BFI Nikkatsu Studio Season

This year marks the centenary of the founding of Nikkatsu Studio and because of this a lot of their old titles are getting restored and re-released. The BFI are joining in with the celebrations by screening a selection of works that came out of Nikkatsu Studio in the 50’s and 60’s with titles from important Japanese directors like Yuzo Kawashima, Shohei Imamura and Seijun Suzuki. The season runs from June 01st to June 30th at the BFI Southbank.

What this season looks good at doing is revealing the grittier edge of post-war Japanese cinema, the changes in sexual politics and just what the taiyozoku (sun tribe) strand of films was like with their focus on nihilistic affluent youth. A lot of the stories are adapted from the books of Shintaro Ishihara, the man who would later become Governor of Tokyo. As far as the actors go well there are some familiar names like Meiko Kaji (Lady Snowblood) and Jo Shishido (A Colt is My Passport) but most are unknown to me.

Here is the selection and the dates and info taken from the site (only a few comments from me edited in). Click on the titles for more information and to order tickets:

Seasons in the Sun: The Heyday of Nikkatsu Studios

Season Introduction: Seasons in the Sun: The Heyday of Nikkatsu Studios

June 03rd, 6:15 PM

Film critic Jaspar Sharp (author of Behind the Pink Curtain and The Historical Dictionary of Japanese Cinema) is the season curator for the season and he will provide a talk on the films guiding the audience through some of the films that best exemplify the studios output throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Suzuki Paradise: Red Signal

June 01st, 6:20 PM, June 07th, 8:50 PM

Director: Yuzo Kawashima, Starring: Michiyo Aratama, Tatsuya Mihashi, Yukiko Todoroki
Running Time: 81 mins

Director Yuzo Kawashima’s reputation is in the middle of a revival at the moment, starting with a retrospective of his films at last year’s Berlin International Film Festival and continuing with reissues of his titles like Bakumatsu Taiyo-den (courtesy of Masters of Cinema). This was one of the films screened at Berlin.

Michiyo Aratama, Tatsuya Mihashi in Suzaki Paradise: Red Light

A newlywed couple drawn to the bright lights of Tokyo find their relationship in jeopardy when the pretty young wife Tsutae sees an easy escape route from poverty in the neighbouring red-light district.

Season of the Sun

June 01st, 8:30 PM

Director: Takumi Furukawa, Starring: Hiroyuki Nagato, Ko Mishima, Yoko Minamida
Running Time: 89 mins

This is considered a pivotal work in Japanese cinema. Its story is one of love across the social divide and would kick start a popular and also kick start the career of Yujiro Ishihara the younger brother of Shintaro Ishihara, as a massively popular actor.

Man Who Causes a Storm (aka Stormy Man / A Man Called Storm)

June 02nd, 8:30 PM / June 13th 6:10 PM

Director: Umetsugu Inoue, Starring: Yujiro Ishihara, Kyoji Aoyama, Mie Kitahara
Running Time: 101 mins

A film about a violent young man named Shoichi who aspires to be a jazz drummer but really desires the approval of his mother who hates music. He works his way up in Ginza clubs and gets involved in the criminal underworld.

Crimson Wings

June 03rd, 8:30 PM / June 08th 3:50 PM
Director: Ko Nakahira, Starring: Yujiro Ishihara, Emiko Azuma, Hideaki Nitani
Running Time: 93 mins

Crimson Wings Film Image

A pilot is on a mercy mission to transport an urgently-needed tetanus serum to the remote island of Hachijo-jima to save a young boy, but little does he realise that his Cessna harbours a dangerous stowaway.

The Woman from the Sea (aka The Woman Who Came from the Bottom of the Sea)

June 08th, 6:10 PM / June 10th 8:50 PM
Director: Koreyoshi Kurahara, Starring: Tamiyo Kawachi, Sadao Mizutani, Hisako Tsukuba
Running Time: 76 mins

The Woman from the Sea Film Image

For this tale of a yacht-loving youth who discovers a mysterious woman adrift in the sea, Ishihara adapts his own novella Shark Woman and adds a supernatural element to the usual sun, sea and swimsuits antics of his taiyozoku tales.

Pigs and Battleships

June 08th, 8:30 PM / June 10th 8:45 PM
Director: Shohei Imamura, Starring: Hiroyuki Nagato, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Tetsuro Tamba
Running Time: 108 mins

Pigs and Battleships was the fifth feature by Shohei Imamura, and it takes place in the squalid underworld surrounding the US naval base of Yokosuka, a place populated by ‘pan pan girls’ and black-marketeers involved in illicit pork-meat scams.

I Look Up When I Walk

June 09th, 3:50 PM / June 13th 8:30 PM
Director: Toshio Masuda, Starring: Kyu Sakamoto, Hideki Takahashi, Mitsuo Hamada
Running Time: 91 mins

‘Sukiyaki’ is a hearty hotpot containing a variety of foreign and Japanese ingredients and it is a great title for this multi-genre mishmash symptomatic of Nikkatsu’s mukokuseki (‘borderless’) style, as it follows the paths taken through life by two youths fresh out of detention centre, and is as cheery and optimistic as its title suggests.

Monday Girl (aka Only on Mondays)

June 09th, 6:00 PM / June 21st 8:40 PM
Director: Ko Nakahira, Starring: Mariko Kaga, Akira Nakao, Tanie Kitabayashi
Running Time: 93 mins

Nakahira’s bouncy, Nouvelle Vague-inflected portrait of Yuka, a good-time girl in the cosmopolitan port of Yokohama is a film featuring downtrodden yet irrepressible women looking beyond Japanese shores to escape outmoded, restrictive patriarchal structures in the chaos of a rapidly modernising, internationalising world.

Branded to Kill

June 22nd, 6:00 PM / June 29th 8:30 PM
Director: Seijun Suzuki, Starring: Jo Shishido, Annu Mari, Koji Nanbara
Running Time: 91 mins

Suzuki’s cult classic, a baroque tale of a hitman on a kill-or-be-killed mission, was branded ‘nonsense’ by Nikkatsu’s president Hori upon its release, and saw its director famously fired from the studio. With its striking Pop Art aesthetic, sultry jazz score and near- surreal parade of action sequences, it has achieved an almost otherworldly patina over the years, with Shishido redefining cool as the anonymous rice-sniffing contract killer who crosses crosshairs with Annu Mari’s ethereal femme fatale.

A Colt Is My Passport

June 23rd, 8:30 PM / June 28th 6:10 PM
Director: Takashi Nomura, Starring: Jo Shishido, Jerry Fujio, Chitose Kobayashi
Running Time: 85 mins

This is the stylish tale of a hitman on the run after assassinating a powerful yakuza boss.


June 24th, 8:50 PM / June 26th 6:20 PM
Director: Yasuharu Hasebe, Starring: Akira Kobayashi, Jo Shishido, Hideaki Nitani, Meiko Kaji
Running Time: 95 mins

Retaliation Image

Gritty tale of internecine gang warfare, starring Akira Kobayashi as a yakuza who emerges from jail to find his gang dispersed. Shishido is the rival boss who grants him a second chance, and Kaji the girl caught in the crossfire.

Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter

June 25th, 6:10 PM / June 30th 8:50 PM
Director: Yasuharu Hasebe, Starring: Meiko Kaji, Tatsuya Fuji, Rikiya Yasuoka
Running Time: 85 mins

This is the third in the five-episode delinquent girl-gang series that thrust Meiko Kaji to prominence, with its raucous action and radical plot set in the mixed-race demi-monde surrounding a US naval base. The rough sexuality presaged Nikkatsu’s wholesale switch to erotic material the following year, which led to Kaji leaving the studio for more iconic roles as Female Convict Scorpion and Lady Snowblood.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.