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Pinky Violence: An Introduction to 1970’s Japanese Exploitation Cinema

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Pinky Violence: An Introduction to 1970’s Japanese Exploitation Cinema

You know the old expression: sex sells. But what sells even better than that? Sex and violence, of course. This was the conclusion, at least, of Japanese film company Toei in the 1970s, when they combined the two in a predictably gratuitous, but ultimately compelling (and indirectly progressive) way, launching a new subgenre that would come to be known in Japan as “pinky violence”.

What is pinky violence, exactly? To answer that, we’ll first need a little background. Pinky violence got its start during a lean time for the Japanese film industry: the late 1960s. Largely due to the increasing popularity of television — and the influx of American films that had flooded post-war Japan – Toei found itself among those home-grown studios scrambling for fresh ideas. They didn’t have to look far: one native Japanese film genre that was prospering in the midst of this tumultuous period was the so-called pinku eiga or “pink film” – wildly popular movies that featured nudity and often skirted the line between pornography and more permissible fare. Toei introduced swords, guns, and youth culture (in a nod to popular American exploitation movies of the time) into this equation – sometimes keeping the nudity, but always keeping the blood. It proved to be a wildly successful innovation.

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RELATED: 27 Essential Revenge Movies Best Served Cold

Pinky violence was thus born out of the pink film genre and proved to be equal to its progenitor in popularity. The success of the Toei films, in fact, inspired offerings from other studios, and throughout the 1970s, this riotous mix of sex and violence carved a profitable niche in the Japanese box office. Like most exploitation films, pinky violence movies were made to be disposable. Yet they’ve proven to not only have continued power but also a lasting influence -most recently with Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, which borrowed heavily from the pinky violence canon. It’s worth asking; why? The simple reason, no doubt, stems from the fact that (most) of these movies remain anarchic fun: snappily edited, filled with great music, and infused with the rebellious transience of youth. That they are of their time and not made to last is, paradoxically, what makes them so exciting to revisit.

But from a social and cultural perspective, pinky violence films were not just of their time but ahead of it (particularly in Japan): while most storylines were simple riffs on threadbare exploitation narratives – rival gangs, juvenile delinquents, or revenge plots – what was different was that these stories were almost always female-focused, and starred female actors. Women, while often the victims of violence, were more likely to be the ones dishing it out. Whether avenging themselves against corrupt men or holding the reins of (small-time) power themselves; they gave as good as they got, and in the process, they changed film forever. They may be feminist landmarks, trash cinema, or both, but the short-lived pinky violence cycle continues to endure. Looking to discover some classics of the genre? See below for a short list of films to get you started.

A quick note before we dig in: pinky violence (much like film noir) is a slippery term, and few agree on what films qualify. The Toei films of the early 70s originated the genre, but as mentioned above, their influence was also wide-ranging. This list includes both Toei films and their offspring. It also leans heavily toward films that are widely available either on streaming or physical disc – sadly, many of the representative films of the genre have become difficult to track down.

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Sex and Fury

Whatever disagreements fans may have about what constitutes a definitive pinky violence canon, nearly all agree that 1973’s Sex and Fury is among the best of the genre, or at least the most representative. Starring Reiko Ike as Ocho, a wise-cracking pickpocket, gambler, and (quite helpfully) expert swordswoman, Sex and Fury is pinky violence in a nutshell: Roughhewn, but with sporadic bursts of visual élan, it both objectifies and exalts its female lead in turns. Case in point: when Ocho is ambushed while bathing, she leaps from the tub with a sword in hand, slicing and dicing an army of assassins – entirely in the buff. Sex and Fury, indeed. Is it gratuitous? Absolutely. Over-the-top? You bet. And that’s what makes it the perfect introduction to the world of pinky violence.

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The Stray Cat Rock Series

Released by venerable Japanese film studio Nikkatsu, The Stray Cat Rock series consists of five films that were churned out in nine months. With a release schedule like that, you might think that quality would vary considerably, and you’d be right. The films aren’t narratively connected – they’re tonal sequels that feature many of the same cast, and variations on the same shenanigans: mostly young female delinquents, ensconced in various levels of criminal activity, who find themselves butting up against more powerful factions – a dilemma typically resolved by a vicious shoot-out in the final act.

Led by the legendary Meiko Kaji, who appears in all five movies (despite being killed off in the first) the Stray Cat Rock films are frivolous fun, and a compelling peek into the Japanese youth culture of the early 70s (or at least how the producers imagined it): all groovy music, fast bikes, and hair triggers. What more needs to be said?


Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs

Along with Reiko Ike and Meiko Kaji, Miki Sugimoto forms the Mt. Rushmore of pinky violence. The three actresses appeared in most of the films (sometimes even co-starring, as Sugimoto and Ike did in the definitely-not-recommended Terrifying Girls’ High School series) and their work undoubtedly includes almost all the genre’s best entries. Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs is arguably Miki Sugimoto’s finest hour (and twenty-eight minutes). The movie stars Sugimoto as Rei, a former cop who is arrested and sent to prison for killing the man who murdered her close friend. But when a politician’s daughter is kidnapped, Rei is sprung from lock-up by the mysterious “Division Zero” to help. The rest is exactly what you’d expect: Rei (now “agent zero”) clobbering her foes in brutal fashion, assisted by a handy pair of red handcuffs.


The Female Prisoner Scorpion Series

Based on Tōru Shinohara’s Scorpion Manga, the Female Prisoner Scorpion series stars Meiko Kaji as Nami Matsushima (AKA Scorpion) a woman thrown into prison after seeking revenge against an abusive ex-boyfriend. From there, the action unfolds across four films, all involving Nami either attempting to survive in jail or on the run from the police. What, you wanted a plot? More than any other film on this list, the Female Prisoner Scorpion movies highlight the double-edged sword (pun intended) of pinky violence: women are unquestionably portrayed as powerful in these films, but that power almost always stems from trauma, and always takes the form of physical violence – a very male-centric view of what constitutes strength. Nevertheless, if you don’t take it too seriously, the series is definitely worth watching – mostly for the brilliance of Meiko Kaji, whose laconic, unblinking performance established her not just as the breakout star of 1970s Japanese action cinema, but as a force of nature.

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Lady Snowblood

Speaking of Meiko Kaji, no list on pinky violence would be complete without her most famous role, 1973’s Lady Snowblood. Inspired by Kazuo Koike’s Manga of the same name, the film tells a simple revenge narrative in impeccable style, once again bolstered by an irresistible performance by Kaji as Yuki Kashima, the umbrella-wielding assassin out to get payback for the murder of her family. A heavy inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Lady Snowblood will feel very familiar to fans of those films, with its crash zooms, vicious swordplay, and Bellagio fountains of bright red blood. But it’s also a must-watch on its own – arguably the best made (and most fun) of any movie inspired by the pinky violence genre.


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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

Hitting the three-quarter-century mark usually means a retirement home, a nursing facility, or if you’re lucky to be blessed with relatively good health and savings to match, living in a gated community in Arizona or Florida.

For Sylvester Stallone, however, it means something else entirely: starring in the first superhero-centered film of his decades-long career in the much-delayed Samaritan. Unfortunately for Stallone and the audience on the other side of the screen, the derivative, turgid, forgettable results won’t get mentioned in a career retrospective, let alone among the ever-expanding list of must-see entries in a genre already well past its peak.

For Stallone, however, it’s better late than never when it involves the superhero genre. Maybe in getting a taste of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) with his walk-on role in the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel several years ago, Stallone thought anything Marvel can do, I can do even better (or just as good in the nebulous definition of the word).

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The property Stallone and his team found for him, Samaritan, a little-known graphic novel released by a small, almost negligible, publisher, certainly takes advantage of Stallone’s brute-force physicality and his often underrated talent for near-monosyllabic brooding (e.g., the Rambo series), but too often gives him to little do or say as the lone super-powered survivor, the so-called “Samaritan” of the title, of a lifelong rivalry with his brother, “Nemesis.” Two brothers entered a fire-ravaged building and while both were presumed dead, one brother did survive (Stallone’s Joe Smith, a garbageman by day, an appliance repairman by night).

In the Granite City of screenwriter Bragi F. Schut (Escape Room, Season of the Witch), the United States, and presumably the rest of the world, teeters on economic and political collapse, with a recession spiraling into a depression, steady gigs difficult, if not impossible, to obtain, and the city’s neighborhoods rocked by crime and violence. No one’s safe, not even 13-year-old Sam (Javon Walker), Joe’s neighbor.

When he’s not dodging bullies connected to a gang, he’s falling under the undue influence of Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), a low-rent gang leader with an outsized ego and the conviction that he and only he can take on Nemesis’s mantle and along with that mantle, a hammer “forged in hate,” to orchestrate a Bane-like plan to plunge the city into chaos and become a wealthy power-broker in the process.

Schut’s woefully underwritten script takes a clumsy, haphazard approach to world-building, relying on a two-minute animated sequence to open Samaritan while a naive, worshipful Sam narrates Samaritan and Nemesis’s supposedly tragic, Cain and Abel-inspired backstory. Schut and director Julius Avery (Overlord) clumsily attempt to contrast Sam’s childish belief in messiah-like, superheroic saviors stepping in to save humanity from itself and its own worst excesses, but following that path leads to authoritarianism and fascism (ideas better, more thoroughly explored in Watchmen and The Boys).

While Sam continues to think otherwise, Stallone’s superhero, 25 years past his last, fatal encounter with his presumably deceased brother, obviously believes superheroes are the problem and not the solution (a somewhat reasonable position), but as Samaritan tracks Joe and Sam’s friendship, Sam giving Joe the son he never had, Joe giving Sam the father he lost to street violence well before the film’s opening scene, it gets closer and closer to embracing, if not outright endorsing Sam’s power fantasies, right through a literally and figuratively explosive ending. Might, as always, wins regardless of how righteous or justified the underlying action.

It’s what superhero audiences want, apparently, and what Samaritan uncritically delivers via a woefully under-rendered finale involving not just unconvincing CGI fire effects, but a videogame cut-scene quality Stallone in a late-film flashback sequence that’s meant to be subversively revelatory, but will instead lead to unintentional laughter for anyone who’s managed to sit the entirety of Samaritan’s one-hour and 40-minute running time.

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Samaritan is now streaming worldwide on Prime Video.

Samaritan

Cast
  • Sylvester Stallone
  • Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton
  • Pilou Asbæk

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Matt Shakman Is In Talks To Direct ‘Fantastic Four’

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According to a new report, Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct the upcoming MCU project, Fantastic Four. Marvel Studios has been very hush-hush regarding Fantastic Four to the point where no official announcements have been made other than the film’s release date. No casting news or literally anything other than rumors has been released regarding the project. We know that Fantastic Four is slated for release on November 8th, 2024, and will be a part of Marvel’s Phase 6. There are also rumors that the cast of the new Fantastic Four will be announced at the D23 Expo on September 9th.

Fantastic Four is still over two years from release, and we assume we will hear more news about the project in the coming months. However, the idea of the Fantastic Four has already been introduced into the MCU. John Krasinski played Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The cameo was a huge deal for fans who have been waiting a long time for the Fantastic Four to enter the MCU. When Disney acquired Twenty Century Fox in 2019 we assumed that the Fox Marvel characters would eventually make their way into the MCU. It’s been 3 years and we already have had an X-Men and Fantastic Four cameo – even if they were from another universe.

Deadline is reporting that Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct Fantastic Four. Shakman served as the director for Wandavision and has had an extensive career. He directed two episodes of Game of Thrones and an episode of The Boys, and he had a long stint on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. There is nothing official yet, but Deadline’s sources say that Shakman is currently in talks for the job and things are headed in the right direction.

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To be honest, I was a bit more excited when Jon Watts was set to direct. I’m sure Shakman is a good director, but Watts proved he could handle a tentpole superhero film with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Wandavision was good, but Watts’ style would have been perfect for Fantastic Four. The film is probably one of the most anticipated films in Marvel’s upcoming slate films and they need to find the best person they can to direct. Is that Matt Shakman? It could be, but whoever takes the job must realize that Marvel has a lot riding on this movie. The other Fantastic Four films were awful and fans deserve better. Hopefully, Marvel knocks it out of the park as they usually do. You can see for yourself when Fantastic Four hits theaters on November 8th, 2024.

Film Synopsis: One of Marvel’s most iconic families makes it to the big screen: the Fantastic Four.

Source: Deadline

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Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase Star in ‘Zombie Town’ Mystery Teen Romancer (Exclusive)

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Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase have entered Zombie Town, a mystery teen romancer based on author R.L. Stine’s book of the same name.

The indie, now shooting in Ontario, also stars Henry Czerny and co-teen leads Marlon Kazadi and Madi Monroe. The ensemble cast includes Scott Thompson and Bruce McCulloch of the Canadian comedy show Kids in the Hall.

Canadian animator Peter Lepeniotis will direct Zombie Town. Stine’s kid’s book sees a quiet town upended when 12-year-old Mike and his friend, Karen, see a horror movie called Zombie Town and unexpectedly see the title characters leap off the screen and chase them through the theater.

Zombie Town will premiere in U.S. theaters before streaming on Hulu and then ABC Australia in 2023.

“We are delighted to bring the pages of R.L. Stine’s Zombie Town to the screen and equally thrilled to be working with such an exceptional cast and crew on this production. A three-time Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award winner with book sales of over $500 million, R.L. Stine has a phenomenal track record of crafting stories that engage and entertain audiences,” John Gillespie, Trimuse Entertainment founder and executive producer, said in a statement.

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Executive producers are Trimuse Entertainment, Toonz Media Group, Lookout Entertainment, Viva Pictures and Sons of Anarchy actor Kim Coates.  

Paco Alvarez and Mark Holdom of Trimuse negotiated the deal to acquire the rights to Stine’s Zombie Town book.

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