Doctor Takashi Shimura (lead of Ikiru just four years later) is a drunken gruff pain in the ass, treating ingrate criminals and helpless local youths who won’t stop drinking the swamp water. He tries convincing young gangster Toshiro Mifune (in his first AK film) that his TB diagnosis is serious and to keep himself healthy. As an American viewer it takes a while to realize that both the doc and gangster are blunt and rough in an un-Japanese way.
AK didn’t have his regulars yet, so he borrows a Mizoguchi actor as the doc’s sober schoolmate who runs a respectable practice, and a Naruse actress as the doc’s assistant, hiding out from the gangster she used to be involved with. When that gangster returns to town, he gets his own theme song. Extremely anti-yakuza overall – wonder if the studio got threats. With the stagey acting from the doctor and rough condition of the film print, it feels a decade older than it is, but probably belongs in the pantheon, unlike the last classic Criterion disc I watched.
Grungy camera work, uneven sound mixing, very Cassavetes-ish dialogue and behavior though apparently it’s an entirely May-created work, based on small-time gangsters she’d grown up around. It’s part 358 in my ongoing series “What Do People See in the Cinema of the 1970’s?” though it’s easy to admire after it’s over. Cassavetes is unpleasant to be around – racist, sexist, prone to fits of destruction and paranoia – and everyone wants him dead, including his friend Falk, who is informing hit man Ned Beatty of their movements across the city. As the peripheral women, we’ve got Joyce Van Patten (Monkey Shines mom) as John’s unamused wife, May regular Rose Arrick as Peter’s complicit wife, and the unknown Carol Grace as their lonely plaything/victim.
On Letterboxd: “Boyfriends and Girlfriends” by Low
Our happy boys, everything going great:
Ned, reflecting a marquee showing The Laughing Policeman and Fist of Fury:
Gradually rewatching the Suzukis I saw on DVD back in the day. This is one where Jo Shishido plays a tough dude, if you can imagine. He rolls into town acting like the biggest badass in the world, which impresses the local gangsters. He’s hired by one gang boss, and separately by the boss’s girl, and he barges into the other gang boss’s office with a shotgun and gets hired by him, too. Every genre cliche flying fast and furious to a swinging soundtrack. It all sounds like the usual until you see how this thing looks and moves.
Turns out Jo is an ex-cop out for revenge on the bastards who killed his partner, and all his noisy pot-stirring gets the gang war riled up. He’s assigned a gun crazy dummy sidekick (Eimei Esumi, second banana to Jo in a few other movies) by Boss Nomoto (played by the tormented youth star of Everything Goes Wrong). Boss Sanko is Kinzô Shin of Man Without a Map – a hands-on guy, he rigs a bomb and kamikazes his car into Nomoto’s house. Jo discovers that his ex-partner’s widow (the rich second wife from the first Kwaidan episode) is the gang’s secret puppetmaster, and killed her husband, so he sics Boss Nomoto’s razor-crazy gay brother on her, a happy ending.
Jo and Sanko at his office behind a movie screen:
This kind of scenario comes up pretty often:
Treated myself to a new Gena Rowlands movie and… well, I didn’t hate it, but I have no desire to watch the Sharon Stone version. It relies on big acting moments, but instead of Peter Falk we’ve got this ten-year-old kid. I warmed up to the second half, but until then, practically every moment felt phony. Still, it’s Gena as a tough broad capering through 1980 NYC, and that’s a lot.
“I hate kids, especially yours.” Gena inherits the neighbor kid when his family is murdered by gangsters. She happens to know the people responsible, and tries to keep both of them safe long enough to broker a peace agreement, but the baddies insist the entire family must be killed to set an example, and Gena too, since she interfered, so she shoots her way outta there. My people online all liked this, but if I can’t get into a Cassavetes/Rowlands take on the ol’ mismatched adult-child caper movie then I should definitely avoid C’mon C’mon.
Buck Henry, I just saw him in To Die For, which I also complained about:
Lam Suet of every Johnnie To movie finally gets a major role as a bully fuckup cop – or so it seems, until the more capable Simon Yam takes over the movie, in search of the gun Lam lost while getting beaten by street kids. Not that Yam is so upstanding – his guys brutalize the youths, being careful to cover their tracks, and beat a red-haired asthmatic to death in an alley then manage to revive him. Suet steals evidence, makes a deal with the warring gangs, finds his gun (which it turns out he dropped in the scuffle and nobody picked up), the gang guys slaughter each other and the cops cover everything up. This more than compensates for Heroic Trio‘s portrayal of noble policemen with super abilities. Most importantly, this is on the early side of To’s spectacular run of great-looking movies – realism be damned, the actors glow as perfectly on the night streets as they do in neon-lit restaurants. Looks like Yam starred in a flurry of belated sequels.
I pulled out the earliest Johnnie To movie I could find, thinking “surely his visual and character quirks and his tendency to upend expected narrative weren’t fully developed yet,” but yup, they were. These movies are so stylish and unpredictable, and I could watch them forever.
Jack (Leon Lai of Fallen Angels) and cowboy Martin (Ching Wan Lau, the Mad Detective himself) are rival enforcers for crime lords, and when their bosses team up and go straight, their men are left crippled, unemployed and forgotten. After a wheelchair-improvement montage they take righteous revenge on their former organization(s).
Jack up high, Martin down low:
50 sword deaths in first couple minutes, a good sign, as unstoppable mustache man slays all his rivals then returns home to slay his hot girlfriend. He turns out to be our narrator Kageyama’s boss. We know he’s gonna gradually introduce K to his elite life, glimpsed when the two visit the boss’s bar, where the blood bartender runs a basement prison forcibly teaching captured yakuza to abandon their tough-guy ways – but the boss comes to an untimely end when a cowboy-hat coffin-backpack outsider shoots him with a chintzy lightning gun then kickboxer Kyoken beheads him.
The badly wounded K is revived by a bite from his vampire boss’s severed head, and not knowing how his new hunger works, he bites a townsperson which quickly unleashes a vampire plague on the town – the vamps act like yakuza and band together to torment (but not bite) the mortal yakuza. Meanwhile, kickboxer and coffin-backpack are joined by a kappa goblin and a frog furry with its own theme song. This is one of Miike’s high-energy crazypants movies, and it’s extremely fun, up there with Blade of the Immortal and Zebraman 2.
Let’s see… there’s also a tough woman named Captain whose head fills with water… K loves a hospitalized blind girl who turns out not to be blind… a sad kid whose father died turns into an enraged revenge-vampire… and there’s a bloody showdown between K and the kickboxer at the end as the frog furry grows city-sized and threatens to destroy the world.
K is Hayato Ichihara, lead/bullied boy in All About Lily Chou-Chou, has grown up to have a cool, severe face. The unblind Riko Narumi was a teen in The Great Yokai War, is also in notably bonkers movies Why Don’t You Play In Hell and Labyrinth of Cinema. The late boss has starred in a few Kore-eda films and Tsukamoto’s Fires on the Plain. The kickboxer is from Java, and The Raid movies.
Opens with a lot of text about a lot of people in 1980 that I’m not gonna remember, but fortunately the rest is easy to follow. After an absolute slaughter of various gang members, including Tommaso’s two sons, Tommaso does the unthinkable and testifies. He’s tortured in prison, hides in witness protection in the USA, testifies in two major trials, sending friends and enemies to prison. The action spans from 1980 to 2000, and with nonstop event and dialogue for two and a half hours, it’d take me longer to unwind and recount it than it took to watch it. It’s no American Made, but it passed the time on a weekend afternoon.
Such a talky movie, it’s hard to find screenshots without subtitles:
Best period detail: in New Hampshire the grocery store sells AR-15 rifles. Our (anti)hero is Pierfrancesco Favino, star of a movie called ACAB. His enemy/friend Judge Falcone is Bellocchio regular Fausto Russo Alesi, and his wife is TV star Maria Fernanda Cândido. This played the stacked competition at Cannes along with Portrait, Parasite, Bacurau, Atlantics, Hidden, Joe, and Hollywood.
Not sure if this guy was real or just a story, but it’s a good story:
Intersection of a Japanese gang, a Chinese gang, a drug-addicted girl who sees ghosts, a crooked cop, a traitorous thief, a gangster’s girl out for revenge, and a floppy-haired boxer who wrongfully believes he has a fatal brain tumor, on one crazy night. Not as crazily awesome as I was led to believe, just a solid gangster action flick with one especially successful performance (the traitor).
Traitor/villain Kase is Shota Sometani (tortured to death with a soldering iron in Lesson of Evil, maybe the narrator in Tokyo Tribe). Boxer Leo is Masataka Kubota of 13 Assassins. Revenge-girl Julie is “Becky” of a trio of Pokemon movies, and her late boyfriend Yazu is Takahiro Miura of Harmonium. The crooked cop: Nao Omori (Ichi the Killer himself, star of R100).
Leo with his girl Monica, freaking out on the subway: