While only being in existence for a little over a year now, Arrow Video US has been arguably one of the best Blu-ray distributors. Granted, they have prior experience with their parent UK company, but that doesn’t take away from them putting out some of the best releases the States have seen. They are probably most well known for their horror entries, but they also put out their share of other genres including quite a few older Japanese titles. When they offered to send us a review copy of Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Vol. 2, I of course jumped at the chance. Most of my experience with Asian cinema has been with the Well Go line which includes mostly more modern films. What I got from Arrow were three very interesting titles that I may have not bought on my own without seeing first, but would certainly scoop up after viewing.
The Movie Itself (3.5/5) Tokyo Mighty Guy
What is surprisingly apparent is the lack of specific Japanese themes in these films. I hesitate to call them “Hollywood” type, but these stories could easily be transplanted to another country and fit right in. At their core, they are all crime comedy/dramas which can easily cross cultures and appeal to anyone. Having no prior experience with these films, I watched them in the listed order with Tokyo Mighty Guy being the first. The opening credits start off with a musical number with the cast, but while there is another song or two, they are few and far between. The film focuses on young Jiro who just returned from studying in France and is eager to open up a French restaurant in Japan. He plays a no nonsense character that is not afraid to stand up to gangsters or the former Foreign Minister Mr. Yipponari (who is by far the best part of this film).
Early on we see Mr. Yipponari become allies and form an unlikely friendship to stand up to the thugs. Many laughs were had by me watching them all tangle. Along for the ride is Hedeko who is in love with Jiro, who feigns any interest in her. The character interactions are wonderful and just add to the charm of the plot; especially when one of Jiro’s friends, a local prostitute, needs his help getting rid of some unwanted suitors, much to Hideko’s displeasure. The plot is fun and never stagnant for long; it has a nice mix of subtle humor to compliment some of the outrageous antics. Depending on your take on some female skin in a bathhouse scene (nothing explicit or really even near that) and the prostitution story-line, this could easily be a fun family film night with some older children.
Oh, the special secret family move is a thing of beauty!!
The Movie Itself (4/5) Danger Pays
This brings me to my favorite of the three offerings, Danger Pays. It starts as heist/spy thriller where an evil gang steals watermarked paper from the Ministry of Finance which they want to use to make 1,000 yen notes. All they need now is Japan’s best engraver, who will be arriving at the airport from his trip to Hong Kong. I expected the police or military or some other secret government organization to save the day and recover the paper. Such is not the case, as the police are barely in this film. What you get are three lower level criminals that know the engraver is needed, each of whom try to snatch him up for themselves. There is our main protagonist Glass Hearted Joe, who can be easily defeated by the sound of something scratching on glass to the point where he books it out of there. There is Slide-Rule Tetsu who magically determines the probabilities of all possible outcomes by quickly looking at a slide-rule. Then there is Dump Truck Ken… he drives a dump-truck. Rounding out the group is a fourth member that Joe picks up on the way, her name is Tomoko. She was a receptionist for the gang who decides to tag along. She also speaks different languages and is a Judo master.
Many hijinks occur along the way, with multiple agreements and deals made between characters and followed with some good ol’ fashioned backstabbing. As outrageous as some of the plot sounds, there is a coherent and mostly well told story-line. The engraver and his wife provide added comedic effect and round out a surprisingly well acted cast. Unlike Tokyo Mighty Guy, this one features some bloody stabbings and firefights, although most of it is overly dramatic and could be suitable for teens. There are so many comical scenes that this film will certainly be worth watching multiple times. Sure, there are parts that could be better; this film takes place over multiple days, but everyone is always wearing the same clothes. There is some filler to the story in places, but even that is entertaining.
The Movie Itself (3/5) Murder Unincorporated
Last and possibly least of the three is Murder Unincorporated. This film is would be adequately described as the original Adam West Batman TV series having a baby with Smokin’ Aces, with Benny Hill as the obstetrician. It definitely ups the absurdity far over the previous two movies. If you like crazy, zany, over the top stuff, then this might be your favorite of the bunch. Now that’s not too say the others don’t have their moments, but they also had their serious angles.
Murder Unincorporated begins with the assassination of the leader of the Five Rays Club, an evil gang that controls 95% of all illegal business in the town. An Ace of Spades was left on his body, the cards 2-5 were given to the other bosses of the Five Rays. A call comes in that the Joe of Spades is responsible and will take out the rest of the bosses in order. So what is an evil gang supposed to do? Well, they call the Assassin Agency of course and order 10 of the most ridiculously moniker-ed murdermen they could find.
We have a former Chef who uses knives to assassinate his targets. He is afraid of killing fish and got fired from his job. He surmises that killing humans will allow him to overcome his fear and get those dirty fish bastards. Also hired is a former baseball prospect who was so good he won all of his games and made baseball boring for the fans. No organization would hire him because he is just too good. His bat also shoots bullets. The last one I will describe is a grade school child who claims he is the grandson of Al Capone from when he visited Japan. He is also one of the 10 hired to find this Joe of Spades. One of the assassins also reminded me of Pee-wee Herman with all his mannerisms, but that might just be me.
The only thing that they know about Joe is that he has a mole on the soles of his feet. So of course their master plan is to walk randomly in the city and get people to take off their shoes, whether it be using spiders or having them step on boards with nails. Yes, they are not the brightest bunch. As Joe begins to work his way through the ranks, we also find out about another gang leader who hires his own assassins to join in the fray. They are just as colorful as the ones hired by the Five Rays.
The outrageous-ness doesn’t stop throughout the movie, and just keeps amping up. There is no subtlety in the humor like there was in the other movies; Murder Unincorporated instead forgoes that with zany characters and some over the top action. I would certainly still recommend checking it out if you have the set and would encourage you to not let it deter you, as there can still be enjoyment to be had. For me, it just wasn’t up to par with the others.
Visuals/Picture Quality (4/5)
Obviously the source material is quite old. What was produced though was quite the surprise, as all the films generally look great. Tokyo Mighty Guy is the worst of the three, but even that has some really nice detail and colors. You can see some loss and tint as you go, but nothing that in unwatchable by any means. Murder Unincorporated has some issues with a few of the flashback scenes as the color distorts. Even with all three films being on one 50gb disc, the picture will surprise people, and I wouldn’t hesitate to say that these are the best the films will look, as Arrow said it used the original film elements.
Score/Audio Quality (3/5)
With all the films featuring the uncompressed Japanese Mono audio, it was about what I expected. There is some slight distortion and cracking. Vocals do come through very clear and dialogue is easily heard. The scores vary and will depend on a persons taste. My favorite was Danger Pays as it hopped through different genres depending on the scene and made everything feel alive. The effects on the films were disappointing, but I attribute that to hearing modern films where every gun shot seems so realistic. They weren’t terrible, but they often made everything sound more cartoony, which may fit better to some since the films had a lot of comedic aspects.
Special Features (2/5)
Introduction to the Diamond Guys (20:20) – Specially recorded video discussions with Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp on Diamond Guys Jo Shishido and Akira Kobayashi. I found this to be a nice introduction even if parts were a bit dry. If you have any interest in the company or have already seen volume 1, I would recommend watching this even before the films. There aren’t spoilers for any of them, Mr. Sharp just gives a look into the world of Nikkatsu and what other various films the stars were in.
Original Trailers for all 3 films
Still Galleries of some of the promotional material for the films
Trailers for each of the Outlaw Gangster VIP films
- Reversible liner
- Booklet featuring new writing on all the films and director profiles by Stuart Galbraith IV, Tom Mes and Mark Schilling
- Disc Art
- 1 Blu-ray 2 DVDs
- Aspect ratio: 2.50:1 (Tokyo Mighty Guy)
- Aspect ratio: 2.40:1 (Danger Pays & Murder Unincorporated
- Uncompressed Japanese Mono for all films
- English (Optional)
Runtime 251 Mins
This is a solid home release from Arrow Video. I was surprised at the extent to which I enjoyed all these films and would not make assumptions based on the age, genre, or style. These will certainly be on my re-watch list and I will be ordering Volume 1 as well. My biggest gripe would be the lack of special features. I know that is probably one of the harder decisions for the distribution company, especially for foreign films where age of product and translations would most likely have to be made. So I can’t totally fault them; I just wish there were more, especially when compared to some of the other Arrow offerings. I am very interested to see if a Volume 3 will be in the works since Mr. Sharp showed us exactly how many films are available. As of this writing the cheapest version that I can find is from Family Video. As with most Arrow Video releases, Amazon seems to be the most expensive for whatever reason. Diabolikdvd.com and DeepDiscount.com also regularly have nice deals on Arrow.
Note: This Blu Ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgement or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.