Nikkatsu's ‘Diamond' line was a showcase for their contract stars, a series of modestly budgeted pictures in which some of their top talent was given the chance to shine in films made for a younger audience. Arrow Video offers up their second installment in their series of Nikkatsu Diamond Guy collections, bringing these pictures to a western audience in their proper aspect ratio and language and in very nice quality.
Tokyo Mighty Guy:
The first feature tells the story of Jiro (Akira Kobayashi), a bold young man recently trained in the culinary styles of French cuisine! Armed with this knowledge, he returns to his native Japan where he hopes to open up a new restaurant in the Ginza district of Tokyo. And so as our hero sets out to do just that, he meets and falls for a pretty girl named Hideko (Ruriko Asaoka).
As things progress for Jiro, he finds himself getting in, and then just as quickly out, of some trouble with some local criminals. If that weren't bad enough, a politician with ties to a local organized crime ring is throwing his weight around in hopes of moving in on Hideko's business. What's a Japanese French chef to do? Well, being that he's a mighty guy, if you guessed get rough and tough with the bad guys, you'd have guessed right.
The first in a series of ‘Mighty Guys' movies to be directed by Buichi Saito (a director probably best known to western audiences for helming Lone Wolf And Cub: Baby Cart In Peril in 1972), this film was made in 1960, a year after The Rambling Guitarist (available on the first Nikkatsu Diamond Guys set), which also starred Akira Kobayashi. It works on the same level as that earlier film. It's quick in its pace, it does a nice job of showing off some interesting Japanese location photography (in this case, the streets of Ginza, which are never short on eye candy). The film consistently uses bold colors in interesting ways, and the widescreen cinematography is impressive and at the same time, marginally gritty.
The movie mostly hinges on Akira Kobayashi's ‘cool' factor but he's got it. He's watchable, he's handsome, he's dashing and he handles himself well in both the action and romance departments, just as the script requires him to. This won't blow you away, it's formulaic in the way that a lot of Nikkatsu's more teenage audience oriented movies tend to be, but it has the right balance of action, drama, romance and even periodic light humor to make for a pretty fun watch.
This second film in the set, directed in 1962 by Kô Nakahira, is a bit more of a comedy than the first, and it's the weakest of the three films in this collection, but the crime and heist film elements that are part and parcel with the basic plot keep it interesting.
The story revolves around a robbery in which over a billion in watermarked paper that can be turned into Yen is stolen during a brazen and successful theft. When a small timer named Jôji "Joe The Ace" Kondô (Joe Shishido) gets wind of this he sniffs out an opportunity for himself. See, Joe knows one of the best counterfeiters in the business and he figures he can put that guy in touch with the thieves so that they can do business together. In return, he'll collect a nice fee for his efforts and be on his way, washing his hands of the deed and with a full wallet to show for it.
What Joe doesn't realize is that the thieves he's dealing with are smarter than he gave them credit for. They know exactly who his counterfeiter is and before he can do what he plans to do, they kidnap him. Will Joe try to save the guy? Will he walk away from it all? Or will he find himself embroiled in an increasingly dangerous situation involving mobsters aplenty?
That probably makes this one sound more hardboiled than it really is. Danger Pays is light on crime and tension and spends more time trying to be funny. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't but like its predecessor it's at least fun to look at. The mobsters often wear fancy, colorful suits and the urban backdrop against which all of this is cast is nicely shot. There's some pretty ladies on display throughout the movie and the movie has a pretty catchy, bouncy soundtrack. Joe Shishido was better suited to more serious fare like the films he made with Seijin Suzuki (Branded To Kill and Gate Of Flesh) and Kinji Fukasaku (the first New Battles Without Honor And Humanity film) but he does fine with this material.
If you don't need to take your crime films too seriously and don't mind if the humor occasionally gets a bit corny, you can do a lot worse than Danger Pays.
Last but not least, 1965's Murder Unincorporated also mixes comedy with crime, but director Haruyasu Noguchi is a little better at the comedy than Kô Nakahira proved to be with the second feature in this set. This one has an even heavier emphasis on going for laughs than Danger Pays, but if you go into it with the right expectations it's amusing enough, though there's a weird child actor that pops up here and there that feels way out of place.
The story tells the tall tale of one "Joe Of Spades" (Shishido again), an underworld figure who winds up successfully hitting the leader of one of the biggest crime rings in all of Tokyo. When word gets out that Joe was the man responsible for the killing, his friends abandon him for fear of retribution on the part of the dead man's crew. In order to fix the problem once and for all, these guys go so far as to enlist the aid of Murder Unincorporated, a company that specializes in exactly what it sounds like.
But taking out Joe Of Spades can't be easy, right? Right. The employees of Murder Unincorporated are going to give it their best shot, however, and as they do, the killings that take place throughout the film become increasingly bizarre.
Some of the sequences in this one are crazy enough to work, and then other times the movie resorts to some cliché and pedestrian attempts at goofy slapstick humor. Shishido is decent enough in his role but sometimes isn't given quite as much to do as you want. He gets the ‘cool guy' thing right, however, looking snappy and dapper each and every time he's onscreen. There are a lot of fun period fashions on display and some odd costumes worn by a few characters in the film as well (one guy wears a fez, another guy dresses like Charlie Chaplin!).
The score is fun and the camera work once again nice to look at. Mileage will definitely vary on this one as humor really is such a subjective thing and not always the easiest to translate into another language, but there's plenty of entertainment to be had. Murder Unincorporated is the weakest of the film's in the set, but Shishido fans and those who enjoy Japanese ‘pop' films from this era should still find it easy enough to enjoy.The Blu-ray:
Each film is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and the transfer are really strong. Each movie boasts nice color reproduction and all three films show nice detail and a considerable amount of depth (though some scenes do tend to look softer than others). There are no problems with any obvious noise reduction here, so expect a natural amount of unobtrusive film grain, but there isn't much in the way of serious print damage, just occasional specks now and then and the odd scratch that pops up. Compression artifacts are never a problem, there is no evidence of edge enhancement and all in all, things shape up very nicely here, the movies all look very good in high definition. All three films are included on the same disc, but it's a 50GB platter so there aren't any issues here. The transfers won't blow you away, but they look pretty nice.Sound:
The only audio track for this set is an Japanese language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono option with removable subtitles available in English only. While range is understandably limited by the source material, the tracks here sound just fine. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion and the levels are properly balanced. There's a reasonable amount of depth present in each mix and the subtitles are clean, clear and easy to read.Extras:
The main extra is provided in the way of a newly recorded video discussion with Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp on the Diamond Guys' Jo Shishido and Akira Kobayashi. It's a twenty-minute piece that does a nice job of giving viewers enough background information on the two performers to understand why they'd be treated as ‘Diamond Guys' by Nikkatsu. Through this piece we get a feel for who they were and why they mattered to Japanese cinema audiences of the day. It's pretty interesting and well put together.
Outside of that we get original theatrical trailers for all three films, trailers for a few other Japanese films in Arrow's current library, still galleries for each film, menus and chapter selection.Final Thoughts:
Nikkastu Diamond Guys Volume Two, like its predecessor, is a lot of fun. There's a lot of entertainment value to be had from each of the three features and fans of sixties era pop-style action and intrigue should get their money's worth here. Arrow's set offers each movie in solid quality and with a few fun extras as well. Recommended.