Tokyo

Unread postby HungFist » 01 Sep 2014, 10:06

Last Hurrah for Shimbashi Bunka (Part 2)

Outside the mainstream theater
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Outside the mainstream theater
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Taxi Driver and Death Proof
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Inside the mainstream theater
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Inside the mainstream theater
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Inside the mainstream theater
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Inside the mainstream theater
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Re: Retro Cinemas and Cult Films in Tokyo

Unread postby HungFist » 11 Sep 2014, 07:47

Theater Introduction

Jinbocho Theater (part 1)

This is a nice, modern looking theater that shows only Japanese cinema retrospectives. They focus on the classier stuff, so it may not be the first choice for a genre film buff. They are more likely to screen a Kenji Mizoguchi series, or retrospectives dedicated to some other classic directors, actors or composers from the 1940s to 1960s.

However, more recent films, and genre films, do often find their way into the program as parts of the retrospectives. For example, while the Yuzo Kayama retro focused on his comedies, dramas and music films from the 1950s and 1960s, it also included the hard boiled professional killer film The Creature Called Man (1970) which was probably a big influence for John Woo. Similarly, while their Eros series focused on the classier stuff from the early 1960s, it also included three Roman Pornos and one 1990’s Takashi Ishii thriller. They also screened a complete Godzilla retrospective.

Jinbocho only screens one retrospective at a time. Usually there are 4 films playing each day, and they will be played in different order each day for about one week, so the film that screened at 15:00 today might screen at 19:00 the day after tomorrow. Unfortunately there tends to be a rather long break, e.g. 40 min, between the films.

The lobby is no great thrills, but they put up some original posters of the film that are playing, a fun little box with movie memorabilia, and a theme wall with information and stills from the ongoing retrospective.

As typical to theatres of this kind, tickets are numbered in the order or purchase. You will get to enter and freely choose your seat in that order. The screen is medium size (7.2m×3m) and there are plenty of seats (99) so it’s unlikely to sell out. As far as I know, all movies screen from 35mm as they should.

Opposite to the theatre entrance there is a small book store selling movie memorabilia. You can pick up advertising booklets (pamphlets) for 1980s idol films, 1980s Kinji Fukasaku films, 1980s and 1990s slasher and zombie films etc. They even had some Roman Porno video cassettes for sale. Highly recommended if you visit the theatre, and a great way to kill time between the movies.

Access: Jinbocho subway station. You can access for example from Shibuya (Hanzomon line) or Ueno (Ginza line, change to Hanzomon line at Mitsukoshimae). Once you’re at Jimbocho take Exit A7, go left for a couple of small blocks, and turn left again one mini-block before a kind of mini-part. You can see the end of the road as it’s only about 200 metres and there should be a brown (or grey) building at the end of it. There’s also a convenience store on the street. Jimbocho Theater is the strange looking grey building near the end of the street on the left.

Theater website: http://www.shogakukan.co.jp/jinbocho-theater/index.html

Eros Retrospective
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Eros Retrospective: "Memorabilia Box"
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Eros Retrospective: Distant Thunder (1981) on the left
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Eros Retrospective: Theme Wall
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Eros Retrospective: Virgin Blues (1974)
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Re: Retro Cinemas and Cult Films in Tokyo

Unread postby HungFist » 11 Sep 2014, 07:49

Jinbocho Theater (part 2)

Yuzo Kayama Retrospective + ads from earlier retrospectives
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Yuzo Kayama Retrospective
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Yuzo Kayama Retrospective
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Yuzo Kayama Retrospective
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Yuzo Kayama Retrospective: "Memorabilia Box"
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Composer Sei Ikeno Retrospective: Yokai Monsters (1968) on the right
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And here's the bookstore I mentioned
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Some of the stuff I bought: Pamphlets for three great Hiroko Yakushimaru films:
Sailor Suit and Machine Gun (1981), School in the Crosshairs (1981) and Legend of the Eight Samurai (1983)
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The still with Hiroko sitting on Shinji Somai's lap is my favourite behind the scenes still of all time.
A genius director thinking of the next scene, with the greatest idol of all time waiting for his decision.
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The greatest idol movie of all time in the making!
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And while we're at it, I gotta link this great tribute video to Sailor Suit and Machine Gun. It's made up of scenes in chronological order and will spoil the ending, so you may not wish to watch it beyond the 2 minute mark if you haven't seen the film.

http://youtu.be/ihxc5zSmpmM

Damn this film is great. One of my greatest wishes, aside Blade Runner, is to get to see this on 35mm some day...

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Re: Retro Cinemas and Cult Films in Tokyo

Unread postby HungFist » 18 Oct 2014, 15:58

Theatre Introduction: Meguro Cinema

I already wrote a little bit about Meguro Cinema in this thread when I discussed About Lily Chou Chou and Swallowtail Butterfly. That double feature was a part of their Shunji Iwai series, which started with Love Letter and Hana & Alice, and later continued with Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom? (1993), April Story (1998) and Vampire (2011) (Vol. 3), and Fried Dragon Fish (1993), Picnic (1996) and Kon Ichikawa Story (2006) (Vol. 4). Since these latter two volumes included a combination of short and feature length film, they played as triple features instead of double features.

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I need to emphasize how amazingly good April Story looked on 35mm. Here's a film that really demonstrates the strengths of the format and features some absolutely stunning cinematography. It used to be my favourite Iwai film when I was young. Now I recognize it's perhaps a bit too light on story to compare with Iwai's greatest masterpiece, All About Lily Chou Chou, but it's still an amazing tranquil film.

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I saw Vampire for the first time. It's an uneven film that feels more like a film school graduate work than an Iwai film, but it's also a fascinating, beautiful and extremely uncommercial movie that is free from nearly all the vampire movie conventions. I had forgotten that Yu Aoi is in it, too. She's one of the most talented actresses of her generation, and the most beautiful of them all!

Meguro Cinema screens all their movies as double features (or in some rare cases triple features). The same two films will be played all day for all week. There's no seat reservation: you buy the ticket from a vending machine and hand it over to the staff. They will then show you to a line where people are waiting for the current film to end. Once you're in, you could basically sit there all day if you wanted to see the same movies three times. Of course, you can also just choose to watch only one film since the price is relatively affordable anyway. This system does result in some inconvenience for the staff, though, since they don't know exactly how many people are in. In popular screenings they have to come and count the empty seats there are to know how many tickets they can still sell.

As you could expect, Meguro Cinema doesn't screen the latest hits since double feature system wouldn't be suitable for that. Instead they show semi-recent films which have recently finished their theatrical run, movies from a few years ago, and sometimes slightly older movies like 1990's stuff. Films screen from 35mm whenever that is the original format - newer films are DCP since no film prints exist.

The atmosphere is nice. Movie soundtracks are played in the theatre during breaks whenever available. When a film is about to begin, the staff informs the audience by ringing bells. The seats are comfortable and the screen is mid size (5.4m x 2.5m). The only minus side is that the air condition can make the theatre a little bit cold at times if you're wearing t-shirt. You usually don't notice it during the first film, but if you're staying there for a double feature you may wish to bring a long sleeve shirt with you (or something else that you can put over your arms) just in case.

The last time I went to Meguro Cinema was when they screened Akira (1988) and Memories (1995). This double feature was screened for three weeks straight, and seemed to be very popular. Unfortunately I didn't have time to stay for Memories, but seeing Akira from a good quality 35mm print was an unforgettable experience!

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Access: Meguro Cinema is located in very close to the JR Meguro station. It's easily accessible for example via the Yamanote line (about 10 min from Shibuya or Shinjuku). You should take the West Exit, and walk to the traffic lights about 50m to the right. If you look to the other side, you should be able to see the theatre.

Website: http://www.okura-movie.co.jp/meguro_cinema/now_showing.html

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Re: Retro Cinemas and Cult Films in Tokyo

Unread postby HungFist » 18 Oct 2014, 15:59

Sonny Chiba A Go Go
Cinema Vera, Tokyo
June 14th – July 11

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Although 2014 has been a fantastic year for film retrospectives in Tokyo (such as Art Theatre Guild and Norifumi Suzuki retrospectives), the highlight of the summer was no doubt Sonny Chiba film festival which played in Shibuya’s Cinema Vera. Cinema Vera had dedicated Chiba a 24 film retrospective which covered the first three decades of his career.

During the festival Cinema Vera played nothing but Chiba films for four weeks straight. Each day two films were screened back to back all day from 11 am to around 11 pm. Each of the films would also play again on a later date in case you missed the first day, meaning each film would have a total of 7- 10 screenings. All movies played from original 35mm prints, except for the TV production Tokyo Daijishin Magnitude 8.1 (1980), which screened from the original 16mm film.

The festival programme included not only popular classics like The Street Fighter (1974), but also rare gems like the superb action/noir Army Intelligence 33 (1968) and Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope (1975), which is probably Chiba's best and most outrageous movie of all time (I watched it three times during the same day!). The selection demonstrated the diversity of Chiba’s career, which started already in the early 1960’s, and included not only action and martial arts films, but also samurai films, war movies, crime films and many other genres. In fact, as an actor Chiba might have been at his best in the early 1960’s when he played mainly good guy roles and demonstrated some amazing energy.

The theatre in which the films screened, Cinema Vera, focuses on film retrospectives (past series include Teruo Ishii, Masao Adachi, Yasuharu Hasebe and Noboru Nakamura). One of the coolest aspects is that they always do fantastic job decorating the lobby with original posters from the movies. Every week there were new posters on display, including Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope (1975), Karate Bullfighter (1975), Message from Space (1978), Okinawa 10 Year War (1978), Samurai Reincarnation (1981) and many more.

The real highlight of the festival was, of course, Chiba himself. The 75 year old actor attended the festival during its first day. Chiba held a 40 minute talk event, answered questions in a Q&A, and greeted fans after the event in the theatre lobby. I’m glad to report Chiba was an absolute gentleman without a smallest sign of arrogance. He talked with fans, asked for their opinions, gave autographs, and took photos with fans. My best memory is probably how (after already having asked Chiba a question during the Q&A and taken a photo with him) he came to me on his way out, shook hands and thanked me for coming to the event.

I was also glad to see the festival was obviously a success. Although old school theatres are closing one after another these days Chiba festival seemed to attract many people. A lot of people showed up and there were many viewers even during weekday mornings. I spent a total of 10 days (three extended weekends) at the festival and caught 20 of the 24 films that played. I’ll be reporting day by day, although the report may change its form a little bit as it goes on.

List of Films Screened at the Festival:
Hepcat in the Funky Hat (Kinji Fukasaku, 1961)
The Escape (Niniroku Jiken Dasshutsu) (Tsuneo Kobayashi, 1962)
Gambler Tales of Hasshu: A Man's Pledge (Masahiro Makino, 1963)
Abashiri Prison 4: Northern Seacost Story (Teruo Ishii, 1965)
Kamikaze Man: Duel at Noon (Kinji Fukasaku, 1966)
Game of Chance (Samurai’s Lullaby) (Ryuchi Takamori, 1966)
Army Intelligence 33 (Tsuneo Kobayashi, 1968)
Memoir of Japanese Assassins (Sadao Nakajima, 1969)
Bodyguard Kiba (Ryuichi Takamori, 1973)
The Street Fighter (Shigero Ozawa, 1974)
The Executioner 2: Karate Inferno (Teruo Ishii, 1974)
Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope (Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, 1975)
Bullet Train (Junya Sato, 1975)
Karate Bullfighter (Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, 1975)
Karate Warriors (Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, 1976)
Jail Breakers (Dasso Yugi) (Kosaku Yamashita, 1976)
Okinawa Yakuza War (Sadao Nakajima, 1976)
Karate for Life (Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, 1977)
Message From Space (Kinji Fukasaku, 1978)
Okinawa 10 Year War (Akinori Matsuo, 1978)
Swords of Vengeance (Kinji Fukasaku, 1978)
G.I. Samurai (Kôsei Saitô, 1979)
Tokyo Daijishin Magnitude 8.1 (Kiyoshi Nishimura, 1980)
Samurai Reincarnation (Kinji Fukasaku, 1981)

Return of the Street Fighter (1974), Karate Bullfighter (1975), Karate Warriors (1976)
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Top Middle: Bodyguard Kiba (1973) and The Escape (1962)
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Two posters for The Fall of Ako Clan Castle
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Bullet Train (1975) and Jail Breakers (1976)
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Karate for Life (1977)
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Message from Space (1978)
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Bodyguard Kiba (1973( (top) and Yakuza Deka: Poison Gas Affair (1971) (bottom)
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G.I. Samurai
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Re: Retro Cinemas and Cult Films in Tokyo

Unread postby HungFist » 18 Oct 2014, 15:59

Day 1: June 24th (Part 1: Chiba)

The first day was the big day because Sonny Chiba talk would be held in the afternoon. Some fans had arrived three screenings in advance. This meant that they would be watching G.I. Samurai – one of the two films screening that day – twice just to keep their seat. That’s possible since the theatre is not emptied between the screenings. Once you’re in, you’re expected to watch two films and leave, but no one’s going to kick you out if you stayed longer.

I went in two screenings in advance, and by that time it was already challenging to get a good seat. When Chiba walked on stage, every single seat (144) was taken and additional people were sitting on the floor. The wait was well worth it. The legendary action star is 75 years old now, but he’s still full of energy and acts like 15 years younger than his age. During the 40 minute talk event Chiba recalled his career and joked about how in the early 1960’s Ken Takakura, Koji Tsuruta and Tetsuro Tanba were always the producers’ first choice to any Toei film, and he could only get the role when they were busy. Chiba also regretted the state of modern Japanese action cinema that relies too much on CGI, unlike back in his days when they did real action.

Chiba knew what he was talking about. He made his first martial arts films in the early 1960’s, established his own film school Japan Action Club to train physically capable action stars such as Hiroyuki Sanada and Etsuko Shihomi, and was even a well known star in Hong Kong due to his TV show Key Hunter (1967-1972). Both Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan were impressed by Chiba, the latter especially. Jackie was such a big fan of Chiba that he even travelled to Japan to meet him – and of course repeated and improved upon many of his stunts (e.g. the helicopter scene from the 1976 film Jail Breakers, which Jackie managed to beat in Police Story 3 in 1993).

Chiba was also a real life martial arts master who practiced Kyokushin Karate under its founder Masutatsu Oyama since the late 1950’s. Chiba fought in Oyama’s team in the international fighting tournament in Hawaii in 1977, where Chiba defeated the former east coast champion Greg Kauffman with a knock-out in the second round. Chiba also acquired black belts in more than half dozen martial arts, including Kyokushin Karate, Ninjutsu, and Shorinji Kempo. In the late 1970’s Chiba also fought in Oyama’s team in the

In addition, Chiba was never just an action star or martial artists. His rich career, especially in the 1960’s, features comedies, dramas, war films, science fiction, noir, crime movies and super hero flicks. In some respects, he was at his best as an actor in the 1960’s when he was bursting with youthful energy and charm and often played good hearted heroes. During the 1960’s alone, Chiba appeared in more than 60 movies, many of them starring roles. These roles were quite different from the 1970’s action movies that his international fans best know him for.

None of those accomplishments reflected in his behaviour in the Chiba festival. Chiba showed sincere interest to his fans by answering their questions and sometimes spending more time asking them questions than talking about himself. As I mentioned before, Chiba even came to shake hands with be of his own initiative. All in all, the man came out as a very modest, very polite and very energetic gentleman.

Chiba!
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Chiba!
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Hepcat in the Funky Hat (1961) and Army Intelligence 33
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Bullet Train (1975)
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Bullet Train (1975)
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Karate Warriors (1976) (left) and Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope (1975)
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Re: Retro Cinemas and Cult Films in Tokyo

Unread postby HungFist » 18 Oct 2014, 15:59

And one more set of photos before I start going through the film program (later)

Memoir of Japanese Assassins (1969), Karate Warriors (1976) and Message from Space (1978)
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Memoir of Japanese Assassins (1969), Karate Bullfighter (1975) and Jail Breakers (1976)
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Okinawa Yakuza War (1976) and Okinawa 10 Year Wat (1978)
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Kamikaze Man (1966) and Okinawa 10 Year War (1978)
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Karate Bullfighter (1975)
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Samurai Reincarnation (1981)
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Re: Retro Cinemas and Cult Films in Tokyo

Unread postby HungFist » 18 Oct 2014, 16:00

Sonny Chiba Festival Day 1: June 14th (Saturday) (Part 2: The Films)

From here on it’s going to be film mini-reviews all the way. The films screened during the first day were The Executioner 2: Karate Inferno and G.I. Samurai. Neither one of them was quite the typical Chiba film.

The Executioner 2: Karate Inferno (Chokugeki jigoku-ken: Dai-gyakuten) (Teruo Ishii, 1974)

Karate Inferno (1974) is best described as an act of terrorism. Director Teruo Ishii was never keen on making karate movies, but the studio had him direct one with The Executioner (1974). The mismatch resulted in an exceptionally sleazy action fest that was probably more enjoyable than Ishii ever intended it to be. To his shock, it was a commercial success and Toei had him direct a sequel, which Ishii turned into a madcap comedy (there was a similar case with biker gang movies only one year later, when Toei had Ishii direct a sequel for Detonation: Violent Violent Riders, and Ishii turned it into a love story with musical scenes).

Karate Inferno is essentially a comedic caper in which the same gang we know from the original film are supposed to save a kidnapping victim, but when the deal goes bad they decide to rob their employer instead. Most of the film consists of Chiba (asshole ninja), Makoto Sato (asshole ex-cop) and Eiji Go (asshole pervert) taking the piss and molesting Yutaka Nakajima while also planning a big diamond heist. In the film’s highlight we see Chiba saving his pall, whose jacket was caught on fire, by pissing on him! The jokes are crude but funny, the soundtrack is fantastic, and there’s some great action at the end of the film. The Japanese audience had a blast, even clapping hands during the film in a couple of highlights, which is extremely rare in Japan. Many of the jokes are film references, though, and may not be understood by most foreign viewers (e.g. Kanjuro Arashi appearing as the same character he plays in Ishii’s Abashiri Prison series – Chiba also appeared in the 4th and 6th film).

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G.I. Samurai (Sengoku jieitai) (Kosei Saito, 1979)

G.I. Samurai is a very different type of film compared to Karate Inferno. This big budget action fantasy stars Chiba as an army commander whose platoon somehow gets thrown back in time to the 1600s. Luckily for them, all their weapons, equipment, and vehicles (including helicopter and a tank) come with them. The heavy artillery comes in need when they get involved in a clan war between two historical figures: Nagao Kagetora (Isao Natsuyagi) and Shingen Takeda. It’s time to show the samurai what a modern man is made of!

While G.I. Samurai doesn’t have the kick of Chiba’s best movies, it’s nevertheless full of major action scenes, huge body count, historical characters in entirely fictional situations, and more serious themes about masculine desire for power and domination. There’s a lot that springs from the 1970’s exploitation film mentality, but at the same time the film also showcases a new era in Japanese filmmaking. The film was produced by Kadokawa, who was a new player in the filmmaking biz. Up till late 1970s Chiba had been working for Toei, who mass produced cheap genre films at rapid pace. Kadokawa, however, were making modern Hollywood-like productions. Their films were often accompanied by theme songs, novels and other supporting products. The amount of money invested in G.I. Samurai – ¥ 1,350,000,000 – would probably have financed a dozen Street Fighter flicks. Also look for numerous cameos, like Hiroyuki Sanada climbing to a helicopter, and the soon-to-be super-idol Hiroko Yakushimaru as a child warrior.

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Sonny Chiba Festival Day 2: June 15th (Sunday)

The Escape (Niniroku jiken: dasshutsu) (Tsuneo Kobayashi, 1962)

The first film for Sunday night was the rarely seen The Escape. This was one of the many Japanese films based on the infamous February 26th Incident that took place in 1936. The incident involved army rebel forces attempting a coup d'état in Tokyo. The rebels opposed to Japan’s modern policies and believed that the Emperor had been misled by politicians. To restore Japan’s past glory they gathered hundreds of men and attempted multiple simultaneous political assassinations. One of their attacks was the raid on the prime minister’s house. Nearly 300 rebels took part in it; however, the prime minister managed to hide and eventually escape.

The film focuses on the military police’s (partly fictionalized, no doubt) attempts to rescue the minister before the rebels find out he is still alive. He manages to hide in a closet because the enemy mistakes a dead body that greatly resembles him as him. The military police now tries to get him out without the rebels realizing what’s going on. It’s a mostly dialogue driven affair with exciting action in the beginning and end of the film. Sonny Chiba plays only a small supporting role as a soldier who discovers the prime minister’s hiding place, but agrees to help the military police. The real star of the film is Ken Takakura. An entertaining military / caper mix, but not a classic film.

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Bodyguard Kiba (Ryuichi Takamori, 1973)

The 1973 action thriller Bodyguard Kiba is one of Chiba’s weaker efforts. The film stars Chiba as a Japanese karate fighter taking on the mafia, all in the name of promoting karate. It’s a pretty messy storyline that nevertheless allows for some memorable ultra-violence and enjoyable spaghetti western influences. Action scenes are, however, sloppily filmed. One of the film’s biggest merits may actually be featuring the 16 year old Etsuko Shihomi as a stunt double for Yayoi Watanabe (who plays Chiba’s sister). In the superior sequel, Bodyguard Kiba 2 (1973) Shihomi inherited the role, which marked her first acting role in a movie. Another thing worth mentioning is that the film is based on the manga Bodyguard Kiba, which was influenced by Chiba’s real life master Masutatsu Oyama. Although names have been changed, when Chiba’s character speaks of his master in the film, he is actually referring to Oyama and his real life adventures. Oyama also makes a cameo during the opening credits.

Bodyguard Kiba is better known in its international form under the title The Bodyguard (1976). The American version changes the storyline somewhat, with almost all karate philosophy and Oyama references removed. In that version Chiba is simply fighting crime when not filming movies (yes, he actually plays himself in the US version!). In the Japanese version Chiba’s character actually comes out as a bigger asshole, not least because of the new ending scene where he seems to have forgotten about all the casualties and tells the press how this whole massacre was great advertisement for karate. The US version is missing the ending scene. There are, however, some highly amusing added scenes in the US version. These include the famous Ezekiel speech that Quentin Tarantino quoted in Pulp Fiction, US martial artists Aaron Banks and Bill Louie discussing who’s a tougher guy: Sonny Chiba or Bruce Lee, and a modified opening credits sequence accompanied by Viva! Chiba! Viva! Chiba! chanting.

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Re: Retro Cinemas and Cult Films in Tokyo

Unread postby HungFist » 18 Oct 2014, 16:00

Sonny Chiba Festival Day 3: June 16th (Sunday)

Army Intelligence 33 (Rikugun choho 33) (Tsuneo Kobayashi, 1968)

This criminally neglected mixture of spy-noir and commando action by director Tsuneo Kobayashi (The Escape, 1962) is a lost gem. The film’s storyline is loosely based on the Nakano Spy School which operated in Tokyo during the Second World War. It was officially focused on correspondence, but in reality trained top spies for the government. Chiba portrays a promising young soldier who is kidnapped and forced to become a spy. After receiving tough training (martial arts, weapons, explosives, foreign languages) by none other than Tetsuro Tanba, he is sent for his first mission, which is to gather secret information from a foreign ambassador. This is when the film takes a turn to a wonderful noir with gorgeous cinematography, great old fashioned score and terrific atmosphere. Chiba himself looks fabulous as a spy in long dark coat and black hat which immediately bring American noir stars like Humphrey Bogart to mind. This is probably something many foreign fans never expected to find in Chiba’s filmography.

Army Intelligence 33 isn’t entirely a spy noir, though. The final act sees Chiba sent for a Lee Marvin style commando mission to South East Asia together with his partner in crime Kenji Imai. The action packed final third can’t quite compare with the wonderful noir section, but it’s a tremendously entertaining climax nevertheless. The only weakness is occasional lazy screenwriting throughout the film, which has us believe that these kidnapped young men would barely protest their destiny, and the enemy soldiers whose behaviour isn’t always all that logical. This is however a small gripe in a hugely entertaining film. Chiba later returned to the same training camp in another Nakano Spy School influenced film: Military Spy School (Junya Sato, 1974). That film, however, couldn’t compare with the far more elegant and entertaining Army Intelligence 33, which remains one of Chiba’s best movies.

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Jail Breakers (The Escape Game) (Dasso yugi) (Kosaku Yamashita 1976)

Jail Breakers, or The Escape Game (literal translation) is another rarely seen movie that has probably never been released outside Japan. It hasn’t been preserved so well in its native country either; no DVD release available and even the festival print was in such a shape that it could have fallen apart any time. The caper-style movie stars Chiba as the worst behaving prisoner of all time: he has 31 prison escapes under his belt. He makes his 32nd run in the film’s opening scene by performing a spectacular escape by climbing to the roof, grabbing to ladders from a helicopter, hanging from the ladders in in the air while the helicopter makes its way through the countryside, and changes his clothes in the mid-air before dropping to a moving truck and making the escape by then jumping to another moving vehicle – one of the many stunts on Chiba’s career that his greatest fan, Jackie Chan, later improved upon (Police Story 3, 1992).

The film is packed with nice stunts throughout, but the screenplay could be better. After escaping the prison Chiba teams up with a bunch of thugs, who design prison escapes for money. Unfortunately trust and loyalty are unknown concepts to these men who take turns deceiving each other. The endless “who’s-cheating-who” game has been done better in other films, and sometimes the writing is downright sloppy: when a carefully planned escape operation fails, Chiba simply steals a fire engine and drives away without anyone noticing! It also feels that director Kosaku Yamashita, who made his name with yakuza films, was a bit out of his element here. However, even with these weaknesses it’s an entertaining action comedy which compares favourably against some of the later, similar Yasaku Matsuda films like Execution Game (1978) and No Grave for Us (1979). It’s also essentially a family friendly affair with no sex whatsoever, and only minimal violence. The focus is on stunts and comedy.

Opening escape. Over 3 minutes of it was shot in single take just to show you it's really Chiba doing it all
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This was the last day of my first Tokyo stint. I would return for more Chiba on the following weekend after taking care of some real life business. More reviews to come!

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Re: Retro Cinemas and Cult Films in Tokyo

Unread postby HungFist » 18 Oct 2014, 16:02

Sonny Chiba Festival Day 4: June 21st (Saturday)

Saturday. Back in Tokyo after a few days of normal life. The festival kept running meanwhile, but I didn't miss any movies because those were second or third screening days for films I had already seen during my last stint. My original plan was to land in Tokyo and first catch a couple of films in Jinbocho Theater before heading to Cinema Vera for only one Chiba film, but I ended up changing my plan and watching both of the evening’s Chibas.

Bullet Train (Shinkansen daibakuha) (Junya Sato, 1975)

My decision was a good one. Though I had seen Bullet Train – Junya Sato’s predecessor to Speed (1994) – before, I didn’t recall it being this good. The excellent thriller stars Ken Takakura as a criminal whose gang plants a bomb on a bullet train and demands money from the government. If the speed falls below 80km / hour, the train will explode. The police do their best to track down the criminals without giving in to their demands, while the desperate train pilot (Sonny Chiba in a rare 1970’s non-action role) is trying to keep his cool. Tension begins to rise among passengers as the train skips its designated stops.

Sato was a solid director who was usually more interested in storylines than exploitation (there are some exceptions, though). Here he does fine job helming a character and story driven thriller, even if there are a couple of silly turns and too many flashbacks used as storytelling device. The film’s biggest merit is its well crafted villains, whose acts are understandable though not acceptable. Takakura does excellent job making his character human, and becomes the film’s central character despite being the villain. Action scenes are few, but expertly executed. The ultra-funky 1970s score feels out of place at first, but eventually becomes a seminal part of the film and makes one wish all good movies had one like this. Supporting roles feature a whole variety of stars from Takashi Shimura to Etsuko Shihomi and Yumi Takigaw, sometimes only getting a few seconds of screen time.

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Hepcat in the Funky Hat (Funky Hat no kaidanji) (Kinji Fukasaku, 1961)

The evening’s second movie was one of Chiba’s very first starring roles: Hepcat in the Funky Hat. This energetic little movie was the third collaboration between Chiba and director Kinji Fukasaku. The two had already made two Drifting Detective movies together, the first one being Fukasaku’s directorial debut and Chiba’s first starring role. Fukasaku and Chiba then went on to work together a total of 20 times. When Chiba made his own directorial debut with Yellow Fangs (1990) Fukasaku served as his advisor.

Chiba plays a happy-go-lucky son of a detective, who constantly manages to get himself in the middle of someone else’s trouble, but comes out saving the day. Chiba is full of youthful energy, does some athletics, tries to charm the ladies (without much luck), and kicks a little bit of ass. Some of his goofier acts resemble Hong Kong stars like Alexander Fu Sheng in their more comedic roles in the 1970’s – whether that’s a good thing or not is debatable.

Hepcat in the Funky Hat also showcases the madcap energy Fukasaku later become famous for. The cinematography is wild and innovative, edits come fast and dialogue is delivered at lightning pace. There’s a striking difference between this and some other detective films of the same era, like the Police Department Story films in which Chiba co-starred the same year, or even Fukasaku’s own Drifting Detective films. Hepcat in the Funky Hat runs less than an hour and was originally played as a b-feature for a bigger budgeted a-film, but would probably have been at least 20 minutes longer in the hand of any other director.

In addition, the film deals with the theme Fukasaku explored throughout his career: youth vs. older generations. Having lived through the horrors of war and having felt betrayed by the nation and the older generations, this theme got increasingly violent cinematic incarnations in Fukasaku’s later classics like Under the Flag of the Rising Sun (1972), Battles without Honour and Humanity (1973) and Battle Royale (2000), where army, yakuza and the government respectively took to roles of rotten authorities. Hepcat in the Funky Hat, however, is a celebration of youthful energy, passion, and early 1960’s youth culture. Its young heroes leave the old men eating dust at every turn!

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Re: Retro Cinemas and Cult Films in Tokyo

Unread postby HungFist » 18 Oct 2014, 16:03

Sonny Chiba Festival Day 5: June 22nd (Sunday)

Game of Chance (aka Samurai’s Lullaby) (Rokyoku komori-uta) (Ryuichi Takamori, 1966)

In the 1960s ninkyo yakuza films became Toei’s most successful genre. These old school yakuza films inspected the themes of honour, loyalty and brotherhood in a historical setting. The heroes in these films may have been yakuza, but they were honourable men who followed the codes of honour and never exploited the innocent. These movies would usually start with the hero arriving to a town where a good gang he belongs to is being pitched against a dishonourable gang that exploits the innocent. There would also be a seminal supporting character that the hero meets and becomes friends. We would later discover that that man is actually working for the enemy, but only because of some kind of blood relation or obligation that he cannot escape. The film’s climax would see the two men forces, and the supporting character redeeming himself with a heroic death.

There are a couple of different variations of this ninkyo formula, but the basics remain the same: honourable men put in difficult situations where obligations, personal feelings and the morals would conflict. The genre was a huge hit among the audiences and made actors like Ken Takakura and Koji Tsuruta the biggest stars of their time. It was therefore no surprise that Toei also had Sonny Chiba star in a couple of old school yakuza films, although he never became a star in the genre. Game of Chance is an interesting off-note ninkyo yakuza film in which Chiba stars as a swindler who has to escape with his 5 year son (Hiroyuki Sanada in his first role) after being caught cheating in a card game.

Game of Change is an odd film because it’s constructed very much like the typical Toei ninkyo film except that the protagonist commits some slightly dishonourable acts you wouldn’t usually see in the genre. In fact, the hero in Game of Chance is very much like the seminal supporting character in numerous other Toei ninkyo films. It’s also an unusual film because of its heavy dosing of family drama, which gives the typically very masculine genre a feminine spin. These elements make it an interesting movie, although it never really finds the perfect alignment nor perfects its art. Some of this may be actually because of the utterly mediocre director Ryuichi Takamori not knowing what he was doing. Nevertheless, it’s an entertaining yakuza drama with only a few minor action scenes. It was followed by two sequels, both starring Chiba, and shot in colour, unlike the first film which is black and white.

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Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope (Wolfguy: Moero ôkami-otoko) (Kuzuhiko Yamaguchi, 1975)

This incredibly entertaining action film stars Sonny Chiba as a karate skilled crime reporter who also happens to be a werewolf. He keeps his true nature hidden from the mortal world and lives among normal people as one them. As the film opens, he begins investigating a series of ultra-brutal murders in which members of a rock band have been slaughtered by a woman with supernatural powers. Her skills are demonstrated in the opening scene, in which one of the rockers (Rikiya Yasuoka) bumps into Chiba’s car and pretty much explodes into pieces a moment later on a side alley.

Wolfguy just may be the most outrageous Sonny Chiba ever made! The film goes from psychedelic city noir to science fiction set in mysterious research labs, and eventually mythical action as Wolfguy returns to his birthplace in the mountains. It’s packed with unbelievable scenarios such as werewolf vs. werewolf karate fight, werewolf shooting people with machine gun and Chiba pulling off the prison bars with his bare hands. The film also features ultra-gory murders straight out of a splatter movie, super funky soundtrack, great action, frequent female nudity, and odd mother syndrome with Chiba rubbing his nose between pinky violence star Yayoi Watanabe’s breasts because she resembles him of his mother!

What is most surprising about Wolfguy is how it makes shockingly much sense structure-wise. Unlike many other Chiba films where the main difference between the beginning and ending was the number of opponents, Wolfguy really comes a long way storywise. It also manages to retain a sufficient level of continuity, despite being a combination of several 'Adult Wolfguy' graphic novels by Kazumasa Hirai. Hirai also published the similarly titled but more youthful 'Wolfguy' manga that Toho had already adapted into a film in 1973, but Toei wanted to fill their movie with non-stop sex and violence so they went for the adult version.

The film was expertly handled by director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi (Sister Street Fighter, Karate Bearfighter). The shaky cam style that hurt some of his other movies is virtually absent here, resulting in several excellent action scenes that vary from martial arts to gunplay. There's even a tank in one scene, though it never enters the frame! Overall Wolfguy is one of those rare cult movies that not only live up to their outrageous premise, but exceed it. The fact that there is no DVD or even video release anywhere in the world is a crime against humanity!

It says something about the film that I watched it three times during the same day. It was the first film I saw that day, followed by Game of Chance, after which I simply decided not to give away my seat. After the insanely enjoyable second viewing I initially left the theatre and headed for Laputa Asagaya for Co-ed Report: Yuko’s White Breasts (1971), but it turned out the screening was sold out and I couldn’t get a ticket. With nothing better to do I went back to Cinema Vera for one more go at Wolfguy, and I didn’t regret one bit!

Wolfguy was certainly a hit with the audience. In the last screening one poor Japanese fella became mentally insane! He sit quiet during the film, but as soon as the film ended he burst into uncontrollable laughter and couldn’t stop. He left the theatre laughing like a madman. His maniac laughter echoed in the theatre for several minutes, essentially turning the whole place into a madhouse. The film’s greatness must have been too much for him to handle.

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This was the end of my second Tokyo stay, but I was only halfway through the festival. Stay tuned for more reviews!

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Re: Retro Cinemas and Cult Films in Tokyo

Unread postby HungFist » 18 Oct 2014, 16:03

Sonny Chiba Festival Day 6: July 3rd (Thursday)

It had been almost two weeks since my last visit to Tokyo. I missed the screenings of Gambler Tales of Hasshu: A Man's Pledge (1963), Karate Warriors (1975), Swords of Vengeance (1978) and Message from Space (1978). The rest of the screenings during my absence were second or third screening days for films I had already caught before.

This day did not start so well. I did all I could to be there on time, including taking an early flight to a closer airport than usual. Little by little everything started to fall apart. First, the flight was 20 minutes late. Next, there was no rapid train from the airport for whatever reason. Finally, when I got to Tokyo there had been a train accident, which resulted in about a 20 minute delay. The 45 minutes of extra time I had scheduled for getting from the airport to the theatre eventually shrank to 14 seconds! Yes, after defying death by running through Shibuya like a crazy person, and silently cursing everyone on my way down to hell, I got there 14 second before the film started and spent the opening credits trying to catch my breath.


Abashiri Prison: Northern Seacoast Story (Abashiri bangaichi: Hokkai hen) (Teruo Ishii, 1965)

The film I successfully caught was the 4th film in the long running Abashiri Prison series (1965-1972), which cemented Ken Takakura’s status as the most popular Japanese actor of the 1960s. The series started in 1965 with the original classic, which saw Takakura as a tough guy sent to the Abashiri Prison. It wasn’t necessarily the greatest movie ever made, but it brought together many of Toei’s best yakuza film actors and benefitted from the snowy landscapes of Hokkaido. As the series advanced, many of the sequels departed from the original setting and didn’t necessarily even include prison scenes. Northern Seacoast Story brought the series back to the Abashiri setting after a couple of entries set in warmer locations.

Northern Seacoast Story stars Takakura in his usual tough guy role. The film takes a while to kick off because it dedicates most of the opening act for tiresome comedy routines about two gay inmates. Things get more exiting once Takakura is set free and he takes a job to drive a certain truck through Hokkaido. This is when the film becomes a variation of the John Ford classic Stagecoach (1939), with Takakura’s truck packing an unusual cargo: a runaway teenager (Reiko Ohara), a mother accompanied by sick child, and two ruthless criminals (Tooru Abe and Takashi Fujiki).

There are few surprises to be encountered, but the presence of ever reliable genre actors, winter landscapes, and groovy jazz score make it a passable time waster. Sonny Chiba appears in a pretty small supporting role as an inmate with health problems. His character actually kicks off the storyline, however, he is only seen in the early scenes. Chiba later returned for another supporting role in the 6th film: Duel in the South (1966), which was a slightly bigger part, but nevertheless quite forgettable.

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The Street Fighter (Gekitotsu: Satsujin ken) (Shigero Ozawa, 1974)

This was the film that started the golden age of Japanese karate entertainment. Two important factors should be considered when we discuss the film: timing and talent. Although Chiba had been making action movies since the early 1960s, including a couple of full-fledged martial arts films, Japanese karate films had never really taken off. For years Chiba had to deal with producers and directors who had little interest in the fighting aspect. Matters were made even worse by tight filming schedules. Things finally begun to change Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon was released in Japanese theatres in December 1973 and proved a major hit. All of a sudden there was a genuine demand for martial arts films. The producers naturally went for Chiba. The Street Fighter was Toei’s response to Lee’s success, produced at lightning fast schedule to hit the theatres less than two months after Enter the Dragon.

The timing was perfect also because the other vital requisite for a good martial arts movie, the necessary action talent, had just been discovered a few months earlier. Chiba’s earlier action films had suffered from the lack physically capable supporting actors who could make good opponents for Chiba. Most of Toei’s action film stars were yakuza film actors who looked fine with a gun or sword, but made pretty poor karate fighters. This finally changed when Chiba discovered Masashi Ishibashi, who was cast as a villain in Chiba’s previous movie Bodyguard Kiba 2 (1973). Ishibashi was a real life karate master and Chiba’s senior, who had been acting in movies for a good while already but hadn’t done much on-screen action before. With Ishibashi on board Chiba had finally found an actor who could keep up with the choreographies even when films had to be completed at lighting fast pace.

The action scenes in The Street Fighter were co-designed by Chiba and Ishibashi, who played the film’s famous villain and returned for countless other Chiba films like Karate Bullfighter. There were other real life martial artists involved as well, like Masafumi Suzuki, who plays the martial arts master Chiba challenges in the dojo scene. Chiba’s brother Jiro, who later went on to star in The Defensive Power of Aikido (1975), and Chiba’s protégé Etsuko Shihomi, who would become the biggest Japanese female martial arts star of all time, were also featured in minor roles.

The Street Fighter also became an unforgettable showcase of Chiba’s anti-hero charm and ultra-violence. Chiba was given relatively free hands at creating the main character, who was a badass mercenary called Takuma Tsurugi. Chiba drew influences from the psychotic yakuza villain he had played in Kinji Fukasaku’s yakuza film Deadly Battle in Hiroshima (1973), but made the character a little les evil this time round. What resulted was 90 minutes of cinematic badassness that remains one of the most enjoyable action films of the 1970s.

For better or worse, The Street Fighter has characterized Chiba’s reputation since then and made him a cult hero all around the world. However, his best work as an on-screen martial artist was still to come. The Street Fighter was still a contemporary action film where, for the most part, gunplay had merely been replaced with martial arts. It wasn’t until the next year when Chiba’s martial movies found their purest form in films like The Killing Machine, Karate Bearfighter and The Defensive Power of Aikido, all of which were biopics of real life martial artists.

As a side note, there is some confusion regarding Chiba’s side-kick character calling him “darling” throughout the film in the Japanese language version. This is quite amusing indeed, especially considering he even cooks Chiba’s meals, however, it’s a misunderstanding. The word is not “darling”, it’s “talen” which is Chinese for “master”. This makes perfect sense since the character is supposed to be Chinese or Singaporean, whose life was saved by Chiba. The Japanese mispronunciation of the term has, however, even fooled Japanese audiences.

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The evening was characterized by beaten up prints. Abashiri Prison had essentially turned into a “pink film” if you know what I mean. The Street Fighter, too, had little of the original colours remaining, and frames were missing in several points throughout the film. In fact, the famous bit of ultra-violence where Chiba sticks his fingers into the opponent’s eyes was completely missing due to print damage. Even in this condition the film still kicked major ass and it was a pleasure seeing it on 35mm. Although these two prints were in poor condition, most of the films at the festival screened from very good, sometimes even near pristine prints.

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Re: Retro Cinemas and Cult Films in Tokyo

Unread postby HungFist » 18 Oct 2014, 16:03

Sonny Chiba Festival Day 7: July 4th (Friday)

Memoir of Japanese Assassins (Nihon ansatsu hiroku) (Sadao Nakajima, 1969)

Sadao Nakajima was one of Toei’s seminal genre film directors. He worked in almost any genre that was popular at the time, and delivered competent films that ranged from ninja adventures to sexploitation and yakuza movies. He had, however, also an urge to deliver something more ambitious, as evidenced by his surprising 1973 visit to Art Theatre Guild where he directed the gangster drama Aesthetics of a Bullet. Memoir of Japanese Assassins is another odd beast is his filmography. This all star political slaughter fest chronicles murders committed by assassins in different eras, all based on reality. Stars like Ken Takakura, Tomisaburo Wakayama and Bunta Sugawara pop up for their 5 minute episodes only to cut someone’s head off, stab someone to death or blow someone into pieces with a hand grenade.

The seemingly endless cavalcade of ultra-violent kills finally comes to an end about 25 minutes into the film. This is when the film finds its main story: an impressive tale of a young man slowly transforming into a political assassin. Sonny Chiba portrays this character; a youngster living in the middle of never ending poverty and misery. He eventually finds new home with a revolutionary group, which begins his long road to becoming a political assassin. This episode takes no less than 90 minutes of the film’s 142 minute running time, features almost no action or bloodshed, and gives Chiba more screen time than all the other stars combined.

Chiba is quite good in the leading role, despite slightly overdoing his most emotional scenes. He actually won an acting award for his performance at the Kyoto Citizen Film Festival (Kyoto shimin eiga sai), where Hideo Gosha’s Hitokiri was also awarded the same year. Yakuza film queen Junko Fuji also appears in a seminal supporting role in this episode. Once their story concludes, the film still continues with two more short episodes (one of them featuring stock footage from the earlier Chiba film The Escape, 1962). As a whole the film is a bit uneven, but it’s nevertheless a fascinating and occasionally epic (partly thanks to composer Isao Tomita, whose score plays on repeat) movie. Easily recommended!

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Tokyo Daijishin Magnitude 8.1 (Kiyoshi Nishimura, 1980)

The second film for Friday was a real rarity: the 1980 special effects extravaganza Tokyo Daijishin Magnitude 8.1 (literally Tokyo Great Earthquake Magnitude 8.1). This generously budgeted TV film premiered on Nihon TV in 1980, and completely disappeared from the face of earth until it was screened in a special event in Tokyo last year. That screening was reportedly so popular that only a fraction of the willing customers were able to obtain a ticket. Cinema Vera gave the film no less than three screening days, during which it was seen from a relatively worn out 16 mm print, which would of course be the original format.

As the title suggests, it’s a disaster movie based on the premise of a giant earthquake hitting in Tokyo. This fear stems from real life: Tokyo has been destroyed by earthquakes several times, most recently in 1923 when more than 140 000 people died and over 400 000 buildings were destroyed. When it comes to Japanese cinema the genre may not seen very common – a couple of exceptions aside there aren’t many Japanese disaster movies – however, it closely relates to monster movies and other tokusatsu epics that have long traditions in Japan. It was a short way from giant monsters stamping Tokyo to a natural disasters creating similar cinematic destruction.

Indeed, a couple of shots in Tokyo Daijishin Magnitude 8.1 seem so familiar that they just might be old Godzilla sets put into new use. That wouldn’t be surprising considering many of the filmmakers, including producer Tomoyuki Tanaka and special effects director Koichi Kawakita, and co-production company Toho, had their background in Godzilla films. The fine, even if obvious, miniature work is actually the best thing about the film. There are a couple of especially memorable scenes, like a passenger plane flying over Tokyo that has turned into a giant inferno, and dawn in the destroyed metropolis.

As a character drama Tokyo Daijishin Magnitude 8.1 falls flat. All the usual clichés from helpless grandmother to dumb children and even animals escaping at the wrong moment are included, not to mention characters discussing how terrible it would be if an earthquake hit Tokyo just a few hours before it really happens. That is quite disappointing considering the film was directed by Kiyoshi Nishimura, who had helmed interesting thrillers and existential action films like The Creature Called Man (1970) and Hairpin Circus (1972) for Toho in the 1970s. Perhaps he just couldn’t help the screenplay.

Sonny Chiba plays the starring role; however, he doesn’t have much else to do than run back and forth in the special effects shots, and worry about supporting characters constantly getting in trouble. It’s not an especially physical role since most of the effects are make-believe. His most memorable scene involves blowing up a door while taking cover inside a safe. Yutaka Nakajima, who appeared in some earlier Chiba films like The Executioner (1974), plays the female lead, but her role is very forgettable as well. There are a few other supporting actors as well, but amusingly a great lack of extras. It seems the entire budget went to special effects since there are only a handful of people in Tokyo and they miraculously run into each other throughout the film.

Because of its rarity Tokyo Daijishin Magnitude 8.1 will remain to be sought after movie. It’s a decent special effects show that probably deserves to be seen by genre fans, especially for its nostalgia value, but it’s hardly a great movie. For fans of Chiba it’s passable viewing, but not among his most memorable roles.

As a side note; the film’s budget was 150 million yen, which was five times higher than the episode budget for the famous cop-action series Seibu Keisatsu (which is still fondly remembered for its insane action scenes full of car wrecking and explosions) that was screening on TV around the same time. By the 1980s many of the former actions stars, like Yujiro Ishihara, Tetsuya Watari, and Chiba himself were mostly working on TV. Chiba had already starred in hundred of TV episodes in various different shows since the 1960s, like Key Hunter (1967-1973) and The Bodyguard (1974). In the 1980s television became his primary employer as well. It was a great era of epic small screen action entertainment that often rivalled, and sometimes surpassed, the theatrical films. Nothing like it exists on Japanese TV anymore.

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