New from Arrow Video is the Blu-ray/DVD release of Nikkatsu Diamond Guys: Volume 2, which is a collection of three films from the oldest studio in Japan. Starting in the late 1950’s, the studio began to model old Hollywood by finding talent and contracting them to their Diamond Line for a series of wild genre motion pictures.
This collection is a celebration of these “Diamond Guys” with three films from directors Buichi Saito (Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril), Ko Nakahiri (Crazed Fruit), Haruyasu Noguchi (Cat Girls Gamblers) and featuring the mega stars Akira Kobayashi (Retaliation) and Jo Shishido (Branded to Kill).
Tokyo Mighty Guy (1960)
In Saito’s Tokyo Mighty Guy, Kobayashi stars as Jiro in a somewhat lighthearted tale about a chef who has returned from France and wants to open a French restaurant in the busy Ginza district of Tokyo. There he takes on a local Yakuza gang that tries to muscle his restaurant and some other locations and gets involved in a political scandal that is centered around his girlfriend’s business.
Despite the appearance of the Yakuza, this one is very light in its tone and never feels as though anyone is ever in any true danger. It contains multiple singing sequences, lots of comedy and downright silliness, fighting, dancing, and of course some romance. Kobayashi was compared to Dean Martin as his movies always involved singing and this easily feels like a Martin or Elvis Presley type of movie.
There are some very nice location shots of Japan, including one scene that takes place on the roof. There is also a cool fight scene that takes place on the beach and an amusing homage to Singin’ in the Rain, where one of the characters pretends to dance with someone outside in the rain while the couple is dancing inside the restaurant. I personally feel that this is the weakest of the three in this set but it is still an interesting selection that shows off Kobayashi’s various talents.
Danger Pays (1962)
Next is Nakahira’s wild crime caper Danger Pays Starring Shishido as Joe the Ace, a low level criminal that wears a purple suit, drives a tiny red car, loves collecting guns, and can’t stand the sound of scratched glass. When a group of gangsters steal a large amount of watermarked paper for the yen, Joe sees the opportunity to make some quick cash by kidnapping the famous counterfeiter and brokering the gang for money.
The only problem is that he isn’t the only one who is looking to score, as two other gangsters that he knows are also trying to capture the counterfeiter and gain a ransom. What ensues is a crazy and humorous game of cat and mouse as they all use various tricks and schemes in a constant besting of each other.
This is an insanely fun gangster movie that features a large group of colorful gangsters, some moments of humor, and a great deal of violence and action. It contains many interesting camera angles and shots, including one that is shot from underneath a glass floor that a geisha is dancing on top of.
The finale is absolutely incredible, featuring a gunfight that takes place inside an elevator and the shaft of the elevator. It doesn’t best the final gunfight that occurs in The Wild Bunch, but it is very reminiscent of that and other similar Wild West shootouts.
Murder Unincorporated (1965)
Finally, Shishido stars in the screwball assassin film Murder Unincorporated where the opening monologue declares that “if you don’t laugh at this movie, I will murder you.” The mysterious and unknown hitman “Joe of Spades” murders one of five gang leaders and the rest are given playing cards signifying the order in which they will all die.
In a panic to save their own lives, the bosses hire ten assassins from the assassin agency called Murder Unincorporated to protect them and kill Joe. This all leads to one of the most unique collection of assassins and their unusual killing devices to ever appear on cinema.
This one is so out there that it is truly hard to describe. It is like the hitman version of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. There are just so many outrageous and ridiculous assassins in this including a man with a gun contraption in a poetry book, a baseball player with a gun in his bat, a chef with knives, a kid claiming to be related to Al Capone who has an exploding sling shot, one that has an exploding abacus, a pair called even and odd that dress in alternating costumes, a sailor who has a pipe gun, one called monkey pockets, a James Bond spoof called 006, and many others.
There is a great deal of humor that includes sped up battles between the gangsters that is reminiscent of the sequences from the Benny Hill Show. Despite all of the comedic elements, there is still a decent amount of violence and a very nice final shootout. Shishido may be the main star in this one, but his character makes a minimal amount of appearance on screen.
Instead, it is devoted to the vast amount of unusual assassins and their various gimmicks. Some of the main assassins are also provided with a back story in order to flesh out their characters and somewhat humanize them. Overall, this one alone is worth purchasing this release.
The extras are minimal with two video discussions about the Nikkatsu stars Kobayashi and Shishido from Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp. They clock in at around twenty minutes and provide some excellent information about both of these actor’s careers. There is also an insert booklet featuring writing on the films and director profiles from Stuart Galbraith IV, Tom Mes, and Mark Schilling.
If you liked the first volume of Nikkatsu Diamond Guys or are a true fan of Japanese cinema than this is an essential piece to pick up and add to your collection.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
Limited Edition Blu-ray collection (3000 copies)
High Definition digital transfers of all three films in this collection, from original film elements by Nikkatsu Corporation
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation
Original uncompressed mono audio
Newly translated English subtitles
Specially recorded video discussions with Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp on Diamond Guys Jo Shishido and Akira Kobayashi
Original trailers for all three films
Extensive promotional image galleries for all films
Reversible sleeve featuring brand new artwork by Graham Humphreys
Booklet featuring new writing on all the films and director profiles by Stuart Galbraith IV, Tom Mes and Mark Schilling
Taste of Cinema Rating: 9/10
Author Bio: Raul J. Vantassle is a jazz musician whose key strokes move about the page creating an explosion of formlessness to form, or just total bullshit. His heroes include John Waters, Robert Crumb, Charles Bukowski, and the Cobra Commander. His Knowledge of film goes across the board but he specializes in Asian and cult cinema. He may be the filthiest person alive. You can visit his blog here.