Himalayan Wanderer (Japan, 1961) [TV] - 2/5
A very loose sequel to the wonderfully nutty The Big Gamblers of The Amazon. Unfortunately this one is not half as much fun. It has the same lead cast, including Chiezo Kataoka, but that's where the similarities end. In this film Kataoka (not a gambler this time) finds a yeti in the Himalaya and brings him to Japan. Not much interesting happens since bringing a yeti out to the public is no easy task and we end up spending too much time with a fake-yeti (Eitaro Shindo). Reporters and gangster businessmen alike are after the real yeti, who spends most of his time sleeping in Kataoka's bathtub. A poor man's King Kong with a lot of filler material between the relatively good opening and closing parts.
Kunoichi ninpo (Japan, 1964) [DVD] 4/5
Great debut feature by Sadao Nakajima feels like a mixture The Ballad of Narayama (1958) and Female Prisoner Scorpion (1972) with female ninjas. The atmospheric exploitation flick follows a group of female ninjas fighting against male ninjas who have been hired to assassinate them. Solid action and many visually stylish, surreal sequences. The use of studio sets is cool, although sometimes very obvious. There are also some bare breasts on display, although only in non-sex scenes. 1964 marked was the year when nudity started becoming common in mainstream films in Japan, but it was still kept separate from sex for several years.
Kunoichi kesho (Japan, 1964) [DVD] 1/5
A miserable sequel by Sadao Nakajima to his own terrific debut film Kunoichi ninpo. This time he goes for a tongue-in-the-cheek parody which even features musical scenes and constant nerve-breaking comedy. An unfortunate reminder that stupid post-modernism existed in genre cinema already 50 years ago.
Red Angel (Japan, 1966) [TV] - 4.5/5
Disturbing yet beautiful and deeply touching study of humanity and the madness of war. Ayako Wakao stars as war nurse serving Japanese soldiers in China. The field hospitals are a hell on earth with floors covered in blood and rotting bodies lying everywhere. Some of the injured soldiers are letting their wounds get infected in the fear of being sent back to the battlefield, others are denied returning home because their dismembered bodies would hurt the public morale. She keeps helping them even after she's molested and raped, but it's unclear whether she's a blood covered angel or a woman so numbed by the brutality of men that she no longer feels anything towards herself. She later falls in love with a morphine addicted doctor who keeps amputating men night and day because that's "all he can do". Poetic, brutal, thought provoking and extremely powerful.
Velvet Hustler (Japan, 1967) [DVD] - 2.5/5
Considered one of the Nikkatsu Action classics, I must say this wasn't entirely my cup of tea (admittedly I'm much more of a Toei man than a Nikkatsu fan). The Nikkatsu Action labelling may be slightly misleading, as it often is, considering there is essentially no action in the film. Tetsuya Watari is a young, flamboyant playboy gangster who performs a hit in Tokyo in the opening scene. The rest of the film he spends in Kobe, mainly sitting in the harbour, going to trendy bars, and getting bored with his girlfriend. Stylish execution, but not much happens in the film.
Big Time Gambling Boss (Japan, 1968) [DVD] - 4/5
Part 4 in the Gambling Den series, generally considered one of the finest yakuza films of all time and compared to Greek tragedies by Yukio Mishima. The comparison is apt as the film plays out like a "Japanese Tragedy" arising from the traditional codes of honour, loyalty, and seniority. The tragedy begins when Koji Tsuruta, the highest ranking man in a yakuza clan, refuses leadership out of courtesy. The second man in line (Tomisaburo Wakayama) is bypassed for to being in prison although he's about to be released. A dishonest senior member (Nobuo Kaneko) gets his own candidate (Hiroshi Nawa) selected despite Tsuruta's objections. Valuing gang loyalty above anything, Tsuruta accepts the decision and backs it up, unlike friend Wakayama who begins a fight against the new boss who doesn't not realize he is being used by Kaneko. Beautifully written and in a way restrained (no major final fight), although overly melodramatic story about the conflict between personal feelings and a loyalty for a system.
Yakuza Masterpiece (Japan, 1970) [VoD] - 4.5/5
Shintaro Katsu gives the performance of a lifetime in this absolutely mind blowing yakuza film by Yasuzo Masumura. Katsu is a hot headed gangster who treats women like trash, except for his little sister (Naoko Otani), whose innocence is his only pride. He guards her night and day and beats all the boyfriend candidates to hospital, desperately trying to make sure she won't become what he is. But after he lands in jail (for not only beating the shit out of four men, but also the policemen who came to arrest him) she's left alone. Ironically, she chooses to follow her brother's path. A thoroughly gripping film with amazing performances by Katsu and little sister Otani, who can more than stand up against Katsu. This film serves as a good reminder that modern Japanese gangster films are nothing but a lame joke compared to movies like this; and Otani has more balls than the entire male cast of Gonin Saga (2015).
The Bedevilled (Hong Kong, 1975) [DVD] - 1.5/5
As the short lived Pinky Violence genre ran out of popularity in the mid 70s, Reiko Ike found herself looking for other work opportunities. She had small supporting roles in Toei's yakuza films, did one movie for Nikkatsu, and also found time to appear in this Hong Kong horror. Unfortunately it is just about the worst movie you could get with the Ike + Golden Harvest + HK Horror combination. Ike is an innocent wife raped by a sleazebag young master. The man is later found dead, with Ike missing and her husband getting the blame for it. Court drama and vengeful ghosts ensue. Ike looks great in Chinese clothes (and yes, she does get rid of them multiple times) but it's hard to get excited about the film. As a court drama it's boring, as horror it's just silly. It even end of an educational moral note. Do not expect anything shocking or sleazy.
The Red Panther (Hong Kong, 1983) [DVD] - 3/5
This is one of those "only in Hong Kong" films that mixes silly comedy and relatively outrageous exploitation as if there was nothing odd about that combination. The film follows a comical dumbass of a detective (with awesome porno moustache) trying to stop a killer uses a surgeon's knife to perform operations on live victims (he also attacks dead bodies from time to time). It's frenetically paced horror/thriller/comedy with some semi nasty violence and a decent amount of nudity. Too incoherent to be genuinely good film, but also impossible not to like.
Taxi Hunter (Hong Kong, 1993) [DVD] - 2.5/5
Uneven thriller features a solid Anthony Wong performance and cool, urban early 90s Hong Kong cityscapes, but suffers from predictability. From the very outset it's quite obvious how the story is going to play out, a problem made worse by the fact that it's a drama heavy film, which makes it feel emotionally manipulative in a very obvious way. Also,although often mistaken as a CAT III film, this isn't one, nor does it contain anything that would warrant such a rating.
Strange Days (Japan, 2017) [Yubari Fanta] - 1/5
Two sleazy guys run a popular actor's workshop where they hold their customers in captive and basically turn them into sex slaves. How else would an aspiring young actress learn to play roles such as rape victims? Director Yasushi Koshizaka is a veteran of countless straight-to-video exploitation films, e.g. the "Days" and "Missing" series. This is his first independent film in 19 years. He did almost everything behind the screen from financing to directing and cinematography. There's evident potential for an outrageous satire and commentary on how Japanese film industry treats women. Such hopes, however, are best buried immediately. The miserable, badly acted and amateurish looking film is basically 115 minutes of misogynism that comes as close to hard core pornography as possible without crossing the line. If this was intended as satire or social commentary, it must be one of the most misguided, ridiculous attempts at it in the history of cinema. It makes Cannibal Holocaust look utterly sincere in comparison.