Noir Stuffing

Last week I became a temporary Barnes and Nobel spokesperson. While I’m not a fan of corporate bookstores per se, I am an obsessive film collector, so when the entire Criterion Collection went on sale at barnesandnobel.com for half off their retail price, I got excited. I called people just to let them know. And yes, I put money down on it.

The majority of the films I purchased I already knew (Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows, Stan Brakhage’s anthology, Hiroshi Teshigahara’s collaborations with Kobo Abe) but there were a few films that I hadn’t seen and knew little about. Of the latter, the biggest surprise was the Nikkatsu Noir collection. The collection includes five films all released between ’57 and ’67, years in which Japan’s oldest movie studio, the Nikkatsu Corporation, was adapting their pallet to compete with western imports (by the late 70’s and early 80’s they would devolve into making soft porn). With titles like A Colt Is My Passport, Cruel Gun Story, and Rusty Knife it would seem hard to go wrong, but these films more than surpassed my expectations.

Take Takashi Nomura’s quite beautiful yakuza flick, A Colt Is My Passport. The film follows a hired assassin (Joe Shishido) as he plans and successfully realizes the killing of an influential mob boss (in broad daylight). After retrieving his payment from the rival gang, Shishido and his partner attempt to flee town, only to find themselves cut off at the pass and double crossed by their former employers. As the net tightens, Shishido and his partner are forced to take refuge in a seedy trucker motel that is under constant scrutiny by their would-be killers. Here they are taken in by a maid with a severe case of wanderlust (“All that’s left for me is dust and the smell of men and gasoline”). The final sequence takes place in a flat, windswept wasteland, our protagonist waiting for an onslaught with nothing more than a shotgun, a shovel, and a handmade dynamite bomb.

It really doesn’t get much better than this. Perhaps these films have simply been overshadowed by the wackier, experimental noir flicks that would come out of Japan in subsequent years (I immediately think of Suzuki’s Branded To Kill which stars none other than Joe Shishido). Suzuki’s much tamer Take Aim at the Police Van, featured here, is still a heavy hitter, but lacks the WTF moments familiar to American art house cinefiles.

P.S. —  Not to contribute to the shitstorm your life has become, but it’s too late to take advantage of the aforementioned sale. However, getting it used on Amazon ain’t too bad, and with Xmas coming up who knows? maybe somebody you share a blood line with will scoop you up a copy.

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