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Our resident ghoul is back with another batch of the best home media reviews.
After Seijun Suzuki failed to get into The University of Tokyo, a friend invited him to enroll in the film department of the Kamakura Academy which led to stints at studios Shochiku and Nikkatsu…where he toiled on B-movies until his increasingly surreal style got him axed after his epic Branded to Kill. Suzuki would eventually go on to embrace an even more off the wall and art house style, but the fine folks at Arrow have gathered together five of his early Nikkatsu films that got those studio heads all hot and bothered!
The Boy Who Came Back (1958) “Nikkatsu Diamond Guy” Akira Kobayashi plays Nobuo, a hard ass straight out of reform school who struggles to adapt to a life of non-delinquency. Enter Keiko (Sachiko Hidari), a sort of social worker that helps Nobuo to him to fit back into society while she struggles with her growing feelings for him. Will the ghosts from his past allow the romance to bloom?
The Wind-of-Youth Group Crosses the Mountain Pass (1961) This insanely long titled film tells the story of Shintaro (Koji Wada), a naive university student with a love of travel. With no cash to pay for a ticket, Shintaro is kicked off a bus only to hitch a ride with a group of traveling performers. After a shaky start he begins to fit in with the troupe and the Yakuza who travel with them…but business isn’t what it used to be. With revenue dropping off, can the good-hearted and cheerful Shintaro help the group bring in new customers?
Teenage Yakuza (1962) Jiro (Tamio Kawaji) is a high school student who lives with his mother (Kotoe Hatsui) and an engaged older sister (Noriko Matsumoto), and helps run the family’s trendy coffee shop. Jiro’s best friend Yoshio (Hajime Sugiyama) is taking illegal bets on local races, and after he and Jiro are ripped off from their latest winnings by some punks, the pair get revenge on the robbers, but in the process they run afoul of the local Yakuza, with Yoshio getting stabbed in the leg. Yoshiro becomes bitter and withdrawn leaving Jiro to deal with the punks who start terrorizing the town.
The Incorrigible (1963) Togo Konno (Ken Yamauchi), is a young man coming of age in the Taisho era (in which Suzuki was born). He’s got noble blood and some wealth and privilege, but he’s also a bit of a rebel who feels he’s above the normal rules of society. After having an affair with a teacher’s daughter Konno is tricked into going to a school out in the sticks by his mother which forces him to devise schemes to get out of his situation whilst dealing with living in a rural town.
Born Under Crossed Stars (1965) Jukichi’s (Ken Yamauchi) big aspiration is to find a way out of his lowly town by getting into a prestigious local universality, though his father would prefer he stick with his farm work over his continued education. His buddy Yoshio (Jushiro Hirata) gets into trouble with the Public Morals committee at school for being seen out with a girlfriend in public, and Jukichi finds himself dragged into the conflict. Along the way he meets two very different girls and is eventually forced to choose between his two lovers.
As the title implies, all the films in this set involve rebellious youth. The Boy Who Came Back starts the set off great with likable characters, strong drama, and a great noir look. The Wind-of-Youth Group Crosses the Mountain Pass is the least rebellious of the films. It has a more easy going, family feel, and while not the strongest film of the set, it’s very enjoyable. That leads to Teenage Yakuza; the shortest and overall least film in the set. It’s not a terrible film by any means, but it just feels a bit flat compared to the rest of the material presented. Finally, The Incorrigible and Born Under Crossed Stars feel very much like takes on the same story…in fact the second film is considered a loose sequel to The Incorrigible. I love the Taisho era setting of both and the stark black and white, arty style. Not to mention the shared aesthetic of bittersweet tragedy.
I really loved this set overall, and while it is nearly devoid of extras, it’s a great addition to Arrow’s growing Nikkatsu collection, and is one of my favorite releases of this year so far.
Moving on, and continuing with our Arrow theme, the films previously released as the George A. Romero Between Night and Dawn collection (which included There’s Always Vanilla, Season of The Witch, and The Crazies) are each getting separate releases this month, so let’s take a look back at what we had to say about these flicks!
On July 16th of 2017 we lost a true legend; George Andrew Romero. Although he’s best know for writing and directing the ‘Living Dead’ films, Romero had quite a few other titles under his belt…and some are quite different from his work with the living dead. Thanks to Arrow Video we can delve into some of this lesser known material…so let’s kick things of with:
There’s Always Vanilla – Chris Bradley (Raymond Laine) a former soldier who’s now a drifter, musician, all around wiseass, and pimp, returns to his home town of Pittsburgh. After a night out with his father drinking at a local bar, they visit Chris’s old girlfriend Terri Terrific (yeah…that’s really her name), whom Chris learns he may have a child with. The next day Chris literally runs into Lynn (Judith Streiner) a model and commercial actress. Chris puts the moves on Lynn and soon the two are in love and living together. Will Chris and Lynn’s romance last or will Chris grow up and stay with Terri and his child?
Going in, I wasn’t expecting to like Vanilla. I knew it was an arty 70’s romance film (and one that Romero has no great love for), so I was greatly surprised when I found myself enjoying it. I mean not much happens here, but the acting, writing and direction keep your attention…and there are tiny bits of Romero’s future style present here.
Season of the Witch – Joan Mitchell (Jan White) is a housewife and mother who spends her days hanging out with the other haus fraus…but she soon grows bored and turns to witchcraft (as you do) and begins an affair with one of her daughter’s friends. This will either provide an answer for her problems, or lead her down a dark path…but whatever the outcome she must contend with her recurring nightmares of being attacked by a masked man in her house.
The first time I watched Season of the Witch was on an old VHS late at night, and though not really a horror film, the nightmare scenes were insanely eerie and really stuck with me. Since then the film has grown on me even more with repeat viewings, and it’s pervasive aesthetic of 70’s occult craziness has made it one I recommend highly.
The Crazies – In the small town of Evans City, Pennsylvania people have started turning homicidal. The military quickly (and quietly) sweeps into town, declaring martial law and rounding up the towns folk; quarantining them in the local high school. We soon learn that a military plane carrying a highly contagious bio-weapon (code-named “Trixie”) crashed outside of town, infecting the drinking water. Colonel Peckem (Lloyd Hollar) is sent in to contain the epidemic and if need be, nuke the town to be sure the virus doesn’t escape.
While it feels a bit like Night of the Living Dead, The Crazies does it’s own thing. Besides following a group of normal folks trying to survive the outbreak, we get to see the military’s efforts to contain the threat, as well as some prime Romero social commentary (this time the Vietnam war and the Kent State protest are the focus).
As for extras, Arrow has done an insane job here. You get High Definition versions of each film (each featuring a brand new restoration). You also get: audio commentaries on each film, interviews, image galleries, alternate credits, and trailers. A true creepy cornucopia of beastly bonuses!
In short, I can’t recommend these releases highly enough. While the films themselves are a little uneven, they’re well worth viewing for a look at the evolution of a great director, and as a time capsule of America in the early 1970’s. With the films never looking better and tons of features, this is one of 2018’s best releases.
Guest reviews by: Shane Migliavacca