While newly released films bound for Oscar glory are grabbing many of the headlines at this week’s New York Film Festival, a treasure of classic and sometimes obscure Japanese cinema is being presented that has its own bounty. VELVET BULLETS AND STEEL KISSES: CELEBRATING THE NIKKATSU CENTENNIAL looks back at some of the significant films released by the Nikkatsu Corporation, a Japanese production and distribution company that has been active since the silent film days. Celebrating its centennial, the series concentrates on the explosion of Japanese talent in the booming postwar years in a rare and astonishing 37 film tribute.
Embracing the rebelliousness of Japan’s postwar youth has been a hallmark of the company, which created a sub-genre it called “Sun Tribe films” that described its mood and content. Starting in 1956 with the screen adaptation of Shintaro Ishihara’s SEASON OF THE SUN, and including such films as CRAZED FRUIT (Ko Nakahira), KEEP YOUR CHIN UP (Toshio Masuda), and THE WARPED ONES (Koreyoshi Kuhara), the genre began to wane bu the 1960s, to be replaced by the hard-boiled action films that remain perhaps the company’s best-known period internationally. Led by such action stars as Joe Shishido, Yujiro Ishihara, and Hideaki Nitani, Nikkatsu action introduced a new kind of protagonist, often cynical and at odds with a society revealed to be totally corrupt. In this vein, the series presents such seminal classics as A COLT IS MY PASSPORT (Takashi Nomura), INTIMIDATION (Koreyoshi Kurahara), RETALIATION (Yasuharu Hasebe), CHARISMA (Kiyoshi Kurosawa), RUSTY KNIFE (Toshio Masuda) and cult director Seijun Suzuki’s THE POLICE VAN and TOKYO DRIFTER.
The series also includes a number of the war films made when the studio was taken over by the Japanese government during World War II and, in a telling reversal, the anti-war, humanist films take expressed the postwar sentiment in such classics as THE BURMESE HARP (Kon Ichikawa). Starting in the 1970s, the company reinvented itself yet again, creating a series of soft-core erotic films that featured rather surreal plots. Among the best of this genre are THE HELL FATED COURTESAN (Noboru Tanaka), LOVE HOTEL (Shinji Somai), THE OLDEST PROFESSION (Noboru Tanaka), STRAY CAT ROCK: SEX HUNTER (Yasuhara Hasebe), TATTOOED CORE OF FLOWER (Masaru Konuma), and “pink softcore director” Tatsumi Kumashiro’s THE WOMAN WITH RED HAIR and THE WORLD OF GEISHA.
The series also includes the company’s recent forays into horror, martial arts and family dramas. Remaining remarkably prolific even during a time when the Japanese film industry is at somewhat of a low ebb, the series is a testament to the continued vitality and popular instincts that have allowed the company to keep at it all these years. Their famous motto “We Make Fun Films” remains as true today as it was in its golden era. The series was organized by the Film Society of Lincoln Center with Nikkatsu Corporation, the Japan Foundation, and the National Film Center of Japan. This Centenary Celebration of Nikkatsu will be screened later this year at the Festival of 3 Continents in Nantes, France, as well as at the Cinémathèque Française. For more information on its New York run, visit: http://www.filmlinc.com/films/series/nyff-velvet-bullets-and-steel-kisses-celebrating-the-nikkatsu-centennial