Tuesday, November 25, 2008

An Actor's Revenge

Finally saw the new AnimEigo digital transfer of An Actor's Revenge (aka Revenge of a Kabuki Actor) -- excellent! One of Kon Ichikawa's finest efforts. Visually, it reminds me of the darkly surreal work of Kazuo Ikehiro (another Daiei alum -- perhaps he had an influence on old Kon). Great look. The film is also a virtual who's who of Daiei actors of the 60s including Shintaro Katsu, Naoko Wakao and Raizo Ichikawa (not to mention everyone's favorite thuggish character actor Saburo Date in an uncharacteristically meaty role as treacherous merchant Kawaguchi-ya).

My only complaint was the casting of Kazuo Hasegawa in the lead role of an onnagata. Nothing against Hasegawa-san -- fine actor, always good in any role, but let's face it: As of 1963 he was somewhat past his prime (he was in the 1935 version for godsake; this was his 300th film!). It's a little hard to buy the premise that he's this hot, young, androgynous thing (no matter how many times the supporting cast says it) when you're looking at what is clearly a pudgy, middle-aged man in drag. For my money they should have given the role to Raizo; he would have been perfect. Instead, they squandered him in a tiny role as a two-bit thief. Katsu was similarly used, getting a dozen lines as a cantankerous, unibrowed priest/thief. I understand both these guys were major stars with their own franchises and heavy workloads but c'mon ...

The story, by Otokichi Mikami, was originally serialized in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, so it's one of those rambling epics full of convoluted subplots concerning numerous members of the Edo demimonde. The film version is significantly streamlined thanks to the efforts of old pros Daisuke Ito and Teinosuke Kinugasa as well as the director's wife, Natto Wada.

Anyhow, outstanding film, must see, etc. etc. For an in-depth comparison of the new AnimEigo disk with the previously-available BFI region-2 version, see this piece courtesy of the fine folks over at DVD Beaver.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Executioner

Watched this again last night. What a great flick. And I use the word "great" with the understanding that you, like I, consider any film featuring Sonny Chiba yanking a rib out of an attacker's chest, or Makoto Sato punching a guy so hard his eyeballs pop out of his head, to be great. Rounding out the trio is Eiji Go (who starred the same year as a psychotic thrill-killer in Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs), here playing a horny goofball decked out in a powder blue denim ensemble with matching puffy cap that positively screams 1974. Also along for the ride is sweet hottie Yutaka Nakajima, providing some eye candy for us and ensuring Go's painful priapism.

The literal translation of the Japanese title is Direct Hit! Hell Fist which is so much better than The Executioner, but what are ya gonna do? Directed by legendary Toei nutcase Teruo Ishii, it's more cheesy and outrageous than most Sonny Chiba outings, which is saying something. Nevermind the plot (some silliness concerning international drug-smugglers) -- just watch The Executioner for the insane brutality (or brutal insanity?) such as when, at a decadent party at the smuggler's mansion, the guests compete to see how far they can kick a semi-conscious Sonny. No really. They have measuring tape and everything. Or how about when Sonny is dangling off the side of a cliff from a rope whose ninja claw is embedded in the thigh of one of the bad guys? Do you love it? I love it.