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Schlock and Awe: A Festival of Flesh Piers, Ghost Cats, and Japan's First Nude Scene 

Wednesday, May 8 2013

"Since last night it's been one horror after another," says a guy in Ghost Cat of Otama Pond, suggesting one possible tagline for the prolific Japanese film studio Shintoho, which cranked out some 500 mid-century B-movie sensations, including this classic, before spending itself out in a blaze of genre glory in 1961. The guy is explaining how, on the previous evening, he freaked out and accidentally stabbed his wife to death. Viewers of the several Shintoho films showing at YBCA this month may note that stabby freakouts are not uncommon here.

Presided over by uber-producer Mitsugu Okura, a sort of Japanese Roger Corman, Shintoho's Kabuki-inflected horror jaunts, offbeat noirs, and delightfully unmannerly exploitation flicks tended to be brisk, often clocking in at 80 minutes or fewer (and slowing down only for the occasional exotic dance number). That seemed like ample time to set up a stylish if inexpensive milieu — be it within gloomy woods or neon-lit city streets — and let a typically vengeance-intensive plot coil itself up and spring deliriously free. Hell breaking loose apparently was a Shintoho specialty, and even YBCA's small sample is nothing if not an impressive collection of climactic fistfights, gunfights, swordfights, ghostfights, and other intense comeuppances.

With glints of ancient story ore still visible within their modern narrative alloys, these films draw a direct line from lurid pulp to avant-garde surrealism. Whatever disparate transgressive impulses underscore the seamy allure of Yellow Line, the supreme karma bitch of Ghost Story of Yotsuya, the fury-inducing female wiles of Revenge of the Pearl Queen (said to contain the first nude scene in Japanese cinema history), it's the distinctive urgency of Shintoho showmanship that unites them. As another guy says in Flesh Pier, suggesting another studio-wide tagline, "What happens here staggers the imagination."

About The Author

Jonathan Kiefer

SF Weekly movie critic Jonathan Kiefer is on Twitter: @kieferama and of course @sfweeklyfilm.

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