Challenge of the Lady Ninja (1982)

Challenge_Of_The_Lady_NinjaDirector: Lee Tso-Nam
Starring: Elsa Yeung, Chen Kuan-Tai, Peng Kong, Kam Yin-Fei

Challenge of the Lady Ninja is a difficult film to describe because it refuses to explain itself. Not that any film should have to spoon feed an audience, but in this instance it almost comes across as if they were making the story up as they were going along. But let’s see if I can put the pieces together. Firstly, it is a contemporary film, meaning it appears to be set in the year that is was made – being 1982. I know this because the villains drive around in modern motor cars. Next point, Japan has invaded China, and now controls Shanghai. However there is an underground resistance of freedom fighters who are rebelling against the Japanese oppressors. So Chinese / Japanese animosity is at an all time high.

As the movie opens in Shanghai, we meet the villain of the piece, Lee Tung. We know he is the villain, because Darth Vader’s theme from Star Wars plays when we see him first. Lee Tung lives in a luxurious villa, with high walls and four specialist bodyguards – skilled at various martial arts.

Lee Tung is a Chinese business man but is reviled because he works hand in hand with the Japanese, He is considered a traitor to his people. His uncle, and prospective father-in-law calls on Lee Tung and begs him to change his ways. Lee Tung refuses. Uncle has no option but to try and kill Lee Tung. But before he can strike, he is cut down by the body guards.

The movie changes location to Japan, and we are introduced to Yu Chow Wei. She is at ninja school, and the time has come for her to prove she is worthy of being a ninja by passing a series of tests. Wearing a fire-engine red ninja costume, during the test she is attacked by the other ninja students as she tries to make it through a forest to a temple where she must retrieve a medallion. It is during this test, we are introduced to Miss Wu’s special ninja power – which I have got to say is kinda goofy! Surrounded by a cadre of ninja men holding swords, with a Linda Carter Wonder Woman twirl, she magically appears as a smokin’ hot bikini babe. The ninja men go all slack jawed and goggle-eyed. They drop their weapons and rush forward to… well, I guess some kind of ninja gang-bang. Thankfully before the movie gets all rapey, it is revealed that the smokin’ hot babe shtick is all an illusion planted in their minds. She is standing to the side, still dressed in her ninja costume. She throws a smoke bomb at the ninjas who are groping thin air. Then she continues her quest.

Her last challenge is against the number one pupil at the ninja school. He is guarding the medallion. If she gets past him, she will become the first lady ninja. She does succeed by outwitting him. However, he thinks she is unworthy of being a ninja for two reasons. Firstly, because she is a woman. And secondly, because – shock horror – she is Chinese!

At graduation, Miss Yu is informed of her father’s death. If you haven’t worked it out, she is the first cousin of Lee Tung (and his fiance). It was her father that was killed in the opening scene. So now equipped with freshly minted ninja skills, she heads back to Shanghai for her father’s funeral, and naturally to avenge him – because she is a ninja!

Upon arrival back home, Miss Yu finds things are worse than she though in Shanghai. She decides to train three other women in the art of ninja-ism so they can take down Lee Tung and his Japanese lackeys. This provides the opportunity for a training montage as the ladies get into shape – and it must be said, it contains a studied amount of leering, upskirt, crotch-shot photography. I always like to use the words upskirt, crotch-shot where possible in my film reviews because it helps the blog attract more traffic. While I am at it, I would just like to add naked, nude and porn. They have little to do with the movie, but once again will increase the amount of hits this post receives. But the film does have boobies though, so there’s that. But where was I? Actually I think I’ve finished. So let’s wrap this up.

So the rebels, with the assistance of four lady ninjas take on Lee Tung and his bodyguards. Ninja mayhem ensues – swordfights, smokebombs and er, mud wrestling! Despite any veneer of being a cheesy sleazy ninja flick, Challenge of the Lady Ninja actually turns out to be a cheesy sleazy spy flick, complete with a twist ending (which I have to admit I did not see coming).

Needless to say, this film is not for everyone. But let’s face it, the name Challenge of the Lady Ninja tells the viewer everything they need to know. Ninjas. Ladies. And it’s relative obscurity means you’re not going to accidentally pick this film up. You’d have to seek this one out, and if you’re the type to seek out a cheap-jack Hong Kong film called Challenge of the Lady Ninja, then you know what your in for before you even start watching it. Therefore my thumbs up or thumbs down opinion is pointless really. But let’s just say the overall goofiness of the film won me over in a guilty pleasure kind of way.

For a more in-depth review with screencaps, head over to TarsTarkas.net

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Challenge of the Lady Ninja (1982)

The Bodyguard (1973 / 1976)

bodyguard_1976_poster_01Country: Japan
Starring: Sonny Chiba, Etsuko Shihomi, Aaron Banks, Judy Lee, Bill Louie
Director: Tatsuichi Takamori (1973)
Director: Simon Nuchtern (1976)
Cinematographer: Joel Shapiro
Music: Maurice Sarli
Producer: Susumu Yoshikawa (1973)
Producer: Terry Levene (1976)
AKA: Chiba The Bodyguard, Viva Chiba
Original Title: Karate Kiba

Sometimes in this day and age it is easy to forget how videotapes, DVD and Blu-ray have changed the way we watch movies, especially coupled with the search and buying options available through the internet. As a young boy growing up in rural Australia, I had no inkling of the films of Sonny Chiba. The were certainly not given a drive-in release in my home town, and were never going to turn up on commercial television at that time.

The interesting thing here, is that if Chiba had been available to me, it most likely would not be in the format I am used to today. Now this is not intended as a product endorsement — more to illustrate the way I am used to seeing Chiba film — down under there is a company called Madman, that has an off-shoot called Eastern Eye which specialises in Asian cinema. There films are gorgeously presented in widescreen and they often plum for the original language audio, with English subtitles for their releases. There are exceptions, such as the Godzilla films where they give you the option of subs or dub. But generally they serve up pretty authentic releases, served up the way the films were originally meant to be seen. Some of their Chiba releases have included Bullet Train, Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment, The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge and two of the Yakuza Deka films. All these films look great; are hip and funky in a ’70s kind of way, and suggested a certain style in a Chiba movie — that being tough crime films with a serve of high impact martial arts.

Bodyguard8Of course there is more to the story of Chiba, and these films only whetted my appetite for more of Chiba’s unique kind of thrills. Next I tracked down a film called Satomi Hakken Den (Legend of the Eight Samurai) directed by the chameleon Kinji Fukasaku. As much as I enjoyed Satomi Hakken Den – especially the giant Muppet centipede – what intrigued me more on the disk were the trailers for other Chiba features. One of these features was G.I. Samurai and the trailer suggests it is the story of a band of modern combat soldiers, led by Chiba, who slip through a crack in time and land in the middle of a turf war between two warring clans in feudal times. My jaw dropped, and I audibly exclaimed “Hell, yeah!” This is a film I need in my life.

Next, independently, Keith at Teleport City reviewed Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope. Once again, that little voice in my head shouted “Hell, yeah — this is a film that I need in my life.” And at that point, I sadly realised I knew nothing about Chiba, and I had to dig deeper. Those pristine, widescreen prints were going to be a thing of the past. All I knew was my viewing was going to consist of murky second generation dupes, and it was going to get bloody. First stop…The Bodyguard (well almost!)

Bodyguard7Before I started watching The Bodyguard there was a not-so-subtle hint that my world of Chiba was going to change. Firstly I went to ‘special features’ on the disk and there was a teaser for Street Fighter’s Last Revenge. As I alluded to earlier, Street Fighter’s Last Revenge was a film that I had already seen on an Eastern Eye disk. I thought that it was a great little action film with an impossibly funky score. But I chose to watch the teaser, and the first thing that struck me was that it was a dub (rather than subbed, as I know the film). The smooth, modulated dialogue was no longer there. Instead Chiba was angry and shouting “Don’t anybody move or I’ll rip this motherf*cker’s head off!” I knew Terry, The Streetfighter as a tough, man-of-action, but here, he was presented as one crazy, wild-eyed, bad-ass motherf*cker. This was a man who makes Maurizio Merli, Steven Segal and Michael Dudikoff or anyone who specialised in ‘revenge flicks’ look like boy scouts.

Next I moved on to The Bodyguard and it appears to be a film released in Japan in 1973, and then reissued in America in 1976 with some extra footage and atrocious dubbing. But first things first. I know it’s no longer cool to like Quentin Tarrantino any more. I know his films are a bunch of stolen moments from other films. But I like his films – I thought Inglourious Basterds was brilliant – and I must admit it still gives me a thrill when I discover the source of another of his in-jokes. The Bodyguard provides a clue to a moment in Pulp Fiction, when Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) explains to Tim Roth, that his is the wallet that says ‘Bad Mother F*cker’. But now I see that maybe Jules wasn’t the aforementioned ‘Bad Mother F*cker’, but Sonny Chiba is. How so? The speech that Jules says to scare his intended victims, Ezekiel 17:25, is presented in the opening credits of The Bodyguard, however where Jules quotes it correctly, The Bodyguard has the cheek to modify the words.

The path of the righteous man and defender is beset on all sides by the iniquity of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper, and the father of lost children. And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious anger, who poison and destroy my brothers; and they shall know that I am Chiba the Bodyguard when I shall lay my vengeance upon them!

So Jules’ speech in Pulp Fiction is a homage to the Baddest Mother F*cker of them all — Sonny Chiba! Can ya dig it!

BodyguardTCThe film opens in New York, with a scene that could be ripped off from The Godfather. An underworld Don, Salvatore Rocco and his family are gunned down on the steps outside a large church. The newspaper reports suggest the police are now searching for the Rocco’s Japanese mistress who is said to have disappeared.

Then we cut to a far to obvious, new scene that has been shoehorned into the film. It features two martial artists,Aaron Banks and Bill Louie, two real life martial arts champions, who are debating the strengths and weaknesses of Bruce Lee and Sonny Chiba’s fighting styles, including a demonstration of Bruce’s double nung-chuck technique. They round out the conversation by informing the audience that Chiba is on his way back to Tokyo.

The movie skips forward to the flight and a bunch of badasses hijack the flight. They hijack it for one reason, and that’s because Sonny Chiba is on the flight. Sonny, not only is the world’s number one martial artist, but he is also a fierce opponent of drugs and drug trafficking. These goons who have taken control of the flight, want to kill Chiba because of his interference with their drug trade. But even though there are five hijackers with guns, Chiba still kills each one of them with a series of power punches that have the bad guys spitting blood and teeth – that is before they die.

Upon arrival in Japan, Chiba appears on television vowing to stop the flow of drugs into the country, and furthermore offers himself up as a bodyguard to anybody who has information that can put the drug cartels out of action. One girl, Ricoh comes forward and asks for Chiba’s assistance. Before he will help her, he needs to see some proof. She says she has some evidence in the glove box of her car. Chiba sends his sister, Maggie down stairs to collect it, but the bad guys are waiting for her. As Chiba’s sister, Maggie has some fight skills of her own, but up against four men, she is outmatched. They knock her unconscious and strip her naked and lay her out. The shadow from the cross at the top of a church steeple covers her body. It’s actually quite a good visual moment – possibly better than this film deserves. After a while, when Maggie hasn’t returned, Chiba heads down to investigate. He finds her with the words ‘Cosa Nostra’ carved into her arm. Chiba now knows for sure he is up against the mafia.

Bodyguard4Convinced that Ricoh is in danger, Chiba agrees to protect her. They go back to her apartment, and Chiba does a sweep to check that everything is okay. The apartment appears clean and free from danger. Later that night, however, a gang of assassins cut their way out of the furniture (couches and armchairs) where they have been hiding. I guess when you think about it, it is pretty goofy, but this scene represents one of the highlights of the whole movie, so I recommend basking in the ‘goofiness’. Chiba, of course, then fights with the bad guys in his usual rib shattering and arm snapping way.

Of course, as most people would have guessed, Ricoh is the ‘missing’ mistress of Salvatore Rocco (the underworld figure shot down at the start of the film). Therefore she is not really interested in stemming the flow of narcotics into Japan. She simply wants Chiba to protect her form the various gangs — the Mafia and the Yakuza — who are after her and the drug shipment she has arranged to be brought into the country.

Essentially this makes Chiba a stupid dupe and he follows her around Tokyo while she makes arrangements to unload the drugs. When he finally wakes up to what is going on, for some strange reason he still agrees to help her. It is all very silly, sloppy and contrived. Some of this may be due to the American re-editing and dubbing of the film, but I think even the original Japanese version of the film would be low hanging fruit.

Bodyguard3The amazing thing about Chiba, is no matter where he hits an opponent, you can be sure that the guy spits blood. He could punch a Yakuza gang member in the knee cap, and sure enough, the Yakuza would keel over and a bubble of thick, bright red blood would dribble over his lips. It is a unique talent that Chiba has, and a talent that generally makes his films so entertaining. Not so, The Bodyguard. Sure there’s plenty of blood spitting, even a few teeth flying, but on the whole this film is pretty muddled and uninspiring.

Visually, the camera shots are tightly focused and there is an over abundance of hand held cinematography.Some of the fight scenes are so dimly lit and jerkily edited, it is hard to tell if they are well choreographed or not. Which is what you really watch a Chiba picture for – the stylised fight scenes. But when they are stylised and filmed in such a fashioned, it renders the film physically impotent.
Co-starring with Chiba is Etsuko Shihomi, who also starred with Chiba in a whole swag of films including; The Legend of the Eight Samurai, Shogun Ninja, Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment, Bullet Train, The Streetfighter, The Streetfighter’s Last Revenge, Sister Streetfighter and many others.

The Bodyguard is not great Chiba, and I think I’ll keep searching for a copy of G.I. Samurai to slake my thirst for Chiba’s unique style of mayhem, and I’d suggest that other Chibafiles look elsewhere too.

The Bodyguard (1973 / 1976)

The Killing Machine (1975)

TKM8

Country: Japan
Starring: Sonny Chiba, Yutaka Nakajima, Makoto Sato, Naoya Makoto, Sanae Kitabayashi, Akiko Mori, Hosei Komatsu, Tetsuro Tanba
Director: Norifumi Suzuki
Writer: Isao Matsumoto
Cinematographer: Yoshio Nakajima
Music: Shunsuke Kikuchi
Original Title: Shôrinji kenpô

Minor warning. This review contains adult themes.

As a teenager at school, out in the yard, talk would often drift to the ‘forbidden knowledge’ – essentially R-rated violence and pornography. Not that any of us were really exposed to it. One of the most revered topics under discussion was Caligula. Now I don’t know how many of my peers had actually seen Caligula; I am guessing that one or two may have, however it would not surprise me if none of them had. The story always retold was always the same one, so I get the impression that the story was almost a hand-me-down for those who wanted to project an image of being more extreme (and experienced) than their friends. I must admit I never saw Caligula until quite recently. I think I have told the story before — that when I watched it, I was suffering from a rather virulent dose of the flu and running a high fever. I had also promised to take my son to see the Revenge of the Sith on that weekend too. So I was hopped up on every medicine known to man fading in an out of coherency. To this day I am not too sure where Caligula ends and Sith begins. It lives in my mind as some violent porno mashup.

But back to the halcyon days of youth and the legend of Caligula. By legend, I of course mean the story that was told time and time again; and that story related to the sequence where Caligula cuts off the guys cock and then feeds it to the dogs. As you can imagine to a hormonal teenage boy — with optimistic dreams of many, many years of fine swordsmanship in front of him — the thought of having your cock cut off was just too abhorrent to contemplate. And furthermore, how dare the film-makers put such a sequence in a movie!

Of course, as bright-eyed and bushy tailed youngsters, we didn’t know who Sonny Chiba was, and therefore were certainly unaware of the existence of The Killing Machine, which was made in 1975 — or if you prefer 5 B.C. (Before Caligula). In The Killing Machine, Sonny Chiba plays Japanese Kenpo Karate master Doshin Soh, who, when he tangles with a local gangster who thinks with his little head, takes to cutting the man’s cock off and throwing it to the dogs.

TKM2

However, despite my long-winded intro and talk of penile severance; and despite the film’s title The Killing Machine; and despite that this is a Chiba film made at the height of his violent, rib-shattering fame, this film is actually quite a moving and emotionally charged drama — but with, y’know, Chiba hitting and kicking people.

The film is the slightly fictionalized story of real life kenpo master Doshin Soh, and spans the years from 1945, at the end of the second World War, until what I’d guess is 1950, but it is never really specified. The thing with Soh is that he was trained in Shaolin Kung-Fu in China and is presented as having far superior martial arts skills than his fellow Japanese who have only studied karate or judo.

The film starts in 1945. The war is still raging, and Soh is a Japanese spy who has infiltrated a Chinese garrison. A mission briefing reveals to Soh that the Chinese are planning a big attack on a Japanese force arriving from Manchuria. However, before Soh can make off with the information, he is discovered and a fight breaks out. Soh’s solution is a simple one, and that is to kill everybody in the room. Forget the AK47 — ‘when you absolutely, positively have to kill every motherf*cker in the room’ — the perfect weapon is Sonny Chiba. After the carnage, Soh reports back to his superiors only to be told that Japan has unconditionally surrendered. The war is over. At that point Soh declares that ‘Japan may have lost the war, but he’ll never be defeated. Never!’

It’s a tough time for the Japanese after the war. They are victimised by the Chinese, the Koreans, the Russians and American occupational forces. It is almost like they are beggars in their own country. But Soh isn’t one to give in — and he does everything in his power to see that other Japanese citizens are able to survive, with a modicum of dignity. That’s actually one of the core themes of the film — national pride and standing by each other. Of course, there are Yakuza gangs who don’t live by Soh’s code and are more concerned with making a profit out of the hardship that most people face. They do this by peddling black-market food and medicine.

TKM3

In Osaka, Soh becomes a surrogate father for many of the orphaned and homeless children in the area, passing on his wisdom as they struggle to survive. At the same time, he spends a large portion of his time getting into street brawls with the black marketeers who are exploiting the situation. After crippling two American G.I.s who almost killed a young Japanese boy, Soh is sent to prison, and it is looking likely that he will be executed. But the prison warden, a patriotic Japanese (a cameo by Tetsuro Tamba) turns a blind eye and allows Soh to escape, so long as Soh promises to leave the city.

The film skips forward to 1947, and Soh is in Tadotsu, on the island of Shikoku, and he has started a martial arts school, teaching those who are willing to learn the ways of Shaolin. His timing is fortuitous, because a gang of Yakuza are determined to not only control illegal activity, but generally do whatever they please — which happens to mean take and rape any girl that they want.

When the a group of Yakuza members gang-rape a young girl named Noriko and the police refuse to do anything about it, Soh steps in. And out come the scissors — and after my long-winded intro, you should know what comes next. The film rounds out its story with a final message which is that ‘Fighting without justice is just violence.’ Obviously that’s a great little message, but I guess if you were looking at the body of Sonny Chiba’s work at this time, I think it is fair to say that maybe, just maybe, he was miscast in this film.

If The Killing Machine was solely another violent exploitation flick in the same style as many other films that Chiba was making during this period, then it would leer and revel in the torridness it was depicting. Instead it treats its subject matter with sensitivity and honour. Sure the film has a few unpleasant moments, but they are not in the film to excite the audience. They are there as obstacles that the characters (and one assumes Doshin Soh in real life) had to overcome. Each obstacle makes them stronger people. All in all, this is a surprisingly enjoyable movie.

The Killing Machine (1975)

The Man From Nowhere (2010)

Country: South Korea
Director: Jeong-beom Lee
Starring: Bin Won, Sae-ron Kim, Tae-hoon Kim, Hee-won Kim, Seong-oh Kim, Jong-pil Lee
Writer: Jeong-beom Lee
Music: Hyun-jung Shim

There’s a tough little sub genre of spy films, I like to call the ‘messed with the wrong guy’ spy film. It usually features a band of villains picking on a person or group of civilians (often a family), and it just so happens that these people have been befriended by or related to a retired bad-ass spy. To the villains, the spy just seems like an old codger (or a nobody), but we know, despite the wrinkles or low-key personality, this guy is a lethal weapon.

Generally these films tends to play more like a revenge flick and have a tendency to be rather violent. And that’s the perfect lead-in to The Man From Nowhere, which I think is one the best of these violent revenge flicks to come out in the last few years. Some people say that these films aren’t actually spy films, and in a way they are right, however, it is the skill set that these characters have learned through their spy training that allow them to perform the deeds that they do. And often these offensives against the bad guys, are planned and carried out, just like an espionage mission.

Here the ex-agent in question is CHA Tae-shik (Won Bin), and he used to be a highly effective deep cover agent. However, his life is shattered, when some evil doers retaliate against him, by killing his pregnant wife and of course, attempting to kill him. But after the death of his wife, CHA leaves the service and becomes an unkempt recluse, running a pawn shop in a poor area of town. His only connection to the outside world is his neighbour’s daughter, So-mi (Kim Sae-ron). Her mother, is a junky, and when she steals a shipment of heroine from an underworld syndicate, the mobsters come after her, killing her, and taking away So-mi, and simply housing her until she comes of age, where she her organs can be harvested and sold on the black market. Naturally, CHA steps up, and goes searching for So-mi.

As you can imagine, so of the themes in this film are pretty bleak, but it is a wild, emotional ride over the duration of its running time. And I hate to admit this, but I was crying like a girl at the end. So the film has a certain emotional content that resonated with me, but the real reason to watch this film is for the amazing fight scenes. They are tough, brutal and realistic, and almost hurt to watch. If you haven’t caught up with The Man From Nowhere, it’s worth tracking down.

The Man From Nowhere (2010)

Liner Notes: Kevin Pyrtle


Everyone loves movie music, don’t they? That fusion of images and sound can create true cinema magic regardless of genre.

Maybe you’re old school, and love the swelling, bombastic scores of Max Steiner and Wolfgang Maria Korngold – or perhaps you’re a rocker and have King Creole or The Girl Can’t Help It constantly on your turntable. Maybe you love the swinging sixties spy vibe, and have John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, and Hugo Montenegro loaded into you iPod. Ennio Morricone, Piero Piccioni, Bruno Nicolai, and Mario Nascimbene have legions of fans with their sophisticated Euro sounds – are you one of them? Does John Williams theme from Jaws still send shivers up your spine?

With a bit of help from a few friends, over the next week or so, I am going to be looking at movie soundtracks – from spy films and beyond. I am going to drag out some of that old vinyl and shine a light on a few of my favourites – and hopefully serve up a few aural gems that you’ve never heard before.

Today I am joined by, Kevin Pyrtle, from Wtf-Film.com., who shares his five favourite soundtracks below.

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When first approached to grace Permission to Kill with my hallowed opinion on film scores I thought, “Easy peasy. How hard can writing about your five favorite soundtracks possibly be?” Plenty hard, it seems. After a few weeks of due diligence I’ve come to the conclusion that with regard to films and their music I have just too damned many categories of “favorite” to make any sense of, especially within the confines of an article like this. All that said, I’ve given it my best shot, and present for you five favorites (in no certain order) from the more obscure recesses of my personal taste. I dig them one and all, and really, you should too.

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Mikis Theodorakis – The Day the Fish Came Out

Director Michael Cacoyannis’ grim 1967 parody of small-town Greece, tourism, and the nuclear age, forgotten almost as quickly as it arrived in domestic cinemas, was and remains one of the strangest films ever conceived. Promoted (dumbly) as a sort of follow-up to the same director’s Oscar-winning Zorba the Greek, The Day the Fish Came Out instead challenged audience expectations from its wild opening titles (by the great Maurice Binder, of Bond fame) to its final apocalyptic dance of death. Esteemed composer Mikis Theodorakis’ (Z) amplified the culture clash at the picture’s heart with a score that’s appropriately iconoclastic, flanking jaunty traditional Greek melodies with aggressively modern guitar and synth riffs and improvisational jazz diversions that remind a bit of Fred Katz. It’s alternately beautiful, jarring, and numbing stuff, and it’s impossible to imagine Cocoyannis’ film without it – a sure sign of a job well done.

Shunsuke Kikuchi – Genocide: War of the Insects

Despite his relative obscurity in comparison to the likes of Ifukube, Sato, Takemitsu and so on, the contributions of prolific film and television composer Shunsuke Kikuchi’s to the flavor of the Japanese pop cinema of the 60s are impossible to ignore. Though typified by his fondness for muted laser brass and percussive synths (as evidenced by his work on Goke Body Snatcher From Hell, the Gamera series and others) Kikuchi, like so many of his overworked contemporaries, was actually possessed of quite a wide range of musical sensibilities. Nowhere is this more evident than in his score for Shochiku’s ridiculously nihilist Genocide: War of the Insects, for which the typically bombastic composer crafted an atypically melodious score. Kikuchi’s usual mix of synths and muted brass is here, but sparingly applied, and a lush, melancholy love theme is allowed to develop among the strings and woodwinds between the typical horror stings. There’s an ethereal dreaminess (and not necessarily good dreams!) to the low-boil atmospheric passages, and even a hint of Herrmann to be heard in the insectine violins. The composer has rarely been more evocative.

Stelvio Cipriani – Nightmare City

We all have our guilty pleasures, and Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare City is one of the guiltiest of mine, that disc I drag out of the cabinet whenever friends just aren’t sure what they’re in the mood for. By the end, they’re always in the mood for Nightmare City. A frequently laughable and always entertaining mix of awkward enviro-political speechifying and bread and butter exploitation, with lots of blood and exposed flesh to keep attentions piqued, Nightmare City isn’t exactly A-class material, and the unfortunate task of composing for it fell upon the accomplished and prolific Stelvio Cipriani (Bay of Blood). Some of the cues here are quite effective, and the opening theme signals doom-and-gloom with the best of them. The rest, however, aren’t so much. A few diversions into contemporary lounge and cringeworthy dance stylings aside, Cipriani’s score is dominated by an infectious nasal synthesizer motif that’s repeated to the point of hysterics. It’s an indelible bit of love-it or hate-it scoring, and perfect for tormenting friends and enemies alike.

Masao Yagi – Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds

In 1977 Toei Company spent more money than they ever had before on producing a bizarre Jaws-influenced disaster picture about one impossibly hip geologist’s hunt for a living plesiosaurus in the lakes surrounding Mt. Fuji. Punctuated by graphic human violence, giant monster fights, volcanic eruptions and even an impromptu country music show courtesy of Moroguchi Akira, Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds is a weird picture for a lot of reasons. Not the least of these is jazz pianist Masao Yagi’s out-there score, a rare instance of daikaiju eiga disco-funk and one of the downright baddest things ever composed for the genre. I admit to being biased, however, as Yagi’s score is also one of the few I’ve ever heard that offers the bass clarinet (an instrument near and dear to me) any kind of star placement in the instrumentation. In the lower, moodier patches the bass clarinetist frequently carries the theme, and during one memorable monster encounter is even offered a couple of front-and-center improv spots. I spent hours of my youth figuring these parts out from a gruddy VHS pre-record, and if for that experience alone Yagi’s work will always be tops with me.

Various – The Man Who Saved the World / Turkish Star Wars

Firstly, if you’re one of those who’ve yet to see Turkish Star Wars just do it already – it commands! In all the land of illegitimate Turkish cinema perhaps none is greater than this, and that goes for its wildly illegitimate soundtrack as well. Featuring no original scoring to speak of, Turkish Star Wars instead offers what may be the ultimate film geek mix-tape. Snippets from Queen’s score for Flash Gordon are present and accounted for, as well a cue or two from John Barry’s The Black Hole and Peter Shickele’s Silent Running. Planet of the Apes? Check. And how about a hoppy disco redux of the theme to Battlestar Gallactica? Yup, that’s here too. There are even themes from well beyond the realm of science fiction, including cues from the likes of Miklos Rosza’s Ben-Hur and Ennio Morricone’s Moses. Star Wars itself remains conspicuously absent, but John Williams doesn’t escape entirely unscathed – various themes from his Raiders of the Lost Ark are repeated early and often. Sacrilege never sounded so good.

Kevin Pyrtle is a film and video critic, Harryhausen apologist, and chief cook and bottle washer for Wtf-Film.com. He lives inside your television set, at least when he’s not kicking about in the MOSS. hideaway.

Liner Notes: Kevin Pyrtle

Liner Notes: Carol Borden


Everyone loves movie music, don’t they? That fusion of images and sound can create true cinema magic regardless of genre.

Maybe you’re old school, and love the swelling, bombastic scores of Max Steiner and Wolfgang Maria Korngold – or perhaps you’re a rocker and have King Creole or The Girl Can’t Help It constantly on your turntable. Maybe you love the swinging sixties spy vibe, and have John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, and Hugo Montenegro loaded into you iPod. Ennio Morricone, Piero Piccioni, Bruno Nicolai, and Mario Nascimbene have legions of fans with their sophisticated Euro sounds – are you one of them? Does John Williams theme from Jaws still send shivers up your spine?

With a bit of help from a few friends, over the next week or so, I am going to be looking at movie soundtracks – from spy films and beyond. I am going to drag out some of that old vinyl and shine a light on a few of my favourites – and hopefully serve up a few aural gems that you’ve never heard before.

Today I am joined by, Carol Borden, who draws out the best in comics at the, Cultural Gutter. She shares her five favourite soundtracks below.

* * * * *

If I were to base this on composers I love, it would probably be very different. But then, if you asked me on another day, it would be different. Top 5 or 10 or even 20 lists and I are not good friends.

In The Mood For Love (2001) by Michael Galasso and Shigeru Umebayashi

I sigh to this soundtrack late at night. Director Wong Kar-Wai and composer/violinist Michael Galasso’s In The Mood For Love soundtrack represents how well music can work with a movie and how good a soundtrack thoughtfully combining original composition and music by other composers and artists can work with a film. Zhao Xuan’s “Hua Yang De Nian Hua” provides crackly radio nostalgia. Nat King Cole’s covers of Bebel Gilberto classics provide romantic polish to a glossy, stylish film. But what I like best about the soundtrack is the strings. Composers and bands often use saccharine sweet string arrangements, but the real power of a violin is its ability to evoke a rough, raw, yearning ache, and Michael Galasso does that so well in his original compositions and in his arrangement of “Yumeji’s Theme,” from Shigeru Umebayashi’s soundtrack for Seijun Suzuki’s Yumeji.

Night On Earth (1992) by Tom Waits

Tom Waits and Jim Jarmusch are amazing together. I probably like Jarmusch’s Down By Law better as a film, and love all the Waits songs used in that soundtrack. But Waits’ Night On Earth soundtrack fits perfectly with the film, all thumping bass, crooked horns, sad piano, acidic electric guitar and old country accordion. Waits provides different arrangements of a theme to mark the same night experienced by cab drivers in 5 different cities: Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome and Helsinki. And there are variations on two songs he and Kathleen Brennan wrote for the film, “Back In The Good Old World” and “On The Other Side Of The World.” Good for listening to while driving on dark, snowy winter nights.

The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three (1974) by David Shire

For the record, there is no other version of The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three. There is only the one directed by Joseph Sargeant, starring Walter Matthau and scored by David Shire. Shire was a prolific composer of 1960s and 1970s soundtracks, but this is my favorite of his. It’s a perfect synecdoche of 1970s film soundtracks. Again, I like the variations on a theme—particularly the expanded arrangement of the opening them for the end credits. I love the squonking brass echoing street noise and the sounds of the subway, and the complex percussion scoring. Frankly, one of the best inspirations musicians have ever had is the train. I imagine that this is exactly how badass Fun City sounded like in the 1970s.

Tokyo Drifter (1966) by Hajime Kaburagi

Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter is almost more a musical than a yakuza movie. The set design is highly stylized and the color is saturated. And the film opens with protagonist Tetsuya Watari singing, “Tokyo Drifter/ Tokyo Nagaremono.” Watching the movie, it’s easy to think that’s the only song in the soundtrack as it is arranged, reprised, answered and whistled through the film and into your mind. But Chieko Matsubara sings jazzy, operatic elegies in club scenes, including a variation, “Chechez Le Vagabond” and “Furi Furi” by “group sounds” band, The Spiders. Suzuki’s movies are all notable for their jazzy soundtracks, but what makes me choose Tokyo Drifter over, say, Branded To Kill is the way one song infuses an entire film, as if the whole film is just an elaboration of it. Even Chieko Matsubara’s last song, interrupted by the final showdown, bleeds easily into “Tokyo Drifter’s” final reprise. The song itself has become iconic and you can find many interpretations online, from shamisen arrangements to Japanese Academic Punks w/Tokyo Big Beat Junky’s ska version.

Yojimbo (1961) by Masaru Sato

Yojimbo might be the most satirical and catchy as hell soundtrack I’ve ever heard. With his mix of modern and traditional instrumentation, Sato punctuates scenes, underscores the humor in Yojimbo and amplifies mood, whether in a nameless samurai’s decision to follow one path over another, hired swords working up the courage to fight or a young mother’s heartfelt, though foolishly-timed, thanks. The “Burlesque” dance number, in particular, is one of my favorite pieces in the movie for the way it presents a straightforward scene—prostitutes dancing as an enticement for the wandering ronin—and just undercuts the seriousness and slyness of the madame’s scheme. If the theme from The Taking of Pelham One Two Three captures the subway, Yojimbo’s theme really captures rambling along dirt roads. I imagine that Sato just recorded the natural soundtrack that followed Toshiro Mifune around during the whole Yojimbo shoot.

(If I were to choose one soundtrack to represent the best in soundtracks, it would be Ennio Morricone’s The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, which somehow feels like a chorus out of ancient Greek drama, commenting on the film. Also, “The Ecstasy of Gold” graveyard sequence makes my hair stand on end).

Carol Borden is one of the team at Cultural Gutter, a website that ‘takes trash seriously.’ The site is updated Thursday afternoon with a new article about an artistic pursuit generally considered to be beneath consideration. Carol Borden draws out the best in comics, James Schellenberg probes science-fiction, Chris Szego dallies with romance and Alex MacFadyen stares deeply into the screen.

Liner Notes: Carol Borden

Liner Notes: Jason Whiton


Everyone loves movie music, don’t they? That fusion of images and sound can create true cinema magic regardless of genre.

Maybe you’re old school, and love the swelling, bombastic scores of Max Steiner and Wolfgang Maria Korngold – or perhaps you’re a rocker and have King Creole or The Girl Can’t Help It constantly on your turntable. Maybe you love the swinging sixties spy vibe, and have John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, and Hugo Montenegro loaded into you iPod. Ennio Morricone, Piero Piccioni, Bruno Nicolai, and Mario Nascimbene have legions of fans with their sophisticated Euro sounds – are you one of them? Does John Williams theme from Jaws still send shivers up your spine?

With a bit of help from a few friends, over the next week or so, I am going to be looking at movie soundtracks – from spy films and beyond. I am going to drag out some of that old vinyl and shine a light on a few of my favourites – and hopefully serve up a few aural gems that you’ve never heard before.

Today I am joined by, Jason Whiton from the sixties spy style website, Spy Vibe, who shares his five favourite soundtracks below.

* * * * *

1. The 10th Victim
There must be some things that one falls in love with because of the timing or the context. I saw this film when I was a little kid, and it immediately became a template for me that defined a kind of height in futuristic, erotic, spy-vibe. The sound of the organ, the women and their orgasmic vocalizations, it was just immensely thrilling to me. It wasn’t until Crippled Dick Hotwax put out their compilations of Italian soundtracks that I realized that the 10th Victim was part of a larger scene. And although I enjoyed hearing more music in that style, I always stayed true to this score. I love the main phrases. I love its avant-garde quality at times. And it captures the aesthetic of the film. I was grateful that I got to contribute to the Blu-ray edition!

2. Planet of the Apes
Goldsmith made some genius decisions to use the primal nature of percussion to define the sound of this score. Again, it has an avant-garde quality that I like a lot. It reminds me of Kontakte by Stockhausen. And the pacing of the sounds, I think, echo beautifully the emotional journey of the story. After loving this for years, I have finally started to explore Dame Evelyn Glennie, a contemporary classical percussionist, who is experimental (and deaf!). Check out her amazing documentary with Fred Frith called Touch the Sound.

3. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
By far the best Bond score, in my opinion. Just the theme alone encapsulates the emotions of the story. You have a main theme, representing Bond, that is constantly trying to push forward. And in a call and response structure, you have a variety of phrases and instruments that are constantly challenging him, pushing him to the breaking point. There is even a wonderful use of brass in moments that paint the character with a dash of traditional honor and duty. Listen to the theme again and you will see what I’m talking about. In addition, there are cool electronic sounds introduced in the score, which give it a non-cartoony futuristic vibe.

4. Tohru Takemistu
I’m a huge fan of this Japanese composer. He scored things like Rising Sun and the new wave films by Oshima and Teshigahara. Takemitsu is known for his use of negative space and traditional instruments, and also experimenting with unusual sounds. His scores are often quite haunting and surprising, which is why I like them. Nothing cliche going on there! Also, the minimalistic nature supports the Japanese film within its own tradition of aesthetic principles. Having lived there for many years, it rings truer to me than almost any other style.

5. In Like Flint/Our Man Flint
Although there are many fun spy soundtracks I like, not to mention John Williams and Star Wars, I find myself most often listening to this score. I think that it is for no other reason that I find the main phrase soothing and interesting, and I enjoy how they find so many ways to repeat it throughout. Maybe for that reason, it starts to play like one long piece with separate movements. And like OHMSS, there are fun examples of early electronic sounds. If I was to choose on the concept alone, I would also have to mention the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (Doctor Who) as a fascinating time capsule into experimental music made for mainstream narrative work.

It’s hard to leave some out.

Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence
The soundtrack that defined my twenties. A brilliant score by Ryuichi Sakamoto (YMO), which was also recorded as a single with vocalist David Sylvian (Japan). I discovered this score when I was twenty and probably played it constantly for almost ten years. The main hook is just incredible, and the score progresses with a contrast of two themes to mirror the two pairs in the story. Sakamoto also recorded a rare piano-solo version, which is worth tracking down.

Jason Whiton is the creator of Spy Vibe. Jason composes the soundtracks to his short films, which have been awarded and recognized by Sundance, Park City Film Music Festival, and other major festivals and museums. A life-long musician, Jason recently composed a contest-winning song re-mix for the artist, Yoko Ono. More info at www.jasonwhiton.com.

Liner Notes: Jason Whiton