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Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Vol.2 | Blu-ray Review

nikkatsu-diamond-guys-vol2Arrow Video continues with its Nikkatsu Diamond Guys collection, although its second assemblage of obscure offerings plucked from the annals of the esteemed studio doesn’t seem as inspired. Prominent figures from the first volume in this series figure here as well, such as another title from director Buichi Saito and two films starring Jo Shishido, but this zippy trio of zany star vehicles are about as forgettable as many of the B-grade genre films American studios churned out in the same decade. Broad comedy strangles the belabored criminal elements across all three of these features.

Buichi Saito reunites with studio star Akira Kobayashi for 1960’s Tokyo Mighty Guy, who headlined the equally breezy The Rambling Guitarist (included in Vol.1) and its sequel, The Rambler Rides Again. With a ludicrous opening credit sequence, the film feels something like Rock Hudson vehicles from the early 1950s, and features Kobayahsi as a dashing and handsome culinary wunderkind who returns from France having learned his trade and opens his own restaurant in Ginza. An accident involving the ex-Prime Minister crashing into the establishment affords him the chance to build an unprecedented alliance as he is tasked with helping his girlfriend, whose business is being taken over through nefarious means. Moments of unexpected weirdness (such as a young woman bemoaning a possible abortion as murder, with an older woman chiding, “if this were the case, I’d have too many felonies”) grants the film some subtext as far as social mores go.

Jo Shishido headlines Danger Pays (1962), a mid period title from Ko Nakahira, a director still most revered for his 1956 debut, Crazed Fruit. The most tonally consistent title from this trio concerns Shishido as Joe the Ace (aka Glass Hearted Joe), who learns a criminal group has stolen a bounty of watermarked paper to be used as counterfeit bills. Knowing they’ll work with the most notorious counterfeit artist in Japan, Joe seeks out the famed con artist, but finds he wasn’t the only mastermind of this idea. Warding off the advances of three other similarly minded criminals, all plots eventually converge for a mighty showdown.

Lastly, Shishido stars in what appears to be the collection’s rarest offering, Haruyasu Noguchi’s 1965 film Murder Unincorporated (the director is credited as a ‘new discovery for the West,’ a statement mostly true, though the last of his eight title filmography, 1967’s Monster from a Prehistoric Planet, is available as a subpar transfer). A criminal named Joe of Spades is assassinated in a port town, which creates a frantic tailspin among the four other criminal bosses. In order to take care of Joe before he takes care of them, they seek the assistance of an assassin agency, contracting ten zany killers to find Joe and take care of business. Unfortunately, the film plays like one long, monotonous gimmick, a comedy which exemplifies the broadest, zaniest sensibilities of slapstick.

Disc Review:

If the narrative quality of the films leaves something to be desired, Arrow Video’s beautiful HD digital transfers indicates otherwise. Once again, this Blu-ray collection (which includes Standard DVD presentations as well) is a limited copy series (3,000 units), its titles presented in 2.35:1. Picture and sound quality are decent and clear, although the demure visual presentations don’t quite make any of the titles stand out significantly.

Jasper Sharp:
Critic and author Jasper Sharp recorded these discussions in Autumn, 2015 exclusively for Arrow Video, examining the careers of Diamond Guys Jo Shishido and Akira Kobyashi. Each discussion, about ten minutes or so a piece, features clips from the actors films between Sharp deliberating their rise to fame and work with particular directors.

Final Thoughts:

Fans of Jo Shishido and Akira Kobayashi aside, this latest helping of Nikkatsu’s Diamond Guys exemplifies the problems associated with studio manacled movies and the toxicity of safety and formula as regards narrative or characterization.

Tokyo Mighty Guy
Film Review: ★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Danger Pays
Film Review: ★★½/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Murder Unincorporated
Film Review: ★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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