The good stuff
A film that slows you down for the course of its running time and leaves you with something to think about while looking at impressive imagery and striking you with an impressive soundtrack
Go, Go Second Time Virgin
Petrel Hotel Blue
2012 was going to be a great year for Koji Wakamatsu. With three films released and already a fourth one on the way, he was on a roll. At the age of 76, that's quite a feat. Sadly it wasn't meant to be. On a walk home from a budget meeting Wakamatsu was hit by a cab and he would pass away soon after. A surprisingly tepid ending for an explosive director.
Kaien Hoteru - Buru (Petrel Hotel Blue) is one of the three films Wakamatsu managed to finish in 2012. It's a peculiar film, experimental but featuring an elaborate narrative and remarkably free from political propaganda. It would make a good companion piece to Landscapes the Boy Saw, though both films are still quite different from each other.
Kaien Hoteru - Buru starts off with a robbery gone wrong. When Yukio's friend Yoji doesn't show up to provide backup, Yukio is caught and is sentenced to a 7 year stay in prison. Upon his release, Yukio vows to take revenge on Yoji. He finds out his location and ends up on a small, barren island where Yoji is running a bar/hotel.
That's when things get strange. Even though there's a whole crime story slowly unravelling, the film is more interested in Rika's character, Yoji's wife. She doesn't really speak, she disappears into thin air from time to time and she transfixes every man she meets. She's the catalyst of just about everything that happens, but her exact role is never truly explained.
The film is obviously a low-budget affair, but the location is terrific and the camera does a great job capturing its alien atmosphere. The soundtrack too adds a very mysterious feel, making everything that much weirder. The only real downer is the cast. Go Jibiki (a late-Wakamatsu regular) is solid, but the rest of the actors fail to find the right vibe.
Still, Kaien Hoteru - Buru is worth a gamble, especially if you're already familiar with Wakamatsu's oeuvre. It's a moody, atmospheric and mysterious film, not the kind of thing you'd expect a 76 year old to make. It might have been easier to accept Wakamatsu's passing if he'd been making crap movies, on the other hand, at least he got productive again right before passing away.
Ecstasy of the Angels
The Woman Who Wanted to Die
Running in Madness, Dying in Love
One of Wakamatsu's better films. 1969 was a good year for him. Not only did he direct a ton of films, many of them ending up becoming stand-outs in his oeuvre. Violent Virgin contains all the typical Wakamatsu traits and combines them into a surreal trip that bewilders, disgusts and intrigues in equal amounts.
Like many of his films, Violent Virgin is not an easy watch. It's a sort of prelude to the American rape/revenge films of the 70s (think I Spit On Your Grave or The Last House on the Left) that would give the horror genre a serious boost, only Wakamatsu's films are more skillfully and artfully executed.
Lush, high contrast black and white cinematography, perverse games, amoral behavior, rape, murder, it's all here. There isn't much in the way of plot, then again it's a pretty short film so there's really no time for it to get boring. Probably not the easiest introduction to Wakamatsu's work, but definitely one of the better films I've seen from him.
The Millennial Rapture
Wakamatsu didn't really go out with a bang, but this is a worthwhile final feature that at the very least shows he still had a couple of films left in him. An interesting family chronicle with a stellar performance by Shinobu Terajima. The film looks a bit too cheap and digital, it also lacks Wakamatsu's trademark grit, but otherwise it's a fine drama.
Sacred Mother Kannon
Interesting Wakamatsu. Not as overtly political as his most of his work, instead it features a clear yet slightly repetitive narrative that holds up well enough. The characters are blunt and enigmatic, the film looks nice and the pacing is on point.
Violence without a Cause
The number of films Wakamatsu made during the 60s feels endless. Though his style is quite consistent, the quality of these films is a bit hit-and-miss, depending on their level of experimentation, political focus and no doubt the mood of the day. In '69 alone Wakamatsu made 13 films, so having an off-day probably wasn't even an option for him.
Compared to his other films, Naked Bullet is a rather straightforward genre flick. While you get your fair share of vintage Wakamatsu (i.e. rape, crime elements and alternating sequences shot in black and white vs color), the overall tone of the film is a lot lighter, mostly playing like a funky, sometimes even comedic gangster film.
It's a somewhat surprising departure from most other Wakamatsu films I've seen so far, but when you're making so many films each year it's really no surprise you eventually end up trying something different. Wakamatsu handles himself pretty well too, the film looks stylish, sports some memorable scenes and offers some good genre fun.
Fine Wakamatsu. Less political and psychologic than some of his more famous ones, though his usual trademark elements are still present in some way or another. Fun, short and intriguing hitman film, nice shots and a decent score make for a film that is quite unlike other films from the 60s.
Dark Story of a Japanese Rapist
If there ever was a descriptive title for a film, it must've been Dark Story of a Japanese Rapist. You get exactly what the title promises, and with Koji Wakamatsu behind the camera you can rest assured it isn't just straight-forward horror or simple titillation. This was quite the effective drama.
The main character of this film may be a rapist, he's also an extremely tragic figure. That's not going to be a very popular take/angle, but there's definitely some merit in telling the story this way. While his victims remain empty shells for the most part, Wakamatsu takes his time to paint a strong picture of the perpetrator.
No colors this time around, apart from a handful of monochrome shots. The stark black and white cinematography is fitting though and weighs on the film. The soundtrack is fine too, the runtime perfect and the finale very fitting. A good film from Wakamatsu, but make sure you come prepared.
Worthy but flawed
United Red Army
If you're familiar with Wakamatsu's 60s and early 70s work, this film will hold no surprises for you. A clan of young revolutionaries couped up in a small room, doing their best to revolt against the establishment. There are a few nice scenes, but it feels a little too familiar and indistinct compared to his better work.
Season of Terror
Typical late-60s Wakamatsu. Shot in black and white, a background of political revolution and free love. Wakamatsu made a gazillion of these films around that time. This one is very thin on plot though and 80 minutes is a tad long, but Wakamatsu fans probably won't be disappointed. Not his best, but still worth watching.
The Embryo Hunts in Secret
An early Wakamatsu, which is exactly what you can expect. He's clearly still developing his style here, the plot is extremely thin though thematically Wakamatsu draws a lot from it. Short, experimental and pretty edgy, at least for its time. Not as good as his late 60s work, but still worth a shot.
11.25: The Day He Chose His Own Fate
Wakamatsu has a reputation for making divisive and unflinching films, but this one offers a whole new level of nihilism. The title says it all really, the film follows a serial rapist on his murderous rampage. He wanders around, talks to random women, isolates them, rapes them and kills them.
And that's pretty much it. Little to no context is given to explain his actions, his victims remain completely unknown to the audience, all we get to see is the continuous torture, shot in a very detached and matter-of-fact way. It's not a very pleasant film to watch, neither is it very titillating, but if you like dark and relentless films, is it quite impressive.
The presentation is pretty cheap though. Wakamatsu's camera merely registers, there's little in the way of a soundtrack and the actors aren't exactly A-grade material either. It's clearly a film made on the cheap, but it does get its message across. An interesting watch for Wakamatsu fans, but it's pretty hard to recommend.
The Hateful Beast
Another entry in Wakamatsu's series on Japanese rapists. It's not the jolliest subject to make films about, but people familiar with Wakamatsu's work know it's a theme that suits him. What doesn't suit him is the classic/historic setting of the story, which takes a lot of vitality away from his films.
The Hateful Beast revolves around two criminals who lived during the Edo era. They both arrive at a same village, but one proves to be more successful than the other. While he enjoys the spoils of his criminal career, the other one rots away in prison, planning his revenge. It's hardly the most imaginative story, though that matters less, as it's rooted in reality.
The black and white cinematography is nice, but not all that remarkable. The editing and camera work feel a little plain and unimaginative though, especially for a Wakamatsu film. The presentation (including the soundtrack) is just too tame and safe. It's in line with other classic Japanese films, but it takes away from Wakamatsu's unique flavor. Not his best work.
This wasn't Wakamatsu's best. The subject (an exploration of the lineage of a serial rapist) is right up Wakamatsu's alley, but Abnormal Blood goes for a somewhat dramatic and narrative approach. Personally I prefer it when he takes a more experimental route, because that's where Wakamatsu's real strength lies.
Abnormal Blood is part of a trilogy, of which I haven't seen the other parts. Maybe things feel more like a whole after seeing the remaining entries, but as a stand-alone film it felt a bit aimless and disjointed. It's also quite short considering the scope of the undertaking, at just 75 minutes.
The usual switches between color and black and white are nice enough, Wakamatsu's camera work is interesting and even though it's a more narrative -focused film, the film still feels relatively vibrant and emotional. The ending is pretty cool, but not enough to redeem the entire film. This one is for Wakamatsu completists.