Film review – 縄張はもらった / Retaliation (Yasuharu Hasebe, 1968)

Arrow’s release of Yasuharu Hasebe’s 1968 yakuza film ‘Retaliation’ is well with picking up alongside another release from the same director, ‘Massacre Gun‘ (which I have previously written about). I will admit that these are films in a genre for which my interest far outweighs my actual experience in, but as usual the Arrow discs serve not only as an excellent way to view the films but also to immerse yourself in the history of the company and background to the films themselves. But more on that later.

The film is a tale of gang warfare. Jiro Sagae (Akira Kobayashi) returns to the streets after eight years in prison to find that much of his former life has moved on – his gang is all but completely disbanded and the city he knows and loves is now in the midst of a land dispute over farmland, with two gangs using heavy-handed methods to acquire land off farmers to sell on at a profit to a company that wants to build a new factory there. Jiro approaches the leader of the Hasama family to offer his assistance in settling the dispute and is given two promises: he can complete the task his own way and he will get control over the area once the task is complete. Jo Shishido also stars as Hino, a former gang rival waiting to kill Jiro after his escape from prison, and there is an early performance by Meiko Kaji (as Masako Ota) as the love interest of Jiro, years before her starring roles in Lady Snowblood and the Stray Cat Rock series.

The plot does, at times, feel overly complex. This is perhaps due to the need to introduce characters of interest in each of the gangs, plus a lead character, plus a backstory between two of the Nikkatsu Diamond leading men and a love interest. There’s also an unexpected homosexuality twist near the end, which was undoubtedly controversial at the time. At its heart, however, is a simple turf war story that is the bread and butter of any mafia or yakuza film.

Nikkatsu may have later become known for their sexploitation films, with Yasuharu Hasebe even turning his hand to several “pink” films, but at the time they specialised in yakuza action films. Hasebe’s directorial technique is quite distinctive. The content is, invariably extremely violent (for the time, at least). He was a specialist in violence, and threw in elements of S&M briefly and a sexual assault that should have warned Nikkatsu of what to expect when they eventually gave him complete freedom to direct a number of sexploitation films in the late 1970s.

Another technique is to use foreground blocking to affect the composition of the shots. This is particularly used in fight scenes and in quiet meetings between gang members to give a sense of the action being the kind of thing you usually find behind closed doors, almost as if the cameraman has hidden away and is filming the characters, but if they realised then he’d be in danger. It’s a clever way to raise the intensity of the film.

As previously touched on, there are some essential bonus features on both this disc and that of ‘Massacre Gun’ that are well worth discovering. The half-hour interviews with film historian Tony Rayns are fantastic insights into the company and serve as a video essay to establish the background to the company at the time the films were released and also a means to discover more about the director Hasebe and one of the stars Jo Shishido. Additionally, Jo Shishido is also interviewed on each disc, providing an unfiltered take on the filmmaking process and his memories and experiences about the studio. In the booklets, Japanese film expert Jasper Sharp provides a long essay on the film and the studio that is also well worth reading.

As someone who has never had any kind of film or media training and with no formal qualifications behind me, items like these serve time and time again as very effective mini film study courses. I’m able to watch a film in its best possible picture and sound quality, learn more about it from experts, immerse myself into the history of the company behind it and then check out more films from the era if I wish to. It’s easy to take this kind of situation for granted, but 20 years ago it simply wasn’t possible without finding a rare VHS copy and doing significant research at libraries or enrolling on a course. Indeed, I would probably never have even heard of the film let alone giving it a chance by watching it.

A must have for budding Japanese film fans and one that you need to act fast on since only 3000 copies were released.


Film review – Mindhorn (Sean Foley, 2017)

Julian Barrett and Simon Farnaby have come together to create a brilliantly British comedy in Mindhorn, with the pair co-writing and co-starring in a story about a washed up actor who can’t let go of his former glories.

Barrett takes the role of Richard Thorncroft, who is better known as the titular TV detective Mindhorn. Twenty-five years after his show was axed, disgraced Thorncroft is desperately in need of a fresh angle to kick start his career. The love of his life and former co-star Patricia Deville (Essie Davis) has now married Clive Parnevik (Farnaby), who was previously a stunt double for Mindhorn. When a police investigation into a probable murderer called Paul Melly (Russell Tovey) takes a bizarre turn, Thorncroft is brought on board to help talk to the man and discover the real truth.

The jokes come thick and fast, though many could be easily missed for those not tuned into this style of comedy. Plenty of the beats come from Alan Partridge and it does feel like a variation on the script for Alpha Papa. This isn’t a bad thing at all. Incidentally, Steve Coogan appears as a rival and former co-Star of Thorncroft named Pete Eastman.

The story is quirky, but comedies live and die on the amount of laughs they deliver. In this sense, Mindhorn soars. From the nuanced references to 1980s British television, to cringeworthy moments largely shared between Barrett and Farnaby, it is hilarious from start to finish.

Foreign markets are yet to experience the brilliance of the film. If I’m honest, I’m not sure how it will land. The humour is distinctly British, whatever that means. Mind you, it’s more accessible than the likes of Monty Python and The Mighty Boosh, which all enjoyed global audiences, so hopefully I am wrong on that front.

This isn’t the kind of film that rises to the top of the charts on its first week of release. Instead, I’m predicting it will follow the path of Anchorman and Hot Rod to become a comedy sleeper hit that people will talk about in a few years’ time.

Do yourself a favour and get in on the act now. You can’t handcuff the wind.

Film review – Le Fille Inconnue / The Unknown Girl (Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, 2016)

It may have an interesting premise, but a dislikeable lead and a plot that lacks the sort of understated excitement that has won the Dardenne Brothers two Palme d’Or awards make The Unknown Girl a difficult watch.

Adèle Haenel stars as Dr Jenny Davin, a promising young doctor excelling at her job as a GP. However, one night she chooses to ignore a call at her practice’s door, assuming it is a late caller with some minor ailment. However, when she later finds out that it was a young girl in desperate need of help who shortly after was seemingly murdered, she becomes obsessed with finding out the truth behind the incident to atone for her mistake.

Adèle Haenel

I desperately wanted to like this film. I like the director duo and have been impressed by their previous output, but there was so little to work with on this one. 

Haenel fails to deliver any depth to a role that is a doozy for someone wanting to prove themselves to the world. Perhaps the fact she has already done this with an extraordinary body of work is one of the reasons she seems to lack passion in her delivery.

As a follow-up to the Oscar-nominated ‘Two Days, One Night‘, this can only be seen as a disappointment for the Dardenne Brothers.

A Most Violent Year (J. C. Chandor, 2014)

J. C. Chandor’s crime drama A Most Violent Year is a well produced piece of cinema that tells an interesting story in a solid manner. However, after sitting through over two hours of its mid-paced plot development, it failed to wow me.

The film stars Oscar Isaac as Abel Morales, the hard-working owner of Standard Oil, and Jessica Chastain as Abel’s wife Anna, with supporting roles from Alessandro Nivola, David Oyelowo, Albert Brooks, Elyes Gabel and Catalina Sandino Moreno. It covers a short but crucial period in Abel’s career as he battles against police and corruption to pull of a deal that will see his small company become a big player in 1981 New York’s oil and gas buying and selling industry.

Isaac looks uncannily like a young Al Pacino in his lead performance, and that may accidentally be to the film’s detriment. Essentially, what we aren’t going to get from this quite understated film is a shot of Isaac gunning down thugs and gangsters from a pile of bank notes and drugs, although the tone of the film could easily have ramped up to this had they wanted to go there. It’s a serious story that didn’t need to fall into some over-the-top cliches, and the film is better for it.

That said, when you’re watching such a long film you’d want slightly more to the plot than a seemingly nice but hard-working guy trying to pull off a financial transaction by going around and asking a few people nicely if they could lend him the money. It is executed very well, but the final product is a little underwhelming.

A Most Violent Year is out at cinemas now.

Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, 2014)

“The closer you look, the darker it gets” declares the poster for Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut Nightcrawler. And so it was. As I sat in the cinema wondering how far Jake Gyllenhaal’s character would take it, the answer tended to be “Oh, that far.”

The film is a bildungsroman tale of Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal), a young man driven by money and success, and willing to go to any lengths to achieve it. He gets hooked on the idea of freelance crime journalism, specifically filming violent crimes and accidents with a personal camcorder, with the plan to sell them on to local news station KWLA manager Nina (Rene Russo). However, as his business grows and the stakes are raised, he goes to great lengths to ensure he rises to the top of the pile and stays there, no matter what the consequences are.


Gyllenhaal is a wonder to watch in a film like this. He has chosen his films wisely over the years and has a body of work he can already be very proud of, including Donnie Darko, Jarhead, Brokeback Mountain, Zodiac and Source Code. This is definitely amongst his best overall, and I’d go as far as say that Lou is his most defined character yet. He plays sinister very well and clearly knows how to make his audiences tick. At times it’s a real joy to watch, at times it made me want to cover my eyes; both responses indicative that I was hooked.

The plot works as a game of oneupmanship unto itself, and this operates across the board. The characters become fuller and more dislikable as the time progresses, the gore gets gorier, the action gets more explosive and by the final act the whole movie had me whipped up into a frenzy of disbelief. Well played Gilroy.


The supporting cast includes a top-form Bill Paxton (whoopee-fuckin’-do) as a rival video journalist, and a further emerging Riz Ahmed, who Brits may remember from the excellent Four Lions. Ahmed is one of my favourite British actors and it was a nice surprise to see him with such a big role in an American blockbuster.

As the finale approached, I found myself getting increasingly engrossed by Lou’s actions. His morals become so loose by the end that there is nothing remaining. His actions are fuelled by a desire to earn money, which is only possible because the viewers of KWLA are hungry to see the gruesome truth of their city. It’s an intelligent method of storytelling that we are enticed in the same manner into Lou’s own story, and by the end I found myself questioning my own morals, sitting on the edge of my seat, watching in excited disbelief.

This is an excellent film and it’s well worth seeking out whilst it’s still in cinemas. Check it out!

Nightcrawler is in cinemas worldwide now.