Japanese brochures hearken back to a legendary venue.
It's been a while since we've done anything extensive on burlesque, so today we have something unique—the covers of Japanese brochures printed during the 1950s and 1960s to promote the famed burlesque show at Nichigeki Music Hall in Tokyo. The building that hosted those shows—the Nichigeki Theatre, below—was an architectural wonder located in Yurakucho district near Ginza. The multi-level structure welcomed music acts as well as burlesque, and had its concert stage graced by Ella Fitzgerald, Gene Krupa, and Oscar Peterson. But it is remembered, first and foremost, for its fifth floor burlesque hall.
Nichigeki Music Hall's burlesque shows began during Tokyo's grim postwar years in March 1952. It showcased both local dancers and foreign stars, often from the Folies Bergère. The program changed often, and always had evocative names like “Devil Vamp Missile Glamours” or “Aqua Girls Bottom-Up Mambo.” The clientele at these shows was international—largely U.S. soldiers from Japan's occupying forces, and tourists. Indeed the Hall advertised specifically to attract that crowd. Interestingly, the shows were produced by Toho Company, the movie studio behind the Godzilla franchise, as well as quite a few softcore movies.
Frontal nudity in entertainment was illegal in Japan, so Nichigeki's extravaganzas featured feather boas, fans, frilled mini skirts, g-strings, and the like, all designed to dazzle the audience and obscure thedancers' naughty bits. As time went by public tastes veered toward the explicit and attendance at the Hall began to decline. It closed in 1981 and the brilliant art deco influenced building was demolished, another sad architectural loss on a list so long it's pointless to even contemplate it.
But at least the brochures survive. They're amazing, front and rear, as you'll see below, with a mix of stunning paintings by Noboru Ochiai, and lovely photos. Make sure you note the titles of the shows. Our favorite: “The Lady was a Stallion,” but “A Snail's Rhapsody” is good too. On a related note, you may want to check out the post we did on archetecturally significant cinemas. You'll see some real beauties there, including another shot of the Nichigeki Theatre. We'll get back to Nichgeki Music Hall's amazing brochures a bit later.
Etsuko Shihomi looks soft but hits hard.
This rare poster was made to promote Onna hissatsu ken, aka Sister Street Fighter, which premiered in Japan today in 1974. The movie is fourth in the Street Fighter series, after The Street Fighter, The Return of the Street Fighter, and The Street Fighter's Last Revenge. In this one karate master and undercover drug agent Sonny Chiba goes missing in Tokyo, prompting his bosses to recruit his sister Etsuko Shihomi to search for him. Shihomi collects clues, allies, and esoteric enemies, but of course finally learns her brother is exactly where any viewer would expect—in the villain's lair, where he's been forcibly addicted to drugs.
Generally, penetrating these evil underground strongholds is perfunctory, but in this film Shihomi has more problems than usual. She'll get there, though—what's a ’70s martial arts film without a subterranean showdown? It's all a bit silly and clunky, if surprisingly gory at the end. Interestingly, the movie tries to be instructive, actually freeze-framing to label certain martial arts techniques, weapons, and important characters. Weird, but okay. In the end Shihomi wins using basic stick-to-itiveness—with nunchakus upside multiple male craniums. Oh, and by the way, there are lots of reversed swastikas in this film. We talked about those, but if you missed that discussion check here.
How many wrongs finally make a right?
This poster was made to promote a Nikkatsu Studios roman porno flick titled Osoe!, which in Japanese means “attack.” In typical roman porno fashion, the plot is pretty twisted. In brief, Erina Miyai plays a woman who wants revenge on a corporation for its role in the death of her parents. She goes to a disco and deliberately allows herself to be taken home and gangbanged, all for the purpose of later informing the guys who did it she'll accuse them of rape if they don't kidnap the corporation's CEO for her.
We'll say this much for Nikkatsu—their ideas were certainly creative. In this case, there's a subtext of turning male power against itself, which is all to the good, but of course things never come off quite how the protagonists intend in roman porno. Which is to say, Miyai's plot goes pear shaped. Osoe! is super obscure in the West but was a successful release and even played a few years ago at the famed Laputa Asagaya revival cinema in Tokyo. Its original premiere was today in 1978.
Is there anything sweeter than a beautiful movie palace?
You probably recognize Grauman's Chinese Theatre, in Los Angeles. These days it's called TCL Chinese Theatre, because it's owned and operated by TCL Corporation—based in China, ironically. Since we write so often about movies we thought it appropriate to discuss the beautiful buildings in which the films were exhibited. Back in the day these were usually purpose-built structures, though some did split duty for stage productions and concerts. While many of these old palaces survive, nearly all surviving vintage cinemas in the U.S. were under threat at some point. Generally, if they hadn't been given historic protection they wouldn't be upright today.
Other times, if a city was poor, real estate costs didn't rise and old buildings stood unthreatened, usually idle. This happened often in the American midwest, where movie houses were neglected for decades before some were resurrected amid downtown revitalizations. It sometimes happens in Latin America too, although occasionally the formula fails. For example, Cartagena's majestic and oft photographed landmark Teatro Colón, located in the historic section of Colombia's most popular coastal tourist city, was torn down fewer than six months ago to make way for a Four Seasons Hotel.
Some of the cinemas below are well known treasures, while others are more unassuming places. But even those lesser known cinemas show how much thought and work was put into making moviegoing a special experience. The last photo, which shows the Butterfly Theatre in Milwaukee, exemplifies that idea. The façade is distinguished by a terra cotta butterfly sculpture adorned with light bulbs. As you might guess, many of the most beautiful large cinemas were in Los Angeles, which means that city is well represented in the collection. Enjoy.
Paramount Theatre, Oakland (operational).
Cine Maya, Mérida (demolished).
The Albee Cinema, Cincinnati (demolished)
Cooper Theatre, Denver (demolished).
Paras Cinema, Jaipur (operational).
Cathay Cinema, Shanghai (operational).
Academy Theatre, Los Angeles (operational).
Charlottenburg Filmwerbung, Berlin (demolished).
Pacific's Cinerama Theatre, Los Angeles (operational).
York Theatre, Elmhurst (operational).
La Gaumont-Palace, Paris (demolished).
Essoldo Cinema, Newcastle (demolished).
Théâtre Scala, Strasbourg (operational).
Teatro Colón, Cartagena (demolished in 2018).
Teatro Coliseo Argentino, Buenos Aires (demolished).
Pavilion Theater, Adelaide (demolished).
El Molino Teatro, Barcelona (operational).
Fox Carthay Theatre, Los Angeles (demolished).
Kino Rossiya Teatr, Moscow (operational).
Nippon Gekijo, aka Nichigeki, Tokyo (demolished).
Cine Impala, Namibe (operational).
Cine Arenal, Havana (operational).
Teatro Mérida, Mérida (operational, renamed Teatro Armando Manzanero).
Ideal Theater, Manila (demolished).
Odeon Cinema, London (semi-demolished, converted to apartments).
Mayan Theatre, Los Angeles (operational).
Rex Cinema, Port au Prince (being restored).
Urania Kino, Vienna (operational).
Tampa Theatre, Tampa (operational).
The Butterfly Theater, Milwaukee (demolished).
A dozen bloody reasons to love Halloween.
This poster is a special edition promo painted by Nanpei Kaneko for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which was showing at the Tokyo International Film Festival on its fortieth anniversary in 2014. The Japanese title 悪魔のいけにえtranslates to “devil sorrowfully” or “Satan sorrowfully,” and that's a mystery to us, as we're sure there are chainsaws in Japan, as well as the concept of massacres, and some general inkling about Texas, but whatever. Sorrowfully it is—the poster is amazing.
Below, in honor of Halloween, which is becoming more and more of an event here overseas where we live, we have eleven more Japanese posters for 1970s and 1980s U.S.-made horror films. They are, top to bottom, The Prowler (aka Rosemary's Killer), The Fog, Lifeforce, An American Werewolf in London, Bug, Halloween II (aka Boogey Man), Let Sleeping Corpses Lie,Torso, The Evil Dead, Link, and Death Trap.
We've put together horror collections in the past. We have five beautiful Thai posters at this link, fifteen Japanese horror posters we shared on Halloween two years ago here, and we also have a collection of aquatic creature feature posters we shared way back in 2009. And if those don't sate your appetite for the morbid and terrible, just click the keyword “horror” below, and you can see everything we've posted that fits the category. No tricks. Only treats.
Three may be a crowd, but it's also a lot of fun.
Above is another striking roman porno poster, this one for Tokyo eros senya ichiya. The title means “Tokyo One Thousand and One Nights,” referencing the famed collection of folk and erotic tales from the Islamic Golden Age. But in English the movie was called Eros Nights in Tokyo, which omits the Arabian Nights reference for some reason. We haven't seen this one, but it starred three of our favorite Japanese actresses—Izumi Shima, Megi Ayako, and Erina Miyai—which means we'll be looking for it. If we ever find it we'll revisit this subject. Tokyo eros senya ichiya opened in Japan today in 1979.
Nikktasu's revitalized roman porno screens for NYC audiences.
Today in New York City at the New York Asian Film Festival, two productions from Nikkatsu Studios' ballyhooed Roman Porno Reboot Project will screen for audiences. The Reboot Project was announced last year, and includes major directors such as Hideo Nakata of Ringu fame, Sion Sono of Cold Fish and Tokyo Tribe, and Kazuya Shiraishi, who made The Devil’s Path. Three films will be included in the New York fest, which began several days ago—Kazuya Shiraishi's Mesunekotachi, aka Dawn of the Felines, and Akihiko Shiota's Kaze ni nureta onna, aka Wet Woman in the Wind, will screen today. Isao Yukisada's Gymnopedies ni Midareru, aka Aroused by Gymnopédies premieres on July 14.
Will these be as edgy as Nikkatsu's vintage roman porno offerings? We have our doubts—some of those movies indugle in excesses so extreme we're amazed they're even available on DVD. We expect the new roman porno to be milder but perhaps contain a modern feminist twist, a shift in point-of-view that would be welcome, at least to us. All three of the movies playing in NYC have already seen release in Japan and gotten decent reviews, which means festival audiences should find something enjoyable in them. If you're in the Big Apple area you now have a potential plan for the next ten days. As for us folks who live far across the ocean, hopefully we'll get a chance to see some of the films soon as well, and if we do we'll certainly report back.
Two of pinku's biggest stars headline a special film festival in Tokyo.
If you find yourself in Tokyo today, Cinema Laputa Asagaya is hosting a retrospective of films featuring two of the biggest pinku stars of the 1970s—Reiko Ike and Miki Sugimoto, who are not only big stars but also Pulp Intl. faves who we've discussed many times. A new film will be featured every weekend until April 1, with all the pair's most legendary efforts appearing on the program, including Yasagure anego den: sôkatsu rinchi, aka Female Yakuza Tale (discussed here and here), Zenka onna: koroshi-bushi, aka Criminal Woman: Killing Melody, for which you can see the badass promo poster here, and of course Furyô anego den: Inoshika Ochô, aka Sex & Fury, which we talked about way back in 2009. There will be thirteen films in all, and the festival represents the best chance to see all these movies on a big screen in many years, and in a pretty cool location too. If you're in the vicinity, don't miss it.
You can't keep a good girl down.
This dramatic poster was made for Nikutai no mon, aka Gate of Flesh, a movie based on a 1947 novel by Japanese author Taijirô Tamura. The book has been filmed five times. The most famous version was made in 1968 with Jo Shishido and Yumiko Nogawa earning acclaim for their lead roles in what was a serious and artistic film, but the above promo is for the 1977 roman porno version starring Reiko Kayama, Izumi Shima, and Junko Miyahsita. Needless to say, the two films diverge rather sharply. However, we need to point out, as we do periodically, that roman porno isn't porno—it's softcore. The “roman” in roman porno is short for “romantic,” and though the movies aren't typically romantic in the normal sense, they aren't explicit. Such depictions were illegal in Japan back then, and remain so today (though filmmakers use pixilation of sexual organs to skirt the law).
When the novel Nikutai no mon appeared in 1947 a different censorship regime existed called the Civil Censorship Detachment, which was under the authority of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, aka Douglas MacArthur. Under SCAP CCD censorship, explicit accounts of fraternization between Japanese and whites were forbidden, as were detailed accounts of the atomic bombings, or anything that could generate distrust toward the American occupiers. Most Japanese authors obeyed. A few wrote obliquely about the forbidden subjects. And a very few broke the rules entirely to describe war horrors—e.g. flashburned nuclear victims walking naked and blind amongst the ruins, their hairless bodies so swollen their sex could not be determined. Tamura's novel falls in the middle. It tells the story of a group of Japanese women trying to survive in the rubble of Tokyo via prostitution.
Where the 1968 movie stuck pretty close to Tamura's fiction, the roman porno focuses more on the sexploitation angle, though it keeps the action set in 1947. A criminal syndicate known as Black Rose provides Japanese girls as prostitutes to the American military, and any who resist the various examinations, training, and indignities are punished with torture and death. When Reiko Kayama arrives on the scene, she eventually inspires the others to follow her as she leads a revolt against her enslavers. You get sex, girlfights, killings, and blood. If you're looking for standard roman porno fare—with perhaps a bit more visual piazazz than usual thanks to director Shôgorô Nishimura and cinematographer Yoshihiro Yamazaki—you've picked the right film. Nikutai no mon premiered in Japan today in 1977.
Oshida and Co. may have been to reform school but once a boss always a boss.
First film in what would become the successful Zubekô banchô series, Zubekô banchô: yume wa yoru hiraku, aka Delinquent Girl Boss: Blossoming Night Dreams, aka Tokyo Bad Girls stars Reiko Oshida as a parolee from a reform school who takes a job in a Shinjuku hotspot called Bar Murasaki, but finds walking the straight and narrow a difficult ambition to fulfill. As usual in these pinku films set in and around nightclubs, a criminal syndicate wants to take over, which means she's soon stuck between a resistant owner and an insistent Yakuza. Some girls she knows from reform school have also found spots at the club, and in addition to Yakuza problems, Oshida finds herself drawn into the issues of her friends.
But it's good they're around, these girl delinquents, because when the climactic brawl with the villains happens, Oshida will need loyal friends at her side. On the whole Blossoming Night Dreams is tamer than later entires in the Delinquent Girl Boss series, but considering the sexual violence that began to appear, most would consider that a good thing. Of course, it's always important to remember that these films are counterculture in character, replacing the subservient women of previous eras with badass riot girls who always took violent revenge upon men who wronged them. The formula was both exploitative and pro feminist, with the sexploitation putting rear ends in the seats, whereupon the progressive message was hammered home.
Anyway, moving on to the poster, you may notice that, by a quirk of design, Oshida, star of the film, does not appear to be star of the promo art. The topmost position is given to Keiko Fuji. But a closer look reveals that Oshida gets a full body shot in the center foreground of the art, while Fuji is layered behind. It's still unusual that Fuji is placed where she is, though. While she plays Bar Murasaki's headlining performer, she has far less screen time most of the other castmembers. But she's good in her role, Oshida's excellent, Masumi Tachibana, Yukie Kagawa, and the rest of the troupe are having fun, and everyone deserves credit for making the movie well worth a screening. Zubekô banchô: yume wa yoru hiraku opened today in 1970.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1919—Zapata Is Killed
In Mexico, revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata is shot dead by government forces in the state of Morelos, after a carefully planned ambush. Following the killing, Zapata's revolutionary movement and his Liberation Army of the South slowly fall apart, but his political influence lasts in Mexico to the present day.
1925—Great Gatsby Is Published
F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby is published in New York City by Charles Scribner's Sons. Though Gatsby is Fitzgerald's best known book today, it was not a success upon publication, and at the time of his death in 1940, Fitzgerald was mostly forgotten as a writer and considered himself to be a failure.
1968—Martin Luther King Buried
American clergyman and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., is buried five days after being shot dead on a Memphis, Tennessee motel balcony. April 7th had been declared a national day of mourning by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and King's funeral on the 9th is attended by thousands of supporters, and Vice President Hubert Humphrey.
1953—Jomo Kenyatta Convicted
In Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta is sentenced to seven years in prison by the nation's British rulers for being a member of the Mau Mau Society, an anti-colonial movement. Kenyatta would a decade later become independent Kenya's first prime minister, and still later its first president.
1974—Hank Aaron Becomes Home Run King
Major League Baseball player Hank Aaron hits his 715th career home run, surpassing Babe Ruth's 39-year-old record. The record-breaking homer is hit off Al Downing of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and with that swing Aaron puts an exclamation mark on a twenty-four year journey that had begun with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro League, and would end with his selection to Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame.
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