aka NOSUTORADAMUSU NO DAIYOGEN aka CATASTROPHE 1999 aka THE LAST DAYS OF PLANET EARTH
Directed by Toshio Masuda
In 1853 Japan, school teacher Nishiyama Genta foretells of disasters as predicted by the French healer and alleged seer, Nostradamus. Decades later, a Nishiyama descendant in WW2 is arrested for spreading the potential gloomy gospel of Nostradamus. Years later in 1974, the next Nishiyama, a research scientist and pediatrician, attempts to thwart the predicted, and ever escalating cataclysms that possess the potential of wiping out all of mankind in the year 1999.
aka KONCHU DAISENSO aka GENOCIDE aka WAR OF THE INSECTS
Directed by Kazui Nihonmatsu
One of the more intriguing responses to the monster movie (kaiju-eiga) boom of the 1950’s and 1960’s was the one undertaken by Shochiku. The studio was more commonly associated with the prestigious and formally precise productions of Kenji Mizoguchi and Yasujiro Ozu, and the burgeoning formal experimentation of the politically motivated Japanese new wave. But in the late 1960’s the studio produced four science-fiction/horror/fantasy productions in quick succession in order to reap the fertile and profitable soil sown by the likes of Godzilla, Gamera, Mothra, King Kong and Ghidorah.
BLACK MAGIC 2 aka REVENGE OF THE ZOMBIES aka ANG WAN GONG TAU Directed by Ho Meng Hua
Doctor Zhong Ping moves into a spacious home nestled within a Southeast Asian city where his medical colleague, Zheng Sheng resides. Bizarre, unexplainable maladies have gripped the city and all the clues lead to a frightening brand of black magic, the Tame Head Sorcery. As soon as Zheng and his wife get settled into their home, a mysterious man named Kang spies them at a night club. He then sets about inoculating them into his hellish cult of zombie followers and sex slaves. Those who resist or betray the deadly wizard suffer a horrible death.
Shan Jian Mi, an evil magician, earns a living by casting love spells for the heart-broken and death spells for the vindictive. Despite paying for his services, no one is truly free of Shan's black magic. Luo Yin (played by erotica starlet Tanny), a wealthy and horny young widow, lusts after Xu Nuo, a hunky construction worker (played by HK mega star Ti Lung) who happens to already be dating a pretty young lady (played by Lily Li). Meanwhile, a greasy playboy named Jia Jie (essayed by Lo Lieh) desires the naked body of the sultry Luo Yin, but she wants nothing to do with him. With Shan's aid, Xu Nuo leaves his bride-to-be at the altar and begins a sex-filled affair with the financially well off Luo Yin. Xu's betrothed is soon put in mortal danger with a death spell and Shan himself lusts for Luo's affections, bewitching her with his magic so as to have his way with her body. After thwarting the death spell, an old sorcerer well versed in white magic challenge Shan's wicked wizardry once again.
aka CHIKYU BOEIGUN aka DEFENCE FORCE OF THE EARTH aka EARTH DEFENSE FORCE
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Released originally in Japan under the title Chikyû Bôeigun in 1957, Ishirô Honda’s second major foray into science fiction after the success of Gojira (1954) was picked up for distribution in the United States by MGM and released in 1959 under the title The Mysterians. No doubt the abominated bastardisation that Gojira experienced when released under the title Godzilla, King of Monsters! (1956) prompted US distributors to keep a keen eye on the development of Japanese science-fiction/monster movies, even if ham fisted dubbing and subtitle translation reduced the enjoyment and power of the films. The Mysterians was particularly fitting for US distribution because it is an invasion narrative, and it fed nicely into the fears and anxieties of the day. If Gojira borrowed numerous plot elements from King Kong (1933), then the major influence on The Mysterians is War of the Worlds (1953). What is most distinctive now is the wonderfully expansive use of Tohoscope, which gives the film an epic grandeur, some impressive model work, and the rich colour cinematography of Hajime Koizumi. The combination of these stylistic elements gives the film a look that would be repeated for many years in numerous Japanese monster movies. In this respect The Mysterians holds a significant position in the influence of Japanese science-fiction, a position that is somewhat underappreciated in the west.
Sword of Justice is the first film in a trilogy of pictures exploring the controversial character Hanzo the Razor. Hanzo was the brainchild of Kazuo Koike who brought his adventures to life in a series of Manga publications. Koike is perhaps best known however for his Lone Wolf and Cub series, which ran to twenty eight instalments, and over 8 million sales. The success of this series spawned six feature films that showcased the stoic talents of Tomisaburo Wakayama, and found their way to the West via the hotchpotch efforts of Robert Houston and David Weisman under the title Shogun Assassin (1980). The enterprising pair grafted twelve minutes of the first picture Sword of Vengeance (1972) onto the vast majority of the second picture Baby Cart at the River Styx (1972), gave it a contemporary electronic soundtrack by Mark Lindsey, dubbed it into English, and enjoyed a notable success. Koike also created the character of Lady Snowblood, and though not as successful as Lone Wolf and Cub, still ran for fifteen instalments, and led to two feature films starring Meiko Kaji as the titular lady who seeks revenge for the rape of her mother, and the murders of her mother’s husband and son. All of Koike’s most famous Manga creations are marked by grand stylisation and extreme violence, and the film adaptations do not skimp in these areas. But Hanzo possesses a grotesquery that the others do not, and this is largely due to the Policeman’s novel interrogation technique, which sees him target mistresses, whom he then fucks into such a lather of ecstasy with his oversized penis that they are begging to spill the beans in order for the pleasure to continue.
The dying master of the feared Poison Clan sends his last disciple on a mission to find a former and now reclusive clan leader who hides the location to a vast treasure accrued over the years through the clans misdeeds. The young acolyte--trained in all five styles, but master of none--is ordered to persuade the old man to donate the treasure to charity to atone for the clans past transgressions. He's also assigned to locate the remaining five Poison Clan students whose identities and allegiances are all unknown and all of which are likely seeking the hidden cache of gold as well.
This beautifully constructed and expertly composed noir gangster film was Akira Kurosawa’s eighth production as director. Prior to Drunken Angel it is fair to say that Kurosawa’s career had been one of interesting, but ultimately forgettable films. Kurosawa himself believed that Drunken Angel represented a major creative breakthrough, and although there is evidence of brilliance in his debut picture Sanshiro Sugata (1943), and moments of sublime quality in No Regrets for Our Youth (1946) and Those Who Make Tomorrow (1946) I am inclined to agree that Drunken Angel is light years ahead of those earlier efforts. Here Kurosawa utilises the generic tropes of imported genres such as noir and the American gangster film and fuses it with a political symbolism that makes clear statements about post-war Japan. The inbuilt pessimism and gloom of noir is a suitable form within which too address questions of national identity and social fragmentation, and the archetypes of the gangster film are used as stand ins for the country at large and become walking metaphors. The film sits uneasily in a discussion of genre. The screenplay which Kurosawa wrote in collaboration with Keinosuke Uekusa is patient in its replication of westernised conventions, but its symbolic and allegorical ambitions and mode of address takes it far closer to art cinema.