Alleycat Rock: Female Boss (1970)

Alleycat Rock: Female Boss (1970) movie poster

director Yasuharu Hasebe
viewed: 02/22/2018

It’s Akiko Wada who dominates Alleycat Rock: Female Boss, first flick in  Nikkatsu studio’s girl biker gang film series, pumped out in quick succession in 1970-1971. Wada is the tall, 5’8″, semi-androgynous, semi-sexually vague biker gal/throaty singer, who tangles first with one of two rival low-level yakuza gangs from the seat of her motorbike.

She casts an interesting figure in the hands of Yasukaru Hasebe, the same director who would film episodes #3 Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter (1970) and #4 Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal (1970). Hasebe strives to capture the vibe of the time and place, swinging his camera around with drunken frenzy inside the nightclub where a variety of bad to sometime almost good 1960’s style Japanese bands try their hand at psychedelic pop and rock.

Ultimately, it’s Meiko Kaji, who starred throughout the series and then on into better pictures in the Female Convict Scorpion series and later Lady Snowblood films. I say later but all of this stuff came flying out in a period of only five years.

Hasebe jumps into topics like sex and violence and youth culture, the music, the vibes, the intermingling races, painting a picture of changing Japan. But he’s not a master behind the camera and his films tend at best to be “interesting” if not flat out good.

I’d say the same here, but that Wada is an interesting and ambiguous figure as played out in Alleycat Rock: Female Boss, whatever that title is supposed to mean.

Matango (1963)

Matango (1963) movie poster

director  Ishirō Honda
viewed: 02/17/2018

Ishirō Honda is the king of kaiju, but Matango is a keen reminder of how Gojira (1954) was itself a great classic horror film, not just the progenitor of a rubber-suited cinematic empire. Like GojiraMatango is infected with the horrors of nuclear radiation. Though unlike Gojira, it’s not a metaphorical revenge of nature or even yōkai, but a body horror, the transformation and corruption of disease, resembling the physical illnesses experienced in Japan due to nuclear fallout.

Matango has been on my list forever.  It has to be said that the American title for the movie didn’t do it any favors. “Attack of the Mushroom People” sounds more like some half-baked Roger Corman picture than a genuine, vivid horror film.

The production designs are awesome. There is also an echo (perhaps projected on the film by me) of Alice in Wonderland, the eating of the mushroom invoking change in being, echoed further perhaps by psychedelics and magic mushrooms. Less likely intentional, but hard not to read in this colorful fantasia. And the film is very much eerie.

Excellent stuff.

Female Prisoner Scorpion: 701’s Grudge Song (1973)

Female Prisoner Scorpion: 701's Grudge Song (1973) movie poster

director
viewed: 01/10/2018

Yasuharu Hasebe picks up the reins where Shunya Itō left off, directing the fourth and final feature of the Meiko Kaji “Scorpion” films. Female Prisoner Scorpion: 701’s Grudge Song is nowhere as good or satisfying. It’s much more conventional than any of Itō’s films.

Kaji escapes the cops and is found hiding out in a strip club lavatory by Teruo Kudo (Masakazu Tamura), a semi-emasculated former student protester.  Is this the first time Nami (Kaji) has needed anyone’s help?

Nami inspires Kudo to help her, though the cops focus in on him as her accomplice. He takes the beatings with masochistic fatalism, but vows revenge. Unfortunately for Nami, and for us, it’s amateur hour for with Kudo. Despite not giving her up to the cops, he leads them back to her hideout and then plans a failed robbery.

Does Nami really like him? She has sex that isn’t rape for once but also doesn’t seem entirely consensual or pleasurable. At the end, she tells him that it was another person that loved him, not her. An insight that isn’t very satisfying.

The Shunya Itō/Meiko Kaji films are amazing. At first I was thinking “Wow, she’s also Lady Snowblood!, these films must have been influenced by those.” Only if so, it would have been the other way around. I also didn’t realize until viewing these that she was also the star of the Stray Cat Rock series, which I’ll have to delve into more deeply. And then at the very end of the whole thing, I finally realized that it’s also Kaji singing the iconic theme song “Urami Bushi”.

I catch up eventually.

Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 (1972)

Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 (1972) movie poster

director Shunya Itō
viewed: 01/08/2017

Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41, the second in the original Scorpion film series, finds Nami bound in a dark cell whittling a metal spoon into a shiv with her teeth. From the opening shots, diving down into the depths at where she lies, Shunya Itō strikes a tone of the horror film, a precursor of what is to come.

Jailhouse 41 breaks into a quickly quashed riot and then Nami and six other prisoners are sent to hard labor outside of the prison.  Itō strikes Nami in a somewhat Christ pose, pinioned to a cross, before being raped for humiliation by the ruthless guards at the warden’s order.

Itō takes the film beyond his Bava-esque lighting and manic camera and into more full-on pulp avant-garde. The women escape to an abandoned village where they encounter a ghost-like witch woman, expound upon their crimes, break into Kabuki-like sequences and some seriously far-out set-pieces, ringing throughout of horror and the supernatural.

The women are constantly pursued but eventually hijack a bus of tourists, running ruthlessly riot through the countryside.

This film series, with Itō running things, is just amazing and fascinating. Nami’s world is only fit for a scorpion. The police are corrupt, the wardens and guards are vile, the prisoners themselves rotten and selfish monsters, and even the average tourists are rapists and brutal ex-war criminals. Kayoko Shiraishi is Oba, the most vicious of the prisoners, who prides herself in having murdered her children, ripping one from her womb.

Jailhouse 41 is certainly most radical of the series, fully surreal, theatrical, non-traditional and wildly fun.

 

Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion (1972)

Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion (1972) movie poster

director Shunya Itō
viewed: 01/07/2017

I was so gobsmacked watching Female Convict Scorpion: Beast Stable (1973) that I headed for Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion, the first film of Shunya Itō’s trilogy. Weirdly, I couldn’t get subtitles to go on it, but I went ahead with the movie anyways.

More conventionally a “women in prison” movie than Beast Stable, it’s still a hyper-stylized affair with the wildest tilting cameras, dropping 90 degrees, capturing at full width the full height of the image, just sideways. This effect is used to command the space in weird and new ways, not just a tilt for wonky perspective but a whole different approach to the use of the frame. And Itō does it effectively in spades.

It’s the introduction of Meiko Kaji as Nami Matsushima, a.k.a. Scorpion, the taciturn killer lady with “looks that kill”. It’s interesting how the film is structured, opening with a prison break before delving in flashback exactly how Nami got into prison.

This movie is a riot. A prison riot, if you will.

I fell fast for this series and Meiko Kaji and Shunya Itō. Color me enthralled.

Female Convict Scorpion: Beast Stable (1973)

Female Convict Scorpion: Beast Stable (1973) movie poster

director Shunya Itō
viewed: 01/07/2017

I started Female Convict Scorpion: Beast Stable, not really knowing what I was in for. But before it was over, I was regretting not having watched the series in order. Also, I think for the first time in ages, I was in love…with a movie.

It’s not that you have to watch the films in order, but director Shunya Itō’s trilogy, pumped out in quick succession is itself a triptych of pulp mania and psychedelic surrealism, each unique on its own.

Beast Stable opens with the gorgeous Meiko Kaji stalked on a subway, escapes by hacking off an arresting officer’s arm and running for it, arm dangling from her handcuffs. She later uses a tombstone to carve through the chain, spotted by a prostitute turning a trick nearby.

The camerawork and cinematography are lurid, alive and vividly inventive, pulsing with Bava-esque colors. Perversity and revenge are everywhere, fulfilled by Nami Matsushima, the Scorpion. Takashi Miike, eat your heart out. This is sublime pulp Grand Guignol pop art.

The soundtrack is also incredible. I was so enraptured, I had to immediately go to the first film, Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion, to see more of what I’d been missing.

Evil Brain from Outer Space (1964)

Evil Brain from Outer Space (1964)

directors  Koreyoshi Akasaka, Akira Mitsuwa
viewed: 12/13/2017

Evil Brain from Outer Space is my type of pop surrealism, like someone slipped some acid in your cheap hot sake.

It’s like an old fashioned serial meets 1950’s Superman TV show, madein Japan, of course, with bananas hackneyed dubbing, writing, and voice acting.

“I was trying to bring the brain here to you , Dr. Sakurai . Because it’s imperative that it be destroyed. To do so won’t be easy. Its indestructible.”

Okay, making fun of the dialog or voiceover is like shooting fish in a barrel. That said, I’m not sure the American soundtrack could be improved upon. It’s pure silly awesome genius.

This film, as it is, is an edited fabrication for American audiences of a couple of Super Giant movies from late 1950’s Japan.  Really, it’s one of a set, including Atomic Rulers of the World, Attack from Space and Invaders from Space, all adapted from the film series featuring Japan’s first cinematic superhero.

The action is almost non-stop and trying to transcribe the plot seems near impossible. It’s best taken as is, a straight-up late-night (or anytime) hallucination of cosmic weirdness and hilarious wonder, and 1950’s parkour, by which I mean lots of jumping and editing for action fights and leaps and flying by the seat of your tights (attached to a visible cable). Also, some really cute kids are in it, though they turn into other cute kids partway through (I think.)

That’s the point: don’t think. Just enjoy.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

director Shinya Tsukamoto
viewed: 12/06/2017

They don’t make ’em like they used to.

Shinya Tsukamoto’s bombast bomb blast of body horror surrealist industrial phantasmagoria, Tetsuo: The Iron Man not only holds up almost 30 years later, but in my viewing, is even better.

The last time I saw Tetsuo was in film school back in the Nineties. Though visual images, ideas, and impressions were deeply emblazoned on my brain, I had really forgotten what a radical visual effects, editing, and pacing of the film. Also, how little explication is given to the narrative.

I love moviemaking that incorporates so much such tactile techniques. This is totally 16mm film and from the stop-motion animations and other pre-digital effects, you can almost feel the crew making this with their hands on the actual film. When editing was editing actual celluloid strips of photo-exposed images.

Brilliant.

Space Amoeba (1970)

Space Amoeba (1970) movie poster

director  Ishirō Honda
viewed: 11/19/2017

Space Amoeba! Space Amoeba! Space Amoeba!

Okay, so the Space Amoeba aren’t really the true focus of this movie. Heck, they don’t even make it to the movie poster. That’s because they are animated fuzzy clouds that take over a satellite and come to Earth and take over some critters, make them huge, and plan to take over the planet.

This is kaiju right off the sushi menu, with a giant cuttlefish, a crab-cum-prawn, and most wonderfully, though all too short on screentime, a fancy snapping turtle with an extendo-neck.

It’s from director Ishirō Honda, so you know it’s legit. It’s actually a lot more fun and entertaining than some more well-known kaijus of the time.

Interestingly, the plot revolves around a plan to put up a big luxury resort on a heretofore unspoiled paradise. Is it social commentary that the amoebae from space want to take over Earth? Despoil our world from us? Lessons learned?

“Thanks to their superstitions we can fish where we want to!”

Gozu (2003)

Gozu (2003) movie poster

director Takashi Miike
viewed: 08/09/2017

It’s gotta be said, Takashi Miike is outré there. Or at least he was at one point, for quite a while.

The iconolclasts of contemporary cinema are rather few and far between. Or otherwise maybe too obscure?

Gozu comes from Miike’s ripest period and seems to rank for many among his best movies. And that seems a fair assessment.

Absurd and comic, Gozu is the spiritual journey of a young yakuza flunky, Minami (Hideki Sone), and his crazy (really, really crazy) boss and best friend, Ozaki (Show Aikawa), who winds up dead and then disappears.  Minami finds himself adrift in a very David Lynchian world, trying to figure out where his “brother” got off to. The journey is a prolonged and surreal, punctuated with strange and awkward humor.

If you think you know where this film is going,…well, let’s just say that the last half hour features twists that aren’t just unforeseen but gruesome and vivid.

Of all of Miike’s films I’ve seen, Gozu feels the most Lynchian. I’m not sure I’ve thought of David Lynch in his other works, but this one takes that vibe, runs with it, and then smacks down with some of Miike’s most intense stuff.