SENGOKU YARO – Warring Clans

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 5

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Okamoto Kihachi‘s (Sword of Doom, Kiru!) 1963 ninja classic Sengoku Yaro is a real blast – a  superb mix of comedy and combat, peppered with some rather outré fight scenes, a jazzy score by Masaru Sato that keeps you on your toes, and a super cute sword girl to boot.

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The gorgeous YURIKO HOSHI, familiar to us from several Godzilla films, is sassy, defiant and deadly. The simple detail of the prop master giving her a shorter sword (a 'chisa' I think, or possibly a longer handled wakizashi?) actually does a lot to lend her sword acting some credibility.

These aging Thai press kit photos were contemporary with the film’s 1963 release. It’s a superbly shot B&W film, the colors here are actually hand tinted for display in theater lobbies. That moray pattern is from the acid fixer breaking down after half a century. These are in rough shape – never deigned for posterity, and nowhere near as collectible as their poster counterparts, thus rarely archived as well.

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Who’s cooler than the film’s lead Yuzo Kayama? No-one, because not only was he in some kick-ass chambara and ninja flicks, he was also a great guitarist. That’s him below, on stage in Japan with the Ventures!

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If you like films like Kiru! and 3 Outlaw Samurai, where the violence is tempered with sardonic humor, then Warring Clans is your ninja huckelberry. It’s got a great ‘who’s working who?’ dynamic familiar to the spaghetti westerns, and the fights are shot superbly.

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LOVE that arrow stuck in the rain hood... That's MAKOTO SATO on the right, whose facial expressions alone lend an instant comedic edge to this film, putting it on a level above many of it's contemporary peers.

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The battles in Clans are largely either on barren cliffsides or tall grassy plains infested with black-suited snakes ready to strike. The plot revolves around a caravan transporting rifles under siege from without and possibly within. At times, it’s a sort of buddy pic, with three bickering protagonists, all who claim to be the next leader of Japan, but who are actually bums… or are they?

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From the, literally, explosive ending!

I’m tortured the press materials I scored didn’t include a shot of the astounding Kumi Mizuno, who has a small role. I mention her solely because I want an excuse to run this off-topic shot from my favorite mutation of the kaiju genre Matango:

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There isn’t an angle I can’t recommend this movie on: The cinematography is top notch, and the fight scene editing is an absolute clinic in how to make non-martial artists look good in duels. It’s got some great ninja beats, too, although pretty much anyone in a black suit comes to a foul end. The flow of grave subject matter and at times gory violence with comedic performances in both small and main roles is masterfully executed. And if nothing else,you just cannot take your eyes off Yuriko Hoshi. She almost steals the movie…

AKAI KAGEBOSHI – the other ‘red shadow’

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 2

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Can a respectable, accomplished beautiful woman from noble samurai family possibly say no to a hooded bedroom invader so clearly superior in his warrior fashion sense? I think not!

I may have started this site just to find a good home for this picture. Seriously.

Said hood is Hashizo Okawa, the shinobi son trying to exact revenge on behalf of his tattooed ninja mom-done-wrong in the 1961 Toei film Akai Kageboshi. It’s part tournament movie, part mulit-generational mystery, part ninja romance – all with a supporting cast of staggering chambara manliness.

It all starts with our old pal Hattori Hanzo, played by Jushiro Konoe of Ninja Hunt and the Yagu Secret Scrolls series, who intercepts a ninja on a castle incursion. During their struggle, he realizes his prey is actually a woman, and the two are so turned-on by each other’s shinobi sex appeal, they have at it on the spot.

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Couple decades later, that same lady of the shadows is a bitter and obsessed ninja MILF who has trained her son, the offspring of that fateful encounter, in the family trade. Decked out in all sorts of gorgeous ornate get-ups, he is ‘The Red Shadow’ – the instrument of her revenge.

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The plot, from that set-up, is full of twists and turns and amazing characters. Sonny-boy’s mission is to collect 10 swords, one of which has part of a map etched onto it’s handle that when matched up with mom’s killer tats will lead them to a Shogunate treasure and vindicate her failure as a shadow agent. The ten swords, however, are the prizes in a martial arts tournament, so Red has to snatch the blades from the victors every night.

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This goes along fine, as long as the winners are old semi-retired swordsmen or young hotties practicing Naginata, but when one of the victors is Jubei F’N Yagu, played by Ryutaro Otomo, it’s a whole different deal!

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Red throws everything in his ninja repertoire at Jubei, just to see it all bounce harmlessly off his square jaw. Jubei, meanwhile, butts his way into the intrigue afoot, then Hanzo comes out of retirement, Red falls in love, snakes fall from the ceiling and shuriken sing through the night air…

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So yeah, Akai Kegeboshi is a pretty damn essential film, for those of you who haven’t seen it. Grey marketeers and fan-subbers have made it readily available, too, so there’s no excuses. Despite literal translations, would be a good idea to refer to this maybe as “The Crimson Shadow” or “The Scarlet Shadow” or something else, as the name “Red Shadow” has a rather significant pedigree elsewhere…

Here’s a ton of images, like the above, from Thai press kits released contemporary with the film’s original theatrical run.

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Staged publicity shot, shows how amazing the costumes are in this film. That bo shuriken looks pretty deadly...
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A staged combat shot from the publicity kit. AK is actually light on black-suited cannon fodder.
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Hashizo Okawa publicity pose - check out the ornate fan designs on that tsuba!
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That’s Keiko Okawa as Yuri, halberd expert and Shadow’s main squeeze.
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Otomo's Jubei dispenses with the otherwise signature (maybe cliché) eyepatch for a perhaps more intimidating wink of doom. The film does a great job of portraying Yagyu as an omnipotent force of nature with a sword, and Shadow is in WAY over his head facing him.
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Shadow is also no match one-on-one for the veteran Hanzo, it's everything he can do just to escape these encounters. And there are some really cool escapes, too.
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The bit where someone has come so close to getting slashed in the head, their straw hat has a triangle cut in it is so damn cool...
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Bit of a spoiler here, but it's not like you don't see it coming from a mile off. And yes, by contractual obligation, the final showdown is in the shadow of Mt. Fuji.

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I’ll wrap this up with some close-up scans of the mission gear. LOVE that mesh soft-armor hood!

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Don’t let these sepia-tone and B&W press photos fool you, Akai Kageboshi is a beautiful color film. The print that’s floating about the ‘trading communities’ is probably from TV and is pretty inky, though – but by no means a deal breaker.

SEE IT!

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