There's only one way out and it isn't retirement.
Above is a poster for Gendai yakuza: yotamono jingi, aka Hoodlum Yakuza, which premiered in Japan today in 1969 and starred Bunta Sugawara as a yakuza footsoldier trying to escape the life. He wants to run away with his girlfriend, and with the help of his brother hatches a scheme he hopes will make his freedom possible. Fat chance.
We shared a standard promo of this at the bottom of a collection we put together five years ago, but this piece is an exceedingly rare, horizontally oriented, two-piece promo, a style known as bo-ekibari. We have the halves uploaded separately below, and we have another rare poster for the film we'll share later.
The shot heard 'round Japan.
This unusual poster was made to promote a film called Teppôdama no bigaku, known in English by the cool title Aesthetics of a Bullet. The movie came from Art Theatre Guild, or ATG, producers of films in the loose category known as Japanese New Wave, meaning to take a new approach to filmmaking by rejecting traditional ideas and techniques. This one was directed by Sadao Nakajima and stars Tsunehiko Watase as a hot-headed two-bit hustler named Kiyoshi who tries numerous schemes to get ahead, including being a chef, gambling, and breeding rabbits. He fails at all of them, and he's desperate for a break.
When he's given a job by a local yakuza cartel known as Tenyu Group, he quickly learns about the power of a gun. With it he can command others, make them fear and respect him, make them literally kneel. With this gun his sense of self worth is first restored, then inflated. He caresses it, brandishes it, polishes it, treats it better than even the women he lusts for, and the gun confirms that he's superior to others. And once he feels superior he becomes—not to put too fine a point on it—a total asshole. He's actually an abusive chump even before the gun, but the weapon fully unleashes his destructive, hyper-masculine impulses.
The things he does are too ridiculously stupid to get into. Suffice it to say that even for a regular guy these would lead to trouble, but he's Tenyu Group's thug-at-large, which means his erratic behavior and explosive anger offends the other crime bosses. Pretty soon he discovers that he's torn a dangerous rift in the yakuza network. But what Kiyoshi doesn't know—which the audience does from the beginning—is that Tenyu Group hired him in the first place precisely because he's a disruptive fuck-up. Their theory was always that he would spark a gang war. All he has to do is fire that beloved gun once and Tenyu Group will have the excuse it needs.
Aesthetics of a Bullet is obscure, so we knew nothing about it, but we liked it. It's concise, has a strong point of view, and a good supporting cast that includes Miki Sugimoto and Mitsuru Mori. Its only flaw—perhaps unavoidable—is that the lead character is such a misanthropic troublemaker that we could barely tolerate watching him. But we guess that's where the whole rejecting traditional filmmaking comes in. Who needs a likeable or even sympathetic lead? Real life is more complicated than that, and Kiyoshi's fictional life gets plenty complicated too. Even if you can't root for him, at least he won't bore you, and neither will the movie. Aesthetics of a Bullet premiered in Japan today in 1973.
If it was easy to steal anyone could do it.
We have some nice pinku posters lined up for this month, and above you see the first of those—the tateken and standard promos for Suke Yakuza, aka Female Yakuza Convict, aka Female Prisoner Yakuza, which premiered in Japan today in 1974 starring Yoko Horikoshi and Reiko Ike. Though we can't be sure, we don't think this movie has been released on DVD, because we couldn't find it—the first time that's happened with one of Ike's films. No copy means no firsthand rundown, but we can tell you what the Japanese websites say. It's about bank robbers who steal 30 million yen and try to elude the cops and escape with the cash. Of the three, only one manages to avoid capture. Horikoshi, a female accomplice, is tossed in a women's prison where she meets Reiko, and the two of them manage to escape. Their plan is meet up with the robber who avoided capture, get ahold of the cash, and get for away from the big city, but mishaps and twists follow. Basically, it's sounds like classic Toei pinky violence, but sadly we may not get to see this one unless we go to Japan. But the posters sure are pretty. We have bonus material below—production photos, a Horikoshi promo poster, and a Reiko promo shot from wherever.
She may get pushed around but eventually she always pushes back.
Rashamen Oman: higanbana wa chitta, for which you see he promo here, is known in English as Foreigner’s Mistress Oman: Falling Autumn Flower. The movie starred Sally Mei, aka Sally May, an enigmatic half Anglo half Japanese actress who appeared in a handful of movies and had a short singing career, here playing the character Oman in a sequel to Rashamen Oman: ame no Oranda-zaka (poster here). She'd do one more film in this series called Enzetsu jokyo-den: Oman midarehada, and all of them premiered between March and August of the same year, which shows you how fast Nikkatsu churned these Krispy Kremes out.
The plot of the first movie saw Mei travel from Shanghai to Japan in search of her mother, only to be betrayed by her companion and sold to a brothel, where she becomes a geisha and gambler. Luckily, Mei had picked up some sword skills along the way and put those to good use julienning her captors. The sequel, then, picks up after she's served a prison sentence only to find that her sister is in the clutches of a group of yakuza lowlifes. Mei is up the challenge once again. Starring as her sister, by the way, is Yuri Yamashina, who we've looked at before. Rashamen Oman: higanbana wa chitta premiered in Japan today in 1972.
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.
Take off your coat. Stay a while.
If the Siri voice application for iPad is ever given a visual form, we vote for this one. The two panels above show lovely Japanese actress Sayaka Seri, aka Meika Seri, who made her debut in 1973 with Yasagure anego den: sôkatsu rinchi, aka Female Yakuza Tale: Inquisition and Torture, but became well known for the Nikkatsu hit (Maruhi) shikijô mesu ichiba, aka Secret Chronicle: She Beast Market, which was released in 1974. These photos date from that year. You may be wondering if Seri keeps disrobing in subsequent shots. Actually, she does, and if you're really good maybe we'll show you those a bit later.
Crime, mayhem, and murder in Japan.
Above, six Japanese posters for 1950s and 1960s gangster movies. These are, top to bottom, Shichinin no yajû: chi no sengen, aka Return of the Filthy Seven, Sono gosôsha wo nerae: “Jûsangô taihisen” yori, aka Take Aim at the Police Van, Kawaita hana, aka The Pale Flower, Kutabare akutô-domo—Tantei jimusho 23, aka Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards, and finally two versions of Gendai yakuza: yotamono jingi, aka Hoodlum Yakuza.
The gangs that couldn’t shoot straight.
Furyô banchô: Inoshika Ochô, aka Wolves of the City, aka Wolves of the City: Ocho the She-Wolf was a significant hole in our Japanese actioner viewing résumé, but we solved that by watching the film a few days ago. In short, you get an amoral motorcycle gang in Nazi regalia pitted against evil Yakuza, with the tide eventually turning when the legendary hellion Ocho the She-Wolf teams up with the gang. The movie looks great. Yukio Noda’s direction—for the most part—is a marvel. He frames shots with six, seven, sometimes even a dozen interacting characters spread across the screen, yet it all seems effortless. Modern directors don’t seem remotely interested in using shots like these anymore, which is a shame, but it may also be a function of today’s screenwriters choosing to limit the number of characters who interact simultaneously. In any case, this is one thing we loved about the movie and we’ve shared some images of this technique below.
But Wolves of the City is a mixed bag. It relies upon numerous violent set pieces, but where the dialogue sequences feel so carefully thought out, the action is pure Keystone Kops. Because Noda continues framing large numbers of actors in single shots, his performers seem more intent uponhitting their stage marks than making these confrontations look realistic. They reach their required positions in the scenes, but these hardened gangsters handle pistols and machine guns as if they were rubber snakes, dealing a major blow to what should be the visceral thrill of such moments. By packing the screen during the gunfights Noda forces the audience to accept that nobody can successfully shoot anyone from five feet away. It feels very bang-bang-you’re-dead amateurish, complete with wounded gangsters clutching their chests, spinning around, and falling to the floor.
In the end the plot ushers us through various deals, deceptions, and shootouts, and you finally get the inevitable throwdown between the bikers and the Yakuza. This is the most unlikely sequence of all, with bikers motoring around none too swiftly inside a confined warehouse while still miraculously being missed by a hailstorm of screaming lead. But by now we know what we’re going to get and we just have to go with it. At one point Ocho puts out a gangster’s eyes and archly informs him (as if he can hear through the head-splitting pain), “You’re the seventeenth victim of Ocho of Inoshika’s eye attack!” This movie does attack the eyes rather beautifully, and if you look past the Vaudeville antics of the action scenes you may enjoy it. The panel length poster at top is rare, and as far as we know it’s the only one of its kind to be seen online. Furyô banchô: Inoshika Ochô premiered in Japan today in 1969.
Stuck in Abashiri Prison and time keeps draggin' on.
Above, a panel length poster for Teruo Ishii’s seminal yakuza thriller Abashiri Bangaichi, aka A Man from Abashiri Prison. It starred Ken Takakura in the story of a model prisoner handcuffed to a hardened criminal. When the bad prisoner escapes, the good prisoner is dragged along against his will. The movie was a huge hit for Toei Company, spawning nine sequels, which means we have plenty of opportunities to get into this subject later. Abashiri Bangaichi premiered today in 1965.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1912—Missing Explorer Robert Scott Found
British explorer Robert Falcon Scott and his men are found frozen to death on the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica, where they had been pinned down and immobilized by bad weather, hunger and fatigue. Scott's expedition, known as the Terra Nova expedition, had attempted to be the first to reach the South Pole only to be devastated upon finding that Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had beaten them there by five weeks. Scott wrote in his diary: "The worst has happened. All the day dreams must go. Great God! This is an awful place."
1933—Nessie Spotted for First Time
Hugh Gray takes the first known photos of the Loch Ness Monster while walking back from church along the shore of the Loch near the town of Foyers. Only one photo came out, but of all the images of the monster, this one is considered the most authentic.
1969—My Lai Massacre Revealed
Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh breaks the story of the My Lai massacre, which had occurred in Vietnam more than a year-and-a-half earlier but been covered up by military officials. That day, U.S. soldiers killed between 350 and 500 unarmed civilians, including women, the elderly, and infants. The event devastated America's image internationally and galvanized the U.S. anti-war effort. For Hersh's efforts he received a Pulitzer Prize.
1918—The Great War Ends
Germany signs an armistice agreement with the Allies in a railroad car outside of Compiègne in France, ending The Great War, later to be called World War I. About ten million people died, and many millions more were wounded. The conflict officially stops at 11:00 a.m., and today the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month is annually honored in some European nations with two minutes of silence.
1924—Dion O'Banion Gunned Down
Dion O'Banion, leader of Chicago's North Side Gang is assassinated in his flower shop by members of rival Johnny Torrio's gang, sparking the bloody five-year war between the North Side Gang and the Chicago Outfit that culminates in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
1940—Walt Disney Becomes Informer
Walt Disney begins serving as an informer for the Los Angeles office of the FBI, with instructions to report on Hollywood subversives. He eventually testifies before HUAC, where he fingers several people as Communist agitators. He also accuses the Screen Actors Guild of being a Communist front.
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