I, the Executioner (Tai Kato, 1968)

AV_Inferno_DVD_.inddMMC! rounds out this proposed Tai Katô set with another film from the director’s tenure at Shochiku and arguably the best work considered here – Minagoroshi no reika (1968), otherwise known as I, the Executioner or Requiem for a Massacre. Of course, you don’t have to take my word for it; Tony Rayns shouts his admiration for I, the Executioner loudly from the rafters of the Time Out Film Guide.

Up there with Oshima’s Violence at Noon and Imamura’s Vengeance is Mine as one of Japan’s most disturbing anatomies of a serial killer, Kato’s shattering film eschews suspense (it confronts male violence against women head-on from its very first shot) in favour of mystery. What links the murders of five women with the suicide of a 16-year-old delivery boy? Plodding cops (one with a bad case of piles) investigate, and solarised flashbacks eventually provide a denouement, but the near metaphysical ending ensures that the mystery somehow lingers. Kato anchors it in location-shot observation of Tokyo’s quotidian realities, which makes the unorthodox approach to questions of sexual politics all the more bracing.

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Fighting Tatsu, the Rickshaw Man (Tai Kato, 1964)

AV_Inferno_DVD_.inddMMC!‘s proposed collection of Tai Katô films continues with another exceptionally titled movie – Fighting Tatsu, the Rickshaw Man (1964). Adapted by Katô and Noribumi Suzuki from Gohei Kamiya’s novel, Shafu yukyoden – kenka tatsu (Fighting Tatsu‘s Japanese title) is a lighter take on the yakuza genre, injecting a romantic comedy into its story of mob politics and gang warfare. The film still manages its share of bloodshed, untimely deaths, and wild, riotous street fights to satisfy strict genre fans.

The movie opens in 1898 with scruffy and truculent rickshaw driver Tatsu (Ryôhei Uchida) arriving from Edo to Osaka ready to start his career with the town’s only rubber-wheeled carriage. Before even leaving the Victorian-designed train station, Tatsu bumps into a high-ranking official and gets into a brawl with him, his assistant, and his bodyguard. When told to mind his place and defer to the official, Tatsu proclaims that they live in a new era where all are “born equally now.” By these first few minutes, the film’s main character is immediately and perfectly defined – headstrong, independent, egalitarian, pugnacious – and no question is left as to how Fighting Tatsu will develop its dramatic conflicts.

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Cruel Story at the End of the Tokugawa Shogunate (Tai Kato, 1964)

AV_Inferno_DVD_.inddTai Kato’s Bakumatsu zankoku monogatari goes by multiple translated titles such as The Executioners and various permutations on Brutal/Cruel Story/Tale of the Shogunate’s Downfall/at the End of the Tokugawa Era/Shogunate. In this bundle of terms and referents are numerous evocations – institutionalized murder, mercilessness, the degradation that typifies a historical era’s demise, a retrospective view and an exemplum account. Made by Toei as a no frills genre picture, Tai Kato offers a daringly grim view of Japanese militarism and the radical lengths such top-down pressures drive individuals toward.

Hashizo Okawa, a handsomely baby-faced actor departing from more commercially agreeable fare, plays Enami, a naïve and unskilled samurai looking to join the Shinsengumi. During the mid- to late-1860s, the Shinsengumi acted as a special militarized police force devoted to protecting the Shogunate and, though valourized in some dramatic treatments as heroes, they are regarded by many historians as vicious death squads. Kato’s film prefers the historical view of the Shinsengumi, first introducing them as blood-drenched foot soldiers stoically overseeing the aftermath of some late-night operation on an urban street. Enami’s story commences with a savage try-out held for samurai aspiring to join the group, forced to display their swordsmanship against one another with wooden swords rather than bamboo ones, thereby inflicting grave injuries on each other. The savagery of these sword-fights and the shock of the injuries sustained leave many of the hopefuls in utter panic and Enami vomiting under a nearby tree.

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The Essential Tai Kato – Volume 1

JAPAN’S ANSWER TO SAM FULLER AND BUDD BOETTICHER

AV_Inferno_DVD_.inddNearly 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.

Special Features:

  • 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.

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The Betrayal (Tokuzo Tanaka, 1966)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents The Betrayal.

criterion logoRaizô Ichikawa stars as a naïvely honorable samurai who protects his clan by taking the blame for a murder he did not commit and living as a fugitive for a year. Upon his return, he discovers that the promises to restore him to his former position will not be kept and that he remains falsely accused. Betrayed, hunted, and with nothing else to lose, the samurai must defend his life with deadly force, culminating in one of Japanese cinema’s most daring and brutal sword-fights! Tokuzô Tanaka’s The Betrayal stands among the director’s best works and is a classic example of the cruel jidai-geki film.

Disc Features:

  • New, high definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with Japanese cinema scholar Isolde Standish
  • Orochi, Buntarô Futagara’s 1925 film starring Tsumasaburô Bandô that inspired The Betrayal
  • New and improved English subtitle translation
  • Plus: A new essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien

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The Whale God (Tokuzo Tanaka, 1962)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents The Whale God.

criterion logoA small Japanese village is obsessed with killing a monstrous whale that has decimated its hunting parties. The town’s wealthiest man offers his land, position, and only daughter to the individual who can kill the demon whale. Shaki, a popular young man whose family has been massacred by the beast, steps forward vowing to slay the whale and avenge his relations, but his efforts are complicated by a brutish stranger to the village also intent on killing the monster and collecting on the promised riches. Based on Koichiro Uno’s award-winning novel published the previous year and scripted by visionary writer-director Kaneto Shindo, this loose adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick captures the madness and danger of whaling and combines it with period drama and kaiju monster effects.

Disc Features:

  • New, high definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with Japanese film critic Tadao Sato
  • New interview with Japanese-literature scholar Jeffrey Angles
  • Theatrical trailer
  • New and improved English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: An essay by critic, novelist, and musician Chris D.

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