Bullet Train

The high-concept ad campaign for the 1960s deodorant Hai Karate spoofed Western spy movies and Eastern martial arts to ludicrous but memorable effect. Some mighty clever young guns worked on Madison Ave., or so the average TV viewer assumed. Until several years later, that is, when Seijun Suzuki’s heady ‘60s gangster films belatedly reached these shores and it turned out that the Japanese had devoted a lot of energy and skill over a lot of years to producing an entire genre of crime flicks. (Damn those ad-agency rip-off artists!) The venerable Nikkatsu studio made some of the most successful action pictures, and a jolting half-dozen with irresistible titles like A Colt Is My Passport and Gangster VIP unspool in the high-energy weekend series No Borders, No Limits. These films were plainly influenced by the American shoot-‘em-ups that flooded the nation’s theaters in the ‘50s, but they had a geometric precision, stylized austerity, and emotional restraint that was distinctly Japanese. With their iconic themes of loyalty, responsibility, honor, and betrayal, the Nikkatsu pictures can also be seen as precursors of the ultra-kinetic Hong Kong action films of the ‘80s. Originality is a myth, in other words; it’s all about execution.
April 10-13, 2008

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