With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

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

Thursday, October 06, 2011


Jiraiya The Ninja

Jiraiya The Ninja (1921) is the earliest film shown at Velvet Bullets and Steel Kisses: Celebrating the Nikkatsu Centennial, the incredible 37 film series playing at NY's Lincoln Center through Sunday, October 16th. Jiraiya was directed by Shozo Makino, known as the "father of Japanese cinema," and only a fragment just over twenty minutes is available. That segment was shown this past Sunday along with Made To Order Cloth, Daisuke Ito's 1930 depiction of Edo-era thief and folk hero Jirokichi Nakamura.

I watched Jiraiya on a DVD screener. There were only a few intertitle cards, and these were not subtitled. So it was rather difficult to know just exactly what was going on. Still, I could tell that at one point Jiraiya rescued someone, and at another he exposed a lord's vassal. And of course, action scenes don't need much, if any, explanation. The fighting style was crude by today's standards, as one would expect, but they had their own charm.

The same is true of thee special effects utilized, such as double-exposures. Another technique involved freezing the action and having a character step out of frame before re-cranking the camera. This results in him apparently "disappearing" and then "reappearing" when the action freezes and he steps back in frame.

Jiraiya The Ninja

This technique is also used for transformations, as when Jiraiya turns into a frog (see image above) and back into a human. Similarly, one of his opponents turns into a snake.

It's not really appropriate for me to assign a star rating to Jiraiya The Ninja, since only a part of it is available. But I will say it was enjoyable to watch, aside from the scratches and other artifacts of age. (It would be wonderful if someone would give it and other important old films the "Criterion treatment" or some similar loving restoration.) Jiraiya is clearly an important film in terms of Japanese cinema, and I found it to be charming and delightful in its own way.

The Burmese Harp

Velvet Bullets and Steel Kisses: Celebrating the Nikkatsu Centennial continues today, Thursday, October 6th with four films, of which I've seen two. The Burmese Harp (1956) is a remarkable tale from Kon Ichikawa of a lowly Japanese soldier who stays in Burma after his army surrenders at the end of World War II. There he devotes his life to finding the remains of the war dead and giving them proper burial. It will be shown at 6:20 PM today, and again tomorrow, Friday, at 8:15 PM. Details here.

Crazed Fruit

At 8:40 PM tonight, and at 4:40 Friday afternoon, Ko Nakahira's youth flick Crazed Fruit will be shown. Hormones rage in this taiyozoku (Sun Tribe) tale of post WWII well-off Japanese youths. Like The Burmese Harp, it also hails from 1956. Like the two previous Sun Tribe films Nikkatsu released that year, it was based on a story by 1956 Akutagawa literary prize winner, and later politician, Shintaro Ishihara. At its most basic, Crazed Fruit is the tail of rivalry between two brothers for a lovely young thing, Eri (Mie Kitahara). For info about the Crazed Fruit screenings, click here.

For descriptions of all the film in the Velvet Bullets and Steel Kisses film series, schedule information and to buy tickets, click here.

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