Nudes! Guns! Ghosts! The Sensational Cinema of Shintoho

APRIL 10-11, 13, 18, 20-21, 24-25

Born in 1947 and bankrupt by 1961, the short-lived film studio Shintoho was a pioneering company in the development of Japanese popular cinema and its wilder and more fantastical dimensions.

Shintoho was the smallest of the six major studios (Daiei, Nikkatsu, Shochiku, Toei, and Toho were the others) active in Japan in the 1950s, a period often called the Second Golden Age of Japanese cinema. The company was spun off from Toho during a period of labour turmoil at that powerful production house; Shintoho means “New Toho.” During its initial years, Shintoho was associated with films by some of Japanese cinema’s greatest masters, including Kurosawa, Ozu, Mizoguchi, Ichikawa, and Naruse. In the mid-1950s, however, under the new leadership of Mitsugu Okura, a former carnival showman, the struggling company embarked on a radically different direction. Shifting Shintoho’s focus to low-budget genre and exploitation films, and amping up the anything-goes sex, violence, and horror, Okura spearheaded the saucy, sensationalistic, disreputable cinema — hard-boiled noirs, erotic thrillers, supernatural stories, lurid melodramas — that become Shintoho’s speciality, and which was often very much in the Japanese mode known as ero-guro, or erotic grotesque.

This retrospective of eight Shintoho cult classics from the late 1950s and early 1960s was curated by film critic Mark Shilling for the Udine Far East Film Festival in Italy, an annual festival devoted to popular Asian cinema. The series provides a lively sampling of Shintoho’s delightfully deranged output, and includes films by noted Shintoho cult auteurs Nobouo Nakagawa, famed for his supremely stylish horror films, and Teruo Ishii, Japan’s prolific “King of Cult,” who directed a series of “sleaze noirs” during his tenure at Shintoho. The retrospective also includes Toshio Shimura’s legendary Revenge of the Pearl Queen, an ama (“pearl diver”) movie starring sexpot Maeda Michiko (“Japan’s answer to Sofia Loren”) and featuring the first nude scene in Japanese cinema. To the best of our knowledge, none of these eight films has screened theatrically in Vancouver before.

“Shintoho films were known for their racy, lurid titles and posters — all approved by [studio head] Mitsugu Okura — that promised forbidden delights to their mostly young, male fans. Okura wasn’t particular about the films’ contents as long as they delivered on the promise of the title. This allowed talented directors such as Teruo Ishii and Nobuo Nakagawa to put their signature on their films and make them stand out over the competition. It’s hard to say that Shintoho had a distinct style, but its best films had a vitality that the staider products of other studios lacked and still makes them watchable today ...Shintoho’s strongest impact was in the horror and erotic genres. Every Japanese horror director today owes a debt to Nobuo Nakagawa, who pioneered the mix of modern and traditional kaidan (ghost story) elements that characterizes Japanese horror. Shintoho films about ama, women pearl divers who worked in figure-revealing attire, may be mild by present standards, but they were considered bold provocations in their day. In their commercial success and pushing of borders, these films laid the groundwork for the huge pinku (erotic) film industry that was to arise in the 1960s and play such a major role in popular culture in the decades to follow.”  MARK SHILLING

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Acknowledgements: “Nudes! Guns! Ghosts! The Sensational Cinema of Shintoho” was curated by Mark Shilling and organized by the Udine Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy. “No Borders, No Limits: 1960s Nikkatsu Action Cinema,” an exhibition originally programmed by Mark Shilling for the Udine FEFF, was presented at The Cinematheque in 2008.

Program notes adapted from film descriptions by Mark Shilling.


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