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January 30, 2014

Nurse Girl Dorm: Sticky Fingers

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Kango joshiryo: Ijiwaru na yubi
Yoshihiro Kawasaki - 1985
Impulse Pictures Region 1 DVD

The DVD cover has the title listed above. On the DVD, the title is translated as "Assy fingers". In any event, fingers belonging to the men and women here do plenty of exploring in dark and sticky places. For myself, I'm fingering this DVD as one of the best I've seen in Synapse's ongoing series of Nikkatsu's Roman Porno.

As far as the sex goes, it's fairly standard issue simulated straight and lesbian couplings, gropings, and tongue wrestling, as well as an abundance of exposed breasts. As if to leave nothing out, there's also a bit of cross-dressing, sado-masochism, and accidental buggering. In short, just about something for everyone. No sense dawdling when the film starts off with an unusual, and very personal use, of a vacuum cleaner. Minus the sex, there's a very entertaining and funny movie about nurses with very accommodating bedside manners, in and out of their dorm.

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Unlike some of the other worthy efforts from the studio in which the filmmakers were allowed some freedom to make social statements or experiment visually, Yoshihiro Kawasaki just aims to be entertaining, and he does this quite well. Much of the credit goes to star Jun Izumi. She's attractive, but in a approachable kind of way, reminding me somewhat of the iconic Setsuko Hara. Unlike Miss Hara, she's not defending her virginity at all costs. Izumi's attitude makes me think of Bettie Page, with her infectious cheerfulness, inviting the viewer to join in on the fun.

The plot, as such, has experienced nurse Yuki returning to dorm life after divorcing her accident prone husband, a cop. Not only does this give Yuki the opportunity to hook up with one of the other nurses, but she also gets to show the younger dorm mates how to sneak in their respective boyfriends. The dorm is run by a disciplinarian who later gets the chance to literally crack the whip. In between, there's an opportunity for a peppy song performed offscreen, from Yuki's point of view, about leaving behind bad relationships, and going forward alone. I don't know who the singer is, but knowing what I do about Japanese movies, I wouldn't be surprised if that was also Jun Izumi.

Mostly why I like this film is because it seems like everyone in the cast is having fun. One of the nice running gags involves a bulldog often seen wearing a medical headlight, the pet of the dorm mistress. Most of all, though, is Jun Izumi's performance. I know she's faking orgasm after orgasm, but for someone pretending to have sex, Izumi does it with convincing sincerity.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:10 AM

January 28, 2014

The Sack of Rome

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Fabio Bonzi - 1992
One 7 Movies Region 0 DVD

I should give the folk at One 7 Movies some credit. They come up with movies that I've never heard of, movies that seem to be plucked out of some vault of forgotten European cinema. Also, they must have gotten these movies for chump change, because it's not that cheap to produce DVDs, but they must have figured out that there is an audience out there for whatever they've got.

It's not that The Sack of Rome is a bad film, but, let's face it, are there more than a handful of Americans who even know about the actual events that took place in 1527, or even care? I did some reading about the history which was basically part of a power play by various royal families and their respective armies over the influence Pope Clement had with the balance of power in Europe. German mercenaries also became involved, adding another element of discord as they were largely Lutheran. The sack was a form of payday for the mercenaries, looting gold and jewelry from the Romans. According to the historical overview, the mercenaries left after eight months when there was no more food or anything of value that they could carry with them.

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I'm not sure how much of the film is historically accurate. The main character is a painter favored by the Church, Gabriele da Poppi. Gabriele is certain that as an artist, he will be untouched by the ongoing war. As it turns out, the mercenaries don't care, although one of the royal leaders attempts to protect Gabriele. Bonzi touches on a few interesting ideas such as the relationship art and artists have to politics, and how it may affect them. Also, while Gabriele's art is commissioned depictions of religious subjects, his models are from Rome's lower strata. His live in muse, Gesuina, becomes the mistress to a mercenary who takes over Gabriele's house.

There is a shot of Franco Nero and Vittoria Belvedere, Gabriele and Gesuina, posed like the classic image of Jesus taken from the cross, in the arms of Mary, the image associated with the Pieta. And while Franco Nero is largely a passive character in this film, the shot made me flash back on Nero's most famous role, one that less obviously has a degree of religious inspiration, Django. I was not familiar with Vittoria Belvedere although I have picked up that she does have her devotees. She is lovingly photographed here. One aspect of this film that can not be argued is that it is often beautifully lit, with some effort to make the film resemble 16th century painting. Director Fabio Bonzi's most famous credit is as the Assistant Art Director for Cinema Paradiso. The original Italian title translates as "gold". This was also a coproduction with Russia's Mosfilms, and some of the dubbing to Italian is obvious. I can see how the subject matter would interest an Italian audience. As for a stateside audience, I have to admit that Vittoria Belvedere does look quite cute dressed up as a pageboy.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:13 AM

January 26, 2014

Coffee Break

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Michelle Pfeiffer in White Oleander (Peter Kosminsky - 2002)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:52 AM

January 23, 2014

Erotic Blackmail

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Le corps a ses raisons / Rivelazioni erotiche di una governante
Eddy Naka - 1974
One 7 Movies Region 0 DVD

I like the original French title, roughly translated as "The body has its own reasons". Literary types will recognize this as a play on the maxim attributed to Blaise Pascal. What we have is an Italian dubbed, English subtitled version of a soft core French movie, credited to Hedi Naka. Eddy or Hedi, there seems to be little information on the guy. What little is listed in IMDb indicates a brief career with barely a handful of credits.

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I'm not even sure what to make of this film. The title refers to two socially prominent women who were photographed in compromising situations, unconscious and naked. The short running time, about sixty-five minutes is padded out with scenes of the two women getting it on with the men in their lives, dancing at the local disco, and general lollygagging. In all, not much really happens. Naka pads things out some more by repeating shots at the end of the film, essentially a recap of everything that happened during the previous hour.

Evidently, no one told Hedi Naka that the Sixties were over, as there a couple of sex scenes using psychedelic colors and other visual effects, none of which aids in making this film more than mildly erotic.
There are also some songs which sound like bad imitations of the stuff that Serge Gainsbourg use to record several years previously. About the only thing that really works is the outdoor photography of the woods and a nearby river - possibly abetted by the slightly washed out quality of the print, giving it the effect of looking at watercolor paintings.

The choice of idiomatic expressions in English is baffling. There is a reference to a BFF and MILFs. Yet one of the men calls a younger woman a bobby-soxer (for the kids reading this, that last reference was what teenager were called once upon a time, check out Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer with Cary Grant and Shirley Temple). I can't imagine what was on Hedi Naka's mind when this film was first conceived. I'm guessing that there was some sort of half-baked social critique only vaguely envisioned, something that someone like Claude Chabrol could have done something with, but with better sex scenes. There is the vaguest sense that Naka wanted to say something about voyeurism, sex and class distinctions. I also have to wonder what is missing as the DVD is ten minutes shorter than the published running time. The actresses are reasonably attractive, especially blonde France Nicolas. Presumably, there is a niche audience for this film, but others with a more casual interest would be better served looking elsewhere.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:04 AM

January 21, 2014

City Lights

Charles Chaplin - 1931
Janus Films

My work, as such, as on online film critic suffered an interruption on Monday, January 6. A pipe burst in the apartment above mine. I was the one with the more severe damage. It was the water on the floor that splashed high enough to toast my surge protector. When I got home from work that evening, my place was hot and humid. The moisture was enough to finally push off the Macbook that had traveled around the world with me over the brink. I am in the process of replacing my television and Blu-ray player. It took five days to dry out my apartment, and another couple of days to have the walls that were mottled with heat bubbles repainted. I ended up spending a couple of nights at a hotel while the dehumidifiers did their work overnight. I now have a new, rebuilt Macbook, one that will be able to take a couple more years of upgrades. After almost two weeks, my home internet has been restored. And silly me, no renter's insurance.

I had to stay out of my place last Tuesday night. The paint fumes were overwhelming. I was sort of planning to go anyways, but it seemed like a perfect time to take advantage of some vouchers I had for Alamo Drafthouse theater a couple miles away from me. I got the vouchers as a result of my previous and also, first, visit, to the theater. I wanted to take advantage of seeing Sion Sono’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell? on the big screen. As it turned out, I was watching a Japanese movie without subtitles. From my point of view, the Alamo staff should have either made sure that this digital copy had a setting for subtitles, or warned viewers that there were no subtitles. I’ve seen non-English language movies without subtitles before, but I think it only fair to give advance notice is such a situation. Anyways, the management sent me vouchers for a couple of movies, plus a voucher for free food.


I normally do not make a habit of eating while watching movies at a theater because, frankly, it gets a bit messy. But I maxed out my voucher with a burger, San Pelligrino water, and some warm cookies. This would be one of my only times going, er, whole hog, on the Alamo Drafthouse experience. For those concerned, yes, I did tip my waitperson.

Prior to seeing City Lights, the audience was “treated” to excerpts from The Great Dictator and The Gold Rush, a trailer to Modern Times, and television commercials for IBM computers featuring a Charlie Chaplin impersonator. The commercials were about thirty years old, I would guess, as the screens displays amber colored letters and digits.

This was my second time seeing City Lights. The first time was in New York City about thirty years ago. There was a retrospective at a theater, and I made a point of seeing everything I could, which in this case included A King in New York, Chaplin's last starring feature. The Alamo version was, as things are nowadays, digital. The film looked OK from a technical standpoint. As beloved as City Lights is for some people, it just doesn’t hold up very well for me.

There were a few isolated moments I enjoyed - the opening scene with Chaplin on the statue with the shot that makes him appear as if he is thumbing his nose at the world with an outsized hand, the nightclub scene where the less than worldly tramp mistakenly assumes that the "Apache" dancers are a quarreling couple, and the boxing match where a sudden change of opponents leaves the tramp knocked out.

But the basic story of the tramp and the blind girl is too sentimental, as well as simply hokey. That the tramp would find a newspaper story about a surgeon who had a cure for blindness, and was offering free operations to those who couldn’t afford it otherwise, was an overload of plot convenience.

I could sort of accept that the tramp might have such altruistic feelings towards the blind girl that he'd give every penny to her. I might even overlook that the tramp got the money as a gift from a millionaire whose judgment was temporarily impaired by alcohol, as the guy was so rich he might not miss the dough. Still, it seem like the most honest moment was ruined when the blind girl learned the identity of her benefactor. In the last scene, the tramp, the worse for wear after a stint in the pokey, is laughed at by people in the street for his torn clothes and odd appearance. The blind girl now has sight, and instead of selling a few flowers on a street corner, now has a shop that seems to be doing good business. She laughs at the tramp, just like the others. There is the suggestion that now that the tramp's object of affection is normal, as it were, she is now as insensitive towards those less fortunate as anyone else. The now sighted young woman stops laughing long enough to give the tramp a coin. Touching his hand, she realizes that this vagabond in torn and ill-fitting clothes was the millionaire of her dreams. The tramp acknowledges his identity to the woman. The film ends with the barest hint of a happy ending that I just can't accept. To me, it would have made more sense for the tramp to have simply walked away, knowing that he would never personally benefit from his good deeds. I just couldn't, er, see these two characters having a future together. Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood for this film at this time. It just seems that after forty years, these Lights have dimmed.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:25 AM

January 19, 2014

Coffee Break

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Olivia de Havilland in In This Our Life (John Huston - 1942)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 02:51 PM

January 15, 2014

Odd Obsession

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Kagi / The Key
Kon Ichikawa - 1959

I haven't yet read the Junichiro Tanizaki novel that Ichikawa's film is based on, though I have read a couple of Tanizaki's other novels. There are shared themes, essentially that love is a very messy thing, and whenever you think you are in control regarding affairs of the heart, you really aren't.

Odd Obsession is mostly about an older man, his younger wife, their daughter, and a young doctor. The man tries to hide that he is seeing the young doctor for shots to help keep up his diminished virility. The doctor and the daughter hide that they are seeing each other. The wife has to pretend that she does not known that her husband is getting treatment. The husband comes to conclusion that jealousy helps keep him young and sets things up so that the doctor gets several opportunities to see the wife naked. Eventually the doctor and the wife are involved with each other.

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The doctor may at first be polite enough to avert his eyes, but Ichikawa gets away with showing as much of Machiko Kyo as he possibly can, based on what was allowed in 1959. Donald Richie has written disapprovingly of Kyo's displays of physical appeal, preferring the perpetually well-mannered Setsuko Hara. For myself, I am hoping more of the films that Kyo made with Ichikawa become available, that is to say available with English subtitles. Ichikawa seems to have made the most out of Kyo's sexiness, and Kyo would appear to have no problems obliging her director in a handful of films made in the late Fifties. And yeah, the nudity is more suggested than seen, but I can just imagine the men in the audience with their eyes bulging just like Tatsuya Nakadai when he develops those first rolls of photos.

As the young doctor, Nakadai exudes sleaziness from the very opening shot. He's only interested in the daughter because he thinks Dad has enough money to help him get set up with his own practice. Even the relationships within the family descend into parodies of filial piety. Throughout the film, people get confused between the truth and the appearance of things, ultimately personified by a colorblind maid who gets containers of cleanser and insecticide confused. While voyeurism is a big element of the story, Ichikawa and Tanizaki also remind one not to believe everything that one sees.

Fortunately, the DVD I have is the full version. The original U.S. release was 96 minutes long, short by eleven minutes. While I don't know exactly what was cut, there are a couple of scenes I can imagine being deleted, especially one shot of Kyo, nude and unconscious on a bed, her body from her breasts to her upper thighs blocked by her husband looking over her. Ichikawa includes a close up of Kyo's famed legs> with the camera tilting up from her feet to just above her knees and than dissolving to a shot of a desert. I am hoping more Ichikawa films made with Kyo become available, especially as the clips from Shunji Iwai's documentary on Ichikawa has whetted my interest. I'm sure that most will agree that Kon Ichikawa's peak period was from the mid Fifties through the early Sixties. My obsession will seeing films from that period isn't odd at all.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:34 AM

January 12, 2014

Coffee Break

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Phyllis Calvert in The Man in Grey (Leslie Arliss - 1943)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:30 AM

January 09, 2014


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Because of the Cats
Fons Rademakers - 1973
One 7 Movies Region 0 DVD

Five years before making Because of the Cats, Fons Rademakers had an acting gig on a film that also starred Alexandra Stewart. This was also an English language production with an eye towards the international market. The Dutch full title is Bezeten - Het gat in de muur. The English language title is Obsessions. The film was directed by Pim de la Parra, and was, in fact, the first Dutch film made in English, paving the way for other Dutch filmmakers hoping for a taste of commercial success. For some reason, that film is lost, or locked away in a vault, yet it would seem to be exactly the kind of film that someone would want to put out on DVD. There are a couple of good reasons why a Dutch film that advertised itself as being in the mode of Alfred Hitchcock would be ripe for rediscovery - the soundtrack is by Hitchcock's most famous musical collaborator, Bernard Herrmann, while the screenplay was partially the work of a struggling young filmmaker named Martin Scorsese. The reason why Scorsese was in Amsterdam in the first place was to shoot a sexual fantasy scene for his own debut film, Who's that Knocking on My Door, in order to get a distribution deal with exploitation distributor Joseph Brenner. It was also Brenner who distributed Because of the Cats in the U.S.

Brutalization is the DVD cover title given to Rademaker's film. I guess the distributors figured, perhaps rightly, that people would think that Because of the Cats would be a movie about animals, with little commercial appeal. The film is more or less being sold here as a home invasion type thriller, along the lines of Last House on the Left. Those looking for a film starring Sylvia Kristel might well be disappointed to know that she has a small, though important, supporting role. I will from this point refer to the film by its original title, discussing what is actually on the screen.

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Flickering briefly as an X rated exploitation film in a few U.S. movie theaters, Because of the Cats serves as an example of commercial European cinema in the early Seventies. The source material is a novel by the respected and popular Nicolas Freeling, part of his series of detective Van der Valk. The sex and nudity were part of the zeitgeist of the time. The film also comes at a midpoint in Rademakers directorial career, roughly between his debut film, which happened also to be the first Dutch film up for an Oscar, and his 1986 film, The Assault, which was the first Dutch film to win the coveted prize for a foreign language film.

A gang of young men, all well dressed in tailored black suits, vandalize a house in Amsterdam, and when discovered by the home owners, rape the wife while her husband helplessly looks on. Van der Valk is unofficially on the case, with clues leading to a small, seaside town. It doesn't take him long to figure out who the perps are, but finding proof is more of a challenge. While searching for clues, the detective finds time to be with a high priced prostitute, and banter with the restauranteur who owns a pet raven.

Animals do figure in the story. What happens to some cats in this film may well be considered more disturbing than the rape scene that sets up the plot. Some of the philosophical aspects that motivate the young men and women probably appear even more nonsensical than they did forty years ago. For a guy whose job it is to enforce the law, Van der Valk has a relatively fluid sense of morality. For those more interested in visceral pleasures, there is a generous amount of female nudity, as well as some male nudity including star Bryan Marshall. For those looking for glimpses of Sylvia Kristel, you might have to look elsewhere, but Alexandra Stewart provides an eyeful. Curiously, Kristel and Stewart worked together a few years later when Kristel portrayed the role that made her internationally famous, in Goodbye Emmanuelle.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:22 AM

January 07, 2014

Badges of Fury

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Bu Er Shen Tan
Wong Chi Ming - 2013
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

There's a scene in near the beginning of Badges of Fury that is a reminder of why Corey Yuen remains one of the best action directors. Jet Li is chasing a bad guy. The bad guy goes to a stairwell and rather than simply run down the stairs, does a bit of parkour, skipping a couple of floors by bouncing against the walls. The stairwell is not that wide, so that even though wire work is involved, the scene does not seem entirely exaggerated. Li, however, does the bad guy one better by jumping into the middle of the stairwell, using his arm to navigate himself against the staircase railings, in order to catch up with his suspect. The two finally fight it out on the stairs. One of my favorite examples of Yuen's work is in the first Transporter film, and again Yuen shows how to choreograph a fight scene with a very confined space. And, yes, it's done with a combination of wire work and special effects, but that doesn't diminish the fun of watching Li in action.

For the most part, Badges of Fury is an amiable goof on both Hong Kong cinema and some of the cliches of police action films. There are a lot of quick cameos, most quickly recognizable of which is Lam Suet as a taxi driver. Cop Jet Li is praised for his work in stopping video piracy, which is notable for involving downloads of several films starring . . . you guessed it . . . Jet Li. Most people with some familiarity will get some of the gags here, which would be comparable to some of the topical Hollywood joking found in a Road movie with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.

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That there is a story here, with a team of three incompetent detectives trying to find out who is murdering several men. The victims are all former fiances of an upcoming actress, and all die under mysterious circumstances, with a smile on their faces. When it seems that the actress is innocent, all eyes fall on her older, sexier sister. Of course all eyes are on the sister anyways due to her penchant for her admittedly stunning decolletage.

Most of the heavy lifting here is done by Wen Zhang and Michelle Chen, as Li's crime fighting partners. The two bicker about everything, from Chen's knowledge of psychology to Wen's seemingly preposterous deductions. Aside from doing most of the action scenes, Wen also takes the most pratfalls. One of the reliable signs of a good comic actor is being unafraid of looking totally foolish, and Wen is up to the task. In the film's opening scene, taking place during what is suppose to be a Scottish style celebration, Wen wears a kilt, actually a plaid miniskirt, and is caught in an upskirt shot.

The use of comic sound effects, the kind of stuff I usually associate with Thai comedies, is fortunately abandoned after the first half of the film. Better is when Wen faces off with a bunch of old kung fu masters who all go into their poses. One has certain expectations with Jet Li, especially when he shows up to face off against several men at once. Without giving too much away, it should be pointed out that Li's character's name is variation of the name of one of the most popular characters portrayed by Li, the martial arts master, Wong Fei-hung. Li has more fun at his own expense, with the former Miss World, six foot tall Zhang Zilin. Li might have fists of legend, but in getting a laugh regarding his height, he's fearless.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:42 AM

January 05, 2014

Coffee Break

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Virginia Leith in Black Widow (Nunnally Johnson - 1954)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 09:38 AM

January 02, 2014

Adventure in Kigan Castle


Kiganjo no boken
Senkichi Taniguchi - 1966

There was a potential for a far more interesting film than what became of Adventure in Kigan Castle. It's all in the beginning. The setup is that Toshiro Mifune crosses what was known as the Silk Road with a Buddhist monk, on a quest to get relics of the original Buddha. The monk's goal is to help establish Buddhism in Japan. The pair join a caravan, leaving from Dunhuang in western China, going eastward. At one point in the desert, the caravan is beset by bandits. Everyone hides in a cave that turns out to be an old Buddhist temple. Mifune and the monk are abandoned by the caravan, but poke around long enough in the temple to have found hidden under a stupa, a small container with a few remains of the cremated Buddha.

I sort of exited about the premise. I read Yasushi Inoue's novel, Tun-huang many years ago. The book offers theories about the establishment of the famed Buddhist caves. Also, much of the exterior work on this film was done on location in Iran. I can only imaging how spectacular some of the shots looked on the big screen, having to settle for seeing this on letterboxed DVD. I don't know enough to know where the film was shot, but there is the wide expanse of mountains and desert. It's also not made clear when the film takes place, but there are some considerable historical liberties just within those first few opening minutes.

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Buddhism is recorded as having been established in Japan by the mid Sixth Century. I'm not sure if any European women would have actually been in western China during that time, but the film begins with a slave auction in Dunhuang, with a pretty blonde sold to the highest bidder. In a scene soon after that, Mifune is enjoying a meal in a restaurant, serenaded by another blonde. That these two women are part of the cast sets helps set up the more fantastic aspects to the film.

What might have been a fictionalized historical adventure soon shifts gears to become an Arabian nights fantasy. For that matter, the costumes worn by much of the cast aren't too different from what might have been worn by Rock Hudson or Tony Curtis in the kind of programmers churned out by Universal ten years earlier. Not that the film isn't fun to watch. Still, a story about castle intrigue, a king so distrustful that he begins executing the people he should be trusting, while somehow letting those plotting against him live, can hardly be thought of as being original. There's a magical hermit and an old witch, plus special effects that aren't very special.

Most of the cast is Toho Studios stock players, the most famous of which are Mie Hama and Akiko Wakabayashi, just a year away from being immortalized as Bond girls in You Only Live Twice. Wakabayashi gets to vamp it up as the scheming daughter of the chamberlain, getting set up to replace the Queen. The monk is played by Tatsuya Mihashi, probably better known to more people as "that guy" who plays the inept spy, Phil Moskowitz in Woody Allen's What's Up, Tiger Lily. The films that Allen dubbed were also directed by Senkichi Taniguchi.

I've only seen a couple of films by Taniguchi, but it seems like he is overdue for a more thorough review of his work. His directorial debut, Snow Trail not only was Toshiro Mifune's first film, but has a screenplay by Akira Kurosawa. And I don't know if Woody Allen has anything to do with the original films unavailability, even in gray market DVDs, but I would sure love to see the Mihashi, Hama and Wakabayashi in the spy thrillers as Taniguchi originally intended them to be seen.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:42 AM