Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Great Killing

Eichi Kudo's follow-up to his The Thirteen Assassins (1963) finds a rag-tag band of conspirators plotting the downfall of a particularly nasty government official (downplayed wonderfully by the great Ryutaro Otomo) in mid-17th century Japan. Getting wind of the plot, the government comes down hard, with a brutal "round up the usual suspects" effort that involves quite a lot of traditional Japanese torture of prisoners involving bamboo and boiling water (for starters … ). The eventual blood-letting of the title provides the film's big ending, although it's a much more chaotic affair than that of Thirteen Assassins. Kudo abandons the highly structured, meticulously planned samurai assault of the previous film for an utterly desperate and unruly free-for-all.

The Great Killing (aka The Great Duel) is a somewhat stranger animal than its predecessor. There's a certain angularity, a kind of cinematic alienation to the proceedings. Long, enigmatic shots from odd angles and frequent use of hand-held camera provide an unconventional air; this is certainly not your typical Toei chambara of the period. Character development is kept to a minimum, so the central characters' motivations are unclear (at first), as is the nature of their relationships to one another. Kotaro Satomi, who you'll remember as the handsome young wastrel of the previous film, is back as innocent samurai bystander Jimbo, who gets sucked into the fray with no choice but to join the conspiracy; the lovely Nami Munakata (in her screen debut) plays the mysterious Miss Miyi, whom everyone wants to sleep with (she is a stunner); Mikijiro Hira, star of Three Outlaw Samurai and Sword of the Beast, plays his standard dissipated cynic; and seasoned character actor Toru Abe is on board as the military strategist behind the Big Killing itself.

As usual, Animeigo offers their top-flight subtitles with interstitial gloss to help you through the more abstruse aspects of Tokugawa-era politics and social etiquette. Animeigo is to samurai films what the Arden editions are to Shakespeare. You're in good hands, never fear. Shimpai gomyo!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Eros High School: Feels So Good

My contact at Synapse sent me a couple more films from their Impulse label's Nikkatsu Erotic Films Collection (a series of 70s and 80s softcore porn flicks originally known by the industry term Roman Porno). Synapse plans to release 15 of these titles, and seeing as how I feel obligated to review films people send me, I'm going to have to ask them to stop sending them, as I don't want to come off like a total pervert. That's the Phantom of Pulp's job!

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a sexy Japanese movie every now and then, and while these films never show full frontal nudity, much less actual penetration, nevertheless they're incredibly filthy. With the exception of international warfare, the Japanese invariably master whatever they set their minds to, and in the realm of softcore porn, the Japanese "pink film" is nonpareil.

Looking at the packaging,  you can pretty much guess what's on the table here: At least one Japanese high school girl gets the business from a guy in a straw hat (while holding a track shoe no less! No, not really ...). Turns out the guy is the self-styled Ryu the Rapist (Shohei Murakuni), a geta clog-wearing punk with a pet pig who goes back and forth between reform school and standard high school because he rapes women and girls wherever he goes. He's set his sights on pretty track star Misa (Asami Ogawa), but he's going to plow through all of her friends and a number of other girls first. The rapes start off violent, but of course the girls start to love it soon enough (an unsavory sentiment, the merest hint of which got Sam Peckinpah in hot water over his 1971 film Straw Dogs). What's truly bizarre is that the film is largely played for laughs. It's that queasy mixture of goofy and disturbing I noticed in so many Category III Hong Kong films (reviewed for your reading pleasure in Asia Shock).

I was also sent #4 in the series, Zoom Up: The Beaver Book Girl, an intriguing title from 1981. This one will likely be a bit more deviant, for as time wore on, the Roman Porno film franchise felt the need to up the ante as it were. I anticipate more wall-to-wall sex and less prurient hijinks than Eros High School.

I should mention that the disks feature informative essays by pink film expert Jasper Sharp, so if you want to pretend you're not just perving out but really doing legitimate film history research, here's your chance. In any case, if you're a heterosexual male with a pulse, you're sure to get turned on by this terrifically titillating film fare. (These films hit the street June 12, 2012.)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

13 Assassins

A year ago I reviewed this film in conjunction with the Miike remake that had then recently come out. My reference print was a high quality bootleg, but since AnimEigo has released their own version, I have to endorse it in accordance with my long-standing relationship with them (and the fact that they totally rock). Where else do you get on-the-fly, color-coded subtitle gloss? You don't get any closer to a scholarly reading of a samurai film than AnimEigo, forget about it.

So yeah, read my review, buy this disk, and shut the fuck up (oops, did I type that or only think it?). Standards are eroding all over the place -- like Frank Zappa once said, "Either you get it or you don't." Here's hoping you do. More on the AnimEigo release here.