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Retaliation Review

May 11, 2015

In the past, I have denounced films on this blog for not having an engaging enough narrative to back up their action sequences or having action sequences that had too much shaky cam, both of which removed my ability to engage in the action as it was shown. However, I’m about to praise the film Retaliation from 1968 for having both these issues. How is that fair? Does anything separate it from any number of Luc Besson produced wannabes?

Let’s bounce back for a minute. Retaliation is a Japanese film from the Nikkatsu in the 1960s. The crime films made by the studio were generally b-films that directors such as Yasuharu Hasebe or Seijun Suzuki could churn out quickly. Suzuki himself would casually quickly spew out four or so a year, but what made his so special was a matter of peppering the simple plots with all the energy, pace and strangeness you could desire on a tight budget. Suzuki’s Branded to Kill features men who become turned on by the smell of rice and feature women with dead birds hanging from their rear-view mirrors.They borrowed from James Bond films: gangsters, machoness and noir cool to create a delerious cocktail that made them unique creations. Suzuki has already earned his cult status with fans like John Woo,Jim Jarmusch and John Zorn. Seeing Suzuki’s films makes you wonder what the other films are like from Nikkatsu. Are they useless derivative junk with Suzuki being their only real diamond in the rough?

Outside Suzuki, Nikkatsu’s action films have been more written about about then watched. Retaliation is directed by Yasuharu Hasebe in 1968 and has recently been released on blu-ray and DVD by Arrow Video. It’s been screened on rare occasions at some Asian film festivals, but has only received an English-subbed home video release in 2015. The film, as of writing, this has less than 50 votes on IMDb. I hope this changes, as this film, when approached with the knowledge of Nikkatsu’s history, is quite a firecracker.

Japanse film poster Retaliation (1968)
Film poster for Retaliation

Retaliation was made quickly, with scripts written as the film was in the middle of shooting. This could lead to some messy narrative confusion, but actually allows the filmmakers freedom to go as far as they want when it comes to camera angles and pure cinematic staging. This film is about a gangster named Jiro Sagae (Akira Kobayashi), who is released from prison and finds himself lent out to another Yakuza clan, who are interested in purchasing land to increase their own grasp of the area. This makes the film’s original title I Own Your Turf! more apt. He meets with Jo Shisido’s character, Hino, who is forced to work with him – an act he cannot really sink his teeth into as Jiro had killed his relatives several years in the past. Shootouts between gang members and double-crosses ensue!

The film’s plot is a bit crude, with perhaps one too many characters. The fact that Jo Shishido’s character is more interesting than Kobayashi’s is an issue, as he has a motive for revenge while Kobayashi’s role is limited to his relationship with Meiko Kaji’s character and his old gangster leader who returns to the story towards the end. What shapes this film into something more interesting is how it’s shot. There is lots of hand-held camera work and the crew is quite playful when trying to illustrate the action. Take the opening scene, where we have a quick duel between Jo and Akira.

retaliation-train-fight

Normally, I’d leap at the chance at the point out scenes so obviously constructed to hide what’s going on, but peeking through the bushes and spying between train carts gave me this “you are there” feeling that I feel like shaky-cam developers like Paul Greengrass are trying to pull off in his Bourne series. It works here, I believe, because I can still see follow the action by seeing who’s attacking who and what they are attempting to do, but am given this in a new perspective of the “not having the best seat in the house” type camera. This type of camera trickery isn’t set strictly to the action scenes either and is often deployed in bizarre fashion such as a dinner meeting between gangsters where an argument erupts from a bird’s eye point of view. I’m not going to spoil any other scenes, but let’s say they involve spot light lit battles and one surprisingly brutal bathroom brawl.

If there’s sour parts, it’s the obligatory scenes of nudity and rape that began coming up in the 1970s. These scenes feel tossed in and only suggest that those bad guys we saw earlier are, guess what, bad! I know this is coming from a man who later directed films with titles as explicit as Raping!. What could that one be about. . .

I’m getting far off topic, but I’d suggest that if you like your films with the cool vibe of the John Woo and Johnnie To and just want to be swept into unique and kinetic camerawork and violent action scenes, please seek out Retaliation. For those requiring a new narrative or political importance in your crime sagas, I’m sure there are some Jean-Pierre Melville films you haven’t seen yet.

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Karate-Robo Zaborgar Review

May 17, 2011

Noboru Iguchi is a funny guy. With his partner in crime Yoshihiro Nishimura, the duo have made films like Machine Girl and Tokyo Gore Police which push the levels of humorous perversion, nudity and gore to absurd levels. I’m not sure how they manage to make money off these films as I’ve always felt that their film trailers are more popular than the films themselves. Someone at Nikkatsu must have seen some hope for them, as Iguchi was hired to make this film which is his highest budgeted yet. Working with Nikkatsu has put limits on him, as it forced Iguchi to lower the levels of nudity and gore to a minimum. Has he gone soft? Sort of. This image should give you the idea of what playing it family friendly is for Iguchi.

Karate Robo-Zaborgar's Diarrhea Monster
He hasn’t gone that soft. The name does not represent the monster thankfully.

So yeah, less serious than the average Tokusatsu looking film, but that’s what I expected from these filmmakers. The original television series was not a terribly popular television series in the first place. It ran for one season and this television show hereshows an audience who are not familiar with it and just seem to laugh at it (which is totally understandable).

Popular or not, Iguchi seems to be a big enough fan to not deviate from the original series in too many ways. The film is about Daimon (Yasuhisa Furuhara) who uses his robot-motorcycle Zaborgar to battle Team Sigma led by Dr. Akunomiya (Akira Emoto) who is trying to develop a Jumbo Cyborg using the DNA from politicians around Japan. To accomplish his plan, Dr. Akunomiya’s cyborg assistant, Miss Borg (Mami Yamasaki) invades Japan with various robots and monsters to accomplish his goal. After several encounters, Miss Borg and Daimon begin to fall for each other which leads Daimon to question his own motives against Team Sigma.

Silly, but nothing too special, and it’s all littered with childish humor ranging from Zaborgar knowing Muay Thai to heads rocketing off shoulders and flying around to dragons shooting out of characters breasts and arses. The action scenes in the film are what I’ve come to expect from the Sushi Typhoon films, with lots of fake looking CG explosions and CG ricocheted bullet shots. I understand that the film is low budget, but a lack of pyrotechnics does make me less excited about the action as they distract my attention away from really getting into a fight scene. Outside a brief scene involving Zaborgar fighting the Bulldog truck, the action scenes spark little excitement.


Iguchi replaces the American football players found
in the original series with AV stars such as Asami.

My problem with this film is the same problem I have with most of Iguchi’s films. They start out alright with their goofy immature humor which at first makes me forgive a silly and fairly weak script, but towards the second half of the picture this kind of amusement begins to dry up. Despite having characters who talk on cellphones which make characters heads explode, we are also swamped with melodrama in the second half when we encounter Daimon’s family troubles. These characters are introduced far too quickly making it very hard to feel any sympathy for them at all. Not to mention that these plot elements feel really out of place in this kind of film. I’m not sure how audiences will react to Zaborgar as it lacks of the ultra-violence of his previous films and still has all the same problems that I bothered me in his other features. If you are fan of the goofy humor in the previous films then by all means explore this as it will be quite satisfying. If you demand more nudity and gore than there is still good news! Iguchi has announced a director’s cut involving more gore and even a sex scene between Miss Borg and Daimon. For me however, I hope that Iguchi and and Yoshihiro take a break from releasing two films a year to work on a script to match their crazy visual perversions. If they can accomplish this, then they might be able to make a film in the same league as Paul Verhoeven’s better works.

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Samurais Samurais Samurais!

May 4, 2011
13 Assassins Eiichi Kudo
Left: 13 Assassins (1963). Right: 13 Assassins (2010)

Takashi Miike is hitting it big time now. Goodbye are the days of Fudoh: The New Generation and Dead or Alive and hello to the era of massive critical acclaim with his remake of Eiichi Kudo’s 13 Assassins. (One of Kudo’s many’s samurai films…I imagine a poster should also have the tagline “From the Man who brought you Eleven Samurai!”).

It’s not like Japan has any shortage of samurai films in the past decade, as we had Izo, the Azumi films, Kitano’s Zatōichi, the science fiction themed The Princess Blade and Yôji Yamada’s Twilight Samurai which was nominated for an Academy award. But 13 Assassins is different as I don’t remember the last time everyone was so excited for this kind of film.

13 Assassins Eiichi Kudo
Right: Harakiri (1962). Left: Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (2011)

In usual Miike fashion, he already has about 30 films that are also coming out this year. His latest remake is of Masaki Kobayashi’s Harakiri premiering as the Cannes Film Festival soon. The original is pretty classic to me and I don’t see many ways to improve upon it. The teaser trailer for the remake is quite appealing looking however.

So what’s next for the remake cannon? I’m sad to report it’s a remake of the Seven Samurai. Thankfully, any director with good taste would turn this down as no one wants to be known as doing another version of Gus van Sant’s Psycho. Who’s directing then? Scott Mann. Who’s the hell is that you’d ask right?

13 Assassins Eiichi Kudo
Left: Seven Samurai. Right: Not Seven Samurai

Yeah, the director of the direct-to-video hit(?) The Tournament. I suppose someone thinks this is a good idea…somewhere. I’ve tried to look more into this online, but doing google searches of Scott Mann is NOT for everyone! You have been warned! Anyhow, you’d think Miike who is remake obsessed would tackle this, but he’s got a much more serious project at hand now. Check the trailer for that below.


It might be a trap!

I fully expect an American remake of this from Robert Rodriguez in a few years.

[Source]

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Karate-Robo Zaborgar Trailer

February 27, 2011

Noboru Iguchi’s one-film-a-year streak has no end! Fresh off of partially directing Mutant Girls Squad, he’s already got a film out in 2011 titled Karate-Robo Zaborgar (catchy!) which was shown at the Rotterdam Film Festival in January. From the trailer, it almost seems like he’s matured. The robot-motorcycle seen in the trailer is nearly at the levels of outrageous as I know him for. But after watching amazing clips from the original 1970s show it’s based off of, I now see where Iguchi gets a good slab of is bizarre ideas form. And it’s far more awe-inspiring than this minimal trailer could ever be!

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