With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

ACF 422: Double Edged Sword

Raizo Ichikawa in Samurai Vendetta
© 1959 Kadokawa Pictures, Inc.

Japan Society's Monthly Classics Film Series Delivers 9 Slices of Rare '60s Samurai Cool with a Duel Dose of Masculine Mystique

The Double-Edged Sword: The Chambara Films of Shintaro Katsu & Raizo Ichikawa

Opening Screening: Samurai Vendetta on Friday, December 11, 2009, 7:30 PM
Introduced by curator Chris D. with reception and book signing

Japan Society just announced their new Monthly Classics film series and it looks like it's oging to be a super-blast! Expect advance reviews of many of the films here at AsianCineFest. In the meanwhile, here's extensive info about the series.

New York -- Japan Society's latest Monthly Classics film series The Double-Edged Sword: The Chambara Films of Shintaro Katsu & Raizo Ichikawa pays tribute to two Japanese screen legends in their most respected, representative and stylish chambara (sword fighting) films. Curated by film expert and author Chris D. (Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film), the series features 9 films slated to be screened monthly from December 2009 through May 2010. The opening night screening Samurai Vendetta takes place Friday, December 11 at 7:30 pm, and is followed by a reception and book signing. (Opening night tickets including reception are $15/$10 members, students & seniors; all subsequent screenings are $11/$7.)

Macho cool had two faces in Japanese cinema from the 1960s: Daiei Studios’ cult stars Shintaro Katsu (1931-1997) and Raizo Ichikawa (1931-1969). The actors dominated postwar genre films in Japan, projecting a disparate duality of masculine mystique. The earthy Katsu played the affable anti-idol rogue, unpredictable onscreen (and off), while ethereal, coolly enigmatic Ichikawa was considered the "James Dean of Japan." Beyond their differences, both stars instilled in their roles a poisonous poetry and existential angst that lifted their art into genre-transcending territory.

The Double-Edged Sword film series offers seminal works from each actor's arsenal chambara epics. Popular films such as Samurai Vendetta and three choice selections from the Zatoichi series are coupled with the surreal Destiny’s Son and art house film Scar Yosaburo. The series also presents Nemuri Kyoshiro's At Bay: The Sword of Seduction and Kenji Misumi's little known masterpiece The Devil’s Temple for the first time in 35 mm on the big screen with English subtitles.

With 2009 marking the 40th anniversary of Ichikawa’s death, The Double-Edged Sword series also anticipates the centennial of legendary director Akira Kurosawa in 2010. Samuel Jamier, newly appointed film programmer at Japan Society, notes, "While the Kurosawa/Mifune collaborations have long been consecrated as examples of ultimate samurai films, this retrospective series gives the occasion to unearth cinematic treasures that are too often overlooked, exposing an entire movement that took place parallel to Kurosawa and Cie."

Chambara designates a category of films that involve swordplay. Alternately romanized as chanbara, the label is an onomatopoeia, mimicking the "chan-chan, bara-bara" sound of clashing swords. The origin of chambara can be traced back to dramatized sword fights in kabuki dramas. Some of the earliest silent films in Japan were chambara with elaborate, balletic fight scenes. The genre reached maturity in the 1960s (many critics and fans describe that period as the golden age of chambara). The central figure in chambara films is the swordsman, who could be a samurai (often a ronin–a masterless samurai), ninja, or yakuza, always armed and dangerous. Chambara is part of the jidai-geki genre (period drama) and includes the matatabi sub-genre (wanderer or drifter that becomes a gambler).

“The chambara genre… was one of the central vehicles by which Japan would reexamine its culture and values in light of its new postwar, post-imperial role," notes Allen White, in his essay “A Man, a Blade, an Empty Road: Postwar Samurai Film to 1970” (GreenCine). "Chambara not only recycled and redefined Japanese history; it also used it as a thinly-coded metaphor for present-day struggles." Today, with anime reaching a peak of popularity in the U.S., many of the most popular series among young Americans--from Samurai Champloo to Afro-Samurai—are based on and inspired by old chambara movies.

THE DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD Screening Schedule:

Friday, December 11, 2009, 7:30 pm
Samurai Vendetta (A.K.A A Chronicle of Pale Cherry Blossoms)
**Opening screening with curator Chris D., reception and book signing

Friday, Jan. 22, 2010, 7:30 pm
Zatoichi, the Fugitive

Friday, Feb. 19, 2010, 7:30 pm
Destiny’s Son

Saturday, March 20, 2010
5:00 pm Zatoichi On the Road (A.K.A Zatoichi and the Scoundrels)
7:00 pm: Scar Yosaburo

Saturday, April 24, 2010
5:00 pm: New Tale of Zatoichi
7:00 pm: Nemuri Kyoshiro At Bay: The Sword of Seduction (A.K.A. Sleepy Eyes of Death 4)

Friday, May, 2010
5:00 pm: The Lone Stalker (A.K.A. Lone Wolf Isazo)
7:00 pm: The Devil’s Temple

THE DOUBLE EDGED SWORD Screening Details & Descriptions:

Samurai Vendetta (Hakuoki)
Friday, December 11, 2009 at 7:30 pm
**Opening screening introduced by series curator Chris D., with reception and book signing.
1959, 109 min., 16mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Kazuo Mori. With Raizo Ichikawa, Shintaro Katsu, Chitose Maki.

A unique take on the 47 Ronin story, this epic film propelled Shintaro Katsu to superstardom alongside then-reigning Raizo Ichikawa. Betrayal, dishonor and death imbue this tragic tale of two swordsmen whose clans are embroiled in a blood feud and who vie for the same woman. The film is also known as A Chronicle of Pale Cherry Blossoms.

Zatoichi, the Fugitive (Zatoichi kyojo-tabi)
Friday, January 22, 2010 at 7:30 pm
1963, 86 min., 35 mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Tokuzo Tanaka. With Shintaro Katsu, Miwa Takada, Misayo Banri, Junichiro Narita, Katsuhiko Kobayashi.

As the iconic blind masseur Zatoichi, Katsu enters this fourth--and one of the most acclaimed--episode of the saga with a bounty on his head. Soon he is up to his neck slicing and dicing through a throng of yakuza thugs, fending off a long-lost love and battling a ruthless rogue samurai for hire.

Destiny’s Son (Kiru)
Friday, February 19, 2010 at 7:30 pm
1962, 71 min., 16 mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Kenji Misumi. With Raizo Ichikawa, Eijiro Yanagi, Yoshio Inaba, Masayo Banri.

In director Kenji Misumi’s breakthrough film, Ichikawa seeks revenge and redemption after his family is murdered by a rival clan. An astonishing, dreamlike samurai film written by Kaneto Shindo, Destiny’s Son is a demonic masterpiece--designed with quasi-expressionist artistry, awash with surreal landscapes, and subsumed in an otherworldly beauty that fuses Zen and sword.

Zatoichi On the Road: Fighting Journey (Zatoichi kenka-tabi)
Saturday, March 20, 2010 at 5:00 pm
1963, 87 minutes, 35mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Kimiyoshi Yasuda. With Shintaro Katsu, Reiko Fujiwara, Shiho Fujimura.

Also known as Zatoichi and the Scoundrels, chapter five of the Blind Swordsman saga, Zatoichi encounters a dying man who asks him to deliver the maiden O-Mitsu to her family. Feeling honor-bound to fulfill the request, the canesword-wielding masseur goes on a perilous journey and soon finds himself caught between rival gangs competing to kidnap his beautiful protégée for a ransom.

Scar Yosaburo (Kirare Yosaburo)
Saturday, March 20, 2010 at 7:00 pm
1960, 94 min., 35mm, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Daisuke Ito. With Raizo Ichikawa, Manami Fuji, Keiko Awaji.

A band of yakuza ruffians mutilate the face of an actor after he is caught with the gang boss’ mistress. A misty, moonlit tale from the kabuki repertoire and a stirring classic of the most artful category of samurai films, zankoku jidai-geki (cruel historicals).

New Tale of Zatoichi (Shin Zatoichi monogatari)
Saturday April 24, 2010 at 5:00 pm
1963, 91 min, 35mm, in English with Japanese subtitles. Directed by Tokuzo Tanaka. With Shintaro Katsu, Mikiko Tsubouchi, Seizaburo Kawazu.

Returning to his hometown in the hope of laying down his cane-sword and renouncing the wayward ways of his hack-and-slash life, Zatoichi reunites with his former sensei in the throes of his own moral dilemma. Trouble ensues as a mysterious gang of marauders ravages the town, a fellow drifter thirsty for revenge lurks in the shadows, and a forbidden love threatens to stand between Ichi and his beloved mentor.

Nemuri Kyoshiro At Bay: The Sword of Seduction (Nemuri Kyoshiro Joyo Ken)
Saturday April 24, 2010 at 7:00 pm
1964, 87 min., 35mm, in Japanese, presented for the first time in the U.S. with new digital subtitles. Directed by Kazuo Ikehiro. With Raizo Ichikawa, Michiko Ai, Akira Amemiya, Shinjiro Asano, Saburo Date, and Tomisaburo Wakayama.

Widely considered to be the strongest entry in the wonderfully perverse and violent samurai Nemuri saga, The Sword of Seduction finds the shadowy outcast mixed up in a labyrinthine intrigue involving persecuted Christians, opium smuggling, a drug-addled princess, and a search for a holy Madonna. Also known as Sleepy Eyes of Death 4, half-breed warrior Kyoshiro Nemuri (“Sleepy-Eyed”), the other most popular swordsman of all time alongside Zatoichi, and the self-proclaimed "Son of the Black Mask," was the archetypal anti-hero: dark, romantic and desperate.

Lone Wolf Isazo (Hitori Okami)
Friday, May 14, 2010 at 5:00 pm
1968, 83 min., 35mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Kazuo Ikehiro. With Raizo Ichikawa, Isamu Nagato, Mayumi Ogawa.

Also known as The Lone Stalker, the epitome of the matatabi (samurai gambler) movie, Lone Wolf Isazo ranks as one of Ichikawa’s most spectacular performances. Employing flashbacks within flashbacks and a brooding romantic style poised somewhere between Budd Boetticher and early Sergio Leone, director Kazuo Ikehiro charts Isazo’s descent from chivalrous naïf to vengeance-obsessed cynical wanderer, giving a definitive chronicle of the loneliness the character faces.

The Devil's Temple (Oni no Sumu Yakata)
Friday, May 14, 2010 at 7:00 pm
1969, 76 min., 35 mm, in Japanese, presented for the first time in the U.S. with new digital subtitles. Directed by Kenji Misumi. With Shintaro Katsu, Hideko Takamine, Michiyo Aratama, Kei Sato.

In this little known Kenji Misumi masterpiece, an abandoned temple nestled in the mountains is the scene of a fateful encounter between a Buddhist monk, two women in love with the same man, and a fallen samurai (Katsu, at his most ferocious). As destinies collide, it appears that not just the lives of the quartet are at stake, but their very souls.


Chris D. (aka Chris Desjardins) is the author of Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film (2005, I.B. Tauris), which features essays and interviews with Japanese genre film directors from the '60s to the '90s. He recently completed work on two forthcoming books: an exhaustive study of yakuza films titled Gun And Sword – An Encyclopedia of Japanese Gangster Films 1955-1980, and an anthology of prose and poetry entitled A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die (New Texture Books, due Dec. 9). Chris worked as a film programmer at The American Cinematheque in Los Angeles 1999-2005 and was the main programmer of the Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre from 2006-09. Chris was also a singer/songwriter/producer for The Flesh Eaters and Divine Horsemen between 1978 and 2003. As an actor, Chris has appeared in Border Radio (1987), No Way Out (1987), Tweeked (1999) and Double Deception (2001). I Pass For Human (2004) was his feature film debut behind the camera. Japan Society's presentation of The Double-Edged Sword is an updated edition of a series he presented in Los Angeles in 2002.

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 Japan Society have traveled to other U.S. venues in tours organized by the Film Program. Since 2007, the Program has presented the annual summer JAPAN CUTS Festival of New Japanese Film in collaboration with the New York Asian Film Festival. The Monthly Classics series are yearly events inviting guest curators to organize film series with once-a-month screenings.

Established in 1907, Japan Society has evolved into North America's major producer of high-quality content on Japan for an English-speaking audience. Presenting over 100 events annually through well established Corporate, Education, Film, Gallery, Language, Lectures, Performing Arts and Innovators Network programs, the Society is an internationally recognized nonprofit, nonpolitical organization that provides access to information on Japan, offers opportunities to experience Japanese culture, and fosters sustained and open dialogue on issues important to the U.S., Japan, and East Asia.

Tickets for regular screenings in The Doubled-Edged Sword series are $11/$7 members, students & seniors; the Dec. 11 opening night screening including reception is $15/$10. Japan Society is located at 333 East 47th Street between First and Second avenues (accessible by the 4/5/6 at 42nd Street-Grand Central Station or the E and V at Lexington Avenue and 53rd St.) For reservations visit www.japansociety.org or call the box office at 212-715-1258. For further information call 212-832-1155 or visit the website.

Japan Society 2009-10 Film Programs are generously supported by the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Endowment Fund. Additional support is provided by the Globus Family, Yoshiko and Tim Schilt, David S. Howe, Dr. Tatsuji Namba, Joshua S. Levine and Nozomi Terao, and the New York State Council on the Arts, a State agency.

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