State Your Shame for 2017

Do you have those movies — you know the ones — the ones you *should* watch, the ones you could watch if you just made the time?

It's a Wonderful Life - Wall of Shame

The Blade Runners, the Godfathers, the Taxi Drivers, the It’s a Wonderful Lifes that everyone talks about and maybe you admit you haven’t seen them.

Maybe.

Or maybe you pretend because you know enough to make idle conversation and espouse idle, non-poignant remarks that won’t give away your secret.

CinemaShame is a community of online writers, bloggers and social media participants that have formed a support group, a safe zone, for penitent moviewatchers. We name the movies we regret not having seen. We watch the movies. We write about our experience.

Finally watching a “classic” after reading and hearing about it for so many years offers a different perspective than those that have lived and loved a film for their entire life. It’s an informed perspective that brings prior knowledge and cultural awareness. Does the film live up to its status? Does it live up to the hype?

Join the Knights of Penitent Moviewatching. Share your shame, fulfill your destiny. Kneel before the classics of Cinema.

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Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile/Shame-a-thon 31 Days of Horror 2017

Halloween brings out the best and the worst of us as obsessive moviewatchers. I can only speak for myself, but I imagine my experience mirrors many of yours. When October rolls around (now mid-September because the 31 horror movies in 31 days doesn’t jive with adult schedules), horror movies dominate all channels. The wife shrugs her shoulders. Hide the more elicit DVD cases from the kids. You start arguing about sequels and franchises and Argento vs. Bava vs. Fulci.

My wife joins in when I can find a nice, palatable mid-grade horror film. In recent years, she’s joined me for films like Tremors and The Fog and comedies like The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. (Though, she still tells me she’s nervously scanning the mist for ghost pirates whenever a nice fog rolls through the Pittsburgh hills.)

Each year for the past four years, I’ve embarked upon the journey to watch at least 31 horror movies by the end of October. Last year I joined @ElCinemonster’s Hoop-Tober challenge on Letterboxd.com. Each year he lays down a few challenges to help guide the viewing of his monstrous minions. This year I’m again combining my Cinema Shame Horror Shame-a-thon with the Hoop-Tober Challenge 4.0 to perpetuate the most unwieldy title in the history of movie blogging and watching.

Welcome to the @CinemaShame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile/Shame-a-thon 31 Days of Horror 2017

31 Days of Horror 2017

Let’s lay down some rules for any lunatics that might want to play the home version of the 31 Days of Horror 2017.

Pick 31 never-before-seen (or unwatched DVD purchases) horror movies — “horror” is broadly defined as anything containing elements of the horror genre. So, for example, I’ve count the Abbott & Costello monster films in the past because of the classic movie monsters. Watch as many as you can stomach during your “month” of October.

I’m air-quoting “month” because, as I mentioned earlier, I’m borrowing @ElCinemonster’s notion that we’re busy goddamn people and 31 days is just not a reasonable duration for busy people to watch 31 horror movies. He’s beginning his “month” on September 15th. I plan to do the same. I hit 33 last year(!) and while I don’t expect to top that total I aim to match.

I’m going to pluck as many movies as possible from my Watch Pile (any film I already own that hasn’t been watched). I’ve been making a more concerted effort to watch more movies than I buy. The worthy remain. The ones I don’t see myself watching again hit Half.com or eBay. I’ll note the outcome of each disc in my blurb.

And speaking of blurbs… after each movie, I’ll toss up a mini-review and a 30Hz rating that will correspond to my review on Letterboxd.com. The review may or may not contain any actual insight. The reviews are the part of this project that will leave you a quivering pile of bloody goo. And now for the more specific Hoop-Tober demonic hurdles, courtesy of @ElCinemonster.

6 sequels (mix-and-match. 6 total)
6 countries
6 decades
6 films from before 1970
6 films from the following: Carpenter, Raimi, Whale, Browning, Craven, Tom Holland (mix-and-match, or all one)
3 people eating people (non-zombie)
1 Hammer Film
1 Romero film
1 terrible oversight aka OVERT SHAME! (use the following link, filter out the films you’ve seen and picked the highest rated film from the list that you can get ahold of)

And 2 Tobe Hooper Films (There must ALWAYS be a Hooper film)

-review them all.(eek)

Clearly one film can satisfy multiple criteria. Viewing and reviewing will begin at 12:01am CST on Sept 15th.

I plan to call some audibles when spur-of-the-moment cravings strike, but here’s my blueprint for the 2017 31 Days Of Horror CinemaShame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-Thon.

31 days of horror 2017

Past #31DaysOfHorror Shame-a-thons: 2013 | 2014 | 2015 Part 1 | 2015 Part 22016 

*rewatch

  1. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
  2. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
  3. Brain Damage
  4. Caltiki: The Immortal Monster
  5. Cannibal! The Musical
  6. Christine
  7. Death Walks in High Heels
  8. Eating Raoul
  9. Friday the 13th
  10. Friday the 13th Part II
  11. House*
  12. House 2*
  13. House 3
  14. House 4
  15. Fox with the Velvet Tail
  16. Invaders from Mars
  17. Mill of the Stone Women
  18. Posession
  19. Prince of Darkness
  20. Shocker
  21. Spontaneous Combustion
  22. Suddenly in the Dark
  23. The Devil Doll
  24. The Dismembered
  25. The Green Butchers
  26. The Hound of the Baskervilles*
  27. The Wife Killer
  28. Spider (Zirneklis)
  29. The Velvet Vampire
  30. What Have You Done to Solange?
  31. Two Evil Eyes
  32. The Initiation
  33. The Fan (Der Fan)
  34. The Invisible Man (familiar comfort horror)*

the invisible man 31 days of horror 2017

What’s your list? What’s your plan for horror movie watching this year? If you’re keeping a list or participating in the Hoop-Tober challenge, I’ll link you in the header for my posts. Just leave a note with a link in the comments. Together we shall overcome… or we’ll be the loser pumped off in the first act to establish indomitable menace. It’s more comforting to know you’re not doing this alone.

Flipping the Tables

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The movies I watch most frequently, roughly 80%, are subtle, full of dark images, deep thoughts, and painted with smoke, mirrors, and chiaroscuro. The movies I tend to walk around, to avoid, even when given four-star reviews, are bloody, action flicks, brutal and gruesome, cruel and angry. My best friend might argue with you, that is exactly what I watch, a mixture of the usual top-ten noir films we’ve all seen with Bogart and Mitchum and their splendid ilk. But I also watch a lot of 1940’s crime films with twisted femme fatales, and a mixture of characters with seemingly no conscience and no regrets. I suppose there is a discrepancy there but we all have our limits and I never did well with brutal, unless it was painted up pretty and put in stockings and a ball gown.

Enter Raging Bull, the top daddy on many critics’ lists, including Roger Ebert’s. I have a long love affair with both De Niro and Italian culture. They feel like family, like the sort of folks I suspect are in a few generations of my lineage and my husband’s. So when I was asked what films everyone has seen that I have not, Raging Bull and The Deer hunter were the first on my mind and out of my mouth.

I sat with my ice water, Raisinets, and popcorn and hit play. I was immediately transported into a painting. The movie is magnificent, and would be even with the sound off. But the combination of the music and the visuals is nothing short of, and the choice of Scorsese to use black and white hooked me from the start.

I was at ringside, not cheering or taking pictures. I was mesmerized by Jake LaMotta in the ring, boxing the air. He was alone in a smoky haze, only the camera flashes from out of the darkness indicating that anyone else could see him fighting his adversaries, and only he knew who he was boxing.

There are 8 boxing matches featured in this film but I don’t think Raging Bull is really about boxing. He could have been a tailor or a policeman or a mail carrier. It gets to the heart of jealousy and insecurity, and how a person can tear their family  and their own life apart with their hands. In that way boxing serves as the perfect illustration of a man that punishes others for their weaknesses and for their strengths that make him feel weak. A man that can punish himself just as easily, and take it. Over and over again.

I grew up enamoured with boxing. I think I got it from my mother, who, though she didn’t watch any sports regularly, except figure skating during the Olympics, but never missed a heavy weight bout. This was during Ali’s reign in the late 70’s–as well as Holmes, Norton, Spinks, et al. I never missed a Rocky movie, and loved all of them. But this is an entirely different animal. I believe that is because it begins as truth, from LaMotta’s own autobiography. I understand there were a few changes, but not crucial ones.

If it was fiction, I would be saying, hey, drop the anger a bit and balance things out. A viewer can only take so much? Lighten a few scenes, take a break with the pressure. But this is real life and Scorsese pulled no punches. We ride the wave from beginning to end, and it never lets up. But I won’t say anything about the end, never a spoiler with me, just in case I am not the only person in the world that has not seen Raging Bull.

The main difference between this and other ‘boxing’ movies, is that clearly each scene has been edited perfectly, edited for effect, and somehow the effects come off without being pretentious or condescending. It is a truly beautiful film. Cathy Moriarty is fantastic as his second wife, and Joe Pesci is brilliant as his brother. Most underrated actor ever, but I digress.

Check this out, one of my favourite scenes, when Jake tells his brother to hit him in the face.

De Niro barely even moves his head and body when he’s hit over and over. I understand he trained with LaMotta for a year to do this film right.

The hardest scenes to watch, but the most interesting are the ones with his wives, especially those with Vikki. They clearly loved each other desperately, but when Jake was jealous, or reacting to something she said, he was an animal, ferocious and unpredictable.

 

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De Niro’s LaMotta reminds me of what Brando pulled off in On The Waterfront, especially showing how a lady can temper the beast, at least for a time, and help him to feel something other than rage. In one memorable scene, Jake is trying to abstain before a fight but Vikki pushes him close to the edge. He pours ice down his pants and she goes to him and kisses him, holding him close. She walks away with a wet spot on her gown.

Between the rage and the passion, my inner voyeur was well satisfied, and now I can cross Raging Bull off my list. I could wax long about not letting anger ruin us and stopping the rage before we tear ourselves apart, but we all know this already, so lets’ be good to each other, and see lots of good movies to keep life rich, capiche?

 

 

 

August: Unseen Films of X Director

For the month of August, Cinema Shame will be highlighting the unwatched films of our favorite directors. You know the ones I’m talking about, you love Spielberg but haven’t found time to watch “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, you adore Scorsese but you still haven’t sat down and entertained yourself with “The King of Comedy”, you’ve seen the name George P. Cosmatos show up on cable but have no clue about “Of Unknown Origin”. Well, Cosmatos may be an outlier (even though his small filmography is strong), but you get the idea. We are focusing on films we have missed in a director’s filmography.

At first, I stumbled through IMDB searching for various directors scrolling through their filmography. It was too random. I was aiming for prestige directors such as Frank Capra, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Lewis Gilbert, etc. These auteurs had directed films that have been on my Cinema Shame list for years. I wanted to stretch my boundaries, as with most of my film viewing habits, I consider it to be a random journey. The directions for these journeys come from various sources, such as film twitter, a book, most recent boutique label blu-ray release. I like to believe most of the films I pick for viewing are based on my personal mood and current interest. Depending on my mood can be iffy. Thankfully letterboxd helps me map out my film adventure. I dived into some data analysis (what I call opening the app) and reviewed the directors I’ve been watching throughout 2017.

I picked three titans of cinema: Walter Hill, Tony Scott and Spike Lee. Are these my all-time favorite directors? I’m not sure yet, but each one has directed a film that would easily fall into my top 20. Throughout the month of August, I am going to tackle one film from each director. I hope you can join the Cinema Shame website on this little voyage. I will announce the films later this week. Feel free to discuss your Director Cinema Shame with your own blog post, twitter or your own blog throughout the month of August.

So I hope to be W.C. Fields when I grow up

I was aware of W.C. Fields as a rosy, round-faced comedian at a very early age. My aunt had a copy of one of his films alongside her Monty Python videos. (I watched those Pythons, but ignored the Fields.)

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This most closely approximates the trace memory of that specific VHS tape. 

My first real exposure to Fields occurred during my first days in undergraduate film studies. We viewed clips of The Bank Dick and I thought to myself, “Self, that’s a movie you should probably watch.” But here’s the thing about film school. You are constantly watching movies for reasons other than pleasure. There’s pleasure to be had, of course, in a formal cinematic education, but you’re so booked with screenings and research-watches that watchlists grow without and grow and grow until they’re more like Audrey II than a notebook with “To Watch” scribbled atop the first page.

Oh those simple, freewheeling days before Letterboxd.com. Cue South Park’s member berries: REMEMBER VIDEO STORES? REMEMBER NEVER BEING ABLE TO FIND THE MOVIE YOU WANTED!?

Audrey-II

Feed me more movies you’re never going to watch, Seymour!

Fast forward sixteen or so years. I sign up for the TCM/Ball St. online slapstick course. And what clip greets me in the early sound curriculum? That same Bank Dick scene where W.C. Fields walks into the bar. At this point, further avoidance of The Bank Dick offends my own sensibilities.

A sample:

I take one more step. I buy the W.C. Fields Comedy Collection Volume 1. I have no excuse now. Except for all the other movies I want to watch! Omigoodnesstherearealotofthem! Enter Cinema Shame. I put it on my list. I state my ignorance for the world to see. And I bring the W.C. Fields collection with me when we take the family to Santa Fe to visit my wife’s parents. I have the W.C. Fields DVDs and nothing else… except his Netflix subscription and my Vudu movies. So relatively speaking, I have *nothing* to watch.

So let’s get on with this. Let’s talk a bit about The Bank Dick.

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I’m wondering how I’ve lived this long without W.C. Fields and The Bank Dick in my life. I love movies about drunks. I especially love movies about amicable drunks that believe they’re the smartest and most capable men in any room. This is the general philosophy behind W.C. Fields’ persona and the guiding light that drives this, perhaps his best known film. Upping the stakes in The Bank Dick, not only is W.C. Fields the smartest drunk in the room, but he’s the smartest drunk in charge of security detail at a local bank.

Part of the charm of this W.C. Fields film is the ambling, directionless nature of the film (and this would prove to be a consistent part of Fields’ charm as an on-screen personality). The film opens with Fields enduring familiar breakfast table grief before wandering over to the bar to get soused (and here I would be remiss to overlook the brilliant gag that is Fields’ character’s name in The Bank Dick – Egbert Sousé) and then stumbling out of the pub to direct a motion picture and catch two bank robbers. All in a day’s hard-earned inebriation.

The high concept here is that by bumbling and exaggerating himself into heroism, the bank gives Egbert a job at the bank. Naturally, he’s a terrible security guard and oversteps his duties to give terrible financial advice in addition to the terrible security and soon everything looks bleak for our drunken sod… but in the end, everything just falls into place. I won’t spoil the machinations of the narrative, but Fields must keep a bank examiner occupied for days in order for his wrongs to be made right.

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The Bank Dick has no concern for strict continuity or narrative logic. W.C. Fields, even though he’d graduated to feature length comedies after a full career of shorts, still plays in the sketch sandbox. Some jokes come back around in the end, but by and large, Fields is most concerned with the short, even in a full-length narrative. The vision and genius lies within the individual scenes and within the melody of his purposeful, booze-soaked dialogue.

Luxuriate in this choice exchange:

Egbert: Ten cents a share. Telephone sold for five cents a share. How would you like something better for ten cents a share? If five gets ya ten, ten’ll get ya twenty. A beautiful home in the country, upstairs and down. Beer flowing through the estate over your grandmother’s paisley shawl.

Og: Beer?

Egbert: Beer! Fishing in the stream that runs under the aboreal dell. A man comes up from the bar, dumps $3,500 in your lap for every nickel invested. Says to you, “Sign here on the dotted line.” And then disappears in the waving fields of alfalfa.

The Bank Dick (and now that I’ve watched six of Fields’ films, I’m qualified to say this) stands out in the W.C. Fields oeuvre not just because of the finely tuned delivery, but also because the film embraces the spectacular potential of slapstick comedy better than any of his other films (at least those on Vol. 1). It’s not just the W.C. Fields persona working full throttle here; it’s also director Edward F. Cline (director of some Buster Keaton’s finest moments) taking W.C. Fields beyond his character’s standard set of old-timey linguistic gymnastics.

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The real coup de grace, of course, is an overlong madcap car chase that boasts some of the most impressive and almost orchestral stuntwork I’ve seen in an early Hollywood comedy. In many ways, The Bank Dick feels like a Keaton film with a verbose character at the center. This really is the best of all comedy worlds.

All that said, I’d have been just as happy spending 80 minutes in the bar with W.C. Fields. Someday, I too hope to be such a clever and witty drunken sod. I’m often a drunken sod, but I lack the certain, specific lexicon and energy that made Fields’ a legendary drunk. It’s something to which we can all aspire.

Or we can err on the side of lesser intoxication and just quote W.C. Fields more often. *Sigh* The latter is far more responsible after all. And I can’t hold my liquor quite like W.C.


 

2017 Shame! Progress:

The Magnificent Ambersons
Five Easy Pieces
The Gold Rush (watched, pending)
The Bank Dick 
The Black Pirate
Ride the High Country
My Darling Clementine
The Postman Always Rings Twice
Rope
Lifeboat
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Stop Making Sense
The Commitments (watched, pending)
Viva Las Vegas
Godfather Part III
Zatoichi 1-4 / 5-8 / 9-12 / 12-15 / 16-19 / 20-24

 

No Dog in this Fight: My first viewing of Straw Dogs.

The end of Straw Dogs has Dustin Hoffman’s David Sumner driving an uncredited David Warner’s Henry Niles back to town after the climatic showdown in the Sumner house. Henry tells David, “I don’t know my way home.” To which David responds, “That’s okay. I don’t either.” This final exchange sums up the entirety of what  Straw Dogs conveys. At the end of the day, just what are we? 

There will be spoilers here.

Prior to my viewing of Straw Dogs, the only film by Sam Peckinpah I’ve seen was The Wild Bunch. I took that film as a more visceral version of a Leone western. However having only seen it once, I didn’t get the themes that are prevalent with Peckinpah’s work. This film is rife with controversy and complications and interpretations. It is not an easy watch. Things do not resolve themselves. People are not good and don’t nescesarily become better people by the end of this.

This film is certainly one that earned its controversial status. It raises questions. Even if you answer one question, you may not answer the next question the same way.  Is Straw Dogs a condemnation of violent masculinity? One may interpret it that way. Or is it a celebration of that? It may be as well. Is Peckinpah blaming women for the violence that occurs against them? It seems that way, at least to me it did. Early on David asks his wife Amy (a heartbreaking performance by Susan George) why doesn’t she wear a bra if she doesn’t want the leering eyes of her ex-boyfriend and his cohorts focused on her chest. This moment is actually one of many that show her husband is not only meek, but part of the overall problem. He disrespects his wife at times and belittles her. He blames her sexual freedom for the attention she did not ask for. By time we reach the climax, you’ll see David is no better than the brutes who invade their home. It just took him a little longer to get there.


The controversial rape of Amy is still a discussion point to this day. Becuase of how Peckinpah filmed the scene, there are indicators that Amy at first refuses but then acquiesces. Now I do not see it that way. I saw a woman trying to cope with the violation being committed against her. The scene is brutal and uncomfortable and I actually feel uncomfortable trying to discuss it. Yet this is film criticism and I’d be remiss to not mention it at all despite its notorious reputation.


This is a very complicated film, directed by a very complicated man. Did Peckinpah hate the violence within himself? Did he allow that to manifest in this film? Does he think David is a hero or antihero? So many questions. It’s fitting that this film came out in 1971, the same year as fellow controversial director Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Straw Dogs, like that film are not easily watched. Yet both films hold a mirror to the ghastly primal nature of humanity and at the very least, make you look inside and question just what are you. Straw Dogs, structurally is a time bomb, ticking away during its runtime until it explodes in the climax. 

Is it just a matter of time for any of us? Just another of the many questions it forever brings. Endless questions and endless discussion.

Iconic? Really? A First timer’s time at Camp Crystal Lake


I have not posted in a long time, a long time (in my Obi-Wan voice). So instead of overextending myself with some grand essay to announce my return to the Shame, I’ll keep this simple. Plus there really isn’t too much I have to say on this.

For years I knew of the great horror Monsters of the 70s/80s. You have Michael Myers, Freddy Kruger, Leatherface and Jason Vorhees. Believe it or not I had never seen a Friday the 13th film. I’ve seen Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but never a film with Friday in the title that didn’t star Ice Cube or Chris Tucker.

Well I knew I missing out, these are the things that when you’re growing up in the 90s are signs of your growing-upedness. “Hey did you see the new Jason movie?” Nope never. I resolved back during the first year of CinemaShame to watch at least the original film. I got collection of the first four for a really cheap price. So what happened? How did I receive these classics of modern horror? These iconic films of the slasher genre?

Answer: I didn’t receive them at all and wondered how they got their iconic reputation. 

There was nothing in the original film that to me came close to the achievements in the films by John Carpenter, Wes Craven or Tobe Hooper. In Halloween we get the suspense of the unstoppable Michael Myers, in Nightmare, the fear of dreams. For Texas Chainsaw we have an almost documentary like shoot of madness and murder. Even if you aren’t scared, you’re always engaged. Friday the 13th had none of that. I felt no tension, no thrills, I cared so little about the characters that I don’t even remember their names. Only Kevin Bacon. And I don’t actually remember his character’s name, just that it’s Kevin Bacon.

That was my face while watching. 

Sean Cunningham does have an interesting found footage type of style to his shooting of the film, it just sucks that there were no thrills until the end. Thankfully the movie is less than 2 hours so it is brisk. It’s just an interesting brisk. 

So after finally seeing Friday the 13th and some of the following films, I can why Jason is an iconic character, but not why this film or series has that same description. It’s not quite the “killer” I thought it would be.

So Zatoichi is kinda like James Bond, except blind – Vol. 2

I’ve been watching… oh have I been watching… but I’ve long neglected the part of this project that documents thoughts and feelings. This is important. This is the catharsis.

As a creator of Cinema Shame, I feel obligated to be a role model. And even when I finish this second installment of Zatoichi Shame, I’ll still be delinquent on posts for The Commitments, The Gold Rush, and a handful of W.C. Fields films. As W.C. Fields would say… “Godfrey Daniel! Lets cut through the jibber jabber!” …which is a weird intro to Zatoichi, but roll with it.

Last we checked in with my Zatoichi journey I’d just finished the first four installments and noted a few interesting DNA matches with James Bond.

Zatoichi on the Road

Zatoichi on the Road (1963)

After the series switched to color after The Tale of Zatoichi (Zat 2) Continues, the color films had failed to distinguish themselves visually. Zatoichi the Fugutive (Zat 4) told a ripping tale but looked like a B-production. Zatoichi on the Road marks a step forward in the franchise. Director Kimiyoshi Yasuda makes clear and distinct compositional choices. He allows his camera to linger and bask in the color and landscape. Yasuda also amplifies the action and fight choreography. In many ways Zatoichi on the Road circles closer to the Zat-ideal. It also loses some of the character development and meaningful subtext that breathed life into earlier Zatoichi films.

The narrative doesn’t stand out in my memory. (WELL IF YOU’D WRITTEN ABOUT THIS SOONER, MORON, MAYBE YOU’D REMEMBER.) In Zatoichi on the Road, our mythic hero has sworn to protect a young woman and finds himself (again) at odds against two rival gangs. Some of that moral complexity comes through in the young woman’s struggle against the male hierarchy of perpetual assholiness. She’s wanted for killing the man who tried to rape her.

It’s Zatoichi that feels stuck in a limbo throughout Zatoichi on the Road. Already, here in the fifth film it’s growing difficult to compare and contrast the films. Shintaro Katsu imbues the Zatoichi character with so much vitality and depth (gambler, drinker, spurned human and lover, slovenly eater, etc.) that when we reach a film that removes the focus from the depth of Zatoichi’s character, it’s easy to find the film wanting even though it excels in many aspects of pure, visual cinema and storytelling. Some rank this as a favorite Zat-pic, but my meager notes on the film seem to corroborate my latent sense that the film belongs in the second tier of Zatoichi.

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Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold (1964)

I’m going to again cite my notebook:

“The first of the Zatoichi films that feels B-grade in execution. Lesser film stock (?). More blood. Some gratuitous (!). But the story engages, unlike prior On the Road. More Zatoichi quirks and more of the worst of humanity on display.”

This is Zatoichi moonlighting in an exploitation sandbox. The casting of Tomisaburo Wakayama (who would later star in Lone Wolf and Cub) as the villain sets up certain expectations. Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold delivers on all of it.

A face-value uglier Zatoichi picture, Chest of Gold foreground stunts and action choreography. This is the type of Zatoichi picture that’ll take you by surprise now that you’re in the Zatoichi groove. The narrative concerns some missing tax money. Zatoichi, who happens to be in town to pay his respects to a dead man, of course, gets blamed. He’s an outsider, a blind man. As “the other” he’s certainly to blame. Money turns average men into monsters. At first, Zatoichi, the noble warrior, attempts to navigate the fracas with logic and reason. Soon the logic and reason gives way to bloodshed and violence because evil men get what they deserve.

An arterial geyser spray might shock you. It’s the first truly magnificent bloodshed in the series. It certainly took me by surprise. It also took my daughters (ages 7 and 4 at the time) by surprise as I’d been letting them tune in to my Zatoichi marathons because the bloodletting had been nonexistent and death scenes mere chest-clutching.

Make no mistake, daughters also find blood geysers to be great fun.

Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold, however, only serves as a ramp up to the next Zatoichi picture.

 

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Zatoichi’s Flashing Sword (1964)

Again, my notes:

“So that scene where Zatoichi leads his combatants into the river before dropping beneath the water and attacking like a killer m’f’ing sword-wielding shark.

AND THEN THAT SCENE IN THE DARK CORRIDOR. HOLY MOLY DID I LOVE THIS ONE.”

I had some other thoughts but they lack the all caps.

Zatoichi’s Flashing Sword also from Chest of Gold director Kazuo Ikehiro takes everything I loved about the former picture and turns it up to 11. The film opens slowly. Some goofy and occasionally funny comedy at the expense of Zatoichi’s blindness dominates the first third. The casual cruelty stands as another blemish on humanity. Everyone, it seems, can’t help but demean our hero. The film indulges in a small dose of slapstick — a refreshing re-introduction after the grimmer Chest of Gold.

The narrative again pits two villages against each other in a local squabble over river-crossing fees. One guy charges too little. He believes river-crossing is a right! The other guy wants to create a monopoly and bleed the poor river-crossers dry! BWAHAHA! Between the long stretches of political machinations and goofy comedy, you’ll be wondering you’re ever going to see Zatoichi’s sword again, let alone a flashing sword.

And then the whole film shifts in a moment. Zatoichi flips his “Jules Winnfield path of the righteous man” switch and suddenly Zatoichi’s Flashing Sword becomes one of the most innovative and majestic swordplay bloodbaths in cinema history. THIS IS NOT HYPERBOLE. Well, maybe a little. BUT IT’S NOT.

Your ultimate opinion of the film rests on how strongly you value the action set-pieces contained in the final third of the film. The film lacks a consistent, driving purpose. Zatoichi again attempts to navigate politics without bloodshed, but power-hungry maniacs only respond to violence.

To give you a taste of the transcendent set pieces:

Zatoichi lures a handful of skilled combatants into the water and then drops into the murk where he systematically drops them one by one (see above shark comment).

Zatoichi massacres an entire army of swordsman while fireworks light his gnarled, angry face. A rare occurrence when Zatoichi’s placid exterior falls alway in the face of pure evil.

Lastly, there’s this brilliant moment of pure cinema when Zatoichi lures his attackers into a pitch-black house. Zatoichi runs through the house extinguishing the candles to eliminate their advantage. Shades of Barry Lyndon — as the entire scene was shot using only the ambient candlelight.. at least until the scene goes black except for the contrast of shadow versus complete blackness.

I still get giddy when I think about that last scene.

 

fight, zatoichi, fight

Fight, Zatoichi, Fight (1964)

Ironically, Fight, Zatoichi, Fight features the least amount of fighting on any Zatoichi film.

Notes:

“An emotionally resonant entry in the Zatoichi series that punctuates our hero’s inability to trust or love. It’s not that he’s unwilling; it’s that he recognizes the consequences for anyone that loves or depends on him. He’s forced to give up a baby to which he’s promised his undying care. He abandons the woman who’s professed her love. He once again heads out, alone and heartbroken, into a world of moral turpitude.”

F, Z, F forces Zatoichi into the role of caregiver as he attempts to deliver an orphaned baby to its father. After the badassery of Flashing Sword, director Kenji Misumi tones down Zatoichi’s sword skills and brings back the emotional resonance missing from the last few films. In many ways, Fight, Zatoichi, Fight is a gut punch. The plight of the newly orphaned baby mirrors Zatoichi’s sense of homelessness. He doesn’t belong. Without family, without love, without a home, Zatoichi wanders this world looking for acceptance.

At one point, Zatoichi doesn’t have money or food. In order to sooth the hungry child he offers his own nipple for suckling, merely hoping the child will find a moment of peace.

Current Zatoichi rankings:

  1. Zatoichi’s Flashing Sword (Z7)
  2. Tale of Zatoichi (Z1)
  3. Zatoichi the Fugitive (Z4)
  4. Fight, Zatoichi, Fight (Z8)
  5. Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold (Z6)
  6. Tale of Zatoichi Continues (Z2)
  7. Zatoichi on the Road (Z5)
  8. A New Tale of Zatoichi (Z3)

8 down. 18 more to go. Zatoichi will return in So Zatoichi is kinda like James Bond, except blind – Vol. 3.