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.

LA Weekly