Nikkatsu Diamond Guys: Vol 2 Blu-ray Review: The Sillier Side of Japan

Three movies from the 1960s show the Japanese made more than just deeply felt dramas and samurai flicks.
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The Nikkatsu Corporation was formed in 1912 when several smaller production companies and theatre chains consolidated.  They had some success in those years, but struggled in the early post war era.  By the 1950s, they hit their stride, producing hundreds of movies in every conceivable genre that drew in the youth crowd by the truckload weekend after weekend.  Arrow Video has been mining the Nikkatsu vaults during this “Golden Era” for a number of excellent video releases.

Much like the Hollywood system of this era, Nikkatsu began contracting its directors and stars locking them into multi-film deals which created something of a stock company for the studio.  Two of their biggest stars (or Diamond Guys if you will), Akira Kobayashi and Jo Shishido, headline the three films featured here:  Tokyo Mighty Guy, Danger Pays, and Murder Unincorporated.

Tokyo Mighty Guys features Kobayashi as Jiro a chef who has just returned from Paris to open a restaurant in Tokyo.  But his charm, good looks, and overall kindness means he immediately finds the affections of all the pretty girls and the ire of some local gangsters.  Placing himself in the position of local do-gooder, he is called upon to help everyone in the community.  After a slight run-in with a former Prime Minister, the two work together to help the community and rid it of the Yakuza.  

The tone is very light and playful.  It feels like any number of those old Doris Day movies (if Doris Day movies involved strippers, prostitutes, and the occasional abortion) mixed with a bit of something like Casino Royale (the 1967 spy spoof not the more recent Daniel Craig Bond reboot) or any movie starring Elvis Presley.  It is my favorite of the three films in this package as it actually has a story, contains at least a little bit of a dramatic arc, and it's got a few musical numbers. And this type of film really needs musical numbers.

Danger Pays is my least favorite of the three.  Jo Shishido plays Joe the Ace, a low-level criminal who hatches a plan to kidnap a famous counterfeiter in order to broker with a local gang who recently stole a whole bunch of watermarked paper (which is used to print Yen on).  Unfortunately, two other gangsters have a similar idea and for the rest of the movie the three of them hatch increasingly wacky schemes to best each other and score the cash.  It's a mix-match of genres slipping from violent crime film to madcap caper movie to over-the-top slapstick and back again.  Tonally it's all over the place, which is probably what killed it for me.  

Murder Unincorporated is the silliest of the three films as it never attempts to be anything more than a joke factory.  A mysterious hit man is murdering the bosses of the crime syndicate known as the Five Rays Club.  The Rays hire a group of assassins (via the assassin agency where each potential killer is given a series of ridiculous tests).  The winning assassins, each with their own signature style of killing - one hides knives in his shoes, another carries a book of poetry which shoots to kill when turned to a certain page, etc - set about the city looking for Joe of Spades.  There they get involved in an increasingly silly group of exploits.  The jokes come quickly and relentlessly so that even though most of them feel dated and don’t really land any more, there are enough genuine laughs to keep it rolling along for its 90-minute run time.  If you’ve seen It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, then you have a pretty good idea of what you are getting into here.

Video quality on all three releases is good.  HD transfers were done from original elements.  The definition is a little soft and there are some minor processing artifacts present, but overall it's a very decent quality.  Danger Pays has some very minor print damage but other than that the transfers are clean.  You aren’t going to impress anybody with the picture quality but it's more than serviceable.  Likewise, the audio is decent.  The dialogue is easily heard (though not understood unless you speak Japanese).  The soundtrack is a bit compressed but mostly ok.  

Extras are a bit sparse but includes trailers and stills for all three films, two short features on Akira Kobayashi and Jo Shishido plus the usual essays in the booklet.

Nikkatsu Diamond Guys: Vol. 2 is a nice set from Arrow featuring the sillier side of Japanese cinema in the 1960s.  It's a great way to dive into a side of Japanese film history that most Westerners don’t know about. 

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