Saturday, October 20, 2007

No Borders, No Limits - Nikkatsu Action Cinema

By Mark Schilling
154 pages

This is just a heads up for fans of older Japanese films to be on the lookout for this book. It covers a period and genre of films that hasn’t received much attention outside of Japan and has very little written about it in English. From the late 1950’s to the early 70’s Nikkatsu produced boat loads of action films full of tough guys, beautiful dames, jazzy scores and hard edged dialogue. During the peak years over 100 films were coming out a year, but by the mid 60’s the entire Japanese film industry went into decline and the Nikkatsu action films began a slow fade as well. It had a short rejuvenation in the early 1970’s with a move to a more hip rock action genre with the Stray Cat series but by 1973 the company had switched over completely to their pink film content.

Schilling is a well-known expert on Japanese film with his current job reviewing films for the Japan Times, his programming involvement in the Udine Far East Film Festival and two previous books. He clearly shows affection for these films as well as an extensive knowledge of them and the actors and directors responsible for them. He first wrote this book as an accompaniment to a Nikkatsu Action Retrospective at Udine and has now expanded it for publication. The book is broken down into five sections – a history of Nikkatsu, the major actors, the major actresses, a few of the lesser billed actors and a few of the main directors. There are also a generous amount of color poster images strewn throughout the book. It is well written and easy to get through and to someone like me who knew absolutely nothing about this period very informative. As nice as this is, I would have appreciated it even more if Schilling had added three more sections for the uninformed – one with reviews of a number of his favorite films, another comparing Nikkatsu action films to the action films the other companies were producing – what made the Nikkatsu films unique - and thirdly a helpful listing of which of these films are currently available with English subtitles.

This third point of course points out the frustration of reading a book like this – as far as I know very few of these films are available with subtitles – a number of the Seijun Suzuki films certainly and a small smattering of some of the others such as Black Tight Killers. One positive though is that this may be changing. Currently some of the films that showed at the Udine Retro are slowly making their way around the United States thanks to the endeavors of Subway Cinema’s Marc Walkow and Nikkatsu is hoping to find a distributor in the states to take a package of these films. That would be delicious.


logboy said... thing about this book is that it's nice and easy to read - lots of information, but not showing off in his writing style...

i've a bit of a hate (at this point in time, anyway) for the overly academic "films can't be justified unless they're written about really extensively, and as though there's nothing more important" thing that you get if you start to delve into deeper information (context... whatever) on any given genre / director / country. there's something to be said for knowledge, depth etc, but it doesn't have to be done so as to undermine the priority of watching and appreciating, interpreting the films themselves.

good book, highly recommended.

Brian said...

I agree - the academic film books always seem to be written to impress the author's colleagues and no one else - painful to get thru for the most part - City on Fire by Lisa Stokes and Michael Hoover and A New History of Japanese Film by Isolde Standish come to mind. And one of my major gripes is that no one has yet to write a good fun pulpish book on Bollywood. Mark also seemed like a real nice guy and a little obsessed with film - even on the last day of the fest when I finally discovered the video room I saw him watching films all day long