JAPAN’S ANSWER TO SAM FULLER AND BUDD BOETTICHER
Nearly unknown outside of Japan, director Tai Kato was one of Toei’s genre masters during the 1960s, making hard-boiled films about gangsters and samurai that were bold, stylish, and uncompromised.
In Cruel Story at the End of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Kato offers a merciless view of the Shinsengumi, an elite police force in the service of Japan’s military government. Starring Okawa Hashizo (breaking from his typically lighthearted roles) and Junko Fuji (who would later star as the Red Peony Gambler), this bloody tale chronicles the brutal indoctrination of a young peasant into the Shinsengumi and the secret plot that hides within its ranks.
Next, Akira Shioji stars as Fighting Tatsu, the Rickshaw Man, an independent and confrontational young rickshaw driver who falls in love with a local geisha played by Rumiko Fuji and becomes embroiled in a local gang war. Here, Kato creates a highly entertaining film that is equal parts romantic comedy and gangster action movie.
By a Man’s Face Shall You Know Him is a sprawling, gutsy account of a Korean-Japanese gang’s ruthless rise to power in 1948 Osaka and a local doctor’s unexpected opposition to the hoodlums. Told though vibrant colour cinematography and a complex series of flashbacks, Kato traces the influences of sex, violence, and racism in post-war Japan.
Finally, I, the Executioner provides one of Japanese cinema’s most disturbing dissections of the serial killer, as five women are stalked by a sadistic sex killer intent on avenging the suicide of a 16-year-old boy. Contrasting an uninspired police-investigation with lurid, solarized flashbacks and on-location shooting in Tokyo, I, the Executioner is a shattering story often hailed as Kato’s finest movie.
Presented on DVD and Blu-ray for the first time in the West, these thrilling genre films feature some of Kato Tai’s smartest, toughest work.
- Limited Edition Blu-ray collection (3000 copies)
- High definition digital transfers of all four films from the original film elements by Toei Company
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard DVD presentation
- Original uncompressed mono audio
- Newly translated English subtitles
- Specially recorded video discussions with Japanese cinema expert Tony Rayns
- Original trailers for all four films
- Extensive promotional image galleries for all films
- Reversible sleeve featuring new artwork
- Booklet featuring new writing on all the films and a director profile by Stuart Galbraith IV, Tom Mes, Mark Schilling, and Chris D.
Among the many things that Arrow Video has gotten right is Japanese genre cinema. In particular, the label has offered fantastic collections for the Stray Cat Rock series, the Outlaw series, Kinji Fukasaku’s Battles Without Honor and Humanity, the Female Prisoner Scorpion titles, various “Diamond Guys” films, and the forthcoming Black Society Trilogy by Takashi Miike (and MMC! has followed suit with proposals for Michio Yamamoto’s “Bloodthirsty Trilogy” and Toru Murakawa’s “Game Trilogy”). Today, MMC! suggests that Arrow Video keep up this standard and rectify one of the West’s great blind-spots in Japanese cinema by attending to the work of Tai Kato.
For those unfamiliar with the filmmaker and looking for an easy referent, Tai Kato is often favourably compared to Sam Fuller and Budd Boetticher. An assistant director on Akira Kurosawa‘s Rashomon (1950), Kato became a master of pulpy, intelligently made genre films, putting his stamp on yakuza and samurai films throughout the 1960s. His use of low-angles and carefully constructed compositions reveal his devotion to Yasujiro Ozu, although Kato’s films interpolated Ozu’s sentiments into specifically masculine, often hard-boiled narratives. Like many directors of the time, Kato brought a grittiness previously missing from established commercial cinema, embracing emotional intensity while eschewing sentimentality. Japanese film scholar Chris D. describes Kato as one of the nation’s few directors who truly understood the melancholia and existential angst of the era’s anti-heroes, and a quick survey of the director’s best works quickly reveals a heroic fatalism inscribed in his stories and arranged within his frame.
This proposed set could just as easily bear a wacky “C” and Tai Kato certainly deserves the kind of esteemed regard associated with Criterion, not just as a director but also as a screenwriter, having written three of the four titles selected here. We’ve chosen Arrow Video given the label’s propensity for stacked collections of Japanese cinema and the fact that our choice of films centres upon Kato at his violent, transgressive, wry, embittered, and bloody best. Each of these four titles – Cruel Story at the End of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1964), Fighting Tatsu, the Rickshaw Man (1964), By a Man’s Face Shall You Know Him (1966), I, the Executioner (1968) – will be discussed in posts of their own, likely carrying MMC! through most of December.
Credits: This proposed set closely resembles the form of Arrow Video’s “Diamond Guys” collections, from the style of the back synopses to the included special features. We’ve tapped Arrow Video regulars Tom Mes, Mark Schilling, and Stuart Galbraith IV to provide booklet contributions – all of whom have previously extolled the virtues of Tai Kato, even having organized retrospectives of the director’s work for screening. Chris D. was added as an essay writer, as he is probably North America’s most outspoken Tai Kato supporter. We’ve strayed out of Arrow Video’s usual stable of contributors and into the Criterion Collection’s preferred experts by including a video interview with Tony Rayns, as Rayns is UK-based and provides highly supportive reviews of Cruel Story, By a Man’s Face, and I, the Executioner for the Time Out Film Guide. In preparing the above cover summary, we’ve liberally cribbed off of the writing of all these experts in Japanese cinema, so thanks to them once again.
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