films seen
9/26
average score
3.50*
nationality
Japan - 69 years old
status
R.I.P. (1937 - 2006)
more info

Beyond exceptional

Rampo Noir

by Akio Jissoji, Hisayasu Satô, Atsushi Kaneko, Suguru Takeuchi
Also known as
Rampo Jigoku
Specifics
2005 / 134m - Japan
Genre
Fantasy, Horror
More info:
rating
5.0*/5.0*
toplist position
Rampo Noir poster

An amazing collection of shorts, brought to life by superb actors and featuring strong and diverse styles. A true sight to behold and without a doubt one of the best Japanese horror projects around.

Rare treats

Ten Nights of Dreams

by Yoshitaka Amano, Kon Ichikawa, Akio Jissoji, Masaaki Kawahara, Suzuki Matsuo, Miwa Nishikawa, Atsushi Shimizu, Takashi Shimizu, Keisuke Toyoshima, Yudai Yamaguchi, Nobuhiro Yamashita
Also known as
Yume Ju-Ya
Specifics
2006 / 100m - Japan
Genre
Horror, Mystery
More info:
rating
4.5*/5.0*
toplist position
Ten Nights of Dreams poster

A wonderful collection of shorts, visually pleasing, fun to watch and from time to time refreshingly weird.

Solid pieces

Summer of Ubume

by Akio Jissoji
Also known as
Ubume no Natsu
Specifics
2005 / 123m - Japan
Genre
Horror
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Summer of Ubume poster

Akio Jissoji is somewhat of a cult figure. He started out as a director in the Ultraman franchise (both series and films) and ended his career directing obscure horror films. I've reviewed his segments in Rampo Jigoku and Yume Ju-ya, shorts that should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect from Ubume no Natsu [Summer of Ubume], his final standalone feature film. He died not long after, joining a prestigious list of directors who kept going right until their final breath.

Even though Ubume no Natsu was made in 2006, it has little to no ties to the Asian horror wave that was all the rage back then. This is no 'less is more' horror flick trying to mimic the success of Nakata or Shimizu, instead the film harks back to the classic Japanese horror stories of Edogawa Rampo. Dark, twisted and supernatural, but with a strong psychological core. Ubume no Natsu is an adaptation of the first novel in the Kyougokudou series, a novel that is also enjoying its own manga adaptation right now.

The film is set in the early 50s, following a detective who is called in to investigate the events surrounding a mysterious hospital. Patients, mostly children, keep disappearing on the hospital's premises. When members of the staff are also ending up dead, the neighborhood's imagination starts running rampant. Of course the case isn't so easily solved and several other people are brought in to try and explain the mysterious events.

If you care about a great cast, this film has you covered. An insane amount of familiar faces are featured, from the lead roles down to the smaller, secondary parts. Shin'ichi Tsutsumi and Masatoshi Nagase are probably the most prestigious names, with actors like Hiroshi Abe, Susumu Terajima, Suzuki Matsuo, Rena Tanaka and Yoshiyoshi Arakawa also on board you just know you're in for a treat. It's great to see all of these actors brought together in one film and it's pretty clear they had a lot of fun shooting Ubume no Natsu.

The presentation is top notch too. Even though Jissoji was already quite old when he shot this, the cinematography is quirky and playful. There are some great angles, the editing is fun and even though he uses the same visual tricks a few times too often, the film looks great throughout. The soundtrack is a bit more classic in nature, but goes well with the film. The two combined create a mysterious, dark and intriguing atmosphere, the kind you expect from a tale that could've been written by Rampo.

Don't expect any gore, don't expend a typical Japanese suspense flick. Ubume no Natsu is a film that relies more on intrigue and mystery, with some perversion and psychological horror thrown in for good measure. The presentation is great, the cast is impressive and even though the film is quite long, it never drags or becomes boring. There are better films in the genre, but that's hardly a critique on this film.

Ultra Q: The Movie

by Akio Jissoji
Also known as
Urutora Q za Mûbi: Hoshi no Densetsu
Specifics
1990 / 112m - Japan
Genre
Sci-fi, Adventure
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Ultra Q: The Movie poster

Akio Jissoji is no doubt one of the oddest directors to come out of Japan. In the West, he's best known for his Buddhist trilogy (an arthouse staple), in his home country he worked on some of the biggest pulp you can imagine. Ultra Q is one of those films, a fun yet elevated mix of tokusatsu and kaiju.

A newspaper journalist goes to the area near Eternal Island. People have been disappearing and with all the local folklore, it makes for a potentially interesting article. The journalist discovers his own roots lie within the area. He meets up with a mysterious woman, who wants to teach him more about the island.

The film's pulpy origins are abundantly clear, but Jissoji's excellent direction makes this a real hoot. The camera work is great, the effects are impressive, and the fantastical designs look cool. The pacing is solid too, and even though the story isn't all that demanding, it contains all the ingredients to make this an entertaining spectacle.

Marquis de Sade's Prosperities of Vice

by Akio Jissoji
Also known as
Akutoku no Sakae
Specifics
1988 / 96m - Japan
Genre
Mystery
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Marquis de Sade's Prosperities of Vice poster

I guess I have no more excuses to ignore Akio Jissôji's oeuvre. Prosperities of Vice is the fifth Jissôji film I've seen and none of them have disappointed me so far. They've been mostly random watches (including two accidental anthology entries), but every single time I've been positively surprised.

This film too went far above my expectations. I'd expected a pinku with some artistic intentions, but describing it like that is doing Prosperities of Vice a big disservice. While the Sade mythology leaves plenty of room for debauchery, Jissôji delivers a very stylish and relatively restrained film.

For a film from the 80s it looks absolutely stunning, sporting superb camera work, neat and colorful styling and excellent use of lighting. The soundtrack too is distinctive and moody. The plot is a bit of a puzzle, but it was intriguing enough to keep me glued to the screen. A very interesting film, Jissôji deserves to be rediscovered.

Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis

by Akio Jissoji
Also known as
Teito Monogatari
Specifics
1988 / 135m - Japan
Genre
Fantasy, Horror
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis poster

A pretty great genre film that made me think of Carpenter's dark fantasy work. Jissoji is clearly the better director though, with strong camera work, great lighting and some solid special effects he delivers a film that is not only good fun, but also looks surprisingly beautiful, even to this day. Quite the discovery this, I'll have to look into Jissoji some more.

The inoffensive

Blue Lake Woman

by Akio Jissoji
Also known as
Aoi Numa no Onna
Specifics
1986 / 90m - Japan
Genre
Drama, Horror
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Blue Lake Woman poster

A classic kaidan (ghost) story by Jissoji. A director with a very recognizable style that matches the kaidan aesthetic. Blue Lake Woman can't quite hide its TV roots though, which seriously hampers the enjoyment of the film. Still, I'm quite sure fans of Jissoji will find plenty to enjoy here.

When Nagare is invited to stay at Takigawa's house while he is off to do business in the US, he finds himself drawn to Mizue, the wife of Takigawa. She feels the same as Nagare and the two decide to commit a lover's suicide to redeem for their adultery. Mizue dies, but Nagare survives the suicide attempt. When he revisits Takigawa's house several years later, he is visited by the ghost of Mizue.

Surreal imagery, eerie ghostly apparitions and of course clocks (because what good would a Jissoji film be without clocks). Blue Lake Woman has all the ingredients for a lovely film, except that it looks like it was shot on a consumer-grade camera. If you like a good Japanese ghost story though, or you're a dedicated Jissoji fan, this comes well recommended.

This Transient Life

by Akio Jissoji
Also known as
Mujô
Specifics
1970 / 143m - Japan
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
This Transient Life poster

The real start of Jissôji's career and the first in his Buddhist trilogy. This Transient Life feels like a typical film of a promising first-time director (though Jissôji had made some shorts before this), a film where its director does his utmost best to prove his worth and goes all in. That makes for a slightly uneven film, but it sure is interesting.

Masao has an affair with his sister Yuki. The two don't seem to mind their incestuous splurges, but they get into trouble when Yuki gets pregnant from his child. Masao leaves to work for a sculptor and Yuki marries a local handyman who has a thing for her. But the two can't forget about each other and when they get back together, chaos ensues.

Pinku meets arthouse, with a splash of Japanese New Wave. It's an interesting combination of elements. The stark black and white cinematography is very nice, the pacing of the film slow but deliberate and the intrigue is strong. The soundtrack is a letdown though and some scenes do go on too long. Still, Jissôji left his calling card with this one.

Dubious filler

Poem

by Akio Jissoji
Also known as
Uta
Specifics
1972 / 138m - Japan
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Poem poster

A slightly disappointing film from Jissôji. So far I've been very impressed by his work, even his slightly older films. Poem was the first pre-80s film I watched from him and it's the first one that didn't really captivate me. Maybe because it was too grounded in the arthouse scene, where his later films have stronger genre elements.

The film follows the demise of the Moriyama family, a notable and wealthy house. Ihee, the head of the family, is worried about his legacy, as none of his sons seem worthy to follow in his footsteps. He gets suspicious when Toru (his second son) weasels his way back into their lives and starts asking questions about his family's wealth.

The stark black & white cinematography is interesting, so is the way Jissôji plays with the soundtrack, but the pacing is quite slow and by itself the styling isn't remarkable enough to carry the film. There's definitely beauty here and Jissôji shows he's a talented director, but it's not quite enough to justify the runtime and the pacing.