Shintoho Mind Warp Film Series, Japan Society
Flesh Pier (Jotai Sanbashi)
Saturday, March 2 at 7:30 pm
1958. B&W, blu-ray,75 min., in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Teruo Ishii. With Yoko Mihara, Ken Utsui, Akemi Tsukushi, Teruo Hata . New York Premiere
Another world of illicit pleasures lies beneath the glittering neon surface of Tokyo. Ken Utsui stars as an undercover cop investigating a call-girl ring operating out of a Ginza nightclub, where he is surprised to discover the boss's moll is his long lost love. He also recognizes a fashion model at the club--Haruko (Akemi Tsukushi), whom he knew as a reporter when he was fighting crime in Kobe. The sharp-eyed pianist, Teruo (Teruo Hata) senses something fishy about these two--and relays his suspicions to Rumi, who has Haruko confined in Teruo's room. Ishii filmed his twisty story of evasions and betrayals, set in Japan's sex industry, in the back streets of Akasaka, Ginza and Shinjuku, in a semi-documentary style with an unblinking recognition of its sordidness, together with a winking acknowledgment of its pleasures. This double-jointed approach became his trademark.
Death Row Woman (Onna Shikeishu no Datsugoku)
Sunday, March 3 at 5:00 pm
1960. B&W, blu-ray, 78 min., in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Nobuo Nakagawa. With Miyuki Takakura, Hiroshi Hayashi, Fumiko Miyata, Yasuko Mita, Keinosuke Wada. New York Premiere
Arrested for the murder of her wealthy businessman father, convicted on false evidence and sentenced to death, Kyoko, the Heroine of Death Row Woman, is determined to prove her innocence. With the aid of an older convict, she makes a daring escape and reunites with her fiancé. But with the police closing in, can they unmask the real killer in time? There is also a feminist subtext--Kyoko not only objects to her father's choice of husband, but also decides to have her lover's baby minus a marriage certificate. All in all, the film is closer in sensibility to the era's "woman's pictures," whose typical themes were female suffering and sacrifice, than the women-in-prison exploitation pics of the 1970s. At the same time, Death Row Woman provided the template for several of their frequent tropes, from its woman-on-woman brawls to its (mild by later standards) depictions of same-sex desire.
Revenge of the Pearl Queen (Onna Shinju-o no Fukushu)
Sunday, March 3 at 7:00 pm
1956. B&W, blu-ray, 90 min., in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Toshio Shimura. With Michiko Maeda, Ken Utsui, Shigeru Amachi, Saburo Sawai, Susumu Fujita, Tetsuro Tanba. New York Premiere
When Shintoho's voluptuous new discovery Michiko Maeda undressed for Revenge of the Pearl Queen, offering the first nude scene ever in Japanese cinema history, she hit the screens with a seismic force, and a new star was born. The film's central plot is based on the true story of 19 Japanese men discovered on Anatahan, a tiny island in the Marianas Group, in 1951. Shimura's version begins with a young trading company employee, Kizaki, delivering documents to the company president in Hakone. That night the president is killed and the company safe is robbed. The next day, Kizaki sees his girlfriend, Natsuki (Maeda), and the company managing director, Asanuma (Susumu Fujita), off on a voyage to the U.S., and she ends up falling overboard to escape a would-be rapist. When we next see her, she is on a tropical beach, prostrate with exhaustion, being revived by five male castaways. Diving off the coast, Natsuki discovers enough pearls to make her fortune.
Yellow Line (Osen chitai-Yellow Line)
Sunday, March 10 at 4:00 pm, Closing Film
Japan. 1960. B&W, blu-ray, 79 min. In Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Teruo Ishii. With Teruo Yoshida, Yoko Mihara, Teruko Amano, Mako Sanjo. New York Premiere
A hitman (Shigeru Amachi) is betrayed by his employer. At Tokyo Station he grabs Emi (Yoko Mihara), a dancer on her way to a new job, to serve as a hostage/cover and hops a train to Kobe. Soon afterward her reporter boyfriend Mayama (Teruo Yoshida) finds Emi's shoe and suspects that she may have walked into a trap set by a Kobe-based prostitution ring. Once in Kobe, Emi scrawls a cry for help in a ¥100 note and slips it to a shoe store employee--but no one notices it until a young office worker, Yumiko (Mako Sanjo), happens to get it in her change. But then Yumiko is kidnapped. The intrepid Mayama soon gathers clues that lead him to the dangerous denizens of the Casbah, the dark sector of Kobe. In this film, more than any in his Shintoho period, Ishii was able to create his own special atmosphere, somewhere on the borderland between dream and reality, where the forbidden and unlawful thrill and threaten in equal measure.
Author and critic Mark Schilling has lived in Tokyo since 1975. He began reviewing Japanese films for The Japan Times in 1989 and is currently the Japan correspondent for Variety. A program advisor to the Udine Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy since 2001, Schilling curated a retrospective of Nikkatsu Action films for the 2005 festival that was the first of its kind in the West.
The Japan Society Film Program offers a diverse selection of Japanese films, from classics to contemporary independent productions. Its aim is to entertain, educate and support activities in the Society's arts & culture programs. The Film Program has included retrospectives of great directors, thematic series and many U.S. premieres. Some original film series curated by the Japan Society have traveled to other U.S. venues in tours organized by the Film Program. For more, visit www.japansociety.org/film.
Founded in 1907, Japan Society is a world-class, multidisciplinary hub for global leaders, artists, scholars, educators, and English and Japanese-speaking audiences. At the Society, more than 100 events each year feature sophisticated, topically relevant presentations of Japanese art and culture and open, critical dialogue on issues of vital importance to the U.S., Japan and East Asia. An American nonprofit, nonpolitical organization, the Society cultivates a constructive, resonant and dynamic relationship between the people of the U.S. and Japan. Visit www.japansociety.org.
Into the Shintoho Mind Warp: Girls, Guns & Ghosts from the Second Golden Age of Japanese Film runs February 27-March 10. Japan Society is located at 333 East 47th Street between First and Second avenues (accessible by the 4/5/6 and 7 subway at Grand Central or the E and M subway at Lexington Avenue). Tickets are $12/$9 Japan Society members, students and seniors. Tickets can be purchased in person at Japan Society, by calling the box office at 212-715-1258, or by visiting www.japansociety.org. For more information call 212-832-1155 or visit the website.