films seen
11/64
average score
2.45*
nationality
Japan - 72 years old
status
R.I.P. (1930 - 2003)
more info

Legendary Japanese director who is one of the few to make it through the 70s (relatively) unscathed. Best known for Battle Royale and his 70s crime films, but he also made some pretty fun, surprising and off-kilter genre work.

The good stuff

Battle Royale

by Kinji Fukasaku
Batoru Rowaiaru
2000 / 114m - Japan
Action, Thriller
Battle Royale poster

Rarely did a director have such a big impact with his very last film. Battle Royale is a cult classic, an amusing slice of mayhem that derives a lot of fun from its premise, but rises above itself with some very deliberate touches of absurdity. It's not the most refined film, but raw power, energy and wit more than make up for that.

Solid pieces

Samurai Reincarnation

by Kinji Fukasaku
Makai Tenshô
1981 / 122m - Japan
Fantasy, Action
3.5*/5.0*
Samurai Reincarnation poster

I've been avoiding Fukasaku's films for the longest time, on account of not really liking some of his Yakuza work. It turns out I've should've been watching his samurai stuff instead. Samurai Reincarnation is a pretty rad film, a mixture of classic Japanese lore, some fantasy elements and a lot of cool.

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After a gruesome battle, a Christian samurai loses his faith and sells his soul to the devil. In return, he receives the power to resurrect the dead. He starts on a long journey through the country. Whenever he meets disgruntled souls, he reincarnates them and adds them to his little band of misfits.

Japanese mythology is quite rich and Fukasaku is happy to exploit it for this film. Quite a few famous figures are combined in this narrative, with the showdown between Musashi Miyamoto and Yubei Yagyu as the absolute highlight. Awesome sets, a creepy atmosphere and some very cool action scenes make this quite the spectacle. A very pleasant discovery.

The inoffensive

Crest of Betrayal

by Kinji Fukasaku
Chûshingura Gaiden: Yotsuya Kaidan
1994 / 106m - Japan
Action
3.0*/5.0*
Crest of Betrayal poster

Though Kinji Fukasaku is best known for making Battle Royale and a series of 70s/80s Yakuza films, he's actually pretty competent at directing samurai films with a darker edge. Sadly, he didn't produce too many in his career, so Crest of Betrayal is a film that needs to be treasured and cherished.

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The plot focuses on Tamiya Iyemon, one of the 47 ronin who wandered the land when their master died. He falls in love with Oiwa, a prostitute who earns an extra buck working in local bathhouses. It's all pretty basic samurai stuff, though the second half of the film does have a darker/more fantastical edge to it.

The first half is a little dull. A bit too much time is spent on the setup, but once all the pawns are in place and the darker and weirder second half kicks off, it's clear that Fukasaku really feels at home in this genre. Some stark, colorful imagery, decent performances and a solid ending make this another noteworthy Fukasaku flick.

Legend of the Eight Samurai

by Kinji Fukasaku
Satomi Hakken-den
1983 / 133m - Japan
Fantasy, Adventure
3.0*/5.0*
Legend of the Eight Samurai poster

I'm not a big fan of Fukasaku's crime cinema, but I'd never seen a (blockbuster) samurai film from the man. The screenshots I found looked quite promising, so I figured I'd give it a shot. Turns out I should've given him more credit, as this was a pretty cool and entertaining (though campy) film.

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Princess Shizu's family is completely annihilated, but she's the ultimate target. As she flees, she runs into Shinbei, a low-ranking and inexperienced samurai. He vows to protect her, to do that he has to find the eight dog-warriors before he can face Tamazusa, the leader of the gang that is after Shizu.

The sets look lush and expensive, the props (and monsters) on the other hand look rather fake. It makes for a weird mix of camp and blockbuster cinema that's pretty fun to watch. Performances are decent, the lore is pretty cool and even though the film is a bit too long, it never gets boring. Cool but cheesy.

Black Lizard

by Kinji Fukasaku
Kurotokage
1968 / 86m - Japan
Comedy, Crime
3.0*/5.0*
Black Lizard poster

A film from the start of Kinji Fukasaku's career. Like most of his contemporaries, he made an insane amount of movies during the 60s, so it's not exactly a freshman effort. Black Lizard is based on a Rampo story, the oddness of Rampo's original work certainly shines through. The film is quirky, fun and plenty weird.

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Black Lizard is a famous thief who want to steal the "Star of Egypt" diamond. She concocts a plan where she'll kidnap the daughter of the jeweler who possesses the diamond, using her as ransom for the treasure. The jeweler finds out about Black Lizard trick and hires Akechi to protect his daughter.

A cast of quirky characters, lovely decors, a fun cat and mouse game between two cunning tricksters and some random weirdness all help to make this a pretty entertaining film. Fukasaku keeps things light and the short runtime is a big plus, even so the film does have some slight pacing issues halfway through. Better than expected though.

Worthy but flawed

Virus

by Kinji Fukasaku
Fukkatsu no Hi
1980 / 108m - Japan
Sci-fi, Thriller
2.5*/5.0*
Virus poster

An ambitious Fukasaku film. It's rare to see a Japanese director pull off a global film project with local funds, but Fukasaku isn't your everyday director. His pandemic film is topical, though only during the first half. After that it turns into a post-apocalyptic affair that leaves little to the imagination.

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A covert American research project toys with manipulated flu viruses. One of them is stolen and unleashed unto the world. The virus thrives in hotter condition, and before they fully well realize the scale of the problem, the human population is quickly dwindling. Only small settlement in Antarctica are safe from the deadly disease. The virus is just the start of humanity's problems though.

Fukasaku tries to put a little too much in a single film, but at least he is ambitious. The actors are somewhat flaky and the runtime's a bit excessive, the atmosphere is solid though and the finale is actually pretty impressive. It's a shame Fukasaku failed to make Virus feel just that little tighter, otherwise it would've been a pretty cool post-apocalyptic flick.

Message from Space

by Kinji Fukasaku
Uchu Kara no Messeji
1978 / 105m - Japan
Sci-fi, Adventure
2.5*/5.0*
Message from Space poster

Kinji Fukasaku's take on Star Wars. When the budget and skillset isn't entirely there, all you can do is to go full kitsch, and that's exactly what Fukasaku was going for here. The result is a pretty draft and cheesy film, but because of its dedication to camp it's still pretty damn fun. Just as long as you don't expect a very serious effort.

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A species on the brink of extinction has one more chance to survive their oppressor. They send out 8 seeds into the galaxy. Whoever finds them becomes a savior, and when all eight saviors return to their planet the prophecy foretells their race will be spared. It's a nice bit of sci-fi/fantasy nonsense that offers more than enough potential for campy entertainment.

Some elements are copied straight out of Star Wars, though Fukasaku never really matches the scope and ambition of that franchise. Instead we get some kind of space theater, sporting people in silly costumes and weird make-up, dressed up with some goofy special effects. The pacing makes sure it never gets boring, but if you want to get the most out of this film, it's mostly about embracing the kitsch.

Yakuza Graveyard

by Kinji Fukasaku
Yakuza no Hakaba: Kuchinashi no Hana
1976 / 97m - Japan
Action, Crime
2.5*/5.0*
Yakuza Graveyard poster

So far, I've mostly avoided Kinji Fukasaku's 70s Yakuza films. It's not really a preferred niche and the films I did sample didn't really do it for me. After a couple more positive experiences with Fukasaku's classic work, I was willing to give it another go. Yakuza Graveyard was a name I recognized, so I simply went with that one.

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The story is a pretty basic tale of Yakuza and their dealings with the local police. When a young cop is transferred, he is eager to make a good impression, and he isn't scared to get a little rough to get the desired results. When faced with his corrupt colleagues and his love for an ill-reputed woman, the young transfer starts to question his ethics.

What stands out the most is Fukasaku's dynamic cinematography. The camera jerks and twirls, giving the action scenes quite a bit of flair. The Yakuza/police drama on the other hands feels not as well-developed, which sometimes slows the film down unnecessarily. Not as bad as I'd feared, but I prefer the more contemporary Yakuza films.

Plain forgettable

Battle Royale II

by Kenta Fukasaku, Kinji Fukasaku
Batoru Rowaiaru II: Chinkonka
2003 / 134m - Japan
Action, Thriller
1.5*/5.0*
Battle Royale II poster

Big nopes

The Triple Cross

by Kinji Fukasaku
Itsuka Giragirasuruhi
1992 / 108m - Japan
Action, Crime
1.0*/5.0*
The Triple Cross poster

Irritation overload

Graveyard of Honor

by Kinji Fukasaku
Jingi no Hakaba
1975 / 94m - Japan
Action, Crime
0.5*/5.0*
Graveyard of Honor poster