Vintage Pulp May 26 2015
A CROSS TO BEAR
Crucifixion, death, and insurrection.


Last night we asked the Pulp Intl. girlfriends if they wanted to watch a movie and they said no because the movies we pick are always bad. That obvious slur against our taste aside, we explained yet again that we choose poster art, not movies. Which is to say, we merely react to interesting vintage movie promos by following where we’re asked to go—to the sofa for a screening. The above poster for Hiroku Nagasaki onna-ro, aka Nagasaki Women’s Prison is about as successful as Japanese promo art gets. With its graphics, colors, and weird-ass content it demands that you watch the movie. The fact that it’s a quasi-sequel to 1970’s successful Onna-ro hizu, aka Island of Horrors gave us hope it would be good.
 
So we watched and what we got was Akane Kawasaki, Tomoko Mayama, and others in a women-behind-bars flick set in the seventeenth century that starts with a crucifixion, ends with a crucifixion, and has lots of scheming, catfighting, and mayhem between. The only English review we found online said the crucifixions were a framing device—i.e. we see the same woman up there both times and the film explains how she got there. That isn’t true. We see two different women crucified. The first serves mainly as an example of what happens to unruly prisoners, which of course is what Kawasaki and company quickly become. Escape may not be in the cards, but at least they exact some measure of revenge against their male tormentors before all is said and done.

These crucifixions, we should mention, are not like what you see on the poster. That image is designed to trick you into watching something a bit more screamy, stabby, and bloody than you’d expect, so proceed with caution. In the end, we didn’t like the movie very much, and we got to thinking maybe our girlfriends are right. Maybe we do watch a lot of bad movies. Maybe they’re smart to avoid them. But no worries—we don’t need no icky old girls watching movies with us anyway. Hiroku Nagasaki onna-ro premiered in Japan today in 1971.


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Vintage Pulp Jan 15 2015
VAMP STAMP
The girl with the draggin’ tattoo.

The three posters above promote the Japanese psychological horror movie Irezumi, aka Tattoo, directed by Yasuzô Masumura and starring Ayako Wakao as woman kidnapped into geishadom who is forcibly tattooed upon her back by a disturbed tattoo master. His creation is the monstrous, woman-faced spider you see on the posters. This act sets Wakao on a path toward vengeance, violence, and evil. Some reviews of Irezumi note that the tattoo is in some sense alive, like the portrait of Dorian Gray, however the actual art doesn’t change its aspect—we checked, using a handy invention called rewind, and the lady-spider is the same in the beginning and end of the movie. The tattoo does, though, unleash something, and Wakao changes, quite drastically, her journey from relative innocence into femme fatale depravity giving Irezumi its power and dread. While not splashy and filled with shocks in the style of modern horror, the movie is, all in all, a highly recommendable mind trip. There's another Irezumi from 1982 with a different plot, but this one, the first one, premiered in Japan today in 1966. 


 
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Vintage Pulp Oct 31 2014
HELL AND BACK
Amid medieval Japan’s manners and restraint, how can a person tell the difference between love, honor, and duty?


Above is a poster for Teinosuke Kinugasa’s masterwork samurai drama Jigokumon, which was known in English as Gate of Hell. It was the first Japanese film shot in color, via the process Eastmancolor, which was a leap beyond three-strip Technicolor, and one that makes Jigokumon blaze like a supernova. The story, from a play by Kan Kikuchi, concerns a Heian-era samurai named Moritoh whose bravery during a battle is rewarded by his lord granting him anything he desires. What he desires is the Lady Kesa. Problem is she’s married to another samurai. The lord mistakenly grants Moritoh’s wish, which is soon revealed to be impossible, but Moritoh resolves to have Kesa anyway, by any means necessary—trickery, bribery, even all-out murder. What develops is not just a thriller about entitlement and lust, but a meditation on honor, love and, especially, social strictures.

Jigokumon was a sensation. A hit in Japan, it was a revelation to foreign audiences. It took home the Palme d’Or from the 1954 Cannes Film Festival, a 1955 special Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, an Oscar for Best Costume Design in a color film, and more prestigious nods. Along with Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, Kimisaburo Yoshimura’s Genji Monogatari, Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu Monogatari, and other films from the early 1950s, it marked the emergence of Japanese cinema onto the international scene. We’ve posted a large group of screen grabs below—perhaps overkill, considering how many—but the film just looks so damn good and the shots are so spectacular that we couldn’t help ourselves. Jigokumon premiered in Japan today in 1953.


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Vintage Pulp Jun 23 2014
MONA RIZA MYSTERY
Like the mysterious Da Vinci painting we can’t figure out this piece of art.


Above and below are two posters for Iwataro Ishii’s Mona Riza okyo, which was based on the graphic novel of the same name by Teruo Tanashita, and stars Mari Atsumi as a pickpocket trying to get her hands on a valuable but elusive diamond pin called the Star of the Sea. Strangely, the word “Kyoto” clearly appears in the poster titles—it’s the last symbol on both—but all the sources we checked said the film is called Mona Riza okyo. It’s a mystery too deep for us to solve, but if any of you can shed some light on it please drop us a line. Mona Riza okyo premiered in Japan today in 1971.

Update: David W. writes in and tells us: Indeed the last word on each poster is Okyo, not Kyoto.

Mystery solved. Thanks David for your help.

Update 2: NelC offers a more detailed explanation of the title. Here's what he wrote: The transliteration of the subject line is indeed Mona Lisa O-Kyō. The proper name for Kyōto is 京都市, "Kyōto-shi" or "Kyoto City" in English. 京都 is "Kyōto." 京 is "Kyō." 京 by itself means "capital" as in "capital city," and お is an honorific, so お京 might be read as "the capital." (モナリサ is, of course, "Mona Lisa.")

So the title might be read as "The Capital Mona Lisa." The significance of this is beyond my meagre abilities in Japanese, though. A colloquialism for "the great," maybe, as in Wodehouse-era British English? I don't know.

Thank you NelC. Your excellent explanation is more than we could have reasonably hoped for. Mystery solved, again.

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Vintage Pulp Dec 26 2012
MARI XMAS
Topless in Tokyo.

Above, a poster for Yoshio Inoue’s Kawaii Akuma: Iimono ageru, aka Just for You, starring Mari Atsumi and Keiko Takahashi. Atsumi became a major star in Japanese cinema, appearing mainly in Daiei Studios productions, and later transitioning into television and pop music. We have more Atsumi here and here, and we'll feature her again later. Kawaii Akuma: Iimono ageru premiered in Japan yesterday in 1970. 


 
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