This year is the 20th anniversary of the death of director and actor Toshiya Fujita. He may be best known outside of Japan as the director of Lady Snowblood, which was a major influence/reference for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill films. He also acted in well known films like Juzo Itami’s Tampopo and Seijun Suzuki’s Zigeunerweisen.
— カエル岩 (@kaeruiwa1963) February 14, 2017
For me, though, I really only began to know who Fujita was this year. I saw the above random tweet come through my TL with him and actress Atsuko Asano from a interview book with them. @kaeruiwa1963, the author of the tweet, writes they think it is from the movie Play it, Boogie-Woogie. Even though the film was made in the very early 80s, the photo had this 70s cool feel that intrigued me with my low burn obsession with that decade. Luckily for me, it was streaming on Amazon Prime here in Japan and I thus became enamored of this film set just off of Route 16, where I too live, and fascinated by the director as I read a bit here and there about him. Even after I finally found a DVD of Lady Snowblood to watch, knowing it would be discussed on the Toho Yaro podcast, and in the end not having the same interest in that film.
(Finding the above tweet is a reminder I need to hunt down the above book, as well.)
Luckily for me, one of my favorite theaters, the Shin-Bungeiza in Ikebukuro is holding a one week retrospective of his films this month. However, although the two Lady Snowblood films are what Fujita is best known for outside of Japan, neither of those films are being shown. Instead, they are contemporary films about youth and others struggling with expectations, of themselves, of their friends and lovers, and of society. At the same time, as I went through trying to write up short summaries of each film, I felt these plot points might be missing something, however. Are Fujita’s films more about mood and tone and character? Did they only speak to a specific time and place and are they only good as time capsules to a certain time and place or are they more universal? Judging by how difficult it is to find his films — some are streamed, many are not, DVDs can be a decade or more old, many of the below films don’t even have Japanese wikipedia entries — perhaps they are only of a certain time and place, destined for only to be seen by those interested in retrospectives at theaters like the Shin Bungeiza. Maybe they are just waiting to be discovered again as they are licensed out to streaming service?
In any case, I am looking forward to finding out for myself and plan to see as many of the following films as possible in the last week of August.
All these films are being shown in 35 mm and its one 1350 ticket is good for two films, unless you are seeing only the last film of the day, which is only 900 yen.
Sunday, August 27
This film, which reached 9th in the Japanese film magazine Kinema Junpo‘s, or Kinejun for short, yearly rankings, is about a young newlyweds (played by Kenji Takaoka and Kumiko Akiyoshi) in Tokyo. The title comes from the film’s theme song by Kaguyahime.
This film also stars Kumiko Akiyoshi as the younger sister of Ryozo Hayashi, with Akiyoshi returning to Tokyo after living with her boyfriend in Kamakura, saying “I killed my lover”. Amazon reviews all say it provides a real feel of 70s Tokyo. It was 10th in 1974’s Kinejun’s yearly rankings.
Imoto is being screened at 12:10, 4:40, and and 8:25 while Akachochin is being screened at 10:15, 2:50, and 6:35.
At the conclusion of the 12:10 showing for Imoto its star Kumiko Akiyoshi will appear to have a short discussion with film critic and director Naofumi Higuchi.
Monday, August 28
Revolver (リボルバー) 1988
This film, stars Kenji Sawada, famous singer and co-star of Tora-san 30, as a police officer who goes from Kyushu to Hokkaido looking for a pistol that was used in a crime. It is Fujita’s last film and also made 9th in Kinejun’s yearly film ranking list.
Play it, Boogie Woogie (スローなブギにしてくれ) 1981
This is the one film I have seen on this list and is the one movie I want to make sure to see in glorious 35 mm during this one week retrospective. It follows the relationship between a young woman (Atsuko Asano), a young man (Masato Furuoya), and a middle aged man (Tsutomu Yamazaki). Following Kadokawa’s marketing model, there is also a novel, which the film was based on, and a song, which was written for the film but became a hit in its own right. I am enamored by the tone and mood of the film, following the lives of three people on the edge of the Kanto metropolis around the Route 16 loop road.
Revolver is playing at 1:10 and 6 pm while Play it, Boogie Woogie is at 10:40, 3:30 and 8:15
Tuesday August 29
Akai tori nigeta? (赤い鳥逃げた?) 1973
A 1973 road movie co-staring Yoshio Harada and Kaori Momoi. I actually don’t think anything else needs to be said, that’s enough to make it a must see film, for me anyways.
Stray Cat Rock: Beat ’71 (野良猫ロック 暴走集団’71) 1971
The Stray Cat Rock series stars Meiko Kaji, who also stars in Fujita’s Lady Snowbird, as the boss of a girl gang, whose members get involved in all kinds of anti-social behaviors. Fujita directed two of the five films in the series. Beat 71 is the last film of the series and this review describes it as “pit[ting] rather badass “hippies” (“We abhor violence!” sneers Tatsuya Fuji) against clean-cut conservative corruption.” It also co-stars Yoshio Harada.
Akai tori nigeta is screening at 9:50, 1:30, 5:10, and 8:50 while Stray Cat Rock: Beat ’71 will screen at 11:40, 3:20, and 7:00.
Wednesday August 30
Hiko no Shonen: Hinode no Sakabi (非行少年 陽の出の叫び) 1967
This was Fujita’s directorial debut, which stars Jushiro Harata, Akira Kume, Yasuko Sanjo, and Sumie Sasaki, in a film whose title can be translated as “Delinquent Youth: Howling at the Sunrise” The flyer states that although he was influenced by Buñuel’s The Young and The Damned, he wanted to make something new and fresh. He ended up winning the Directors Guild of Japan’s New Director award for his efforts.
Hiko no Shonen: Wakamono no Toride (非行少年 若者の砦) 1970
Another film in Nikkatsu’s Delinquent Youth series, Fujita directed this film three years after his debut. It stars Shoji Ishibashi as a high school student, and Takeo Chii as the home tutor hired by the youth’s mother (Yoko Minamida), who sees a bit of himself in his student.
Hinode no Sakabi screens at 11:40, 3:15, and 6:50 while Wakamono no Toride screens at 10:00, 1:35, 5:10 and 8:45.
Thursday August 31
Wet Sand in August (八月の濡れた砂) 1971
This film was the last released by Nikkatsu before they fully turned their production over fully to the Roman Porno genre. However, the Shinbungeiza flyer promises “summer, sea, yachts, delinquency, sex, and blood” in this film that came in 10th in the Kinejun rankings in 1971.
Bittersweet (帰らざる日々) 1978
English wikipedia lists a very simple summary of the film “The story of a high school boy (Toshiyuki Nagashima) in Tokyo returning to his home town of Nagano upon the death of his father.” It placed 5th in Kinejun’s rankings that year, Fujita received Kinejun’s Reader’s Choice Award for best director, the Fumiko Yamaji Award for Best Film, Nagashima won the Hochi Film Award for Best Newcomer, and it was screened at the First Tokyo International Film Festival “Japanese Films of Today” series in 1985.
Bittersweet will screen at 11:30, 3:15, and 7:00 while Wet Sand in August will screen at 9:45, 13:30, 17:15, and 21:00.
Thursday September 1
August: Scent of Eros (八月はエロスの匂い) 1972
First of Fujita’s Eros Roman Porno Trilogy for Nikkatsu, is about a clerk at a department store (Maki Kawamura) who can’t forget the young man who robbed her while at her register at knife point.
Sweet Scent of Eros (エロスは甘き香り) 1973
The third of the Eros Roman Porno Trilogy, this film co-stars Kaori Momoi, as two couples share an old house built for the US Army. The Shinbungeiza flyer says it continues the themes and period atmosphere from Fujita’s youth films, including a scene that references his Wet Sand in August film of a few years before.
Since these are both Nikkatsu Roman Porno films, they are both rated R-18 (no one below 18 admitted). Scent of Eros in August screens at 10:05, 1:10, 4:15, and 7:20 and the Sweet Scent of Eros screens at 11:40, 2:45, 5:50 and 8:55.
Friday September 2
So Soft, So Cunning (もっとしなやかに もっとしたたかに) 1979
This 1979 Nikkatsu film is also rated R-18 and wikipedia lists it as a Roman Porno, so I guess that is what it is. It stars Eiji Okura who, when his wife (Miyoko Akaza) takes their child and leaves him, starts a relationship with an 18 year old rock groupie (Aiko Morishita). Then it all becomes more complicated when his wife returns. It was ranked 11th in Kinejun’s annual film rankings.
Juhassai, Umi E (十八歳、海へ) 1979
This 1979 film is about four young people, a couple who keep playing a game of committing double suicide, (Toshiyuki Nagashima and Aiko Morishita), Nagashima’s younger sister played by Yoshie Shimamura, and Kaoru Kobayashi’s character, who has been trying to pass the college entrance exams for five years, and the summer they spend on the beaches of Shonan.
So Soft, So Cunning plays at 9:45, 1:50, and 5:55 while Juhassai, Umi E plays at 11:45, 3:50, and 7:55.
Feel free to drop a comment below or @ me on twitter if you have any thoughts on Fujita’s films and their place in the larger scheme of things — or in your own scheme of things.