13 Steps of Maki: The Young Aristocrats (Makoto Naito, 1975)

KARATE LADY RETURNS!

Amid the success of The Street Fighter and Sister Street Fighter series, Toei Company had found a new star in Etsuko Shihomi and had created its first female martial arts hero, one that was tough, virtuous, and courageous. In 1975, Shihomi found herself in possibly her sleaziest film: 13 Steps of Maki: The Young Aristocrats, a pinky violence genre mash-up that mixed girl gangs, women in prison, yakuza, and martial arts action into a single sensational movie. As Maki Hyuga, Shihomi is the leader of the Stray Cats girl gang, fighting for justice against evil gangsters and stuck up rich girls. Though her karate skills are unsurpassed, Maki is framed and thrown into a sadistic women’s prison. Will she escape and take her revenge?

Making its worldwide Blu-ray debut, 13 Steps of Maki: The Young Aristocrats is paired here with Norifumi Suzuki’s The Great Chase, an oddball action flick released the same year and starring Etsuko Shihomi as a race car driver moonlighting as a secret agent. Filled with unceasing action, outlandish situations, and plenty of female resistance to male domination, 13 Steps to Maki and The Great Chase reveal new shades to Etsuko Shihomi’s stardom and stand as spectacular examples of Japanese exploitation in the 1970s.

Special Edition Contents:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of 13 Steps of Maki: The Young Aristocrats and The Great Chase
  • Original uncompressed Japanese mono audio on both films
  • Optional newly translated English subtitles on both films
  • New video interviews with actor Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba and director Makoto Naito
  • Theatrical trailers for both films
  • Stills and poster galleries for both films
  • Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Kungfubob O’Brien

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MMC! Double Feature #37: Tough Times in Japanese Supermarkets

MMC! loves a clever double bill and the Criterion Channel makes them a regular part of its programming. With this in mind, MMC! will be offering some suggested double features of its own and what better way to start than with a pair of great Japanese titles currently available on the Channel!

Yearning (Mikio Naruse, 1964)

One of the best films by one of Japan’s true masters of tragic melodrama, Mikio Naruse’s Yearning features Hideko Takamine as Reiko, a young widow devoted to the family of her husband who died during the Second World War. In his memory, she has rebuilt his family’s grocery store which was virtually destroyed in bombing raids, however a large grocery chain has moved in nearby and business prospects are looking dim. In this knot of traditional values and modern capitalism, Reiko must negotiate the unwanted attention of her young brother-in-law Koji (Yuzo Kayama), his plan to save the business and her place in their family, and her mother- and sisters-in-law who would prefer to disentangle themselves from her and move onto commercial fortune.

Supermarket Woman (Juzo Itami, 1996)

Juzo Itami frequently used his films to cast a critical eye on fragile Japanese masculinity and his 1996 romantic comedy Supermarket Woman is no exception, although he does swap out gangsters for the next worse thing: grocery store businessmen. In this vibrant and quirky story, Goro (Masahiko Tsugawa) is the manager of the struggling grocery store Honest Mart. His business is disorganized and uninspired, and it is under siege by Discount Demon, a rival supermarket undercutting Honest Mart with underhanded tactics. When Goro runs into old classmate Hanako (Itami’s wife and muse Nobuko Miyamoto), he hires the housewife to help him whip Honest Mart into shape and perhaps win this retail war!

Tissues on Aisle !

Both Naruse and Itami are looking to elicit some tears with their respective films, although one aims for sadness and the other hopes for laughs. Looking gorgeous in black and white widescreen thanks to the cinematography of Jun Yasumoto, Yearning pits traditional Japanese values and customs against the spreading ethics of capitalist ruthlessness and the film crushes its protagonist, Reiko, between them. In contrast, Itami’s colourfully comic Supermarket Woman supposes that old ideas of loyalty, honesty, and ingenuity can succeed in business and in life, making it a complimentary palette refresher following Naruse’s impressively wrought tragedy.

Enjoy these two films (and many more) for the low, low price of a Criterion Channel subscription! Just make sure to return your cart to designated collection area when you’re done!

Fly Me to the Saitama (Hideki Takeuchi, 2019) – Fantasia International Film Festival

SAITAMA IS WACK!

Municipal rivalries, bedroom community resentments, and capital city snobbery are made fantastically farcical in Hideki Takeuchi’s adaptation of Mineo Maya’s cult manga. In this alternate Japan, Tokyo is a luxurious metropolis surrounded by impoverished prefectures living in near feudal-era conditions. Momomi Dannoura (Fumi Nikaido), son of Tokyo’s governor and possessor of striking feminine beauty, rules a baroquely decorated academy and disdains the presence of any non-Tokyoites, particularly those from the Saitama prefecture. The arrival of the mysterious transfer student Rei Asami (GACKT) sparks an undeniable attraction in Momomi and starts a war of liberation between the disrespected prefectures and the opulent megacity. Can love and regional pride overcome big city corruption?

Fly Me to the Saitama is Japanese lunatic satire at its finest, balancing a storm of local inside jokes with universal tensions between slick urbanites and commuter belt wastelands. In between, the film stuffs wacky battles, gender-bending characters, outlandish wigs and costumes, and plenty of historical anachronisms all delivered with disarmingly earnest performances from a stellar cast. Book your ticket to this award-winning, box office smash and accept your Saitamafication!

Special Edition Contents:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Uncompressed Stereo PCM
  • Newly translated English subtitles
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Audio commentary with director Hideki Takeuchi, creator Mineo Maya, and crew
  • Audio commentary by Japanese film scholar Mark Shilling
  • Interviews with cast and crew
  • Reverse Country Boasting Japan’s No. 1 Final Battle, a special promotional program for the film
  • Behind-the-scenes footage
  • Deleted scenes
  • Trailers
  • Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork choices

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by manga and cosplay scholar Emerald L. King and a new printing of Mineo Maya’s original 188-page manga

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The Man Who Stole the Sun (Kazuhiko Hasegawa, 1979)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents The Man Who Stole the Sun.

Junior high school teacher Makoto Kido attacks a nuclear power plant to steal a plutonium capsule and then succeeds in building an atomic bomb by himself in his apartment. Calling himself “Number 9” and claiming to be a new nuclear power of his own, Kido extorts the government with demands for uninterrupted baseball games and a concert by the then-banned Rolling Stones, even going so far as to appoint his own negotiating partner, hardened police inspector Yamashita. Pitting rock icon Kenji Sawada with legendary tough guy Bunta Sugawara, Kazuhiko Hasegawa’s celebrated Japanese cult film explores the nation’s growing generation gap and the proliferation of nuclear power with black comedy, stylistic invention, and a heavy, controversial premise.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • New high-definition digital restoration with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • The Legend is Lebon Video Testimony, an 84-minute documentary on the making of the film, with interviews and on-set footage
  • Walking With the Movie, a tour of the film’s locations with Japanese singer Masaki Ueda
  • Enthusiasm, Talk, Talk, My “Man Who Stole the Sun,” a 35-minute interview of director Kazuhiko Hasegawa by actor Masatoshi Nagase and special effects director Shinji Higuchi
  • 11 p.m. “Wonderful!! Is Julie a Strong Guy Like Genbaku?!,” a 20-minute edited version shown prior to the film’s theatrical released on September 20, 1979
  • Trailer
  • English subtitle translation supervised by screenwriter Leonard Schrader
  • PLUS: A new essay by Japanese film scholar Tony Rayns

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Godzilla vs. Mito Komon (Shinya Takeshita, 1991)

A cult classic to knowing G-fans everywhere, Godzilla vs. Mito Kōmon was made by Shinya Takeshita around 1991 while a student at Osaka Art University. The short is loaded with DIY charm and cheeky ingenuity thanks to Takeshita playing a one-man show as a news reporter (with pop bottle microphone), various classic kaiju and tokusatsu characters (with cardboard fins and helmets), and even multiple utility poles. Takeshita also plays various roles from the iconic Japanese television series Mito Kōmon, including the title character and his various followers. The short is memorable in part for bringing two together two Japanese icons: Godzilla and his giant monster ilk and the characters of Japan’s longest-running period drama, Mito Kōmon (1,227 episodes from 1969 to 2011), which featured a feudal lord traveling in disguise with his samurai retainers and redressing some local injustice in each episode. In these socially distanced days where scores of people are taking their creativity to webcams and video-sharing in even greater abundance, Takeshita’s film is a reminder that wacky, enthusiastic, brilliant entertainment was always just one person and one camera away.

You Can Succeed, Too (Eizo Sugawa, 1964)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents You Can Succeed, Too.

Sing, dance, and get ahead with You Can Succeed, Too, the closest Japanese cinema ever came to a full-blown Broadway-style musical! Set in a tourism company looking to secure a big American client in the run up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, an ambitious salesman (jazz drummer and comedian Frankine Sakai) and his handsome, undemanding colleague (musician and actor Tadao Takashima) struggle to negotiate love and business amid the pressures of a booming Japanese economy and the American-style changes brought to their department by the president’s daughter (Izumi Yukimura). Featuring music from avant-garde composer Toshiro Mayuzumi and lyrics by renowned poet and translator Shuntaro Tanikawa, director Eizo Sugawa creates a musical comedy in the spirit of Frank Tashlin’s Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and Frank Loesser’s How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, celebrating and skewering Japan’s growing global profile with singing salarymen and dancing office workers.

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • High definition digital transfer with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary with actor Tadao Takashima
  • Audio interview with director Eizo Sugawa and actor Frankie Sakai
  • A History of the Japanese Musical, a video essay by Hieu Chau
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Gallery of promotional materials
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: An essay by film scholar Michael Raine and 1994 interviews with composer Toshiro Mayuzumi

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