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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Part of Wakamatsu's ongoing fascination with sexual predators. It's an incel film avant la lettre, executed in true Wakamatsu style. Certainly not his most prominent or polished work, though fans of Wakamatsu won't be disappointed. Others should probably seek out his more famed work first.
The film follows a frustrated young man. He yearns to be in the company of a woman, but seems unable to make any kind of meaningful connection with them. When a friend of his offers to share his girlfriend, he accepts reluctantly, but his first sexual experience awakens dark feelings that will drive him to commit violent crimes.
Wakamatsu offers another glimpse into the mind of a very troubled soul. It's certainly not a pleasant film, let alone a titillating one, so if that's what you're after you can better skip this one altogether. If on the other hand you like a stylized and frank descent into the rotten mind of a violent pervert, Wakamatsu has you covered.
Worthy but flawed
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.
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.
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.
An early Wakamatsu. He made countless films during the 60s, so it's virtually impossible to keep track of them, but the better ones came at the end of the decade. While some of his early work is interesting, Wakamatsu was still exploring his signature style and even though you can already see glimpses of his genius, the films are often a bit uneven.
A young girl is apprehended by the police as a murder suspect. Once at the station, she reveals her tragic story. After she got raped by some hoodlums in her hometown, the girl moved to Tokyo, hoping to find a better life there. But before long she ended up a prostitute, doing exactly what she ran away from.
Wakamatsu's experimental side rears its head from time to time, mostly during the first half hour. After that, the film becomes more focused on the narrative, as we learn about the young girl's past through a series of flashbacks. It's a slightly disappointing evolution as the plot and characters aren't that interesting, but Wakamatsu fans will no doubt find something to like.
Wakamatsu coming off of his 60s high. The first 10 years in his career were a real whirlwind, with '69 as one of the most pivotal years in his oeuvre. After that Wakamatsu slowly started to swerve, finding it harder to keep the pace and to keep coming up with new variations on the same old theme.
Sex Family is Wakamatsu's take on the family drama. Of course this is no ordinary family, the issues they face aren't exactly copies from Ozu's films either. But even when its topically every bit as provocative as his 60s work, the film lacks a sense of urgency to set itself apart from his other work.
The black and white cinematography is nice, though not quite as dashing as his better films. The plot and characters are a little meandering and the impact isn't quite as big as Wakamatsu clearly hoped it would be, but the film is short 'n sweet and even when it doesn't really stand out in Wakamatsu's oeuvre, it's still a pretty wicked and crazy film by any other standard.
Early Wakamatsu, though with Wakamatsu that doesn't necessarily mean it's one of his first films. Merely three years into his career he already had 20+ films under his belt. Even so, it's obvious that Wakamatsu was still trying to find his style here. Many of his signature elements are already present, but the film still lacks what would set his more notable work apart.
The topic at least is vintage Wakamatsu. The film follows a high school student prepping for his exams. When he looks at the world that he's about to join, including its many social inequities, he's anything but excited. Malcontent with the future that lies ahead of him, he decides to take revenge on the adults.
Activism in other words. Some youthful revolt, a little nudity, stylish black and white cinematography with a splash of color and a jazzy soundtrack. But the film lacks that rawer edge that made Wakamatsu's best work stand out. Also, after 30+ Wakamatsu films, it does start to feel a bit repetitive, seeing the same subject handled over and over again. But for fans of his works, definitely worth seeking out.
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.
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.
A very mediocre Wakamatsu. The remnants of his 60s work are still clearly visible, but it's like looking at the remains of a burned-down house. Some passing references to his more rebellious work are completely overshadowed by endlessly repetitive sex scenes. I guess the pinku format finally got the better of Wakamatsu.
The plot is pretty bare bones, following a girl named Maria who prostitutes herself in Shinjuku. When she meets Hiroshi things are looking up for Maria, but her controlling nature brings them both on the edge of despair. With the police on their tales, there's really only one possible outcome.
The soundtrack is pretty distinctive and the finale, which tilts more towards crime and drama, is a step in the right direction. The first hour or so is pretty mind-numbing though, unless you get excited by uninterrupted moaning. This film felt like Wakamatsu in survival mode, a film unworthy of his status.
Wakamatsu's films changed a lot during the 70s. His 60s work is overtly experimental and very political, his 70s films are simpler, more typical pinku films mixed with simple genre elements. Wet Dice is a good example. Not a terrible film, but the mix of crime and pinku doesn't make all that much sense.
Kayo is a gifted bar owner who works in the port district. She is very popular with her clients, who don't miss a chance to try and woo her. Kayo likes the attention, but she's already in a relationship with a city councilman. Things get a little hairier when she gets caught up in some criminal business.
Wet Dice is not a bad crime flick, with some proper drama and decent performances. The "wet dice" gimmick is also kinda fun, but the pinku scenes mess up the pacing and are anything but sexy. The film is only 70 minutes long, still it feels like there's too much cruft. Wakamatsu could do so much better.
It's no secret Wakamatsu had trouble finding his way once the 60s were over, which led to quite a few subpar films in the coming decades. There were also more than a handful random attempts to steer his career in a different direction, Prey is one of those films. Sadly, it wasn't very successful.
The plot revolves around a music agent with a strong love for reggae. Troubles at the company he works for (they care more about marketability than the actual music) and problems with his girlfriend (who becomes increasingly more dependent on drugs throughout the film) drive him to a life of crime.
Performances are mediocre, Wakamatsu's direction feels flat and uninspired, the plot is dull, and the reggae angle comes off as random and tacked on. There's almost nothing left of the spirited, vibrant and creative force that Wakamatsu was just a decade earlier, which makes a film like this all the more painful to watch.
One of the weaker Wakamatsu films I've seen in a while. Not that it is so different from his other work, but somehow it lacks the urgency and the vigor that made his other films jump out. Without it, there's little more than a mix of unsexy erotica and endless monologues, few of them very interesting.
Though I'm not 100% certain, I think Sex Crimes is part of a series of films Wakamatsu made about deranged individuals that ended up becoming sex criminals. Either that or it's just a very recurring theme in his films. You pretty much get the same setup here, though with a slightly dull lead.
The performances didn't really appeal to me, the camera work felt a bit obligatory and there were some serious pacing issues. Maybe I'm getting a bit too used to these 60s Wakamatsu films, or maybe this is just a lesser film in his oeuvre. Time will tell I guess, as I still have a good 60 more to go. For now, I would say this is for completists only.
Japanese directors rarely fare well when they venture outside their home turf, the 80s and 90s weren't really Wakamatsu's best eras either. Just to say that expectations were pretty low when I started Singapore Sling. I wasn't really prepared for a film this bad though, it is no doubt one of the worst things I've seen from Wakamatsu up until this point.
Tatsuya is on a honeymoon in Australia. A couple of unfortunate encounters land him in jail, where he's imprisoned without a chance of ever getting out again. His wife tries her best to launch an appeal, but it's Tatsuya's inmates who are his best chance of escaping his current predicament.
The performances are terrible, the soundtrack is absolutely atrocious, the films looks dirt cheap and the action is bland (though it's still the best part of the film). I'm not quite sure what drove Wakamatsu to make this, it's just a poor mix of crime, thriller and action elements that doesn't even make sense as cheap shelf filler.