Thursday, August 13, 2020

HOUSE OF GAMBLERS (1970)



The Aramasa family oyabun retires just as police crackdowns on their gambling parlors force the clan into the construction business and an uneasy union with the troublesome Tanuma family. Aramasa lieutenant Ryoji (Ken Takakura) is passed over as successor because he still has one year left on a five-year prison stretch for slicing up a half dozen Tanuma soldiers. This drives a wedge between new boss Eizo (Minoru Ôki) and fellow clan member Sekine (Tomisaburo Wakayama), who is loyal to Ryoji. The situation goes from bad to worse once Ryoji returns home to find his standing in the clan greatly diminished and Tanuma looking to get even. Koji Tsuruta plays an Arimasa acquaintance who, out of obligation, accompanies Ryoji on the final meeting with Tanuma. Tragic and frustrating for most of its running time, which helps make the inevitable bloodbath so much more cathartic, this ninkyo eiga is greatly buoyed by the presence of the usual Toei stock players (Takakura, Tsuruta, Wakayama, Junko Fuji) and a gripping, beautifully staged climactic sword battle. The title was UNITY OF GAMBLERS when it opened in Hawaii on June 23, 1970.


Wednesday, August 12, 2020

SEVEN GAMBLERS (1966)



Hanjiro (Koji Tsuruta), a one-eyed gambler with a gravestone tattooed on his back, joins forces with a one-armed con man, a one-legged priest, and a blind man when they all accept employment as bodyguards for a quarry owner on a nearby island. They soon find themselves caught between two clans fighting over the excavation rights to a mountain, and along the way they encounter a hunchback, a deaf mute, and a fire-scarred henchman. Also known as SEVEN ROGUES, this entertaining yakuza pic has a good sense of humor and convincing performances, especially by Kyosuke Machida as the Zatoichi-like blind gambler and Tsuruta, who adds a sometimes comical crankiness to his noble stoic template. Not surprisingly, both characters returned in a sequel, SEVEN FUGITIVES (aka AMBUSH OF THE SEVEN).


Tuesday, August 11, 2020

THE GREAT DUEL (1964)



The story could've used more character development and clan politics at the outset -- the first reel seems rushed -- but otherwise this is a solid chambara from the reliable Kôsaku Yamashita. Hideji (Hashizô Ôkawa) of the Katsuba clan leaves town after killing a rival yakuza boss and returns three years later to find the Katsuba's territory and lucrative silk market targeted for takeover by former partner Boss Kamezo (Tatsuo Endô) of the Akaiwa clan, and that both clans are being manipulated by Boss Joshu-ya (Nobuo Kaneko), who has hired a rōnin (Tetsurô Tamba) to help escalate the tensions. The original title is ODEIRI and it opened in Honolulu as QUARREL in September '64. Also known as GIANT RUMBLE, the version reviewed here is called THE GREAT DUEL, a title I've also seen attached to Eiichi Kudô's A GREAT KILLING from the same year.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Mystery Movie Solved! GIRLS IN TROUBLE (1974)


Last week we posted two mystery movies from Group 1 Films, and we're very excited to report that one mystery has already been solved!


Longtime TOS reader and contributor Marc Edward Heuck recognized Giorgio Moroder's hit "Son of My Father" as the song that's playing during the discotheque scene in the GIRLS IN TROUBLE trailer, and following that lead was able to identify the film as DIE KLOSTERSCHÜLERINNEN / THE MONASTERY STUDENTS (1972), directed by Eberhard Schröeder (English export title: SEX LIFE IN A CONVENT). Based on photos we found online that matched footage in the trailer, we've confirmed that Marc has indeed solved this mystery movie! Thanks, Marc!

WANDERING GINZA BUTTERFLY (1971) and WANDERING GINZA: SHE-CAT GAMBLER (1972)


Reviewed by Nathaniel Poggiali


Cult actress Meiko Kaji bolted from Nikkatsu Studios following her work in the STRAY CAT ROCK youth gang series to go under contract for Toei, a partnership that eventually resulted in the hugely popular FEMALE PRISONER #701: SCORPION and its three sequels.

In WANDERING GINZA BUTTERFLY she stars as Nami, former head of the Red Cherry Gang, released from prison after a three-year stint and working as a nightclub hostess under gentle Madam Sae in the Ginza section of Tokyo. Easily the most aggressive hostess on the payroll, Nami steals a truck owned by a construction worker refusing to pay for drinks and pulls a knife on one of her co-workers. Sae and her irresponsible fiancé, Shin, find themselves in money trouble with businessman/gangster Owada. Nami challenges Owada to a game of billiards to clear her employer's debt, but when the hired player blows his cool and his game, Owada welches and has Shin killed. Our heroine throws on a kimono, grabs a sword and goes after Owada and his men with the help of best friend/comic relief Ryuji.

A cheerfully erratic drama that plays like THE HUSTLER re-imagined as a contemporary samurai picture, GINZA finds director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi (SISTER STREETFIGHTER, KARATE WARRIORS) grabbing at anything for the sake of a good show. Incredibly, he succeeds. I had a lot of fun viewing this fast-paced, stylish entertainment, and was surprised at the level of coherence and intensity that Yamaguchi brings to the crucial billiard game (one wild highlight is Owada's player imploding from narcotic withdrawal). As a heroine of fierce loyalty and anger management issues, Meiko commands the screen with coolness and beauty and, as usual, sings a catchy theme song.

Toei's only sequel, WANDERING GINZA: SHE-CAT GAMBLER (WILDCAT GAMBLER) (1972), has the more traditional revenge story. Meiko returns as a hanafuda (flower card) player seeking her father's murderer. There are no other returning players and Nami seems like a different character, so viewers may consider this more of a "reboot" than a proper sequel. The first film's charming anything-goes approach is ditched in favor of a plot akin to the RED PEONY GAMBLER series featuring Junko Fuji. SHE-CAT GAMBLER has the tighter story -- and Shinichi "Sonny" Chiba is very amusing in a rare comic role -- but it plays a familiar game and never really trumps the unexpected pleasures of Part 1.



THE BAR GIRL
(GINCHÔ WATARIDORI / WANDERING GINZA BUTTERFLY)
Honolulu opening: September 12, 1972

RED CHERRY NAMI
(GINCHÔ NAGAREMONO MESUNEKO BAKUCHI /
WANDERING GINZA: SHE-CAT GAMBLER)
Honolulu opening: April 27, 1973

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Movie Ad of the Week: MORTUARY (1982/1983)


World Premiere - Friday, May 7, 1982 - Tucson, AZ


In May of 1982, Paramount Pictures arranged a test release in Tucson of MORTUARY, the latest low-budget production by filmmakers Howard Avedis and Marlene Schmidt. Perhaps the box-office results of that test run were more in line with MY BLOODY VALENTINE or NIGHT SCHOOL than the first two FRIDAY THE 13th films; whatever the reason, the studio passed on acquiring the movie and Film Ventures International wound up releasing it over a year later.



September 2, 1983 in Los Angeles

Saturday, August 08, 2020

FUNNY CAR SUMMER (1974)



This chill drive-in documentary about 'Big Jim' Dunn, who conquered his fears of fire and heights to become an LA county firefighter while making a name for himself as a drag racer during weekends and summer vacations, is best viewed a quarter of a mile - er, hour - at a time. Indelible moments: Dunn receiving a joke trophy for red-lighting; his teenage son's low-key disapproval of dad only getting 1½% plus $500 for the ubiquitous Dunn & Reath Plymouth Barracuda model kit from MPC, before stating that he will be getting an accounting degree just in case his own funny car racing plans stall out; son and daughter winning trophies for racing their banana seat Schwinns in a parking lot; the cross-cutting between Dunn's early morning shave and his wife's careful preparation of bologna and lettuce on white bread sandwiches; and the time tunnel optical effect that brings us back to Dunn's early years in racing. Today, you can tell people this played theaters all over the country for six years, making millions before its sale to television brought it another decade of exposure, and they won't believe you. Rated G, for general audiences.


Friday, August 07, 2020

The Endangered List (Case File #164)




KAZE NO TENGU
(1971)

aka THE HUNTED, THE HUNTED SAMURAI, THE HAUNTED SAMURAI
DUEL IN THE WIND, THE HUNTED: NINJUTSU SAMURAI

Starring
Hideki Takahashi (Roppeita)
Isao Natusyagi (Kyonosuke)
Seiichiro Kameishi (Tarao-Matahei)
Masako Izumi (Toki)
Yochiro Aoki (Aochi-Godayu)
Shoki Fukae (Nachi-Hambei)
Kishiro Kawami (Jisaku)

Directed
by
Keiichi Ozawa

Screenplay
by
Seiji Hoshikawa

Produced by
Eiichi Imado
and
Kunifumi Tokieda

Cinematography by
Minoru Yokoyama

Music by
Hajime Kaburagi

Running time: 87 minutes

A Nikkatsu production

Los Angeles Times - July 10, 1971

Variety - July 21, 1971

New York Times - November 12, 1971

Thursday, August 06, 2020

ZA KARATE 3 aka PERILS OF KARATE (1975)



This is the final movie in the absurd but thoroughly entertaining ZA KARATE trilogy starring Tadashi Yamashita as Tadashi Yamashita. At some point between parts two and three, Yamashita underwent surgery to restore his eyesight and is now working as a truck driver to earn money to buy his own dojo. Meanwhile, assholes from all over the globe keep showing up in town to challenge his World Karate Champ title, with the current crop including Crazy Ron from Taiwan, Muhammad Basura (Arab Karate Champion), the Dracula Habu Brothers (Okanawa Midani Style), and the Devil Cross, fighters dressed like Catholic priests who throw razor-lined saturnos and swing crucifixes with retractable blades ("Vatican Cross Style"). And then there's the Black Wolf, played by a totally out of control Donnie Williams, whose reaction to the villain's recap of the first two films is one of the funniest cut-back-to shots I've seen in a long time. The story, such as it is, centers around a new Ryushu Budoukan and the attempts by its corrupt board members to thwart the appointment of Tai Chi Master Chin as the chairman. As with the previous installments, Yamashita's comic relief sidekick Sanpei is annoying as hell, but the fights are still the main attraction and this entry delivers the goods. All in all, ZA KARATE 3 is a satisfying conclusion to a consistently enjoyable series. Oh, and despite what most other movie websites claim, this is not the movie that New Line Cinema released in the U.S. as BRONSON LEE, CHAMPION. That's ZA KARATE, which I reviewed two days ago. This one was called PERILS OF KARATE when it played in Hawaii in 1977.


SURE KILL aka SISTER STREET FIGHTER: FIFTH LEVEL FIST



KARATE LADY'S REVENGE aka SONNY CHIBA'S DRAGON PRINCESS

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Mystery Movies: Two from Group 1 Films




Brandon Chase's Group 1 Films (also known as V.I. Productions, Ltd. and BLC Services, Inc.) was a distribution company that specialized in sleazy European imports (AMUCK!, THE SENSUOUS THREE, NAZI LOVE CAMP #27) that frequently sported cool Robert McGinnis artwork and claimed to be banned in 27 countries but rarely had opening credits or billing blocks to identify the actual movies being ballyhooed. We've solved a couple of these Group 1 mystery movies (like THE MODELS) but there are at least two we have yet to ID.

But before we deal with those, let's get one we have solved out of the way first. The IMDb claims THE GIRLS WHO'LL DO ANYTHING (Group 1 release: 1976) is an Israeli film directed by Boaz Davidson...


...but after a thorough investigation we've come to the conclusion that it's actually Tonino Cervi's LA NOTTATA (1975).


OK, now to the unsolved mystery movies. We know that THE FOUR OF US was rated R by the MPAA in 1974, and earned a domestic gross of $3,276,000 during its first eight months in release in '75.


We also know that there's a print in the American Genre Film Archive, so we reached out to AGFA head archivist Sebastian del Castillo and he sent us the following frame grabs...





We're hoping someone recognizes this movie, or at least the actor in the shots, because we're stumped.

The second unsolved mystery movie is GIRLS IN TROUBLE.


It's a 1974 Group 1 release mistakenly cited everywhere as the West German abortion report PARAGRAPH 218 - WIR HABEN ABGETRIEBEN, HERR STAATSANWALT (1971), which we reviewed as IN TROUBLE, but that film was released in the U.S. as THE JOY OF LOVE in 1974 by United International Pictures. Same year, different movie.

Here's a newspaper ad for THE JOY OF LOVE...


...and this is the trailer for GIRLS IN TROUBLE, which contains not a single shot from PARAGRAPH 218/IN TROUBLE/THE JOY OF LOVE.



Can anyone identify THE FOUR OF US or GIRLS IN TROUBLE, or any of the performers in these movies?



ZA KARATE 2 (1974)



Tadashi Yamashita is back as Tadashi Yamashita in the second of three ZA KARATE/THE KARATE movies. He's still blind from getting his eyes burned with a hot poker, which gives him the opportunity to do some of the blindfolded swordsman stunts he was known for at the time (like slicing watermelons balanced on people's stomachs). It turns out he also won that World Karate Championship, a source of rage for martial artists around the world who start flying in to Kyoto to pick fights with him, beginning with the Guillotine Brothers from New Guinea, who attack him while he's eating ramen barely three minutes into the movie (and that's counting the recap and the opening credits). They're followed by Blue Geller (West Germany), Dr. One (Sweden), Killer Samson (USA), and best of all, Bolo Yeung as Dracula Jack (Hong Kong), who's first shown slamming his head through a car windshield, punching a hole through the hood, kicking off the passenger door, and finally -– because none of that was badass enough -– lifting the car with his bare hands. The main plot involves a sword called the Onikirimaru, a national treasure of Japan, which was en route to the US for an exhibit when it was stolen by a gang that's now using it to try and wrestle the Seibu-kai Association away from tournament organizer Master Suzuki. The leader of the gang kills people using a method called “Kishin-Style Hidden-Fist: Fragmentation,” identified in text superimposed over a freeze frame of arterial spray as one victim's ribcage is pulverized. No sophomore slump here, just a lot of fun with more real karate guys in exciting fights with Yamashita, all filmed cleanly and competently. Because New Line bought the first ZA KARATE movie and sat on it until 1978, this one was simply titled KARATE when it opened in Honolulu on October 8, 1975.


Tuesday, August 04, 2020

ZA KARATE aka BRONSON LEE, CHAMPION (1974)



In this first film in the ZA KARATE trilogy, Japanese-American martial artist Tadashi Yamashita (played by Japanese-American martial artist Tadashi Yamashita) travels to Kyoto to compete in a Budo tournament, hoping to use the $50,000 prize money to save his family’s farm in Ohio. His superior fighting skills anger several opponents including the ruthless Black Tiger, whose underworld managers try to kill Yamashita before the rematch but end up blinding him instead. This is much better than I remembered from my first viewing 35 years ago on the pan-and-scan Warner Home Video tape, mostly because it features real competition fighters of the day and director Yukio Noda knew how to film them in action, eschewing the shaky hand-held camerawork that ruins a lot of the fight scenes in other Toei karate films. New Line Cinema acquired the U.S. rights in 1975 and planned to release it as KAPTAIN KARATE, but the title became BRONSON LEE, CHAMPION once Yamashita's onscreen persona was dubbed with a bad Ohio farm boy accent and renamed Bronson Lee (though he's plainly seen wearing a gi with “YAMASHITA” emblazoned across the back). The New Line version -– which didn't come out until 1978 -– was edited by Jack Sholder and dubbed by future DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE director Joseph Ellison for Simon Nuchtern's August Films. Two sequels followed, neither of which were distributed by New Line, and today most movie websites erroneously claim that ZA KARATE 3 is BRONSON LEE, CHAMPION.

Monday, August 03, 2020

DUEL AT FORT EZO (1970)



An excellent, action-packed adventure from Toho, set in 1864 and centered around a mission to locate a cache of gold and rescue the daughter of the Russian royal family. Both are being held in Fort Ezo by the Takeda Clan, led by a direct descendant of Takeda Shingen and his army of Ainu native followers. To do the job, a government agent posing as a ronin assembles a six-man team consisting of a munitions expert, two thieves, a sleight of hand artist, a real ronin, and an ex-sumo wrestler. At times this feels like a serial that's been condensed to feature length, especially during an exciting chase sequence that leads to an actual cliffhanger. An aerial shot during the climactic battle reveals this to be a fairly large-scale production, despite the presence of the cheapest, worst-looking fake bear I've ever seen. Tatsuya Nakadai is featured prominently on the poster but only appears briefly in two scenes near the beginning.


Sunday, August 02, 2020

Movie Ad of the Week: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1981) aka THE BEING (1983/1984)


World Premiere - Friday, May 8, 1981 - Tucson, AZ


Jackie Kong made her directorial debut with the horror film BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, starring Martin Landau, Jose Ferrer, Dorothy Malone, and Ruth Buzzi. The world premiere was in Tucson, where the movie played for over a month.




For whatever reason, it took two and a half years for the movie to find a distributor (Best Film & Video) and get a regional release as THE BEING.


Los Angeles - November 4, 1983


(Above) Another 10 months passed before it reached the New York tri-state area on September 14, 1984.


Tallahassee, FL - September 28, 1984


Saturday, August 01, 2020

WHIPMASTER: BALLAD OF MURDER (1970)



The whip-cracking, karate-chopping blind gambler priest Ryotatsu (Bunta Sugawara), nemesis of Shinkai in the WICKED PRIEST series, is the main attraction in this one-shot spin-off that doesn't break any new ground but sure delivers a lot of bloody fun. Here he's entrusted with the care and teaching of a blind orphan boy named Rintaro, and they both get tangled up with various characters who are buying and selling explosives during the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877. Tomisaburo Wakayama appears in a couple of scenes, not as Shinkai but as a Chivas-swigging ophthalmologist who agrees to examine Rintaro's eyes. To the list of a half dozen alternate titles already filed, I'll add three more: THE WHIPMASTER'S SONG OF DEATH (the title on the version I watched), THE BLIND KARATE EXPERT PRIEST (Hawaii opening: February 9, 1971), and FURY OF KARATE MONK (New York City opening: August 15, 1973).