Violent Panic: The Big Crash (Kinji Fukasaku, 1976)

KINJI FUKASAKU’S ODE TO AUTOMOTIVE ANARCHY

AV_Inferno_DVD_.inddAcclaimed Japanese director Kinji Fukasaku breaks free from his iconic yakuza films with Violent Panic: The Big Crash, a deliriously wild ride through Japanese and American exploitation cinema.  Takashi Yamanaki (Tsunehiko Watase) and his partner tear across Japan committing daring, daylight bank-robberies in hopes of eventually escaping to Brazil, but when his partner is killed escaping from a heist, Takashi finds himself on the run as a wanted man.  Standing between him and his getaway to South America is a beautiful woman in love with him (Miki Sugimoto), his partner’s vicious brother (Hideo Murota), an ill-tempered cop (Takuzo Kawatani), and every news truck, motorcycle gang, and delivery driver that crosses their path.  Violent Panic crashes cult film genres (sex comedy, crime, erotic horror, carsploitation) into Fukasaku’s trademark handheld cinematography to create an irreverently careening caper flick, culminating with an outrageous multi-vehicle demolition derby that must be seen to be believed!

Fans of Japan’s master of gangster cinema will recognize Fukasaku’s unique storytelling and visual style, but Violent Panic contains a madcap spontaneity that is wantonly cartoonish and uncharacteristic to the director’s better known works.  Fun, frothy, and fierce, Violent Panic: The Big Crash is a cult film spectacle that pulls out all the stops.

Special Features:

  • New High Definition digital transfer
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation
  • Newly translated English subtitles
  • New interview with star Tsunehiko Watase
  • Interview with Fukasaku biographer, Yamane Sadao
  • Original trailer
  • Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork
  • Booklet by critic and scholar Tom Mes of Midnight Eye, illustrated with original stills and new artwork

We’re very excited for Arrow Video to reach North American shores and for the opportunity to discuss our favourite retro-cult titles through our “Make Mine Arrow!” posts.  It’s no secret that we love Japanese cinema and no director defines the yakuza film or seems ready made for Arrow Video like Kinji Fukasaku.  Fukasaku may be best known in the West for his Lord of the Flies-meets-Survivor adaptation, Battle Royale (2000), a title that once wallowed in bootleg copies but now boasts a plethora of great high-definition editions including Arrow Video UK’s own Blu-ray packages.  A number of Fukasaku’s titles have been released in North America by the now defunct Home Vision Entertainment label, including more highly regarded works like Under the Flag of the Rising Sun (1972) and Fall Guy (1982) and gritty gangster classics like Sympathy for the Underdog (1971), Street Mobster (1972), and Graveyard of Honor (1975).  Any of these HVE titles are deserving of going back into print in superior Blu-ray editions, although Fukasaku’s 5-film magnum opus, The Yakuza Papers: Battles Without Honor & Humanity (released by HVE as an excellent 6-disc boxset in 2004), clearly stands as the work most in need of a Criterion-quality release (or simply a release by the Criterion Collection).  With all that said, we come back to Violent Panic: The Big Crash, an ungainly film about a fugitive bank-robber that is frequently looked upon as a lesser Fukasaku work when compared against his bleak portrayals of street level violence and desperation.  Yet, Violent Panic bears a brashness, a spontaneity, and, at times, a wackiness that makes it a thoroughly enjoyable experience when accepted and appreciated at face value.

At a high view, Violent Panic is a straight ahead, fugitive crime story.  Takashi Yamanaku (Tsunehiko Watase) rips through Japan, violently robbing banks with his partner in an effort to gather enough cash to escape to a prosperous and carefree life in Brazil.  Takashi is even prepared to abandon his troubled lover Michi (pinky violence star Miki Sugimoto) for his utopian dream, but his plan quickly collapses when his partner is run over and killed while escaping a bank robbery.  Identified by the police and unable to cast off the devoted Michi, Takashi, now the object of a nationwide manhunt, must plot their escape from Japan and carry out another bank robbery to secure adequate funds to finance their new life.  In this sense, Violent Panic is typical Fukasaku – Takashi is a characteristic protagonist, manly, daring, and honourable in his outlaw code, and the film’s action is wild and frenetic, shot in Fukasaku’s trademark handheld style that thrusts the viewer into the fray with reckless abandon.

Violent Panic distinguishes itself from other Fukasaku crime films by series of strange, tangentially-related subplots that are most notable for their inconsistency in tone to Takashi’s principle story.  Takashi is pursued by his dead partner’s brother (Hideo Murota) who demands his brother’s share of the loot as compensation for his death.  Murota is believably threatening in the role and appears as the least disjunctive supporting role, although he becomes embroiled in another subplot involving a perverted old man who is obsessed with Michi and attacks her in Takashi’s bar, an act that causes Takashi to defend her and commences their romance.  The old man, promising to lead the brother to Michi (and, in turn, Takashi), takes him to an abandoned retail space full of nude female mannequins and a naked portrait of Michi that he covets (read: licks).  This scene of objectified, even imprisoned, femininity alludes to ero guro (that particular brand of Japanese erotic horror and grotesquerie) and films such as Yasuzô Masumura’s Blind Beast (1969).  Fukasaku further evokes ero guro in a strange subplot involving a male autobody shop worker who is entrapped by a doctor into vandalizing his sports car and is then tortured and nearly raped.  The subplot is as unseemly and lurid as it sounds, resulting in the doctor’s murder, yet has little significance to the film’s narrative other than to coincidentally bring the police to Takashi and Michi’s door and force them to flee once again.  Fukasaku also tries his hand at the sex comedy with a handful of scenes between a beautiful and frequently out of uniform traffic cop (the gorgeous Yayoi Watanabe) and her jealous, quick-tempered, and easily frustrated colleague and admirer (Takuzo Kawatani).  Narratively, these scenes make little contribution other than to inflame the anger of Kawatani’s cop and set up a concluding car chase/demolition derby that drags in a host of unrelated drivers upset at being victimized by the pursuing authorities.  Fukasaku caps off Violent Panic with this massive, nonsensical auto-wreck involving a getaway car, police vehicles, a motorcycle gang, a tow truck, a news van, and a bevvy of infuriated commuters and delivery drivers.

It’s easy to slip into seeing Violent Panic as a scatter-shot mess.  By straying out of the yakuza film and into these other film modes, Fukasaku might have produced the cinematic equivalent of an unbalanced tire – wobbly, jarring, and denying the smooth, singular ride to which we have become accustomed.  However, this reading presumes that Fukasaku aimed to produce a film comparable to his preceding gangster films, yet the wild eccentricities of The Big Crash seem to obviously resist such an intention.  Once freed from the auteurist weight of Fukasaku’s earlier movies and considered on its own, Violent Panic seems less like a failure in tone and temperament, and more like a celebration in movie spectacle, functioning as a kind of sightseeing tour through the landmarks of Japanese exploitation cinema.  Violent Panic‘s outlaw road trip frequently stops to enjoy the various roadside attractions of sex and violence available along the way, and, like a giant armadillo, a full-scale dinosaur, or a blue ox, the wounded back of the garage employee and the breasts of Yayoi Watanabe are spectacles that ought not to detract from the voyage itself, but rather enliven it.  Fukasaku seems to be having some fun with The Big Crash, and when viewed with the same spirit, Violent Panic is fun – a sexy and sadistic, violent and vigorous race that never leaves you waiting.

Violent Panic PosterArrow Video seems to draw on a stable of excellent artists to provide original cover art for their releases, which is a wonderful approach as it creates almost something of a house-style for the label.  Reversible cover art is a frequent feature of the label, usually relying on original promotional material.  We like this poster for Violent Panic, with its crashing cars, the sequentialized roll-over, a pair cool outlaw images of Takashi, and some eye-catching fonts.  It’s hard to go wrong picking any Kinji Fukasaku film for upgrade or release, but the director’s profile has risen in the West over the last decade and now seems like an excellent time to move beyond the gangster films for which he is synonymous.  Violent Panic: The Big Crash may be a film at the periphery of Fukasaku’s filmography, but it is nevertheless a rewarding 85 minutes for those wanting to buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Credits:  The interview with star Tsunehiko Watase is proposed given that the actor continues to work in Japanese television at the age of 70 and may be our best direct tie back to Violent Panic.  Yamane Sadao was interviewed on some of HVE’s Fukasaku releases and so we’ve included an interview with him here as well.  Tom Mes is a frequent contributor to Arrow on the label’s Japanese titles, and so we’ve made him responsible for the proposed booklet.

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