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Friday, January 21, 2011

KENJU ZANKOKU MONOGATARI / CRUEL GUN STORY (1964)

This straight-ahead/pared-to-the-bone heist pic from Nikkatsu Studios makes a great entry point for anyone waiting to try some Nippon Noir. Takumi Furukawa’s helming is taut & clear, while the tone, characters & storyline aren’t so different from classic Hollywood & French capers like THE ASPHALT JUNGLE/’50 or RIFIFI/’54.* But the film has enough twists, especially in the third act, to keep you on your toes; and the stylized violence clangs away in the appealingly brutish manner of Robert Aldrich. Nikkatsu regular Joe Shishido (think Chip & Dale meets Bobby Darin) stars as a tough-guy who’s barely out of prison when he’s offered the job of a lifetime: an armored car heist. Now, if only he can trust the thugs they’ve chosen to help him, the big shots who are running the scam and the panicked drivers who will hopefully follow the deadly script. You won’t be surprised that things don’t go exactly as planned, but you will be surprised at some of the ways things do go. The characters are nicely contrasted and the moral conflicts are detly handled within the plot mechanics. Nikkatsu pics were as thrifty with construction as they were with budgets. Very entertaining stuff.

DOUBLE-BILL: *A remarkably similar heist shows up in Jean-Pierre Melville’s LE DEUXIÈME SOUFFLE/’66, two years after this film came out in Japan.

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