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