Shura (Toshio Matsumoto, 1971)

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

Experimental filmmaker and critic Toshio Matsumoto followed up his queer opus, Funeral Parade of Roses, with a “mere” samurai film, yet underneath its seemingly traditional surface lurks just as many subversions. In Shura, a samurai poised to join the famous 47 ronin and avenge the death of his master becomes distracted from his duties by his love for a lowly geisha, who in turn betrays him. Driven mad by his desire for vengeance, the samurai embarks on a bloody path of revenge marked by riveting intensity, a nightmarishly black aesthetic, and an uncertain blurring of fantasy and reality. A Borgesian satire in the guise of samurai horror, this nocturnal masterpiece is one of the darkest films of its era, both visually and politically.

Disc Features:

  • New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with critic, filmmaker, and festival programmer Tony Rayns
  • Security Treaty, a 1959 short film by Toshio Matsumoto
  • For My Crushed Right Eye, a 1969 installation piece by Matsumoto
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring essays on the film by Matsumoto and Nagisa Oshima, director’s notes, and an essay by Japanese film scholar Hirofumi Sakamoto

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SFFF Day 4 – Go Big and Go Home

The Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival’s final day was even more massive than expected. With a packed program and an extra short film (moved from the previous day due to a technical issue), there was little downtime between screenings and the Festival’s final midnight show started late and wrapped well past 2:30 a.m. Those that saw the marathon day of screenings to its bleary end enjoyed without question the SFFF’s best block of films (plus some welcome giveaways for lucky attendees).

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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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Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji (Tomu Uchida, 1955)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji.

criterion logoAlready established and celebrated as an exemplary filmmaker in the 1920s and 1930s, Tomu Uchida returned to Japanese cinemas after a near decade-long absence in Manchuria to make Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji, a compassionate tale about a lowly lancer named Gonpachi (Chiezô Kataoka) who travels with his young samurai master and another servant to Edo along the Tokaido road, repeatedly encountering the same peasant travelers.  A community is gradually formed between them as they become familiar with each other and their personal struggles despite the class barriers that separate them.  Made with assistance of fellow filmmakers Yasujirô Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi, Daisuke Itô, and Hiroshi Shimizu, Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji is a picaresque story that deftly blends humor and drama to reveal the contradictory nature of Japanese society and stands as one of master director Tomu Uchida’s greatest films.

Disc Features:

  • High-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • New video interviews with critics Tadao Sato, David Bordwell, and Kristin Thompson
  • Trailer
  • New and improved English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by scholar Tony Rayns and an excerpt from Donald Richie’s essay “Rediscovering the Work of Tomu Ichida” written for the 2004 Tokyo FILMeX International Film Festival.

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