It's a man's postwar world
PREVIEW In 1960s Japan, Nikkatsu meant a new kind of action. Promotional materials for the studio even spelled "action" in katakana, the syllabary used for borrowed foreign words. Indeed, the studio's super-stylized films only a smattering of which are showcased in this all too brief series presented by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and Outcast Cinema reflected many of the postwar period's cultural sea changes. Played by an exclusive line of marquee names including boyish rake Watari Tetsuya and the chipmunk-countenanced Joe Shishido, Nikkatsu's lone wolves and hit men hang out at rock and jazz clubs, drive hotwired foreign cars, get in brawls with white devil sailors, and possess the kind of smoldering cool that Elmore Leonard thinks he copyrighted. Similarly, directors such as Toshio Masuda, Takashi Nomura, and the better-known Suzuki Seijun developed a kinetic visual style that cribbed from Jean-Luc Godard, Sergio Leone, and Frank Tashlin in equal measure (Suzuki's extreme stylistic bravura eventually got him canned). It's the first two directors who merit closer looks. Nomura's awesomely titled A Colt Is My Passport (1967) stars Shishido as a sniper on the lam, and its finale both desolate and explosive tops any spaghetti western's final showdown. Shishido makes another appearance in Masuda's The Velvet Hustler (1967), this time sporting a creepy Chaplin-stache. His quarry is Goro (Tetsuya), a Tokyo hit man and all around playboy who is forced to lay low in the international port city of Kobe after a botched job and becomes the city's slacker underworld kingpin. But even a poor little rich girl (the perfectly coy Ruriko Asaoka) from the capital can't hold Goro's fickle attentions for long. In Nikkatsu action, it's a man's world. Dames come and go, but these boys only have eyes (and silent tears) for their fallen brothers in crime.
"NO BORDERS, NO LIMITS: 1960S NIKKATSU ACTION CINEMA" Thurs/10Sun/13, $6$8. See Rep Clock for schedule. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, SF. (415) 978-2787, www.ybca.org