No Borders, No Limits: Nikkatsu Action Cinema


5.0 out of 5 stars Black Tight Killers and Yakuza Graveyards

At some time in the late 1950’s, Japanese film got cool. Really cool. The Western influences of cowboy flicks, bop jazz and big American cars imported during the Post-occupation era left a powerful mark, and movie makers discovered how to distill all of these foreign ingredients into their base elements, then mix them together with Japanese style to produce a unique genre known as the “borderless action” film. The term comes from the merging of East and West, creating a world with the best of both, filled with hardboiled hoodlums and beautiful but deadly dance hall girls.

Looking to re-jump their business, which had been put on hold during the War years, Nikkatsu studios was the cutting edge of this new style, pumping out hits and rising stars the likes of which had never been seen before. Starting with Sun Tribe flick Crazed Fruit, which introduced superstar Ishihara Yujio, Nikkatsu dug into the amoral world of Japan’s youth. Sex, drugs and jazz & roll. It wasn’t the lifestyle everyone was leading, but it was the one everyone wanted to be leading.

Mark Schilling’s “No Borders, No Limits” is a history lesson on the Nikkatsu action films. An often underappreciated genre, these films rarely held the West’s appreciation in the same way as the Samurai genre, probably due to their lack of “Japanese-ness” with nary a ninja nor geisha in sight. However, due largely to Tarantino bringing things full circle by producing Nikkatsu-influenced Kill Bill and the Grindhouse series, there has been a renewed and deserved interest in the Nikkatsu golden age.

Understanding the relative unfamiliarity, Schilling has put together a guided tour through these borderless territories, introducing you to the major players, the actors and directors whose energy and youth made these dynamic flicks popular. Essentially a series of articles rather than a continuous book, Schilling introduces such powerhouses as the Nikkatsu Diamond Line, the four young men who could bring a nation of women to their knees with a well-placed swagger or snarl of the lip, and Suzuki Seijun, whose sometimes bizarre style would cause him to be fired by his own study, but become legendary overseas.

On top of that, there are a few interviews, including the fabulous Shishido Joe (Youth of the Beast, Tokyo Drifter) and director Masuda Toshio (Girl Boss Revenge). It is great to read the personal stories and opinions of these film giants, and to get a glimpse backstage. Full color reproductions of the posters for the various films are and added treat as well, giving you a taste of the style and flair found in the Nikkatsu of this time.

If there is any problem with “No Borders, No Limits”, it is that DVD companies have not kept up. You are going to want to see pretty much every flick that gets showcased, but not all of them are readily available. Some of the famous ones, like Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter, will wet your appetite but leave you hungry for gems like “A Colt is my Passport” and “Slaughter Gun”. However with the current revival and recognition of Nikkatsu action flicks, these will be likely to be released soon.

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