Spend Springtime in Japan

We’re only four months into 2009 and the year is already becoming more interesting in terms of DVD releases than 2008. I’ve been impressed with Warner’s decision to open up their film archives and I’m glad that Facets is now offering a mail order rental option for their vast selection of rare films on DVD and video. And if you’re interested in Japanese cinema some of the most exciting news is coming from Synapse, KINO and Criterion. All three companies are planning to release some of the most highly anticipated and previously hard-to-see Japanese films on DVD next month and I couldn’t be more happy about it!

Net month Synapse is making two of director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi’s 1970s films available on DVD for the first time, Wandering Ginza Butterfly (aka Gincho wataridori; 1971) followed by its sequel Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2: She Cat Gambler (aka Gincho nagaremono mesuneko bakuchi; 1972). Both films feature the lovely and tough-as-nails Meiko Kaji, as well as the great Sonny Chiba! Wandering Ginza Butterfly was the first film that Meiko Kaji made with Toei Studios where she would go on to star in the popular Female Prisoner Scorpion films.

In the Wandering Ginza Butterfly movies Meiko plays a female gang leader called Nami who kills a member of a yakuza group and is sent to jail for three years. After her release Nami returns to Tokyo to live with her uncle who owns a billiard-hall and she finally ends up working at a hostess club in a wealthy Ginza neighborhood. After a gang attempts to muscle in on the club, Nami becomes locked in a violent struggle to defend her uncle’s business and take vengeance on her past rivals. These films were some of the earliest and most popular pinky violence films made in Japan and the upcoming release of Wandering Ginza Butterfly and its sequel on DVD will mark the first time both of these films have ever been officially released in the US in any form. Synapse has loaded the DVDs with some impressive extras including interviews with director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, the original Japanese theatrical trailers and audio commentary from Chris Desjardins (author of Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film; 2005).

In May, KINO International will also be releasing two of Nikkatsu studio’s action films; Seijun Suzuki’s Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards! (aka Tantei jimusho 23: Kutabare akuto-domo; 1963) featuring the first team-up between the director and his long-standing star Joe Shisdo along with Motuma “Tan” Ida’s 3 Seconds Before Explosion (aka Bakuhatsu sanbyômae; 1967) starring the legendary Akira Kobayashi. Both of these stylish films promise to explore the dark depths of Japan’s criminal underworld. This is the first time that these films have been made available to US audiences on DVD and KINO is releasing them in widescreen. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like either of the DVDs will come with any extras. I mentioned how eager I was to see Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards! last year so I’m just really glad that these films are finally being made available.

Last but certainly not least, Criterion is planning to release an impressive looking boxset of director Shohei Imamura‘s films from the ’60s that they’re calling Pigs, Pimps, & Prostitutes. The set will contain three of Imamura’s films; Pigs and Battleships (aka Buta to gunkan ; 1962), The Insect Woman (aka Nippon konchuki; 1962) and Intentions of Murder (aka Akai satsui; 1964). Shohei Imamura is an incredibly talented filmmaker who made many extraordinary movies, but for one reason or another his work hasn’t been easy to see in the US until now. He was also one of the most important figures of the Japanese new wave, which has often been neglected and ignored so I’m happy that these films are finally getting the attention and respect from critics that they’ve long deserved. The upcoming release of this exciting DVD set should help bring Imamura’s work to a much larger audience of critics and film enthusiasts. According to the Criterion website, the DVD set will also come with some wonderful extras such as a recorded conversation between director Shohei Imamura and critic Tadao Sato, a special feature called Imamura, the Free Thinker from a 1995 episode of the French television series Cinéma de notre temps, interviews with film critic and historian Tony Rayns and an extensive booklet featuring essays by film critics Audie Bock, Dennis Lim, and James Quandt.

9 thoughts on “Spend Springtime in Japan

  1. I think “3 Seconds Before Explosion” just became my new favourite film title ever. And “Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2: She-Cat Gambler” might be right behind it.

    I’m pretty excited by these too. I knew the Imamura was coming out (I’ve see “Intentions Of Murder” and it’s pretty darn good, but that’ll depend if Imamura is your cup of tea or not), but the others have me psyched. Any time there’s an unreleased Suzuki or Meiko Kaji film announced, the world becomes a better place…

  2. May is going to be amazing month for DVD releases. Glad I’m not alone in my enthusiasm, Bob!

    Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards! and 3 Seconds Before Explosion are at the top of my MUST SEE list, but I really want to see all the others as well. I’ve only seen The Insect Woman from the Imamura set so I’m really looking forward to finally seeing more of his work. Imamura’s films are definitely challenging, but that’s why i enjoy them so much.

  3. It took me twenty years to get to see Imamura’s The Pornographers but it was worth it. I am agnostic about Vengeance Is Mine, though I have a feeling the fault is with my attention rather than the film. The box set sounds unmissable, and any week that brings more Meiko Kaji films into availability is a great week. Or, what Bob said above.

  4. Babyloner – I love the DVD designs too!

    Paul – Isn’t it terrific that were finally getting more of Ismamra’s films on DVD? I can’t believe it’s taken so long, but I loved Criterion’s release of The Pornographers and Vengeance Is Mine so I suspect I’ll love the upcoming DVD set as well. I really hope they consider releasing Black Rain in the future.

    Brad – The Japanese studios really knew how to come up with catchy film titles! Of course, half the translations are a bit off so they might not sound so good if the translations were a a little more literal.

  5. Peter – Is that a new film? I haven’t heard of it.

    Nick – I’m really overwhelmed by all the new DVD releases! I only wish I wasn’t jobless so I could afford to purchase some of them. I also wish Netflix would carry copies of films from the Warner Archives. It would be a smart move for them and please me a lot!

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