Preface: I haven't seen any of these. Evidently only a couple of them have been seen outside of Japan -- Rusty Knife
having screened in the Nikkatsu Action retro. Even Take Aim
never made any international Suzuki retros. That said, I can share a little background:I Am Waiting
Kurahara was more straightlaced than Suzuki and a better earner; though this would have been a B film, being his debut. It's success disseminated its noir flavour into many subsequent Nikkatsu flicks. He also made two weirder films that were in the Schilling retro, The Warped Ones
, which I think was slightly more favourably received than Colt
, and Glass Johnny: Look Like a Beast
, the La Strada
rip-off. Post-Nikkatsu he did very well and went on to make a number of family-friendly animal pictures including Antarctica
, which was remade by Disney as Eight Below
Yujiro Ishihara, the older brother in Crazed Fruit
and real life brother of writer-slash-current Governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, was the Japanese hybrid Elvis-James Dean (Nikkatsu had another Japanese James Dean at the same time who even died in a road accident in his early 20s, albeit a go-kart rather than a Porsche.) Anyway, he was bigger than Mifune through the 1960s. Mie Kitahara made 24 movies with him, then the two got married and she retired. He also went on to a singing career -- earning the Elvis comparison -- and they also did the young vs. old stamp thing.Rusty Knife
This is Toshio Masuda's third film and first major hit, reaching no. 7 at the domestic box office. It's also his first paring with Ishihara with whom he made 25 films, bringing to mind Kurosawa and Mifune or a Suzuki-Shishido analogy. The film is also credited as Akira Kobayashi, of the HVe Suzukis, star turn, as well as his first paring with Ishihara. Kobayashi became the heir apparent to Ishihara's throne at the top of the Diamond Line (Nikkatsu branded it's top male stars as their Diamond Line.) He also went on to a singing career and has also been described as a Japanese Elvis.
Masuda also made Red Quay
, Red Handkerchief
and Gangster VIP
from the retro and Velvet Hustler
which was an HVe VHS. He was Nikkatsu's top earner and maintained his status as box office boffo throughout his career. He was the guy who replaced Kurosawa on Tora! Tora! Tora!
-- Fukasaku seems to get all the credit because we actually know who he is over here but Masuda only brought him on board to help out with 2nd unit stuff mostly. A career long Japanese language book was published on him a few years ago which claims he's made more top 10 films than any other Japanese director except one (I was never able to track down who that was. I assumed Miyazaki) and it seems unlikely the book will ever be translated. Same with the career spanning Suzuki book. But this guy's alive and well and it'd be great to see Criterion do an interview with him at least. I've been thinking of him as Bizarro Suzuki, in a good way. Lastly -- spoiler alert -- this film apparently ends with dueling dump trucks.Take Aim at the Police Van
This was three years before Suzuki's breakthrough (Youth of the Beast
or The Bastard
, depending on who you ask.) As far as I can tell the only mention of this film in North America before now is a brief synopsis in Asian Cult Cinema magazine 10 years ago and a short paragraph in Chris D.'s book. Suzuki had a reputation for taught thrillers in his early career and this sounds like no exception. Chris D. describes it as a "nightmarish gauntlet ... of foot-chases, red herrings, merciless beatings and near-miss shootings." Most Japanese studio products were written by committee, with one guy getting the screen credit, and Suzuki began co-writing his films with this one and they became more stylized from this point. Cool title too, I think it'd be my favourite if you exclude all the ones with "Bastard" in them.Cruel Gun Story
Takumi Furukawa is usually only mentioned as the director of the first Sun Tribe film, Season of the Sun
, in which Ishihara was cast in a bit part and discovered. It's generally considered in the top three Sun Tribe films but the weakest of those three, after Crazed Fruit
and Kon Ichikawa's Punishment Room
. Shilling doesn't mention Gun Story
in his book but, as colinr mentioned, Marc Walkow describes it as distinctly Kubrick's The Killing
ish. Shishido was a second teir Diamond Line star but of course he's better known than the A-listers outside of Japan due to his work in Mystery Science Theater 3000's Fugitive Alien
and some other stuff.A Colt Is My Passport
I guess I don't have to say much here, good word of mouth from the retro. The pre-Branded to Kill Branded to Kill
ish one. One of Shishido's first starring roles which Schilling marks as a career high point with Slaughter Gun
-- they also form a loose trilogy according to Chris D. Also a personal favourite of Shishido himself and Yasuharu Hasebe who directed Slaughter Gun
and Black Tight Killers
. It sounds like some of the stuff the Midnight Eye guys say Passport
did before Branded
Suzuki had already done in Take Aim
, so, we will see how prophetic it was. Not much written about Takashi Nomura or Furukawa but that'll likely be remedied if Chris D. ever finishes his Yakuza film encyclopedia.
Seems like an eclectic batch from Nikkatsu's most prolific and undiscovered period. Feels like Christmas I've been waiting for this set for so long. And my Kino pair has shipped so that should hold me over in the meanwhile.
I still wonder at just what Suzuki as a contract director could have done with Roman Porno
films if he had still been at Nikkatsu after 1971 though. It seems that as long as the required nudity levels were reached, filmmakers were within reason relatively free to do what they wanted with the less important elements like plot and stylistics!
Suzuki's said that B-directors were pretty much free to do whatever they wanted too, the studio only really cared about the headliners. The problem being Suzuki entered the studio head's radar at some point and, y'know, office politics and the rest. It's fun to think how he might have pushed studio genres even further but without the mythos we may have never heard of him, he became a household name in Japan after he was fired. For the record, Gate of Flesh
is viewed as an honorary Roman Porno by some.
Cold Bishop wrote:
While I don't know enough about the movement to make claims of influence, if the wild stylization of a masterpiece like Female Convict Scorpion Jailhouse 41 isn't influenced by Suzuki, its at least born of the same spirit. The entire "exploitative" turn the industry took in the early 70s almost seems like a vindication of everything Suzuki was doing at Nikkatsu when you look at the visual imagination poured into films which would have been the grindhouse trash of the West. (Of course, you probably already know this).
I'd really like to see some DVD supplements cover Suzuki's influence. I think he talks about it a bit on the R2 Branded to Kill
but I never sprang for a multiregion player. A number of Nikkatsu ADs who worked under Suzuki or otherwise stayed on through the Roman Porno period and have sited him as an influence. But I think it goes wider than that and beyond film into anime and manga even. However, I'm no expert and it'd be nice if Criterion could include something like that in, say, some kind of rerelease or something...