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Japanese Outlaw Masters 

Thursday, Sep 8 2005
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One of the best things about the American Cinematheque’s Japanese Outlaw Masters series is that its concept has never become rigid or limiting. It has something in common with Manny Farber’s notion of “termite art,” emphasizing commercial filmmakers in disrespected genres who take advantage of their comparative anonymity in order to test the limits of genre boundaries. Two of Japan’s most able directors, Kihachi Okamoto (Sword of Doom) and Hideo Gosha (Hunter in the Dark), are represented in this 10th-anniversary edition of Outlaw Masters, both with strikingly accomplished pictures — Kill! (1968) and Goyokin (1969), respectively — that have the production polish of mainstream star vehicles (the mainstream star in both cases being the great Tatsuya Nakadai). But Goyokin, about a mercenary’s quest to atone for his role in a massacre of innocent bystanders during a robbery, also uses the wintry beauty of its staging as an objective correlative for its bleak view of the inevitable fate of men of violence. Kill!, meanwhile, has the high-desert-grunge look of spaghetti Westerns like Sergio Corbucci’s Django (1966); its frontier-town setting is so windy and dusty and decrepit that it’s almost comical, like a Will Elder parody of an unshaven-ronin movie. As an additional enticement, series co-founder, Cinematheque programmer (and ex–Flesheaters front man) Chris D. will be signing copies of his new book, Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film, at every screening. It’s certainly the coolest movie book on the market at the moment, and probably one of the coolest ever, and a big reason for that is D.’s exemplary self-effacement in the presence of directors and performers he admires. Old-master outlaws Kinji Fukasaku and Seijun Suzuki (both represented in the current series), Young Turks Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Takashi Miike, and iconic performers Sonny Chiba and Lady Snowblood’s Meiko Kaji all strut their stuff in D.’s lively pages. (American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theater; Fri.-Sun., Sept. 9-11. 323-466-FILM. www.americancinematheque.com).

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