Born of the fires of dissidence, pioneering Japanese film studio Shintoho was founded in 1947 by employees of the Tokyo-based Toho Company during a strike (Shintoho literally means "New Toho"). The fledgling studio promptly established itself as one of the major film producers of the second golden age of Japanese cinema, specializing in low- to no-budget productions that have become absolute cult classics.
Japan Society's 2013 Globus Film Series Into the Shintoho Mind Warp: Girls, Guns & Ghosts from the Second Golden Age of Japanese Film offers rare screenings of eight Shintoho films-all New York Premieres and all unavailable on DVD in the U.S.--produced from the late 1950s to the early 1960s. The series launches today, February 27 with an opening night reception featuring Japanese soul band Neo Maki Blues. Tickets to each screening are $12/$9 Japan Society members, seniors and students. All films are in Japanese with English subtitles.
Often compared with Roger Corman's exploitation-movie factory, American International Pictures, Shintoho started off in a more orthodox fashion with the holy trinity of Japanese cinema: Kenji Mizoguchi, Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu. But it went on to revolutionize and breathe new life into Japanese genre movies, populating it with bizarre ghouls and ghosts, unruly teenagers, vampires, werewolves and curvy girls in bikinis.
Shintoho produced over 500 features during a 14-year period, spanning a wide variety of genres from crime-thriller series to the youth films and exploitation films known as ero-guro (erotic grotesque). Into the Shintoho Mind Warp, is comprised of selections from Nudes! Guns! Ghosts! curated by film critic Mark Schilling for the 2010 Udine Far East Film Festival, and provides a flamboyant sampling of Shintoho's delightfully deranged output, from hard-hitting gangster movies to campy horror chillers and supernatural tales of mystery.
After New York, the series tours North America at Philadelphia's International House (March 28-30), San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (TBD), and Vancouver's Pacific Cinematheque (TBD).
SCREENING SCHEDULE & FILM DESCRIPTIONS:
Ghost Story of Yotsuya (Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan)
Wednesday, February 27 at 8:00 pm, Opening Night Screening Followed by a Reception
1959. Color, blu-ray, 76 min., in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Nobuo Nakagawa. With Shigeru Amachi, Noriko Kitazawa, Katsuko Wakasugi, Shuntaro Emi, Ryuzaburo Nakamura. New York Premiere.
This adaption of a kabuki play by Tsuruya Nanboku (1825) is a Japanese Macbeth about a monstrous ambition whose red fruit is murder most foul. A classic of the genre and typically thought of as the best of more than 30 film adaptations, Nobuo Nakagawa's horror masterpiece focuses on the psychology of the characters, particularly the ruthless, cruel, but humanly weak samurai and his abused wife. Nakagawa's characteristic atmospherics are present, particularly his use of color to express the poisoning of the body (sickly greens) and mind (ghastly reds). The film however, is most memorable for the raw force of its emotions, from the shock and desolation of the betrayed wife to the fright and desperation of the doomed husband. The stand-out performance is that of Wakasugi as Iwa, whose shock and dismay as her face dissolves into a blackened, disfigured mass is indelible.
Ghost Cat of Otama Pond (Kaibyo Otama-ga-ike)
Friday, March 1 at 7:00 pm
1960. Color, blu-ray, 75 min., in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Yoshiro Ishikawa. With Shozaburo Date, Hiroshi Hayashi, Noriko Kitazawa, Namiji Matsuura, Fumiko Miyata, Torahiko Nakamura. New York Premiere
In 1960, Yoshihiro Ishikawa, who had apprenticed under Shintoho harbormaster Nakagawa Nobuo, made his directorial debut with The Ghost Cat of Otama Pond. The story-a young couple caught in a web of ghostly revenge, with a black cat serving as a conduit between the worlds of the living and dead--is familiar from the era's horror films, though the sumptuous production, as well as the use of color, is rare for a film by a Shintoho first-timer. Nakagawa's influence can be seen in everything from the use of otherworldly shades of red and green to the shadowy period atmospherics of the "ghost mansion," supplied by art director Haruyasu Kurosawa, a frequent Nakagawa collaborator. The film's theatricality, from the sets to the performance styles, also echoes Nakagawa in his more Kabuki-esque moods. Ishikawa learned his lessons well--and delivers shocks and chills that would have done his teacher proud.
The Horizon Glitters (Chiheisen ga giragira)
Saturday, March 2 at 3:00 pm
1960. B&W, blu-ray, 89 min., in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Michiyoshi Doi. With Shigeru Amachi, Masayo Banri, Toru Chiba, Jerry Fujio.New York Premiere
Michiyoshi Doi's ultra-rare black comedy (the film is not available in any format world-wide) about a prison break Gone horribly wrong is unlike anything else Shintoho was making at the time. Released just before the studio's collapse, The Horizon Glitters is a brilliant one-off made with freedom and energy that verges on the anarchic and echoes the Hollywood movies that influenced Doi's generation of directors. Five convicts end up in the same cell: Ota a.k.a. "Capone" (Jun Tatara), Matsuda a.k.a. "Professor" (Shigeru Amachi), Tsuchiya a.k.a. "Bartender" (Ryuji Oki), Ohira a.k.a. "Irokichi" (Saburo Otsuji) and a drug smuggling sailor known as "Sea Monster" (Harumi Yuzo). With the surly Capone as boss, they maintain a rough harmony--until a new prisoner (Fujio) is tossed into their midst. When 'Mite--short for "Dynamite"--announces that he knows the whereabouts of a large cache of diamonds, escape is in order. Who will meet their fate before they reach the diamonds? What lies at the journey's end? The glitter draws our heroes on--but the horizon keeps receding.
Vampire Bride (Hanayome Kyuketsuma)
Saturday, March 2 at 5:15 pm
1960. B&W, blu-ray, 80 min., in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Kyotaro Namiki. With Junko Ikeuchi, Hiroko Amakusa, Yasuko Mita, Keiji Takamiya New York Premiere
Junko Ikeuchi, who rose to stardom at Shintoho for her pure, fresh-scrubbed image, was cast in Kyotaro Namiki's horror pic Vampire Bride as a sort of punishment by studio boss Mitsugu Okura. She had married against his wishes--and had to suffer the consequences when the marriage failed and she returned to Shintoho. Fujiko, a dance student with a horrific facial scar, seeks help from a sorceress in the mountains, who ultimately transforms her into a powerful monster. After undergoing a ritual that results in her temporary death, she returns to life as a fanged, hairy monster. Not long afterwards, her dance school classmates Kiyoko, a film star, and Eiko, a model, encounter Sayoko, a girl who is the spitting image of the presumed-dead Fujiko. Sayoko, it soon becomes apparent, is not a double, but the original in a new guise. But as much as Sayoko wants to live a normal, peaceful life, she cannot control the monster within her who wants payback against her tormentors.