Lighter Fare From Nikkatsu’s Vaults Mark These Older Japanese Comedies
Arrow Video has been mining Nikkatsu’s vaults for a number of vintage Japanese releases in the past year. They venture beyond yakuza flicks in Nikkatsu Diamond Guys: Volume 2, exploring the lighter side of Nikkatsu’s deep catalog. Japanese film studio dabbled in just about every genre during the Sixties, churning out one b-movie movie after another practically on a monthly basis (at their peak output). Studio stars Akira Kobayashi and Joe Shishido, two of Nikkatsu’s bigger ‘Diamond Guys’, headline this set of three films: Tokyo Mighty Guy, Danger Pays, and Murder Unincorporated.
The first and best film in this trio is Tokyo Mighty Guy, starring the charismatic Akira Kobayashi. It’s an amusing, light film that would have been perfect as an Elvis Presley vehicle in the Sixties. The 1960 film isn’t a musical but has a potpourri of romance, light humor, comedic crime elements and some music. Directed by Buichi Saito, Akira Kobayashi plays Jiro. A popular, handsome young man, he takes on a comically inept gang in Ginza with the aid of a retired prime minister. This is the most accessible film in the set to Americans, who should be familiar with its rhythms if they are fans of lightweight Hollywood films from the 50s and 60s. The plot is neatly tied together in an accessible script.
The comedy bits are hit or miss and mildly dated…
The comedy bits are hit or miss and mildly dated…
The second film is Danger Pays, a heist adventure that attempts its best try at being funny. Jo Shishido stars in this somewhat forgettable entry. A billion in unmarked paper yen is stolen and this becomes hot news in the underground world of criminals. Hoping to profit from the theft, the services of Japan’s most skilled counterfeiter is fought over by various criminal factions. This is more of a comedy than gangster drama. Made as disposable entertainment, some of its cultural relevance has been lost over the decades. It’s not unwatchable by any means but Danger Pays is the weakest film of this set.
Murder Unincorporated is the odd duck of Volume 2. The 1965 comedy stars Jo Shishido as its smart hero. A group of powerful crime bosses known as the Five Rays Club discover that a hitman known as ‘Joe of Spades’ plans to kill them. They hire ten different assassins to find this Joe and murder him before they are killed themselves. Each assassin has a gimmick with their kills, from one that shoots bullets out of a poetry book, to another that shoots his targets with a baseball bat-shaped gun. These are colorful assassins meant to be taken as comedy and surprisingly enough, add a humorous wrinkle to the story. While some of the dated jokes only work within a Japanese cultural context, Murder Unincorporated has its fun moments. If you enjoyed some of the tongue-in-cheek laughs found on the Adam West Batman series, it enjoys much of the same spirit.
Tokyo Mighty Guy is the real reason to buy this set, but the two other comedies each have their moments. The comedy bits are hit or miss and mildly dated, though their nostalgic charm is reminiscent of lighter Hollywood fare from the same period. These films were all made as disposable genre fodder meant to turn a quick buck at the theaters but have a charm lost on edgier, more thrilling yakuza tales.
Arrow Video puts out three more films from Nikkatsu’s seemingly deep vault in serviceable condition. Tokyo Mighty Guy, Danger Pays, and Murder Unincorporated are all color films from the early Sixties, shot in a variation of CinemaScope. Each movie receives a legitimate HD transfer from decent film elements, though their softer definition and minor processing indicate less than state-of-the-art, new scans.
They are shown in their proper 2.35:1 scope ratio at 1080P resolution. There are more similarities between the three presentations than differences. Some minor print damage is seen on the elements for Danger Pays, but generally these are solid, clean elements with stable color.
The three films share a single BD-50, all encoded in fine AVC quality. None of these films run longer than 84 minutes. It’s a tight fit for a single disc that didn’t apparently affect their compression transparency. I don’t believe that Arrow Video actually supervised the film transfers, these were performed by Nikkatsu themselves in Japan. This is more colorful fare than Arrow’s prior Nikkatsu releases, done with fairly appealing contrast and black levels.
If you’ve seen Arrow’s prior releases of Nikkatsu’s films, Diamond Guys Volume 2 is more of the same picture quality. While these aren’t eye-popping, fresh transfers bursting with definition, the older CinemaScope presentations are mostly film-like from decent elements.
Each Japanese-language film comes with a 1.0 PCM soundtrack. The rudimentary mono recordings have serviceable dialogue clarity but patches of rough audio quality can be heard, especially on Tokyo Mighty Guy’s opening reel. The sound is a bit harsh with strained treble frequencies. There isn’t a ton of dynamic range to the mastering. The music is fairly compressed. The mixes are certainly listenable but audiophiles will notice problems.
Each movie comes with optional English subtitles in a white font. They remain inside the scope presentation at all times.
This is a three-disc set with two DVDs included as well containing all three films. The set is limited to 3000 units with a reversible sleeve featuring new artwork by Graham Humphreys. The included booklet features new writing on all three films and director profiles by Stuart Galbraith IV, Tom Mes and Mark Schilling.
Arrow Video has gone deeper in the special features before, this is not one of their more loaded editions in terms of extras. You’ll have to visit their other Nikkatsu releases for that content. I guess the inclusion of three separate movies makes up for the lack of special features.
Introduction To Diamond Guy: Jo Shishido (09:15 in HD) – A featurette with expert Jasper Sharp on the actor’s career. Not the most extensive or in-depth profile but does cover his filmography in light detail.
Introduction To Diamond Guy: Akira Kobayashi (11:07 in HD) – Jasper Sharp covers Kobayashi’s career in light detail.
Tokyo Mighty Guy Trailer (03:47 in SD)
Danger Pays Trailer (03:51 in SD)
Murder Unincorporated Trailer (04:11 in SD)
Image Galleries – All three films receive exhaustive galleries of stills.
Outlaw Gangster VIP Collection Trailers – All six films’ trailers included in the VIP set.
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A fun grouping of Nikkatsu’s lighter comedic fare makes for a solid value trio with stars like Jo Shishido and Akira Kobayashi.
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Tokyo Mighty Guy:
Danger Pays (additional screens available for Patreon supporters)