Innovative director Seijun Suzuki created a string of dazzling films for the Nikkatsu Studio in Japan stretching from 1963's Youth of the Beast to 1967's Branded to Kill. The breathtaking but sometimes bewildering artistry of those films played to increasingly empty theaters and so befuddled the head of the studio that Suzuki was finally fired and didn't work again for a decade. Suzuki's story has become well known and many of his films have now been restored, screened at festivals and released on DVD.
According to film critic Mark Schilling, though, Suzuki was not the only innovative director working within the Nikkatsu Studio system in the 1960s. Based on the tantalizing evidence presented in the three rarely-seen films screened in the Nikkatsu Action Cinema Retrospective at Fantastic Fest, Schilling has a strong case. A Colt is My Passport is a vivid hitman drama that anticipates Branded to Kill, while The Warped Ones is a completely unhinged exercise that feels like 75 minutes of free jazz improvisation and Velvet Hustler masterfully deconstructs a routine crime story with color and finesse.
Schilling appeared in person to introduce the films and answered questions after each screening. Based in Tokyo since 1975, he has been reviewing films for The Japan Times since 1989 and currently also serves as Japan correspondent for Variety. He latest book is No Borders, No Limits: Nikkatsu Action Cinema, just published by Fab Press. The book was originally written to accompany a 16-film retrospective he curated for the Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy, in 2005, and has now been expanded and slightly revised. In the introduction, Schilling explains that his aim is "not to challenge the critical consensus -- Suzuki is a master, after all -- but to broaden the discussion." Schilling provides a history of the Nikkatsu Studio and puts Suzuki's accomplishments, and those of his peers, into perspective. The book is well-written, lavishly illustrated and highly recommended.