Around the 1950's, the studio system of Japanese film started to show cracks. Not large cracks, but big enough that a few ambitious rebels could squeeze their fingers in, and start breaking molds and showing their own individual styles. Crazy psychedelic colors, hot warrior chicks with big floppy hats and big guns, rice-sniffing assassins...Japanese film got a whole lot more interesting.
Author Chris Desjardins describes these "outlaw masters" as "the directors coming out of the Japanese production lines of the late fifties, the sixties and the early seventies: genre filmmakers who made genre movies usually labeled as samurai, yakuza, horror, pink, etc, but who pushed the envelope beyond the usual conventions in some way, either in style or content. " These are the men and women who didn't mind working in the "b-films" because of the freedom it gave them to create their own vision and keep pushing boundaries of sex, violence, politics and style.
In much the same way as No Borders, No Limits: Nikkatsu Action Cinema, "Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film" springs from a series of film festivals and director retrospectives, in this case from The American Cinematheque in Los Angeles. Film programmer Dennis Bartok and author Chris Desjardins shared a passion for the edgy, hard-boiled cinema that came from Japan during these times, and the actors and directors who exemplified it. They put together the "Outlaw Masters" series starting in 1997, and have been bringing these fantastic films to a wider audience ever since.
This film festival gave them insight and access to these directors, many of whom were not even aware that their work was appreciated outside of Japan. Each section of this book contains a short biography and filmography, followed by an interview. There are fourteen featured in all, twelve directors and two actors. Some of these, like Fukusaku Kinji (Battle Royale, Battles Without Honor & Humanity), Sonny Chiba (Street Fighter Saga, Kill Bill), Suzuki Seijun (Underworld Beauty, Tokyo Drifter) and Okamoto Kihachi (The Sword of Doom). Some, like Kaji Meiko (Lady Snowblood) and Ichii Teruo (Horrors of Malformed Men) are a little more obscure except to hardcore fans. As well as these classic film-folk, two of Japan's "modern outlaws" are included as well, Miike Takashi (Ichi the Killer) and Kurosawa Kiyoshi (Cure).
All of them are fascinating, giving intelligent and informed interviews. Many of these interviews, in fact, are featured in video form as bonus features on some of these director's DVDs. I know I have seen a few of them, but it is a real treasure to have them all collected in book form.
It is also fantastic to live in the age of the DVD. If I had picked up "Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film" a few years ago, I probably would have been frustrated at the lack of access to all of these cool flicks I was reading about. Nowadays, however, almost all of them are only a search away. If you like Japanese film, you are seriously going to enjoy this book.