Last night we screened The Spiders Go Forward! (1967) as part of the currently running Unknown Japan series. A musical comedy that’s equal parts Beatles film and Monkees episode, the film is only one of around 13 that starred major Japanese Group Sounds act The Spiders (I’ve never been able to confirm the exact number of fiction films that they starred in). The Spiders weren’t the only Beatles-esque band making films at the time as they were joined on the big screen by the likes of The Tempters, The Tigers, and Japan’s two most renowned surf guitarists, Yuzo Kayama and Takeshi “Terry” Terauchi, who starred together in 1965’s The Young General’s Electric Guitar [Ereki no wakadaisho]. I could go on and on about the Group Sounds movement (I remain, as far as I know, the U.S.’s only pure G.S. DJ), but that will have to wait for a future post as we’re more concerned with movies at the moment.
This particular Spiders film was directed by Ko Nakahira, an active filmmaker from the mid-50s through mid-70s who is best known stateside for his 1956 debut Crazed Fruit (Kurutta kajitsu), which was released on DVD courtesy of theCriterion Collection back in 2005. This seemingly simple tale of sibling rivalry set against a lazy summer was one of Japan’s first entries into the realm of modern cinema with its previously untouched themes of youth rebellion and blossoming sexual desires. It falls into the category of taiyozoku or “sun tribe” films, a term used to characterize the restless youth of the 1950s. The film is a must-see for fans of Japanese cinema and the Criterion release features an excellent commentary track from the Japanese cinema scholar Donald Richie.
The only other domestic releases of Nakahira’s films are the first two installments in the “Pinky Violence” Rica [Rika] trilogy; imagine Lady Snowblood set in modern times and you’ll get the picture. It’s worth noting that all three Rica films were written by acclaimed filmmaker Kaneto Shindo, director of Onibaba and Kuroneko [Black Cat], two masterpieces of Japanese horror that will be screening at the International House on Saturday, March 10.
Nakahira averaged three films a year from his debut on, many of which involved themes of youth and an innovative approach to filmmaking that supposedly influenced the leaders of the French New Wave. A few titles that are worth tracking down include his adaptation of Yukio Mishima’s The Flesh is Weak (1957), his satire of the (then) modern Japanese housewife in Four Seasons of Love (1958), and his stylish, Nouvelle Vague-esque Monday Girl (1964). Towards the end of his career, Nakahira spent two years in Hong Kong making crime movies for the Shaw Brothers studio. Upon his return to Japan, he cranked out a long series of action cheapies up to his death in 1978.
Finally, for those who have yet to venture into the history of Japanese rock music, I highly recommend the English-language book JAPROCKSAMPLER by Julian Cope of The Teardrop Explodes-fame. The GS movement only gets a chapter, but its influence on the progression of Japanese rock is noticeable throughout the 70s and beyond.
WED February 22, 7:00 PM: Topo Gigio and the Missile War (1967), a puppet/live-action hybrid from director Kon Ichikawa (The Burmese Harp, Fires on the Plain). More info here.