As mentioned before, things have been a little chaotic for the staff at Showa OK! over the past couple of months, so please excuse our lack of updates to the site. We hope you've been following our posts on Twitter and Facebook and enjoying the content we've been sharing there. However, as we prepare for our move east, we'd like to provide you with a little something in the meantime to whet your surely insatiable appetite for all things Shōwa.
A few months ago we covered director Nobuhiko Ōbayashi's spectacularly odd film House (ハウス, Hausu), which, at the time, was touring theaters across the country. It has since been announced that the film will be released in October by The Criterion Collection on both Blu-Ray and DVD. In our post we had mentioned that Ōbayashi had honed his skills producing television commercials in the 70s, perhaps the most memorable of which was a campaign for men's care line Mandom featuring fearless action star Charles Bronson.
First aired in 1970, the ads showed Bronson performing a host of "manly" tasks, set to the music of Jerry Wallace's single of the same year, "The Lovers Of The World", which was released only in Japan — apparently as a commercial tie-in — under the title "Otoko No Sekai" (男の世界).
Below is a collection of those curious commercials, originally found via the website C.H.U.D. and graciously posted to YouTube by user rinrinsky. So sit back, kick off your boots, douse yourself in cologne and enjoy the rustic world of Mandom.
Thanks for bearing with us during the past (bare) month or so. Things have been a little hectic here at Showa OK!, but following our move to Tokyo the site will undergo a few format changes. In the meantime we'll be posting music, videos, images and links via Twitter and Facebook, so be sure to follow us there if you haven't done so already.
We're definitely looking forward to the second half of 2010 and hope you enjoy what we have in store for you! Until then, my friends, stay Shōwa...
Today is Shōwa Day (昭和の日), a Japanese public holiday honoring the birthday of the Shōwa emperor, Hirohito.
After his death in 1989, the emperor's birthday was no longer observed as it had been throughout his 62-year reign, but instead labeled Greenery Day (みどりの日), a celebration of nature meant to hint at the emperor's fondness of plants.
In 2005 legislation was passed to officially declare April 29th "Shōwa Day", while Greenery Day was subsequently moved to May 4th, adding to the Golden Week vacation.
Although the measure was overwhelming popular in parliament, the holiday is seen as controversial by some who feel it merely glorifies the years of Japanese aggression in the 1930s and 40s. Still, others claim that it should be seen as a time to reflect on all things — good, bad and otherwise — which shaped the face of Japan during the long years of 1926 and 1989.
As we here in the Northern Hemisphere prepare for the approaching sunny summer months (well, some of us, at least; it hailed earlier today in San Francisco), I truly believe that nothing channels the spirit of the season quite like — brace yourself — a teen-themed suspense thriller! Remember I Know What You Did Last Summer? Yeah, I never watched it either. But I'm guessing the movie I'm about to describe isn't nearly as gory, nor are its teenage characters played by 20-somethings.
The 1982 film Natsu No Himitsu (夏の秘密, "Summer Secret"), adapted from prolific mystery writer Kyūzō Kobayashi's (小林久三) novel of the same name, features members of short-lived pop outfit Pansy (パンジー). Teenage idols Chiemi Manabe (真鍋ちえみ), Sawako Kitahara (北原佐和子) and Hisako Mitsui (三井比佐子) star as three friends on their high school's swim team. Suddenly one day, one of the group vanishes suspiciously, leaving the other two to solve the mystery of her disappearance.
In a commercial attempt to promote the girls' individual efforts, Shochiku Films produced a promotional video preceding the film's release (I guess?) entitled "Pansy Confidence". It featured each members' single of the day spliced over a bizarre montage of shots of the girls doing cute things like being chased down the street by a German shepherd, or harassing a man in a gorilla suit.
Only in the last 30 some-odd seconds do we actually catch a glimpse of Natsu No Himitsu, which, comparatively speaking, looks pretty deep. I mean come on, it can't be too soft if "Beat" Takeshi Kitano (北野武) is credited with a cameo (as a ramen vendor, no less).
With respect to the film's music, director Hiromichi Kawakami (川上裕通) couldn't have chosen a better man for the job. Y.M.O.'s Haruomi Hosono (細野晴臣) (get used to seeing these guys' names a lot on this site) completed the accompanying score in addition to writing music for the song "Night Train Bishōjo" (ナイトレイン・美少女, "Night Train Beauty"), sung by Pansy's Chiemi Manabe during the film's closing credits.
Manabe — only 17 at the time — was fortunate enough to work with Hosono on two of her three singles released the same year, enlisting the expertise of songwriter and producer Nobuyuki Shimizu (清水信之) for the other. The songs she recorded were all featured on a full-length album released a month before Natsu No Himitsu's opening, but Manabe's musical career seems to have ended there. However, her debut single "Nerawareta Shōjo" (ねらわれた少女, something like "Targeted Girl"), both written and produced by Hosono, stands out in my mind as one of the funkiest techno-pop (テクノ歌謡, techno-kayō) tracks I know.
Natsu No Himitsu was eventually made into a weekday daytime T.V. drama, running from June to October of 2009. Unfortunately, having not seen the movie I'm unable to compare the depth of the original film to that of the show (which I haven't seen either). But simply based on the inclusion of both Haruomi Hosono and Takeshi Kitano in one film, regardless of how large or small their roles, I'm willing to bet the original packs more punch than the remake. Although that usually goes without saying, right?
Fans of rare and Japanese jazz are surely familiar with DJ/producer Tatsuo Sunaga's supremely cool Jazz Allnighters compilation series (須永辰緒の夜ジャズ, Sunaga Tatsuo No Yoru Jazz). But in his latest effort All The Young Dudes, Sunaga has chosen to focus strictly on the music of younger, modern Japanese talent — a clear break from the eclectic, international character of the original Jazz Allnighters titles. Slated in Japan for an April 28th release, this series spinoff features contemporary artists such as Ego-Wrappin' and Soil & "Pimp" Sessions, as well as Sunaga's own group Sunaga T Experience.
However, seeing as this is a Shōwa-focused blog, we'd like to share a handful of our favorite recordings taken from previous entries in the series.
Sunaga's thoughtful selections create a vivid image of the smoky, dimly-lit jazz cafes (ジャズ喫茶, jazz kissa) one might hope to find scattered throughout the back alleys of Japan's bustling urban centers. From sexy to swinging, halcyon to heartbroken, the sounds contained on each disc are no doubt representative of the spirit and tenor of just such an establishment — a place where patrons might grab a drink, snap a finger or two and dance the night away.
Described by one reviewer as "an episode of Scooby Doo as directed by Dario Argento", House (ハウス, Hausu) is the first feature film from prolific director and screenwriter Nobuhiko Ōbayashi (大林宣彦). During the 60s, Ōbayashi spent his years following university producing short experimental films, while the next decade saw him directing commercials for television. He was able to use his expertise in these two seemingly divergent fields to produce a wholly engrossing, terrifyingly comic debut in this phantasmagorical coming-of-age nightmare.
According to Ōbayashi, production giant Toho Films was "tired of losing money on completely comprehensible films" and encouraged the director to "produce his own completely incomprehensible script". The result: a plethora of poltergeist phenomena and murderous mayhem; a film "too absurd to be genuinely terrifying, yet too nightmarish to be merely comic".
Fortunately, we here in San Francisco have the opportunity to experience the gut-busting, mind-blowing macabre of House on the big screen during an upcoming showing at the Castro Theater. North American distributor Janus Films is presenting the film in theaters across the country in preparation for its eventual DVD release, possibly slated for later this year. Additional show times and dates can be found by visiting the film's site.
House plays at the Castro Theater on Saturday, April 17th at 7:30 and 9:45p. For more information, click here.
If you haven't already, be sure to check out the exciting listings for Mad, Bad... & Dangerous To Know, a currently ongoing film series at the Japan Society of New York showcasing femme fatales of the 60s and 70s. The three-week, three-part event focuses on "three untamed beauties": actresses Ayako Wakao (若尾文子), Meiko Kaji (梶芽衣子) and Mariko Okada (岡田茉莉子).
Japan Society film programmer Samuel Jamier notes, "Both Wakao and Okada were muses and inspiration for two major film directors, Yasuzo Masumura (増村保造) and Kijū (Yoshishige) Yoshida (吉田喜重), respectively, while Kaji navigated between filmmakers, a wild card of Japanese cinema at the time. Put together, their films delineate what one could call an aesthetic of 'convulsive beauty.'"
The selections' themes vary from violent to erotic and anywhere in between. However, according to the series' press release, it's about more than just fetishizing skin flicks. Rather, "the films of Mad, Bad… & Dangerous to Know address concerns of the Japanese New Wave, post-war discontent, and the influence of international film genres such as the westerns and film noir."
"On one level [the series] reflects the status of the 'movie star' during the Golden Age of Japanese cinema at a time when cross-cultural traffic truly emerged. On a much deeper level, it brings to light new views of gender politics in Japan and examines the interconnections between female agency, gender ideologies, and Japanese models of womanhood."
Mad, Bad... & Dangerous To Know runs through April 18th at the Japan Society of New York. For more information, visit their website.