What asian film/series have you just seen.. marks out of 5

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Re: What asian film/series have you just seen.. marks out of 5

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Yagyu Chronicles 9: Assassin’s Sword (十兵衛暗殺剣) (Japan, 1964 [TV] – 3/5
The last in the series. This continues in the same mass battle oriented path as part 8 but takes it even further, making this essentially a war film. Jubei and his selected 10 men are lured to an island where their adversary has employed dozens or perhaps hundreds of pirates to ambush them. The film's entire last third consists of team Yagyu fighting for their lives against an army of enemies. For better or worse, the film feels grittier and gloomier than any of the earlier entries, lacking their old fashioned innocence and fairy tale quality.

Tales of Japan's Chivalrous Women: Chivalrous Geisha (日本女侠伝 侠客芸者) (Japan, 1969) [TV] - 3.5/5
Junko Fuji's second major yakuza film series alongside Red Peony Gambler (1968-1972). The series name is a derivative from Ken Takakura's Tales of Japanese Chivalry, but there is no connection other than this being another series focusing on "labourers" rather than gamblers. This opening film sees Fuji as a Kyushu geisha during a coal boom, which was bringing gangsters, businessmen and military figures into town. Takakura is a noble, modest man running a coal mine, rotten Kaneko is a merciless slave master after Takakura’s mountain, and then there are two runaway lovers whom Takakura and Fuji agree to shelter respectively. This is a good film with some solid drama and stylish costume play, even if Fuji has to leave the swordplay to Takakura. Her role is nevertheless good, and many of her quieter scenes with Ken are sublime. The same can't be said about the Kaneko's evil villain character, who is a mere plot tool void of any finesse. Note that the film is also known as Samurai Geisha, a nonsensical title considering she's obviously not a samurai.

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Re: What asian film/series have you just seen.. marks out of 5

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The Ghost Story of Oiwa's Spirit (怪談お岩の亡霊) (Japan, 1961) [TV] – 3.5/5
Japanese ghost stories are not my favourite genre, but if I were to watch one, it'd better be a samurai film starring Tomisaburo Wakayama and directed by Tai Kato. This one is. Wakayama is excellent as a violent brute samurai who comes up with a plot to kill his wife so that he could marry a younger girl. The classic tale (“Yotsuya kaidan”) has been filmed countless times before and after, but Kato treats it more as a gripping drama of real life horrors and less as a ghost story. The supernatural elements don't come until the last 25 minutes, which is when the film turns into a bloodbath. The film is also notably sparse on the usual spooky “is it real or imagination?” scenes that characterize a lot of other films of this type, and the one are found here usually end instantly with Wakayama's sword cutting someone’s head off. And that is a good thing!

Tales of Japan's Chivalrous Women: Brave Red Flower (日本女侠伝 真赤な度胸花) (Japan, 1970) [TV] - 4/5
Fuji is a common girl who travels to Hokkaido to inherit her father's horse market business, only to land in the middle of a “civilians vs. yakuza” conflict. The gangsters have been bribing and murdering their way towards market ownership, and the only person who could save the outvoted Fuji clan is missing man Takakura, who holds a grudge for Fuji's old man. This is an excellent, slightly atypical ninkyo film. Fuji does karate! Shoots people! Barely wears a kimono! And it’s all set in the beautiful Hokkaido wilderness, far from Toei's studio sets. But most importantly, the film fully utilizes the kind of duty vs. humanity conflict between its main characters that had come to characterize the best ninkyo films in the Brutal Tales / Red Peony era. But not so much good without some bad: a needlessly conservative ending, a strangely underwhelming Masao Yagi score, and probably the worst bit of teary-eye acting (by a certain kid) in a Toei film until Yutaka Nakajima would set a new low in The Street Fighter (1974).

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Re: What asian film/series have you just seen.. marks out of 5

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Tales of Japan's Chivalrous Women: Iron Geisha (日本女侠伝 鉄火芸者) (Japan, 1970) [DVD] - 3/5
Pretty geisha Junko Fuji meets chivalrous Bunta Sugawara in a town also populated by evil boss Toru Abe. She’s also caught between amorous patrons and jealous colleagues. A beautifully shot tale with some lyrical scenes that rank among the most beautiful in director Kosaku Yamashita's filmography. But the problem is, this is a yakuza film but Fuji is strictly confined to geisha gear. The blood work is all left to Sugawara. That may have been the case in part 1 as well, but somehow it feels more regressive here, particularly after the previous film, even if the drama itself works pretty well.

In Search of Mother (瞼の母) (Japan, 1962) [TV] – 3.5/5
A teary melodrama about a man searching for his long lost mother is hardly my type of film, but if I were to watch one, it'd better be a matatabi yakuza film starring Kinnosuke Nakamura and directed by Tai Kato. This one is. The classic tale had been filmed many times since the 1930s, including once by Nobuo Nakagawa for Shintoho, but this was probably the first colour version. I’ve not seen the others, but Kato’s version is very economical (stylish without excess flashiness, consisting of a relatively small number of rather lengthy scenes) yet touching. It also really embodies the matatabi / wanderer feel, perhaps because of its main character missing roots, and is a classic of the genre for a reason.

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Re: What asian film/series have you just seen.. marks out of 5

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Chivalrous Third Generation (遊侠三代) (Japan, 1966) [TV] - 2.5/5
Tatsuo Umemiya in talkative ninkyo film that loses its focus to a multitude of characters. It smells of a novel adaptation, though to the best of my knowledge isn't. The setting is immediately post war in 1945. Umemiya belongs to a trucking company / gang whose enemy has teamed up with prominent military figures. Tsuruta runs a restaurant and offers help, while Ryotaro Tatsumi is the evil gang's tool with a secret connection to Umemiya. Lots of talk ensues, with little action. The ending, which unusually shows the aftermath of the carnage and comes with heavy religious (Christian) thematics, however, is so unusual and rewarding that it alone makes the film somewhat worthwhile. Side note: Umemiya also sings the theme song.

+ Sonny Chiba Special: Part 76

OL sennyu! Nippon fuzoku meisho (OL潜入!ニッポン風俗名所) (Japan, 1989) [TV] - 2/5
Sonny Chiba and Jun Miho are tabloid reporters uncovering a murder case in a mostly miserable, but strangely watchable TV film. The opening sees Chiba taking newcomer Miho to a love hotel for educational reasons (but of course), just in time to see a murderer flee and leave a dead prostitute behind. The key to solving the case is fellow paid woman Momoko, who had introduced the dead girl to her customer, but isn't willing to speak for she's got her own tale of love, deception and corrupt corporate politics to keep out of daylight. In true travel show fashion, the mystery takes them through Japan’s sightseeing spots (and red light districts) in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyushu. The 91 min movie aired on June 17, 1989 in TV Asahi's famed "Saturday Wide Theater" slot that ran from 1977 to 2017. Poorly acted (by Miho in particular), shot on video and composed by someone who wouldn't qualify for elevator music, there isn't much to recommend here aside the somewhat functional storyline, Chiba's amusing interactions with his wife, and the relevance to the era (made just before the bubble burst, and when love hotels were becoming a mainstream phenomena). Cinematically it suffices as evidence of the change of times: former top action star paired with the cutest girl of the just-buried Roman Porno, and all they do is talk (the brief JAC action bit at the end doesn’t involve Chiba). There's not even nudity (which once used to be commonplace on Japanese TV) despite the topic matter.

Love School (恋愛学校) (Japan, 1962) [35mm] – 3.5/5
A charming love comedy with young Sonny Chiba in a solid supporting role. Best friends Yoshiko Sakuma and Mayumi Ozora go boy hunting (looking for dates) with the former at one point finding herself harassed by an old geezer. To rescue comes young man Chiba, driving a vintage vehicle that looks like a slightly upgraded version of T-Ford. It's crush at first sight for Chiba, but Sakuma is torn between a wealthier businessman advocated by her conservative mom, and penniless Chiba who gets blessing from the liberal grandmother (Tokyo Story’s Chieko Higashiyama as a totally awesome character frequently taking a piss out of her nervous daughter). This is quite a progressive youth film for Toei, all the way from trendy English title (though spelled Renai gakko in kanji, the intended furigana reading is Love School) to a charmingly modern heroine and an underlying message 'follow your heart, not your family'. For Chiba fans these romantic films predating his tough mofo reputation by a decade are a most pleasant discovery. He’s a little inexperienced and less convincing than his co-stars, but he's such pretty boy serial-smiler Duracell bunny that he instantly wins over the audience's sympathies. It's no small part either, with lots of screentime and good scenes (as ‘cute love interest’). Best of all, it comes in a thoroughly enjoyable, fun and stylishly shot city romance film.

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Re: What asian film/series have you just seen.. marks out of 5

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Rogue's Self-Sacrifice (捨て身のならず者) (Japan, 1970) [TV] – 2.5/5
Takakura is a newspaper reporter who gets framed and jailed after snooping too close to the yakuza. Years later he's out for revenge. Good start, with Takakura for once not playing a yakuza despite this being a contemporary yakuza film! But the film soon runs out of steam. Unable to pursue his vengeance for a certain reason, Takakura goes alcoholic and meets Mie Hama, a woman whose father may have been to blame for Takakura's misery. Takakura then does some more snooping and has some more run-ins with gangsters, but ultimately nothing very exciting happens. It's still an alright film, but the opening promised more.

Tales of Japan's Chivalrous Women: Duel of Swirling Flowers (日本女侠伝 血斗乱れ花) (Japan, 1971) [TV] – 4/5
Yamashita continues as a director in what is probably the best film in the series, and one of Fuji's best movies. Fuji inherits a petty mountain from dead husband Hiroyuki Nagato and tries to turn it into a profitable coal mine with the husband’s loyal colleague Rinichi Yamamoto. Private shipping company head Takakura aids with the logistics when greedy businessman Minoru Oki and his yakuza henchman Tatsuo Endo force boatman boss Bin Amatsu to block Fuji's dealings with other companies. This is a sweeping epic, comparable to the likes of Flower and Dragon, with a storyline spanning over a decade and showing Fuji's struggles that come with genuine emotional payback. It's a terrific role, despite leaving the swordfights to the actual yakuza characters. Yamamoto likewise has one of the best roles of his career as a genuinely caring aid to Fuji, as does Amatsu as indebted-to-Oki but not inherently evil man, a nice departure from his usual ruthless villain characters. Takakura isgood as always, and gets to do the blood work in a slightly disappointing action climax (suffering from an overuse of freeze frame) followed by a great closing scene. Visually the film is pure poetry.

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