Friday, June 18, 2010
BOOK REVIEW: No Borders, No Limits: Nikkatsu Action Cinema
No Borders, No Limits: Nikkatsu Action Cinema
Author: Mark Schilling
Publisher: FAB Press
Reviewed by Eric Evans
Hands up if you own Criterion's excellent "Nikkatsu Noir" box set. Well done! Now you owe it to yourself to pick up Mark Schilling's "No Borders, No Limits: Nikkatsu Action Cinema" as the supplement Criterion would have included had the release been through the main label and not the Eclipse imprint. Fab Press—prized publisher of such absolute necessities as Jasper Sharp's "Behind the Pink Curtain" and Robin Bougie's "Cinema Sewer" collections—has even sized the book just so; it will fit handsomely alongside the set on your DVD shelf.
For the few years in the late '50s through early '60s, Nikkatsu studios enabled its stable of directors and stars to do something weird and great and memorable: They made films which were distinctly of their time yet timeless, movies that brazenly projected their Japanese origins yet transcended such real-world limitations as genre and border. "No Borders, No Limits" functions as a highly readable yet appropriately scholarly gazetteer to these films, a combination of cultural overview, film history, and filmmaker guide.
It's true: As a big fan of Nikkatsu's, from the Stray Cat Rock series to "Red Quay" to anything with Joe Shishido, I am predisposed to enjoy a book that examines those films and filmmakers. But anyone with an interest in Japanese film should be curious about this particular period in J-film history. Japan was just coming into it's own after the post-war rebuilding years, TV was about to supplant cinema as the primary entertainment vehicle, and films were still shot in black and white based on budget. Nikkatsu's output during this period was fairly astonishing, and Schilling breaks it down film by film, key actor by key director. The book is invaluable as a tool to better understand how these films came to be made.
"No Borders, No Limits" also features some side-splittingly funny and insightful stuff. There's a candid gem of an interview with Shishido in which the actor is as charmingly blunt as any of his characters, sharing anecdotes about, among other things, a blind-drunk Toshiro Mifune shooting dogs by moonlight. I learned that leading man Hideaki Nitani was given the unfortunate nickname of 'Dump Guy', "for his supposed dump-truck-like power." There's more, including enough production stills and other photos to warrant the purchase on purely visual grounds. The book is a compelling read, and had me grabbing DVDs off the shelf and scrambling to find copies of films I didn't have. Schilling's enthusiasm for the material is infectious, yet never crosses over into fanboy adoration. He brings the levelheaded critical tone of his reviews to the book, and the result is an essential addition to your J-film library.
Mark Schilling is known to J-film aficionados as first among equals of the film reviewers at the best of the English-language Japanese news outlets, The Japan Times [ http://www.japantimes.co.jp/entertainment/film.html ]. His reviews can also be found on his homepage [ http://japanesemovies.homestead.com/ ], and his books can be purchased from most any reputable online or brick-and-mortar bookshop.