Monday, April 14, 2008

Nikkatsu Action retrospective: just grazed

Outcast Cinema's Nikkatsu Action Cinema retrospective finally made its way to San Francisco last weekend and, as luck would have it, I had to be out of town for most of it, though I did manage to catch the first night's showing of director Takashi Nomura's 1967 film A Colt is My Passport. Like a lot of people, my only exposure to the venerable Japanese studio Nikkatsu's hardboiled crime films of the 60s has been through the work of (say it with me) "maverick director" Seijun Suzuki--specifically films like Branded to Kill, Underworld Beauty, Tokyo Drifter, Gate of Flesh, and Youth of the Beast (though I've also seen Suzuki protege Yasuharu Hasebe's lovably loony Black Tight Killers). Though it does share some of the offbeat qualities of Suzuki's more well known films, A Colt is My Passport is a considerably more subdued affair, and as such didn't grab me with the immediacy that those other movies did. Still, I found it interesting, and would like to have the chance to see it again before forming a full opinion on it. The film is an across the board exercise in genre minimalism, from its basic story and sparse dialog to its stark, nondescript settings, and the combination results in the film, despite its gritty subject matter, having a somewhat dreamlike tone--though one that's punctuated by periodic eruptions of highly stylized violence. Nikkatsu regular Joe Shishido (see my review of Asiapol) is always reason enough on his own to see a picture, and in this one he's as stylish, unflappable and compelling as ever.

Hopefully A Colt is My Passport and the other films presented as part of Outcast's retrospective will find release on DVD in the near future, because the fleeting taste provided by this one screening--as well as Mark Schilling's companion volume No Borders, No Limits: Nikkatsu Action Cinema, which I was able to pick up there--has definitely made me want to explore this particular part of the studio's output further.

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