By a Man’s Face Shall You Know Him (Tai Kato, 1966)

AV_Inferno_DVD_.inddAfter 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.

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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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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 Game Trilogy (Toru Murakawa, 1978-1979)

JAPAN’S COOLEST HITMAN FINALLY ARRIVES IN THE WEST!

AV_Inferno_DVD_.inddTôru Murakawa’s Game Trilogy stars Yûsaku Matsuda (Black Rain) in the role that made him the Japanese king of cool.

Matsuda stars as the indomitable hitman Shohei Narumi, a deadly freelance assassin steeped in outsider appeal.  In The Most Dangerous Game, Narumi is hired to tip the scales in a murderous corporate rivalry, but is forced to watch his own back while protecting the alluring girlfriend of a gangster.  Narumi is enlisted into a gang conflict and is then betrayed in The Killing Game, endangering not just his life but the lives of his friend and of two beautiful women who know Narumi from a previous hit.  In The Execution Game, Narumi is strong-armed into killing another assassin and becomes embroiled in a complex web of mysterious organizations and hidden identities.

The Game Trilogy features Matsuda’s über-cool persona, typified by his lean frame, stylish clothes, and aggressive indifference and supported by beautiful women, desperate action, and the jazzy score of celebrated composer Yuji Ohno, making these action-thrillers a trifecta in funky, macho resolve.

Special Features:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of all 3 films in The Game Trilogy, available in the English speaking world for the first time
  • Original Mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-rays)
  • New English subtitle translation of all 3 films
  • New interviews with director Tôru Murakawa, actor-singer Ichirô Araki, and actresses Kaori Takeda and Yutaka Nakajima
  • Soul Red, Osamu Minorikawa’s 2-hour documentary on Yûsaku Matsuda featuring interviews with Andy Garcia and Tadanobu Asano
  • Original trailers for all 3 films
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the films by Japanese cinema expert Tom Mes

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A Taxing Woman (Juzo Itami, 1987) and A Taxing Woman’s Return (Juzo Itami, 1988)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents A Taxing Woman and A Taxing Woman’s Return.

criterion logoRyoko is Japan’s hardest working female tax inspector, a ruthlessly diligent investigator whose only match is Gondo, a “love hotel” owner and master tax evader.  Against a backdrop of stake-outs, searches, and a spectacular raid, this taxing woman and her clever prey test their respective skills of detection and deception, stirring their mutual sexual attraction.  Nobuko Miyamoto and Tsutomu Yamazaki give performances in the best tradition of romantic farce, resulting in a hit film for director Jûzô Itami and a darker, edgier sequel, A Taxing Woman’s Returns, that pits the title character against a religious cult leader and a complex conspiracy involving gangsters, politicians, and a prestigious construction project.

Disc Features:

  • New 2K digital restorations, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Introduction with Nobuko Miyamoto, star of the films and wife of filmmaker Jûzô Itami
  • Masayuki Suo’s 108 and 110 minute documentaries on the making of A Taxing Woman and A Taxing Woman’s Return
  • New interview with Jake Adelstein on the films, the Japanese yakuza, and Japan’s National Tax Agency
  • Theatrical trailers and teasers
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum

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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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