J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Into the Shintoho Mind Warp: Yellow Line


Is there anything more penny wise-pound foolish than stiffing your hitman?  Sure, they can’t take you to court, but killing people for money is what they do.  Nonetheless, a Kobe vice lord (don’t the words “Kobe” and “vice” naturally seem to go together?) does exactly that in Teruo Ishii’s Yellow Line, which also has its official New York premiere as part of the Japan Society’s 2013 Globus Film Series, Into the Shintoho Mind Warp: Girls, Guns & Ghosts (series trailer here).

He thought he was killer an exploiter, but our nameless hired gun actually offs the new incorruptible Kobe customs chief.  His clients thought they were setting him up to take the falling, but merely calling the cops while he is at the scene will not be nearly sufficient.  Suddenly needing to leave Tokyo in a hurry, the unnamed man forces his company on Emi Kozuki, a rather high maintenance dancer, who just so happens to be traveling to Kobe for a dubious gig.  Hiding out in Kobe’s “Casbah” red light district with his pouting hostage, the hitman starts tracking his double-crossers while Kozuki’s journalist boyfriend pursues them both.

There are so many coincidences, near misses, and chance encounters in Yellow, one half expects to see the Marx Brothers spring out of a closet at any time.  That is just how this movie rolls.  Indeed, the lurid atmosphere and crazy plot contrivances are a heck of a lot of fun.  Still, despite the absence of nudity and relative paucity of blood, Yellow is pretty forthright in its depiction of sex slavery and drug abuse, especially by the standards of 1960.

Shintoho regular Shigeru Amachi is all kinds of awesome as the hitman.  Hardnosed in a way that would make Nouvelle Vague auteurs ecstatic, audiences will whole-heartedly root for him, regardless of his amoral code of conduct.  As Kozuki, Yôko Mihara is a bit of a pill, but she can definitely shake it on the dance floor, fulfilling the requirements of any good exploitation film.  Throughout the Casbah, they are surrounded by a wildly cinematic Rogues Gallery of supporting characters, even including an American in a ragingly politically incorrect role, appearing in blackface as the exotic dancer dubbed “The Moor.”

Frankly, you had better see Yellow Line while you can, because it will be way too hot for most programmers to handle.  This is a great, greasy crime drama that delivers satisfaction in spades.  Highly recommended for fans of film noir and Japanese cinema, Yellow Line concludes Into the Shintoho Mind Warp next Sunday afternoon (3/10) at the Japan Society.  The entire series then continues on a three city tour, spreading joy to Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Vancouver.

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