Friday, July 27, 2012

The President's Last Bang

Excellent Korean flick from 2004 about the assassination of President Park Chung-hee in 1979. Park took control of South Korea following a coup d'état in 1961. After 18 years of despotic political repression, many Koreans had had enough. One such Korean was Kim Jae-kyu, a man who just happened to be the head of Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA). I won't go into specifics -- the film covers the event in fascinating detail, taking you inside the blood-spattered halls of the presidential palace known as the Blue House for the gruesome event and the inevitable political fallout that follows.

The President's Last Bang
features Han Seok-kyu (Green Fish, Shiri, Tell Me Something, A Bloody Aria) as Chief Ju, one of Kim's loyal lieutenants who aids in the assassination. President Park is played by the venerable Song Jae-ho (Memories of Murder, Tidal Wave). And starring as Kim is Baek Yoon-sik (Save the Green Planet, Jeon Woo Chi: The Taoist Wizard).

If you appreciate suspense and political intrigue delivered in a powerful, no-nonsense approach, you'll definitely want to see this gripping film.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Samurai Film Star Trading Cards

Today I received a lovely gift from my friend Lonny in Tokyo: Eight samurai film star trading cards from the 1950s (see above, click for enlargement). Being the obsessive nerd that I am, I've been trying to identify them, going by their facial features and what I can decipher of the kanji that make up their names. So far, numbering them 1 - 8 from left to right, I've determined that #1 is Utaemon Ichikawa, #4 is Chiezo Kataoka, #5 is Tsumasaburo Bando and #7 is Denjiro Okochi. (#8 doesn't show a name and he's wearing a disguise, but his name is on the back.)

Here's where you come in: If you're also an obsessive samurai film nerd, or perhaps just fluent in Japanese, maybe you can help me identify the remaining four guys (#2, #3, #6 and #8). I'll continue to research these guys as well, and together, we can crack this mystery! Just leave a comment, contact me via twitter (@pat_galloway), or send email to samurai[at]

Also of interest, on the back of the cards you'll notice (again, click to enlarge), in addition to the name of the actor, a little hand forming the sign for either rock, paper or scissors, thus making these gaming cards (whoever wins gets the other guy's card, I would imagine). Don't get any ideas, though -- I'm not gambling these babies away! (Note: In the image above, the actor names are now reversed because the cards are all of a piece. So #8 is now #1, #7 is now #2, etc.)

UPDATE: My twitter pal jimmymcwicked identifies #3 as Kazuo Hasegawa and #6 as Susumu Fujita. Thanks, jimmymcwicked!

UPDATE: This just in -- #8 is Kanjuro Arashi. Thanks again to the amazing jimmymcwicked.

UPDATE: Alright, #2 is confirmed: Ryunosuke Tsukigata. Props to jimmymcwicked for this one as well. He'd called it initially, but I pointed out the kanji didn't match his name as listed on Wikipedia and elsewhere. However, Aizu Shingo from Tokyo emailed me that the name on the card is indeed an alternate spelling of the actor's name. So there you have it. Thanks guys!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Last Samurai

It is a time for rejoicing, my friends. One of the finest samurai films ever made has been released on DVD (courtesy of Neptune Media): Kenji Misumi's magnum opus, The Last Samurai (1974). And no, Tom Cruise is nowhere in sight -- this is a completely different (and utterly superior) film. You may be familiar with Kenji Misumi from his wonderful 60s chambara work at Daiei (Zatoichi, Sleepy Eyes of Death), or his early 70s Lone Wolf & Cub films. If so, you've got to see this, his final, and finest, film. (I review it at length in my book, Warring Clans, Flashing Blades, so you'll want to get that as well … )

The Last Samurai is a sprawling saga of the Bakumatsu period, that dark and treacherous time in the mid-19th century that saw the bloody dissolution of the Tokugawa shogunate. Faction fought faction, plots and assassinations played out daily, and everywhere the clank of steel on steel filled the air! Into this maelstrom of violence and deception steps our protagonist, played by tall, dark and handsome Hideki Takahashi. He's fictional, but his friends and the events of the day are all right out of the pages of history. I should mention that his friends are all legendary swordsmen on differing sides of the conflict. You can bet things are going to get much worse before they get any better. Who will survive to see the restoration of the Emperor and the new days of peace, modernization and progress? Probably not many …

Shout out to my NYC bro John Gainfort for sending me the disk, and for all his help over the years. He authored the DVD and was one of the producers, so of course it looks and sounds awesome. This is quality product, from screen to disk to you. Thanks, John!

Honestly, this film is epic, absolutely in my top ten. Whether you're a collector or just want to have a couple of top-notch Japanese films around the house, this is a must-have/must-watch-again-and-again. You know me, I don't get paid to say this (god how I don't get paid) -- this is from the heart. So in short: Good shit, Maynard!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Directory of World Cinema: Japan 2

It occurred to me that I never blogged about this book, to which I contributed five reviews. I suppose it's because the pieces I submitted were pared down versions of reviews that have already appeared in my own books -- nothing new for my readers (both of you) to get excited about. However, it's worth mentioning that the book (along with its predecessor) is full of wonderful reviews and essays covering myriad genres of Japanese film, a fact I confess I overlooked for the sake of my own myopic concerns.

So, for the record, if you have any interest in Japanese film and wish to broaden your horizons, absolutely get this book. And I suggest you get it in print, as it's full of full color production stills which may or may not come with the e-book version.

I understand a third installment is in the works (my friend Dr. Stan Glick will be contributing), so if you find you enjoy the books in this series, there's something to look forward to. Always nice to have something to look forward to.

So run, don't walk, etc.