Fire Line (Hiromichi Takebe, 1961)

Eclipse LogoWritten by Teruo Ishii and director Hiromichi Takebe, Fire Line broke new ground for the Line series, leaving tales of underworld prostitution rings and focusing on the double dealings and triple crosses of rival gangs over 100 pistols sold by a shady black market arms dealer.  In this twisty tale of gangland betrayal, a young sharpshooter and his friend are enlisted by a gang to help steal the guns but are then betrayed and blamed for the heist by the gang’s leader.  The arms dealer, the sharpshooter, and the boss’s girlfriend concoct a plan to rob the gang and escape to South America, but members of the mob have other plans.  The bankruptcy of Shintoho studios marks Fire Line as a premature conclusion to the series and Takebe’s only directorial effort, but the film remains a canny and faithfully hardboiled approach to noir sensibilities.

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Sexy Line (Teruo Ishii, 1961)

Eclipse LogoWhen a young journalist is framed for the murder of his fiancé and discovers her secret life as a moonlighting prostitute, he finds unlikely assistance in a thrill-seeking female pickpocket intent on helping him clear his name and entertaining herself while doing so.  Their investigation reveals a secret organization of criminals and call girls serving the sexual demands of senior executives and other powerful Japanese figures.  Shot on city streets amid the bustling crowds of Asakusa and Ginza, Sexy Line is a witty and energetic journey into Tokyo’s licentious underworld.

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Yellow Line (Teruo Ishii, 1960)

Eclipse LogoAn exotic dancer is kidnapped from Tokyo by a betrayed hitman bent on vengeance.  Her reporter boyfriend follows their trail to Kobe and to the port city’s dangerous red light district, afraid that she may have been kidnapped by that city’s prostitution ring, the Yellow Line.  The only color film in the Line series, Teruo Ishii bathes Yellow Line in ghastly greens and punctuating reds that perfectly express the moral decay of Kobe’s decadent and disreputable kasbah.  This seedy vision of underworld crime continues Ishii’s documentary approach to location shooting and his play with American film noir conventions while wallowing in its bizarre setting and garish aesthetic, resulting in a nightmarish, otherworldly atmosphere unlike any other in the series and anticipating the director’s gory classics that followed.

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Black Line (Teruo Ishii, 1960)

Eclipse LogoFreelance reporter “Scoop” Machida is hot on the trail of a prostitution ring called the Black Line, when he is framed for the murder of a young woman.  Forced to clear his own name, the handsome journalist sinks deeper into the Black Line’s rotten swamp of drugs, prostitution, and murder and finds unexpected help in Maya, a steamy female gambler familiar with the neon-lit streets, shadowy alleyways, and seedy nightclubs he must navigate.  The closest film in the Line series to classic American film noir, Ishii’s Black Line is a pulpy assortment of crime film conventions including the starkly expressionistic black and white cinematography by Jûgyô Yoshida, a jazzy music score by Michiaki Watanabe, and a sleazy screenplay by Ishii and Ichirô Miyagawa.

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On the Line with Teruo Ishii

Eclipse is a selection of lost, forgotten, or overshadowed classics in simple affordable editions.  Each series is a brief cinematheque retrospective for the adventurous home viewer.

Eclipse LogoDanger lurks all around in Teruo Ishii’s Line series, a collection of sensational films noir made during the director’s beloved time at Shintoho studios from 1947 until its bankruptcy in 1961.  In these stylistically varied but consistently provocative crime films, Ishii offers a glimpse at the lurid underworld of drug-dealers, human-traffickers, prostitutes, and assassins through the eyes of dogged journalists, devoted boyfriends, and wrongfully accused men.  With jazzy scores and neon-lit streets, these seedy and saucy films convey Shintoho’s daring and eccentric filmmaking ethic and Ishii’s origins as Japan’s “King of Cults.”

Secret White Line (Shirosen himitsu chitai)

Ishii impressed audiences and studio execs with this remarkable, energetic investigation of an underground prostitution ring, inspiring a film noir series for Shintoho and establishing a thematic foundation for future films.

Black Line (Kurosen chitai)

A tenacious crime reporter, framed for the murder of a young woman, attempts to expose a prostitution and drug syndicate in this bleakly hardboiled tale set amongst the neon-lit streets and unsavory dives of Shinjuku.

Yellow Line (Ôsen chitai)

A betrayed hitman, his exotic dancer hostage, and her reporter boyfriend converge on Kobe’s sleazy, claustrophobic Casbah and on an unscrupulous prostitution syndicate called the Yellow Line.

Sexy Line (Sekushî chitai)

Ishii takes his camera to the streets of Asakusa and Ginza and its milling crowds in this witty investigation of pickpockets, prostitutes, post-war prosperity, and moral license.

Fire Line (Kasen chitai)

In Ishii’s co-scripted final film of the series, a sharpshooter, a shady arms dealer, and a mobster’s moll plot to steal back a cache of guns from a duplicitous and double-dealing gang.

With notes on the films by Japanese-cinema historian Chris D.

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Perils of Nyoka (William Witney, 1942)

Eclipse LogoPerils of Nyoka is an action-packed cliffhanger classic that chronicles the efforts of an African expedition to locate the fabled lost Tablets of Hippocrates, golden artifacts that contain a cure for cancer.  Former Powers model Kay Aldridge stars as Nyoka in this sequel to Republic Pictures’ 1941 serial Jungle Girl.  Nyoka joins the expedition while attempting to find her lost father, but the beautiful Arab ruler Vultura and her cutthroat servants seek the tablets and the riches that accompany them for herself and will do anything to beat Nyoka to the treasure.  Hailed as the best of the Jungle serials, Perils of Nyoka is a fast and furious treasure hunt boasting an enthralling cast of characters, spectacular sets, and an array of fearsome deathtraps.

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