Suzuki was under contract with Nikkatsu in the 1960s; there to crank out genre pictures at a good clip to help fill out the studio’s slate. The thing is, his vision was such that he was consistently delivering much more than the standard genre fare the studio expected. His output during this period, in films like Gates of Flesh and Youth of the Beast, is full of unexpected, surprising moments and is marked by constant experimentation with everything- sets, story, editing, color and staging.
While this work had some commercial and critical success, the studio was increasingly uncomfortable with Suzuki’s films. They were just too weird. To be fair, most of his films would be weird to modern eyes. They tried to rein him in. For his next picture, they wanted something a little less on the edge.
The film that came out of this situation was Tokyo Drifter and, thankfully for us, Suzuki couldn’t be constrained by the suits at the studio. At some basic level he complied by their wishes. The plot is simple and moves from A to B in a brisk hour and twenty minutes. A gangster, Tetsuya (played by pop star, Tetsuya Watari) tries to go straight alongside his boss and they’re undermined by a rival. He ends up on the run and then returns to revenge himself against those who have wronged him. There are gunfights galore. If you squint, it’s like he was toeing the line. This has the general shape of a gangster picture.
The only thing this one is missing is personal favorite Tatsuya Nakadai.
Quick on setup and heavy on Tokyo demolishing eye candy, this three-parter (each runs about 60 minutes) is definitely a worthwhile rental.
Capsule reviews of Ringu, Battle Royale, Metropolis and Audition.
I watched a screening copy of this one. Because of that, for the entire length of the film a message is displayed across the bottom of the letterbox:
"for screening purposes only"
Before I get underway here, I just thought I should mention that Kurosawa was nominated as Best Director for this film and lost to Sydney Pollack. Pollack's film? Out of Africa. Y'know, something about that fills me with an infinite sense of "wrongness." For me, coming upon that fact is like walking into a room and seeing all the furniture on the ceiling. It's just not right.
Well, aside from the fact that I can't figure out if the name is supposed to be serious (in which case it's misleading) or a joke (in which case it's as deadpan as the rest of the jokes in this film), I'd have to say I liked this movie. It's dryly funny, clever and held my interest for it's whole run.
The Skinny: The first and one of the best films in this long-running series, The Life and Opinion of Masseur Ichi is must viewing for fans of samurai cinema, Japanese cinema or action films in general. Shintaru Katsu's charming portrayal of Ichi, the blind wandering masseur with a lightning fast draw, and the strong threads of humanity and humor that run throughout the film (and continue throughout the series) make this a perfect introduction to one of Japanese cinema's most beloved characters. Everything that makes Ichi special is present and accounted for here: his innate sense of right and wrong, his amazing way with women, his bumbling charm, his quick wit, and, of course, plenty of work with his deadly cane sword.
See, IFC has started a series showcasing Japanese Samurai films (hereafter referred to as Chambara) on Saturdays. This is a really cool thing since Chambara of the 50s, 60s and 70s have been my main cinematic focus for the last year and a half since they directly influenced the Hong Kong martial arts movies that followed them and, for all practical purposes, I've run out of Hong Kong movies that I want to watch and can get my hands on.
>What a difference a change in series can make. Watch this film's star, Shintaru Katsu, in his other major vehicle, the mind numbingly brutal Hanzo The Razor series, and if you can sit through the parts where he fucks a bag of rice or smashes his penis with a hammer, I'm not sure you'll come away with much about this particular actor's vibe. There is no such problem here.