Branded to Noir

by Tony Nigro

Out on DVD today is Criterion’s Eclipse Series 17: Nikkatsu Noir, a set of five noir action flicks from the ’50s-’60s heyday of Nikkatsu, Japan’s baddest-ass studio.  Before going into a long period of roman porn productions, Nikkatsu movies claimed some of the beefier entries by directors like Toshio Masuda and Seijun Suzuki (including his magnum opus, Branded to Kill), and starred mugs the likes of Tetsuya Watari and cheeky Joe Shishido.  The results are punchy and raw yet stylish, crime stories with a bleak outlook that’s all noir and was enough to make “Nikkatsu” a descriptive adjective.

The titles in the new Eclipse set are jazzy, too: I Am Waiting, Rusty Knife, Cruel Gun Story, A Colt Is My Passport, and Take Aim at the Police Van — which alone qualifies as one of the best titles in the form of a command alongside Go to Hell Bastards!, Save the Green Planet!, and Hail the Conquering Hero.

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