Wild Japan - Outlaw Masters

  • The List
  • 27 November 2006

Nippon rising

Paul Dale takes a trip to Wild Japan, a place where vengeful ladies, pathological swordsmen and horny nuns rule. He is almost overcome by the thrill of it.

Wild Japan: Outlaw Masters is a BFI Touring programme of twelve of the most extraordinary films you may ever have the chance to see. This selection of Japanese cult films made between 1963 and 1977 covers most bases, from westerns to gangster and melodrama, but it is the excess with which these remarkable filmmakers deal with the parameters of their chosen genre that really titillates. Falling upon these films after witnessing their vague approximations by filmmakers as diverse as Alexandro Jodorowsky, Quentin Tarantino, Miike Takeshi, Takeshi Kitano and Stanley Kubrick (Toshio Matsumoto’s bonkers 1969 retelling of the Oedipus myth Funeral Parade of Roses is rumoured to have been a direct influence on A Clockwork Orange) one finally understands how the great German artist Max Beckmann must have felt when he ranted at the world that: ‘My heart beats more for a raw, average vulgar art.’

The perverse peculiarities and tragedies of Japan’s recent history breathe through these films. Take Norifumi Suzuki’s tremendous nunsploitation flick School of the Holy Beast. Here’s a film that came about, like Shunya Ito’s Female Convict Scorpion (the film that inspired Tarantino’s Kill Bill films), at a time in 1970s when Japanese cinema was struggling to compete with television. The Toei Studio in Tokyo decided that the only answer was to produce a series of ‘erotic grotesque’ films (which became the Nikkatsu Roman porno series). Both films are awash with the kind of delinquency, torture, mutilation and pornography that is only accessible through distortion of reality. Yet both films also deal with social themes that Kurosawa or Ozu would not have touched with a shitty stick for fear of seeing their careers flushed down the toilet. Themes like the abandonment by Rome of the Nagasaki Catholics after the A Bomb was dropped in Holy Beast, or the sadistic, self defecating imbecility of Japan’s ruling classes in Female Convict. In fact all these films here have their hidden surprises from Jigoku, Nobuo Nakagawa’s hellish riff on his country’s moral decline or Nobuo Obayashi’s pop-art spook mansion show Hausu. While Masahiro Shinoda’s Pale Flower, Seijun Suzuki’s Branded To Kill, Kenji Battle Royale Fukasaku’s Yakuza Graveyard, Eiichi Kudo’s austere, consumptive The Great Melee and Kihachi Okamoto’s outstandingly paranoid Sword of Doom re-imagine the yakusa and samurai film templates with the kind of derangement that Roger Corman in his heyday could have only dreamt of.

Also no season like this would be complete without a blind swordsman or a delinquent girl gang movie and these are indeed deliciously evident in Tokuzo Tanaka’s Zatoichi the Fugitive and Yasuharu Hasebe’s Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter (pictured) respectively. Anway this is not a round up, it’s more a plea to your inner freak to visit Wild Japan, even if it is just once or twice. For these are rare, bold, vital, vituperative films that will remind you why cinema can be the most wondrous of things.

Wild Japan: Outlaw Masters is at Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 1 Dec-Sun 11 Dec only and at GFT, Glasgow from Tue 9 Jan 2007. www.bfi.org.uk/wildjapan

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