Monday, July 8, 2013

Girls! Guns! Ghosts! The Sensational Films Of Shintoho

The YBCA had an interesting sounding program called Girls! Guns! Ghosts! The Sensational Films Of Shintoho.  The program ran from May 9 to 26.

Specializing in noir, horror, and risqué oddities, Japan’s Shintoho studio produced more than 500 films in 14 years. The company went bankrupt in 1961, and few of their films have been seen in the West—until now. Though they produced works by masters like Kurosawa and Ozu, they are best remembered in Japan for their low-budget, high-concept genre films. Shintoho is comparable to American International Pictures, who, along with producer/director Roger Corman, flooded American drive-ins in the 1960s with tales of rebellious teenagers, vampires, werewolves, and curvy girls in bikinis. 

I saw four of the eight films on the program.

Flesh Pier starring Hiroshi Asami, Seiji Hara  & Yôko Mihara; directed by Teruo Ishii; Japanese with subtitles; (1958)
Death Row Woman starring Miyuki Takakura & Yôichi Numata; directed Nobuo Nakagawa; Japanese with subtitles; (1960)
Yellow Line starring Shigeru Amachi, Teruko Amano & Seiji Hara; directed by Teruo Ishii; Japanese with subtitles; (1960)
Revenge of the Pearl Queen starring Michiko Maeda; directed Toshio Shimura; Japanese with subtitles; (1956)

The description was fairly accurate but the films themselves were not that well made.  A film about a prostitution ring in 1958 may have had shock value but in 2013, we are more jaded and the shortcomings of the films were more apparent.

To be honest, I don't remember some of the films very well.  That is an indictment of the films as they did not register in my memory.

Flesh Pier was about a prostitution ring.  More accurately, it was what we would call "white slavery" in this country.  I wonder if that term exists in Japan.  The film was imminently forgettable.

Yellow Line was about an stripper who is kidnapped by a hitman running from the law.  This film is slightly less forgettable than Flesh Pier...primarily because a striptease/burlesque number.

Death Row Woman wasn't quite as exploitative as the other films.  A woman is convicted for the murder of her father and facing the death sentence (hence the title).  She makes a prison and with the help of her fiancé.  However, she is unaware that her mother & fiancé are having an affair and killed the old man.  I kind of liked Death Row Woman but the performances were a little wooden.

Revenge of the Pearl Queen was the most memorable of the bunch.  Michiko Maeda plays the secretary of the CEO of some big company.  The CEO has conspired to kill the chairman of the board and frame the secretary's boyfriend for the murder.  In the meantime, the CEO needs Maeda to accompany him on an overseas business trip via passenger ship.  The CEO tries to rape Maeda and she falls overboard.

She washes up on a small island.  The island is uninhabited except for some Japanese WWII soldiers who've been abandoned there for 15 years.  The presence of a woman (and a rather attractive woman at that) sends the men into a killing and raping frenzy.  Fortunately for Maeda, the only honorable man among the bunch saves her.

While on the island, Maeda develops some skills such as the ability to dive for pearls.  She also loses much of her clothing and modesty.  Eventually, the two are saved by a passing ship.  Maeda returns to Japan with alias, a fortune in pearls and a desire for revenge.  She has also never regained her comfort in restrictive clothing so she continues to walk around her spacious hotel suite with little clothing.  Hey, it's an artistic statement!

I can't even remember how she exacts her revenge.  Plot and Maeda's thespian skills were not the main selling points of Revenge of the Pearl Queen.  If only all the films in the series had a Michiko Maeda type actress to elevate their artistic content.

Michiko Maeda (right) in Revenge of the Pearl Queen

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