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Review Number 175! I am glad we made it. What are we looking at for this momentous occasion? My favorite Chambara actor Ichikawa Raizo in The Adventures of Nemuri Kyoshiro (1964).

Ichikawa Raizo plays Nemuri Kyoshiro in The Adventures of Nemuri Kyoshiro (Daiei, 1964) the second in the series based on an “antihero” who was known in the west as The Full Moon Swordsman named after his hypnotic sword style, or the Son of the Black Mass series because of Kyoshiro’s toxic origins, which, in the early episodes, are not revealed.

Nemuri Kyoshiro was a ronin by choice with such great skill that if he wanted to he could serve any lord he pleased.  With a head of reddish-hued hair due to his mixed lineage, he was the son of noblewoman who was raped by a European Satanist on a night of a black mass.

Kyoshiro has both good and evil streaks in him.  If he thinks you are an innocent, good person he can be your champion and a sentimental lover, he also is a killer and a rapist to the vile or vain.  Kyoshiro is a self-styled villain though many want him to be a hero.  If it will keep him from being bored will he live up to heroic expectations.

The Adventures of Nemuri Kyoshiro is the number 2 in a series of 12 movies from 1963-1969.  The film starts with Kyoshiro pursuing a female pickpocket and undresses her with his sword.  Stripping women with his sword becomes a bit of a trademark as he does in several films sometimes raping them as well.  Kyoshiro is quite the judgmental chap and when he decides you are a bad woman he’s apt to humiliate you sexually and when he decides you’re a bad alpha male he’ll kill you.  He is a true iconoclast, whatever society most values, he despises.

In this film, a little orphaned son of a samurai makes a living pushing old people up a long set of outdoor stairs for pocket change.  The boy’s father once owned a dojo, but was killed by a challenger who then took control of the school.  The slain samurai was one of Kyoshiro’s instructors and he extracts his revenge in the name of his former sensei and the innocent hardworking child.

As the movie develops, we learn that Akaza Gunbei wants to kill an old financial commissioner who is a champion of the people not rich.  The commissioner befriends Kyoshiro when he starts discussing the problems in Edo caused by the mass unemployment of samurai who are wreaking havoc throughout the city.  The commissioner is wounded by a surprise ronin attack, but Kyoshiro foils the assassination attempt.  Instead of anger, the commissioner feels sorrow for his attacker.  After Kyoshiro saves the commissioner, he stays within close proximity of him as protection that annoys the old man.

A wandering fortune-teller, Uneme, is a spy for one Princess Takahime.  Takahime has secretly ordered the assassination of the commissioner because as the chief financial officer he has been forcing the shogunate to cut back on expenses in particular reducing the Princess’s substantial allowance.

Since Kyoshiro is getting in the way of the Princess’s intentions, he is drugged by the fortune-teller and when he awakens, he is in the presence of Takahime.  She is eager “to have my way with you.”  Having none of it, Kyoshiro insults her by calling her “Princess Pig,” denigrating her position since she’s really only one of fifty bastards of the shogun.  Kyoshiro kills one of her lovers and escapes once more to continue protecting the commissioner.

Nemuri prefers women who are virginal of spirit, not necessarily literally virgins, who offer themselves reluctantly (perhaps as payment for helping someone they love).  He also likes prostitutes who have no remaining illusions, for they are at least honest in their hearts.  Yet in this film Nemuri Kyoshiro contrary to his later portrayals, is capable of a strictly platonic relationship with an innocent noodle-stand girl.  He is just not a man generally capable of liking women for more than physical pleasures.  Those who are too pure he robs of their illusions; those of infamy he gladly kills, sometimes, as in Kyoshiro Nemuri at Bay (Kyoshiro Nemurai Joyoken, 1964), killing villainous women who are unarmed or otherwise defenseless.

Eventually five ronin meet on a foggy evening to plan Kyoshiro’s demise.  One is shuriken artist, another one a spearman and on and on.  After leaving the unwanted company of the Princess, Kyoshiro encounters the spearman who foolishly believes he can defeat Kyoshiro’s Full Moon Cut style by attacking when the circling sword passes in front of Kyoshiro’s own eyes.

Kyoshiro claims that when he starts the full moon sweep of his blade, death is assured for his opponent, so another one of the five attempts to attack before Kyoshiro can begin the Full Moon Cut circle.  These guys start dropping like flies at this point.

The last of the five waits until the circle is entirely traced hoping to penetrate the stance at the end of the circle.  Even though the winner of the duels is a forgone conclusion, the many assault variations add a definite pizzazz to an otherwise elegant action.

Kyoshiro is not portrayed as invulnerable.  The evil Princess Taka sets up an exhibition duel between Kyoshiro and Lord Yagyu.  She has had the duel rigged, but Kyoshiro detects the trick causing an unexpected outcome.  Lord Yagyu was also duped and reports the Princess treachery to the shogun, resulting in her exile.  The standoff is suggestive of Miyamoto Musashi, who in life and in film versions of his life was never pitted against the Yagyu sword, though he almost had the chance.

The Nemuri Kyoshiro series are some of my favorite chambara films.  Perhaps because I am a big Ichikawa Raizo fan (who died at 39 from rectal cancer) his movies have a special appeal to me.  The Kyoshiro series though is unique in the sense that the protagonist is just as evil as he is good.  Of course I don’t condone raping et cetera so don’t get on a high horse yet.  That said, his evil lineage, iconoclastic nature and vast skills as a fighter makes Nemuri Kyoshiro one of the most distinctive and complex characters to ever appear in this genre.  I highly recommend the series and unlike all the bitching resulting from the Kill Bill review and comments, there is no blood and gore in the film to make some people squeamish—you know who you are.

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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JPF Looks At One Of The Greats: Roman Polanski’s Chinatown.

Director Roman Polanski has had a tough and turbulent path through life—some of it his own making some of it just plain back luck.  Part of my decision to review Chinatown was his legal problems resurfacing again in September of 2009 when he was arrested in Switzerland at the request of the U.S. Government for extradition back to the States to face criminal charges involving alleged sex with a minor from the 1970’s.  On July 12, 2010, however, the Swiss rejected the U.S. request and instead declared him a “free man” although all six of the original charges are still pending in the U.S.

In 1969, before he was personally involved with our criminal justice system, Polanski’s pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, was murdered by Charles Manson and his band of  twisted followers.  Despite the personal hell one would go through under such circumstances, Polanski directed Chinatown which was released in 1974.  Chinatown is a 1974 American neo-noir film based on Robert Towne’s screenplay and starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and John Huston.  The film clearly embodies the film noir genre with its multidimensional tale that is part mystery and part psychological drama.

The film, set in 1937 Los Angeles was inspired by the disputes over water rights that had plagued southern California.  Nicholson plays JJ ‘Jake’ Gittes, a private detective who concentrates on matrimonial matters.  He is hired by a phony Evelyn Mulwray when she suspects her husband Hollis, builder of the city’s water supply system, of having an affair.  Gittes takes the case and photographs him with a young girl however, he was hired by an impersonator and not the real Mrs. Mulwray.  When Mulwray is found dead, Jake is plunged into an intricate web of deceit involving murder, incest and governmental corruption all stemming from the city’s water supply.

Polanski even makes a cameo appearance in film (the clip of course shown here) as the individual who famously cuts Jack Nicholson’s nose forcing him to wear an obnoxious bandage throughout much of the film.  Perhaps most importantly, Chinatown has one my favorite lines said in a movie “Forget it, Jake — it’s Chinatown” (again clip provided for your viewing pleasure).  It is also the last line of this great film.  You are a fool if you don’t make time to watch this one.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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Bad Lieutenant—The Original Not That New Crap

One of the great things I always associate with the Bad Lieutenant is sports radio talk show commentary lurking in the background of the film discussing the New York Mets eventual comeback against the L.A. Dodgers.  Why?  Because my brother, like the Lieutenant, is a hard core sports gambler and he constantly reminded me of where he was, what he was doing and how much money he had on any particular game.  My brother also reminisces about hearing the same clips played in the movie, except that he heard them live.

In this movie, Keitel plays a degenerate New York cop, with massive drug, gambling, and sex addictions.  Ironically this corrupt cop is investigating the rape of a nun which leads to his eventual “salvation” or as saved as the Lieutenant could get.  There is plenty of grit in this movie so it is not for the naïve or squeamish.  The film has two ingredients that help make it a rose.  First it is original, there is no cliché story line here and second is Keitel’s acting which is almost disturbingly real.

If you are going to go see The Bad Lieutenant Port of Call—or what ever it is, you owe it to yourself to see this one first.

Oh by the way, you can watch this movie on a date, but my significant other warns that you should not expect yourself or your date to be feeling particularly amorous afterward.

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2009 in Movie Reviews

 

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