Back in January, the Criterion Collection paired the Oscar-winning short film Logorama (Ludovic Houplain, Hervé de Crécy, and François Alaux, 2009) with Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin féminin (1966). Created by the French collective H5, the short constructs Los Angeles entirely from (3,000 or so) trademarked logos and then presents these sanitized images of friendly consumerism in the sun-drenched violence typical to films like To Live and Die in L.A. (William Friedkin, 1985) and Heat (Michael Mann, 1995). The result is a clever statement on the ubiquity of capitalist commodification in our daily life and a somewhat nasty dismantling of the corporate messaging shorthanded into these capitalist symbols. Those interested in the legality of Logorama (or at least the American legality of a French film) should read Rose Lawrence’s “LOGORAMA: The Great Trademark Heist.” Lawrence’s unpacking of the legal tests for parody, satire, infringement, and dilution are particularly useful in considering the artistic aims, popular interactions, and social commentaries at work in the short film. As a bonus, Lawrence also touches upon important legal texts like George of the Jungle 2 (David Grossman, 2003) and Aqua’s “Barbie Girl.”
After emphasizing Tai Katô’s career with Toei, MMC! turns its attention to the director’s work with Shochiku studio. Otokonokao wa rirekisho (1966), also known by the astounding English titles By a Man’s Face Shall You Know Him and A Man’s Face Shows His Personal History, examines the grievances and burdens of post-war Japan through the lens of the bloody gangster film. Loud and short-tempered, Katô creates a man vs. yakuza tale that feels at once familiar and aesthetically irregular.
By a Man’s Face opens with its main character, Dr. Suichi Amamiya (Noboru Ando), standing in profile, a circular scar extending from the left corner of his mouth nearly up to his eye. In the background, his nurse asks of his intentions for his practice while construction equipment works outside his window, the post-war economic boom threatening to inevitably push him out of his current office. Amamiya’s prominent wound seems to declare the film’s title, although By a Man’s Face may also refer to the patient rushed into the doctor’s clinic. Emergency responders bring in a man severely injured in a motor vehicle accident, blood soaking through material of the stretcher transporting him. Amamiya refuses to treat the man, stating he has inadequate resources to save him, but his nurse pleads for him to intervene, pointing out that the prospective patient will surely not survive the ride to the closest hospital. Amamiya is firm in his view until he sees the injured man’s face, recognizing him as “Choi.” From there, the doctor begins treating Choi and their shared past is recollected in extended flashback sequences that attend to Japanese occupation and emasculation in the post-war context and the grievances held by Koreans brutalized before and during WWII.
JAPAN’S ANSWER TO SAM FULLER AND BUDD BOETTICHER
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.
The Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival closed with a massive final day that included five feature films, five shorts, and screenings of the films participating in the Festival’s 48 Hour Movie Making Challenge. SFFF closed the four day run with a trio of Asian films – the Mo Brothers’ Headshot (2015), Yeon Sang-ho’s Train to Busan (2016), and Kôji Shiraishi’s Sadako vs. Kayako (2016) – that were collected to thrill audience members and get their communal adrenaline pumping. These efforts seemed to prove successful, but the best of Day 4 was found elsewhere and the final day offered some welcome surprises along the way.
Day 3 put generational conflict at the forefront of the SFFF and the kids were far from alright. It also marked the Festival’s greatest distance from the horror genre, moving into the rock-doc, the coming of age film, and whatever kind of trash bag meltdown The Greasy Strangler may be. That’s no criticism of Jim Hosking’s film; just a statement of fact. We’ll get to 2016’s most notorious film soon enough, but first things first…
Saskatoon is slightly warming as the week proceeds. I’m reluctant to say this is directly attributable to the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival but after a surprisingly strong Day 2, I see no other credible explanation for it. Including the What the Hell! – Totally Messed Up Short Films block, Day 2 offered 16 different works for consideration, injecting a heavy dose of bizarro randomness into the Festival and creating a decidedly different tone from the previous day’s atmospheric horror extravaganza.