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Nikkatsu Noir (Eclipse Series)
DVD disk
09.04.2009 By: Mathew Plale
Nikkatsu Noir (Eclipse Series) order
Director:
Various

Actors:
Yujiro Ishihara
Joe Shishido
Mie Kitahara

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
From the Criterion Collection comes the Eclipse Series, "a selectiion of lost, forgotten, or overshadowed classics." Their 17th edition, Nikkatsu Noir, traces the Japanese film company from 1957 to '67, with focus on five significant film noirs released in that time.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
I Am Waiting (1957)
Director: Koreyoshi Kurahara

Rain spikes into a puddle and the songstress goes, “I am waiting to see you again…”

In Koreyoshi Kurahara’s I Am Waiting (1957), a former pugilist (Yujiro Ishihara) saves a suicidal girl (Mie Kitahara), who turns out to be a singer (and more…or less) in a gangster’s cabaret.

The man, Joji, shelters the girl, Saeko, inside his restaurant-by-the-docks where she, early in the film, confides in him: “I may have killed someone.” Ishihara and Kitahara’s (who previously appeared together in Ko Nakahira’s Crazed Fruit) characters, naturally, steam up a lethal romance that develops just in time for the man in black sunglasses to show up.

Joji plays two roles: as protector of Saeko, who is hunted by the gangsters for a crime she may not have even committed; and detective, after he discovers, through mail labeled “Addressee Unknown” that his brother, who he was to meet with in Brazil (“There’s nothing left for me here anymore,” Joji explains), may not have departed for South America.

A thrilling and atmospheric introduction to Japanese noir.



Rusty Knife (1958)
Director: Toshio Masuda

“No one will testify against them.”

But that’s not a chance the Yazuka are willing to take in Toshio Masuda’s Rusty Knife (1958). Set in the industrial town of Udaka City, the film watches two former criminals, now running a bar housed over their buried past, sought as witnesses to the murder of a politician.

Though there are three potential corroborators, the focus lies on Yukihiko (Yujiro Ishihara), bribed by the police to talk and threatened by the Yakuza boss (Naoki Sugiura) to keep quiet. He also inspires the film’s title, whose source shouldn’t be spoiled.

Although Mie Kitahara stands out as the daughter of the rubbed-out politician, Rusty Knife, between the goofy roll-and-tumble fistfight and the skewed angle shots during a motorcycle ride, fails to stand out as compelling noir.



Take Aim at the Police Van (1960)
Director: Seijun Suzuki

“Many Accidents Have Occurred In This Area…Caution!” read the signs. Soon, a prisoner will be shot by a sniper, and it will not be an accident.

Following the murder, the prison guard on duty at the time, Daijiro Tamon (Michitaro Mizushima), is suspended, giving him enough time in his days to play detective and find out who’s responsible. “I should leave it to the cops. But I’m not going to.”

Seijun Suzuki’s 1960 film, like Daijiro himself, works at a brisk pace. In the short 79-minute running time, Daijiro takes us on a goose chase involving a master archer doubling as the femme fatale (Misako Watanabe), the local whorehouse (where one of the prostitutes takes an arrow through the breast), a secretive parolee (Shoichi Ozawa), and the mysterious Akiba, which may or may not be a building, region, station, or otherwise.

The plot lives up to the title because, yes, someone does take aim at a police van. After that, things move a bit too quickly, never giving the audience much of a chance to become involved in the deep plotlines.



Cruel Gun Story (1964)
Director: Takumi Furukawa

Cruel Gun Story stars the swollen-cheeked Joe Shishido (Japanese crime classic Branded to Kill) as Togawa, a criminal pulled out of prison early by his boss for one more job. He and four others will robbed an armored truck carrying 120 million yen from the Japan Derby.

But when has a cinematic heist been pulled off without a kink? There are crosses (double and triple) plenty, kidnapping, and bribery, all clashing in the highlight of the film, a memorable gunfight in an abandoned military base.

Director Takumi Furukawa takes many cues from Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing, released eight years before, but never tries to imitate. Cruel Gun Story is a Western-inspired take on the subgenre with a hoard of energetic characters.



A Colt is My Passport (1967)
Director: Takashi Nomura

Takashi Nomura’s A Colt is My Passport opens with a spaghetti western-inspired score before quickly ripping off its mask to reveal its identity. The story of a hitman, Shuji Kamimura (Joe Shishido, who would star in Nikkatsu’s Branded to Kill, also 1967), who finds himself trapped between two rival mobs.

Despite some phony motifs (birds as peace/freedom), A Colt is My Passport, with its crisp dialogue and standout cinematography, is one of the most memorable features in the Nikkatsu library.

One of the best moments comes when Shuji, alone in the desert with his Beretta, contemplates his scenarios and awaits his fate at the hands of the mob. In a voiceover narration, he wonders: “How many will there be? Maybe two. With a pistol, I’d get one or two…A shotgun? With one well-aimed shell, I could get two of them. Then there’s the Beretta, double-barreled. It can take out four men.”

Of course, more than a half-dozen pay Shuji a visit. The explosive climax, complete with a shootout, speeding car, and a strategically placed hole, is one of the most exciting finales to a film noir from any country.
THE EXTRAS
As is standard with the Eclipse Series, the discs are bare bones and only include liner notes.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
Nikkatsu Noir is an impressive collection of Japanese film noirs from the 1950s to the '60s. Though none of the five films feature any bonus material, the Criterion Collection deserves major kudos for digging up these five films and re-introducing them to audiences.
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